Books of the Month

February books

Toni Jordan: Nine days

The nine days are crucial days for nine people in the Westaway family. The first is Kip in 1939, then it moves backward and forward through three generations. Toni Jordan does a wonderful job of making each character alive and special, while at the same time gradually revealing the mystery of what happened during the War.

Not only does she create strong, engaging characters, she is able to recreate the Melbourne suburb of Richmond during the 30s and 40s. It has a physical presence. Here Kit speaks of it as he walks the bluestone lane to work:

Between the end of the footy finals and Easter the hot sweet of the jam [from the IXL jam factory] hits you first, then the tomato sauce, next burning malts and hops. Now in the middle of winter there’s nothing but the tannery and the Yarra, and it’s like the dunny cart had a permanent spot in the lane so I’m not standing around to breathe it in.

Jordan also paints Richmond’s strong social and moral presence, as expressed by the Westaway’s neighbours. It’s a time when respectable girls ‘saved’ themselves for marriage and being pregnant out of marriage was a crime punished by social ostracisation. It’s a time when everyone knew what was happening in the lives of others, but keeping up appearances was vital.

Jordan has a very light touch with her writing. (I also really enjoyed Addition.) I imagine her as a painter, adding little touches that bring a highlight or warmth to a scene. Such as when Alex, after a traumatic day, realises that he is taller than his mother. With those few words, Jordan conveys his growing maturity and a shift in their relationship.

Another moment was Jack watching Connie dance in the backyard of her little Richmond house. And he falls in love. (Got to love a line like “Bugger me dead. She is dancing.”!)

Maureen McCarthy: The Convent

Abbotsford Convent is an inner Melbourne icon, and not far from Richmond, where Jordan’s book was set. Not only was the Convent a house of prayer for nuns, it was an orphanage and  a ‘home’ for wayward girls. Instead of receiving help and advice these girls  worked long hours in the laundry. After the nunnery is closed local protests stopped the site from demolition and developers. The area has become a cafe and arts precinct.

Indeed Nine Days and The Convent have many aspects in common.  The Convent follows the stories of four generations of women who have strong connections to the Convent. Their stories are interwoven, building to the present, where the fractured relationships are mended. In both stories it is the characters who draw you on. I loved McCarthy’s strong, intelligent women. I enjoyed how the stories of these women allowed McCarthy to explore women’s roles and expectations. Thanks to Denise for placing this book in my hands!

Linwood Barclay: The accident

Nicholas Evans: The divide

I love finding new authors, and these are two authors that I will read more of — if I don’t get a mental blank as soon as I walk into the library! Technically I didn’t serendipitously come across Barclay. He was a recommendation (thanks Janis). But I did pull Evans off the library shelf. He is the author of The horse whisperer. Both books had good plots and everything had to wait while I read them.


Signs of the time

I love the old signs that you see painted on walls and doors. The forgotten fragments of time past. These are just some that are hidden in plain sight in Melbourne.

Can you recognise them? Hold your mouse over the photo to find out where it is.


How does my garden grow?

How does my garden grow?

This is a beautifully cool as it looks
This is as beautifully cool as it looks

Recently the temperature in Melbourne reached 37 degrees. This is not unusual, and we can have a quite few days around that temperature. (It usually manages to get really hot in February, just as kids are going back to school for the start of the year.) Some places in Australia have been having obscenely high temperatures. Moomba, in South Australia, hit the highest recorded maximum with 49.6 C. That’s 121 F. That’s horrible.

Unlike many people we don’t have air conditioning. There are times when I consider it, but I always come back to its environmental impact — and the fact that we really don’t need it.

Instead we use a ceiling fan and a pedestal fan. And the passive cooling of our vine and maple tree.

My house faces north. There are no windows on the west side, and house next door is pretty close. So the west is protected and little heat comes in that way. This leaves the east and south sides. As you can see the vine covers the area between our eastern fence and the back door (which is sort of at the side!). This blocks out the morning sun, and heat.

The maple tree and rain water tank

The maple tree protects the house from the south. So today the temperature indoors was only 27, about 10 degrees cooler. The heat rises when there are a few hot days — but then even air conditioning can struggle. (I am sure that air conditioning, fans, vines and everything else would have little impact in Moomba.)

And of course, both the tree and vine are deciduous, so they let in all the glorious warming winter sun.

The back yard, from under the cool vine
The back yard, from under the cool vine

And the veggie patch…? Well it is a waiting game — waiting for things to ripen.

Ripening capsicums -- orange ones!
Ripening capsicums — orange ones!
Ripening tomatoes
Ripening tomatoes

But I have munched a couple of early beans, and there are always some strawberries to harvest. My next garden job is to fertilise with the worm juice from the worm farm.


Off to the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition — a walk through Melbourne

Two years ago, when I was new to the blogging world, I published this post about going to the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition. I am going to republish it, because I like it! Also, I have just been along much the same trail today, as I visited the 2014 Exhibition. I am going to tell you about the exhibition in my next post. However, for now, have wander through Melbourne.

Yesterday I did my volunteer stint at the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition. It is a fabulous exhibition, with many beautiful paintings. If you are in Melbourne, follow my trail to Domain House to see these stunning works. If you can’t make it, enjoy the walk through Melbourne.

I got off the 57 tram and had coffee in Block Place, walked through the beautiful Block Arcade, over the mosaic floors,

The beautiful Block Arcade
Mosaic floor, Block Arcade





and down Melbourne’s lanes that are thronging with people drinking their lattes and eating lunch.

Melbourne Lane
Degraves St









The walk takes us past Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, to cross the Yarra


The Yarra River

go past the National Gallery of Victoria and further up, ‘Weary’ Dunlop’s lovely statue.

The National Gallery of Victoria
‘Weary’ Dunlop statue

We keep walking up St Kilda Road, under the trees with their spring growth to reach the outside of the Botanical Gardens. The Tan track circuits the Gardens and we have to dodge the runners and walkers, their dogs and pushers to reach the Shrine.

The Shrine

Only a little further now. Past the Observatory,

Melbourne Observatory and the glimpse of Government House
This is what I am heading for

turn right at the Herbarium,

The Herbarium

past Latrobe’s Cottage, with its spring flowers

Latrobe’s Cottage

to Domain House. And we are here. Enjoy the exhibition!

Domain House

(I will return to Beckler, Burke and Wills next time.)