The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning

It was an odd engagement present. Heirloom or not, such gifts were not usually covered in grime and dust. Pip sneezed as she started unpacking four boxes of antique French pots: copper boilers, streaked and mottled with watermarks, so when the soft morning light reflected off the pots and hit the white walls of the tiny worker’s cottage, they rippled with rainbows. Some of the pots were so large Pip had to brace herself to lift them out of the boxes. When she pulled off the lids, their blackened insides were etched and lined with age.

When she moves in to a tiny workers cottage with her fiance, Jack, Pip really doesn’t have room for the set of large copper pots her parents send as an engagement gift, but she is determined to have them on display. They bear memories of her childhood and a deeper connection Pip doesn’t completely understand. but the warmth of the copper pots might not be enough to keep Pip’s plans on track. She wants to get her PhD project finished before she and Jack get married and travel, but Jack is impatient, and wants everything to happen now.

In 1427, Artemisia, the cook at the Chateau de Boschaud also has copper pots. she is busy preparing the dishes, the settings, even the special bathing waters for the Lord and his bride. It is tough work, but it is made easier by Artemisia’s secret. this will be her last day at the chateau: soon she will be free and ready to build a new life.

The stories of Pip and Artemisia are separate, yet there are connections across the many centuries between their lives, and Artemisia’s vast knowledge of herbs cooking are not only reflected in Pip’s interests, but are even shared through treasured finds. Readers will want to trace the adventures of each, o find out whether happiness is possible for either, or for both.

The Midsummer Garden is a satisfying blend of contemporary and historical fiction, with each story compelling and well wrought, and the links between the two intriguing. Themes of happiness, of family lore, relationships and self fulfillment are explored and food lovers will enjoy the culinary detail.

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294748

Wild Island, by Jennifer Livett

Reader, she did not marry him, or rather when at last she did, it was not so straightforward as she implies in her memoirs. Jane Eyre is a truthful person and her story is fascinating, but some things she could not bring herself to say. Certain episodes in her past, she admits, ‘form too distressing a recollection ever to be willingly dwelt upon’.

When Rochester and Jane Eyre are reunited after the fire that destroyed Thornfield, their love is definite but their future is not. soon, they decide they must embark on a journey to ascertain the real story of Anna, Rochester’s first wife. Harriet Adair, Anna’s carer, is invited to accompany them and soon they are bound for far away Van Diemen’s Land. Only Harriet and Anna reach Hobart where, they believe, they will find the answers to Anna’s past.

In Hobart, Charles O’Hara Booth, in charge of the Port Arthur settlement, is hoping that the secrets of his own past will remain hidden. Yet he may hold the key to Anna and Harriet’s quest. In the meantime, Harriet and a much recovered Anna have formed a friendship with Jane Franklin, the wife of the new Governor of the colony. For six years the pair live in Hobart, far away from Jane and Rochester and the story which inspired this one.

Wild Island is a curious, intriguing blend. Blending fictional characters, including those from Jane Eyre, with historical figures and events from the colony of Van Diemen’s Land of the 1800s, provides both an inside interpretation of the real events as well as an absorbing alternate history for Charlotte Bronte’s woman in the attic, and her carer.

Satisfying historical fiction.

Wild Island, by Jennifer Livett
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113834

Heather and Heath, by Sally Odgers

‘Here it is, lassie!’ he cried jubilantly. ‘The blaze – a bit o’ bark sliced awa’ wi’ a dirk!’
‘What’s to do wi’ that?’ asked Ness, cold and tired.
‘Lassie – ‘ Hector loomed out of the night and caught her out of the wagon in a giant’s hug. He gave her a smacking kiss and swung her in a circle until the stars wheeled and the world contracted about her. ‘Lassie, it means we’re home!’

When Ness McCleod arrives in Sydney Town in 1837, she is alone and penniless. An orphan, she had departed Scotland with a travelling companion to seek employment and adventure., but the death of her companion en route to Sydney has left her alone and unsure of what she should do. On the docks, she meets Hector Campbell, some years her senior, and a fellow Scot. Believing she has no other option, she hastily weds Campbell and accompanies him to Launceston and on to their new property – Glen Heather. It is there that Ness falls in love – with this beautiful property, if not with her husband.

Heather and Heath follows the trials and triumphs of three generations of women and their love for the property. Each must fight to stay there and to keep it running, and all find both joy and heartbreak. The question is, how far will each woman go to hold on to what is theirs?

Each of the three viewpoint characters – Ness (1837-39), her daughter in law Isobel (1860-1885) and Isobel’s granddaughter Alice (1913-1920) – is strong in her own way, yet distinct from the others. Readers will enjoy getting to know each woman and the Tasmanian landscape on which Glen Heather is built.

Heather and Heath, by Sally Odgers
Satalyte Publishing, 2015
ISBN 9780992558093

Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy

Wildlight - Robyn MundyBelow, a limp windsock gave way to a clearing in the bush that looked too small for a landing pad. The blue nose of a vehicle peeked through the trees. The helicopter hovered, swayed its hips. They inched lower, the pilot peering through the side window. He manoeuvred the throttle as lightly as a computer mouse. They were even with the treetops, now they were below them. Steph read a painted sign: MAATSUYKER ISLAND. A soft thud, a bounce, the kiss of solid earth, an exhalation as the rotors lowered pitch. They were down, they were safe.

Steph is not thrilled to be coming to Maatsuyker Island. She’s sixteen and supposed to be in her last year of school. Instead her parents have brought her to this remote outpost off the coast of Tasmania to act as caretakers of the island and its lighthouse. They hope that their time there, largely cut off from the outside world, will help the family to heal from the tragic loss of Steph’s twin brother.

Angry and resentful at being on the island, Steph drifts, her studies losing importance and her plan to become a doctor seeming unlikely. Meeting Tom Forrest, a deckhand on a cray fishing boat which visits the island, provides a welcome distraction. 19 year old Tom has problems of his own. He doesn’t want to be deckhand all his life, but his manipulative brother isn’t keen to let him leave. In the meantime, he’s fishing illegally, making Tom party to his behaviour. As the teens grow close, they dream of a life back on the mainland. When Tom goes missing, Steph is devastated.

Wildlight is a haunting, beautiful coming of age tale about first love, set amongst the wilderness in a way that makes the setting almost a character. With most of the book set in 1999, the use of a prologue and concluding chapters set in 2015 shows the impact the teen year events have on the adult lives of the characters.

Mundy’s poetic style and well-developed characters take the reader on an emotion-filled journey.


Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy
Picador, 2016
ISBN 9781743537909

The Chocolate Promise, by Josephine Moon

An easy smile broke through his dark beard, which was largely unkempt and messy but just within the bounds of still being rustic and attractive. But it was the way his smile reached all the way to his staggeringly blue eyes that hit Christmas hard. the air around her suddenly drained away and she was speechless for a couple of moments, unable to take her eyes off his.

Christmas had her heart broken once, and it’s not going to happen again. She has formulated ten rules for happiness, and the most important one is number ten – No romantic relationships. But when she meets Lincoln her resolve is sorely tested. Not only is he ruggedly handsome, but he’s intelligent and funny and one of his interests is cocoa. Coincidentally, Christmas is a chocolatier, and is passionate about all things chocolate, especially the medicinal and healing qualities it possesses.

Lincoln, meanwhile, isn’t sure he needs a relationship, either. He tends to live is life on the road, though his gran wishes he would settle down, closer to home, marry and produce some grandchildren. He’s in town to help his gran and sort out his recalcitrant father. But he can’t seem to get Christmas out of his mind.

The Chocolate Promise is a warm, funny, moving story about love, families, ageing – and chocolate. From the author of the much loved The Tea Chest, this new offering is set in rural Tasmania, with part of the action taking place in France.

A feast for food lovers and lovers of a good read.

The Chocolate Promise, by Josephine Moon
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743318003

Available from good bookstores and online.

My Name is Lizzie Flynn, by Claire Saxby & Lizzy Newcomb

All I own in this world is my name: Lizzie Flynn. 
It’s all I take with me as we are hustled aboard the Rajah, a cargo of convict women.

Convict Lizzie Flynn is leaving London, bound for Van Diemen’s Land. All she owns is her name. When the women on the boat are given sewing materials to make a quilt, she is reluctant. She doesn’t know how to sew. But Molly encourages and teaches her, and soon Lizzie a part of the sewing group. By the time the boat reaches Australia, the women of the Rajah, have completed a beautiful quilt and Lizzie has new skills and new friends, though sadly her friend Molly has not survived the journey.

My Name is Lizzie Flynn: A Story of the Rajah Quilt is a beautiful historical picture book, fictionalising the story of the Rajah Quilt, made by convict women in 1841 and now housed in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Saxby has a skill for creative nonfiction, and her text manages to convey both the emotions of Lizzie and her fellow travellers, and the essence of the era of convict transportation. The acrylic illustrations again capture the mood, with the drab colours onboard the ship in contrast with the e blues of the seas and sky beyond. In the scenes of land a clever contrast is created by portraying England in grey tones as the women leave it behind and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) with rolling green hills, and gently colourful houses suggesting a level of hope.

A beautiful book, suitable for school and home

My Name is Lizzie Flynn: A Story of the Rajah Quilt, by Claire Saxby & Lizzy Newcomb
Walker Books, 2015

Available from good bookstores and online.

Lost Voices, by Christopher Koch

Late in life, I’ve come to the view that everything in out lives is part of a pre-ordained pattern. Unfortunately it’s a pattern to which we’re not given a key. It contains our joys and miseries; our good actions and our crimes; our strivings and defeats. Certain links in this pattern connect the present to the pas. These form the lattice of history, both personal and public; and this is why the past refuses to be dismissed. It waits to involve us in new variations; and its dead wait for their time to reappear.

When Hugh Dixon overhears his father confiding to his mother that he is in trouble, Hugh is determined to help him. His father has a gambling debt which could be the ruin of the family, and young Hugh believes that he only person who can help them is his great-uncle Walter – a man he has never met and who his father will have nothing to do with. Hugh visits his uncle in the old family home, and a friendship develops. As it does, Hugh also learns of his family’s links to a notorious band of bushrangers in the mid nineteenth century. Later, events in Hugh’s own life have strange echoes of that earlier time.

Lost Voices is an evocative, absorbing book, with an intriguing double narrative. The book is divided into three parts, with the middle section telling the 1854 story of two escapees from Tasmania’s Port Arthur who return to their secret mountain hideout – but not before meeting a young Martin Dixon, who convinces them to let him accompany them to tell their tale. In the first and third sections of the book we follow the late teens and early twenties of Hugh Dixon, Martin’s great grandson, a hundred years later. If it were not for this father’s trouble, Hugh would not have met his great uncle and so learned the story of his grandfather.

Yet there are echoes between Hugh’s life and that of his long dead ancestor, particularly the pattern of uneasy relations between father and son. Martin heads off to live with the bushrangers knowing his father will not approve, but determined to follow a path of his choosing. Hugh too does this both in seeking out his great uncle’s help, but also in following a career in illustrating which his father has attempted to discourage him from. This exploration of the relationship between father and son is repeated in other connections in the book – including Hugh’s father and grandfather, his friend Bob’s relationship with a violent father and the bushranger Wilson’s relationship with his father.

There are other echoes and parallels – young men’s relationships with older women, the treatment of women and, importantly the concept of truly evil men. There is so much being explored that the experience may be different for individual readers, and the processing of these themes is likely to go on long after the reading finishes.

Whilst there is action and drama, this is not a fast paced book, taking time to read and to digest, but it is a satisfying, beautiful journey.

Lost Voices

Lost Voices, by Christopher Koch
Fourth Estate, 2012
ISBN 9780732294632

Available from good bookstores or online. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Moorilla Mosaic, edited by Robyn Mathison and Lyn Reeves

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball


Moorilla Mosaic is a collection of poetry, stories and excerpts from novels in progress, written by 27 Tamanian writers, all of whom read at the Moorilla Cultural Series in 1991 at the Moorillla Museum of Antiquities. The book reflects the wide diversity of styles and the rich landscape of Tasmanian writing, which seems to have suddenly come into strong public focus in the last year or so. As with any collection of poetry and prose by different authors, the pieces work best in small readings, taking time to allow each author’s distinctive style to settle, and for the messages to release their meaning. The collection contains from 3-5 poems or a few pages of prose from each author, which works well in allowing the reader time to become accustomed to a particular voice. The voices in this volume certainly differ. There are poems about lost innocence, travel poems, poems which equate the modern world with the ancient, and a wide range of poems about the natural beauty of Tasmania, such as Pete Hay’s “Night Owl, With Rain,” which calls upon an owl’s:

precise mourning
a soft, soft metronome, hw-how,
ticking the hours over.

or Ivy Alvarez’ “Earth” where: loam crumbs, brown earth melts under water’s welts.

There are also a number of bush style poems invoking insularity, ugliness and poverty such as Tim Thorne’s “Pension Payday” where:

You can hardly hear the sirens for the sound of breaking glass
Maggie’s in the corner with her skirts up round her arse
and Jimmy’s shat himself again and Bill’s been put away
and the form guide in the paper says its slow to dead today.

For me at least, the most powerful poems in the book however, are those which speak in a female voice, of the universal themes of motherhood, personal insecurity and loneliness. Some of those which really stand out are Liz Winfield’s anguished “Poems of Lonely Vale,” which speaks of isolation and the loneliness of a young mother:

in this place where the fog didn’t lift till lunchtime
and the sun disappeared at four
I didn’t know then that the black dog bites
as gentle as rain
as soft as your cuddle with the words
‘sometimes tears
just fall…’

Other motherhood poems also work well in their earnest and intense imagery such as Sarah Day’s “Children’s Ward” where the reader visualises a ward full of asthmatic children fighting for breath, along with the pain and warmth of one mother’s love:

She has been stroking his back since time began,
working calm’s liniment between shoulder blades
Scarcely bigger than chicken wings

or Louise Oxley’s “Bearing a Name” where we are with her in her intense labour, shocked by the realisation that at one time this kind of fairly common set of emergencies would have killed a woman:

I am called prima gravida and
you, placenta previs – deep
traverse arrest –

failed high forceps – foetal
distress – emergency caesarian
section. These are not

> the names I had in mind. How
could they be?
Before your coming to me
they did not signify.

The fiction varies too, with most of the excerpts set in Tasmanian landscapes, and most of the works chosen carefully enough so that they make sense as short stories, especially Robert Cox’s “The Darkness After Midnight” where a woman learns of her husband’s accidental death.

All of the authors in this collection are widely published, and many have become part of the Tasmanian literary canon. This book is indicative of the variety and detail of what modern Tasmanian authors have to offer the world, with their unique but also universal vision. For anyone wanting an unusual and fresh anthology of contemporary Southern Australian writing – a sampling to savour slowly – this is a nicely put together collection. You may not like every piece in it – poetry being the most subjective and personal of literary experiences, it is unlikely that every work will appeal to every reader, however, it is possible to read this and imagine yourself in the charming Moorilla museum with a glass of good wine, surrounded by objects of antiquities, excellent acoustics, and the very congenial and often moving voices of poets and novelists sharing their art.

For more information on Moorilla Mosaic, or to purchase a copy, visit: Moorilla Mosaic: Contemporary Tasmanian Writing, Edited by Robyn Mathison and Lyn Reeves
Bumblebee Books, 1991, Paperback
ISBN 0-9586133-2-X
RRP A$29.95

Magdalena Ball is Editor of The Compulsive Reader, Preschool Entertainment, and is the author The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything. Her fiction, poetry, reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in a wide range of on-line and print publications.