The Messenger Bird by Rosanne Hawke

First published 2012 by UQP.

messenger bird

As I will be taking Writing Young Adult Fiction with this author in the new year through Tabor Adelaide’s Creative Writing program, I borrowed a few of her books of hers to read over the holidays. This is one I loved from the start.

It has everything I want in a novel: history, mystery, a crumbling old house with a secret garden, and a little romance. And all set in a South Australian landscape.

There is a girl who needs saving and some men who would like to save her – if only she would let them. The girl is Tamar, a musically inclined wearer of floaty dresses who has lost her brother Trystan in a car accident the previous year. She and her father are struggling along at home while the mother is away for a few weeks. She is lost and withdrawn while her father is keeping himself busy renovating the place. He also wants to restore some basement rooms which have been closed up for over a century. And in an old fireplace, they find a photo of a young man and some sheets of handwritten music.

Tamar hasn’t played any music since her brother died, but she has a go at this piece, The Maiden’s Prayer by Tekla Bądarzeweska-Baranowska, and something unexpected happens. The young man from the photo turns up, straight out of 1887. He too, has had a recent tragedy in the family, and Tamar and her time travelling visitor (Nathaniel) lean on each other as the book progresses until both are ready to face the griefs that they had been hiding from.

Not all the chapters are written from Tamar’s perspective – many are told from the point of view of Gavin, a new arrival to the area (north of Kapunda) whose family lost their farm near Orroroo. He made a nice hero, a good sensible farm boy who is only interested in Tamar and barely looks at other girls. The world could do with a few more Gavins. Nathaniel, being from the past, is slightly more interesting, and he is also a gentleman. There are also a couple of chapters from 1886 included.

Other characters are the old olive tree and Henry the cat, who clues us in on the fact that Nathaniel is not a ghost, but a messenger bird. The title refers to the willie wagtail, which Aboriginal people said brought news of death. We’ve had one appear unexpectedly in the garden on the morning of an impending death.

I’ve always loved a good grief book, and even before I went through any myself, as a teen I loved Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. A death is not a bad way to start a book. And I love it when a main character rises from the bottom of the pit and begins to restore their life.

From the moment I opened the book I was captivated, and was back in an earlier place in time, that being when I really started loving books around age 10. I still re-read some of the books I loved then, just to recapture the joy I felt disappearing into another world. Over the years I have picked up a few books for young people, hoping to feel that same feeling again. Most of them were let downs. Even the Harry Potter books. While the second book was really good, somewhere in the fourth book the story headed to places too dark and disturbing for my liking.

So to read The Messenger Bird was wonderful – it not only revived my appetite for reading fiction (I mainly read memoir these days), but it has made me excited about writing it again. I am now itching to finish the novel I started a couple of years ago, and can’t wait to get studying next year.

Some years ago I wanted to write for young people but was hesitant, mainly as I had not yet ever sent a text at that time. Roseanne’s work shows me that I don’t need to get hung up on whether I can do social media or use a smart phone, as none of this stuff is present. Just the house, the vets and the past. And the creek, the secret garden and the old olive tree groaning in the wind.

As for the music itself, when I looked up The Maiden’s Prayer on YouTube, I wondered what there was to like about it. I had hoped to find it more moving, so that was a bit of a letdown. But there must be other people out there who love it, as this obscure piece of music is still around.

The dreaded TBR pile – saved for a rainy day

Today has been one of those rare rainy days that we get here, and at some stage I went through the pile of books in the little cupboard next to my bed.

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I set up this little bookshelf early 2012, taking anything I had not yet read out of my main bookshelf and storing it here. At the time I declared that I would not go back to the library until I had made my way through most of these, but I only read one or two. This is what is left, and the pile continues to grow while the library keeps tempting me to go astray. And before my Kobo fell from a great height and died, I had another stash of ebooks, all those lovely free classics, and only a couple of them were finished also.

Of the books pictured here, most were from secondhand bookshops, a couple were new, some were gifts from my mother and others gifts to my father (he returns them a few months later, so this influences what I buy him now!) Some I’ve had sitting around for almost 15 years. Naughty me! The stack at the front are books by AWWs (Australian Women Writers), so I might spend the rest of the year working through these, as I’ve only done one book review for #AWW2015 so far, and have five more to go!

I wonder at this tendency of mine to hoard books though. I live in such a dry place that when I save them for a rainy day, this is the result. But at the heart of it is fear I think, a  fear of what the future might bring. Perhaps I’m anticipating a future without libraries or bookshops or even books. So should it come to pass, well, you know where I’ll be!

Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman

First Published 2010 by Revell.

choosing to SEE

This book sat in my TBR shelf for six months after my friend Jacqueline lent to me when we were in the middle of a rather rough time.

It is the autobiography of the wife of a prominent Christian singer, Steven Curtis Chapman, whom I had not yet heard of.

Now prominent Christians come in many varieties, but what a lot have in common is the good Christian bio, which for a widow like me who may or may not be a little bit bitter, can sometimes have me gagging on my wormwood-and-gall.

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Wednesdays were pretty normal by Michael Kelley

First published 2012 by B&H Publishing Group

Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal

What drew my attention to this book as it sat there in the library was the peanut butter on the front cover, as I have been a peanut butter girl since early childhood. At first glance I thought I was looking at two slices of toast, one with peanut butter and one with vegemite, still a breakfast I enjoy, but on closer inspection found it was jam or ‘jelly’, not vegemite, and I was looking at bread, two halves of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in actual fact. But I took it home anyway because it dealt with the crap that life throws at you from a Christian perspective. Michael Kelley’s crap was the three years he and his wife dealt with their first born son’s leukaemia, which he thankfully survived.

As soon as I read the first chapter I loved the book, especially the reference to “those people”, people with big problems, because for many years I have been one of those people. First I was ‘the lady with all those kids whose husband has the brain tumour’, then I was a widow. I thought this an extremely ugly word until my stepson committed those murders, and at that time decided that being a mere widow wasn’t so bad after all. Anyway you get the picture.

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