‘Dropping Out: a tree change novel-in-stories’, Danielle de Valera

May 27, 2018


**originally prepared for Big Al & Pals indie review site: received a free copy**

Genre: linked short stories     Dropping Out: a tree change novel-in-stories by [de Valera, Danielle]

Description: these stories tell episodes in the lives of a number of people who moved to the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales in Australia as a result of the Aquarius Festival held in Nimbin in 1973. De Valera moved to the area in 1977. She writes about what brought these people to Murwillumbah, why they stayed, why they left, why they came back again. She draws beautiful pictures of the beauty and the hardships of life in this remote area at a time when almost all its traditional means of making a living were dead or dying. The stories cover 35 years.

And then there is the final story. More of that one anon.

Author: Danielle de Valera has had a chequered career, raising her family whilst working variously as a botanist, an editor, a cataloguer for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries Library and the John Oxley Library, and on the main floor of Arnott’s biscuit factory. She is best known for her short stories, which have appeared in diverse publications including Penthouse, Aurealis and Australian Women’s Weekly. Some of these linked stories were first published in that way. And you can buy several of them as standalones on Kindle.

Appraisal: I loved these stories. I loved the cover too. There is a sense of being out of time, in a rugged, basic Narnia which people found, loved, then stayed. They flee from it from time to time when life there gets too hard, but they return as well because it has a siren call. Life there has simple attractions. If you have an issue with the law, this is a place to hide. If you ARE the law, and need a change of pace, it’s good too. If you don’t want to pay taxes, or have people telling you what to do, or just need some peace, this is the place for you.

If you asked one of your parents to tell you stories of ‘the old days’, you’d hear a lot of different stories about the people your mum (or dad) was friends with. You’d probably think about what might’ve happened to those people in between stories. In the end you’d come to know the people in the stories really well. So well that you’d ask mum to tell you another story about Star or God or Baby in Murwillumbah. That’s what this book is like. When I finished it I kept thinking about the characters in it, wondering what they got up to in the interstices when de Valera wasn’t writing about them. I can’t remember the last book that had this effect on me: it will certainly repay rereading.

The stories are told with great pace and verve. They are gritty and poignant. The whole is leavened with wit and humour.

The final story is a problem. It is set 120 years in the future, so is out of sync with everything else. I found that hard to adjust to. It is about different characters (unsurprisingly) and isn’t about the descendants of the earlier stories either, as far as I can tell (although there is an Azure in the earlier stories and an Azuria in the last one, for reasons I couldn’t unpick). The society it sketches has gaps where more information would have helped (eg why were the artificial people created? why the wings?) but includes information dumps about pipe tobacco and bottles of stout that seemed to have little relevance to the plot. I felt deflated and puzzled by the story. It has cost the book a star, sadly.

(I should tell you I have no idea what a ‘tree change novel’ is.)


Dear followers …

May 26, 2018

I am delighted that you think enough of my posts to follow what I post on this blog.

I’m hoping we can agree that as you have chosen to entrust me with the small amount of personal information that enables you to receive notification about new posts here that this is sufficient for me to be in compliance with the new GDPR legislation.

If you disagree, you have only to unfollow.

Right – boring business out of the way. Here’s a picture I took at West Bay recently.

Much more fun 🙂                                                                                                                                 100_4802

‘My life as a bench’ by Jaq Hazell

May 17, 2018

My Life as a Bench: WINNER OF THE RUBERY BOOK AWARD - BOOK OF THE YEAR 2017 by [Hazell, Jaq]

**originally prepared for Big Al & Pals indie review site: received a free copy**

Genre: Young adult

Description: this is the back cover blurb “Ren Miller has died aged seventeen and yet her consciousness lives on, inhabiting her memorial bench by the River Thames in London. Ren longs to be reunited with her boyfriend Gabe, but soon discovers why he has failed to visit. Devastated, she must learn to break through and talk to the living so she can reveal the truth about her untimely end.”

Author: Jaq Hazell won the Rubery Award (for indie and self-published books) in 2017 for this book. She has been knocking on the awards door for some time now, and this award is well deserved. She is a British writer, now living in London, who has an MA in Creative Writing.

Appraisal: What a cracking title! It would be a pity indeed if such a funkily titled book should not prove to be fully funky throughout. So let me assure you at once that it is excellent.

Like so much YA fiction, it can be enjoyed by adult readers as well as teenagers (I’m 65 and I was blown away by it).

The tension is ratchetted up constantly by the reveal happening like a striptease. It is two thirds of the way into the book when the reader discovers why Ren is now a bench. By that point I was wild to know what had happened!

Grownups might imagine that the concerns of a teenager could prove facile: I did not find that the case at all. The high-octane heartache over trivialities which might cause the world to end (I remember those) is so believable, and the pace of the book so good, that you tumble along with the protagonists as they fall in and out of love on Facebook and over fried chicken lunches.

The author draws older characters beautifully too – and gives them plausible things to do which are nicely observed, sometimes poignant and sometimes very funny. Getting inside the head of a teenager isn’t easy (I can hear parents sighing from here), but Hazell makes a lovely job of it. Ren’s take on the adults in her world feels fresh and accurate.

This oldster didn’t need the ‘slang definitions’ aid at the back. Which is not to say that I am down wiv da yoof, more than said slang, most of it, isn’t as ‘now’ as the author seems to think.

One of the puffs on Amazon (‘Nudge’) says of the book “This would be a good discussion aid to issues raised in schools and colleges, but equally book clubs would find it fascinating”. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Nag your book club to read this. Or just get on and read it yourself. It’s my best read of 2018 to date.

235 pp

‘The Fool and his Whore’ by Mark Dawson

May 16, 2018

The Fool and his Whore by [Dawson, Mark]

This is a very interesting, short, entertainment about why Shakespeare might have written King Lear when and why he did.

I was intrigued by the emphasis that Dawson places on how much travelling the playwright must have done if the Shakespeare that wrote the plays was the same chap who lived in Stratford. Dawson’s solution is that he was always on the move, thought nothing of the amount of time being lost in this way (after all, life moved slower then, although it was so much shorter for most) and had lodgings strategically located for the many overnight stops he required on his way to and from London to see to his family and estates in the Midlands and his business with the King’s Men in the capital.

I have no doubt that James I was a hard taskmaster for a playwright. I have no doubt that most of the plays were dashed off with the adrenalin of an expiring deadline providing the impetus (I write in much the same way myself). I have no doubt that it was hard to knuckle down to writing a play for the Court, knowing that they would pay almost no attention while it played. Even so, to write King Lear as a festive play for Christmas seems wilfully unsuitable. King and Court apparently caught enough of the gist that it wasn’t produced again in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Not hard to see why.

What I had a bit of trouble with was the allying of King Lear with the sad story of Shakespeare’s – as far as I can ascertain – fictional friend, John Carlisle. Lear treats of unfounded suspicions about a daughter, this of well-founded suspicions about a wife. The stories just don’t seem to jog along close enough together to warrant the conclusions drawn.

Nevertheless it is great fun.

‘Spider’s Lifeline’ and ‘Turtle’s Weir’ by Lynne Cantwell

April 27, 2018


These are the last two short books in Lynne Cantwell’s series about gods and mortals which began with the five part Pipewoman Chronicles, continued with the three books of the Crosswind series and concluded with the four part Pipewoman Legacy. These are the final two stories of the Pipewoman Legacy series. I kept them (for so long I forgot about them!) to read as a treat. But now I’ve come across them and devoured them. And they completely lived up to expectations.

I really hope that Cantwell will come up with another series of ‘woo-woo’ books for her fans of these three series. They utilise a broad spectrum of pantheons from which she chooses deities to pair with human protagonists who may also have other abilities, such as shape-shifting, far-speaking and far-seeing. The results are luscious, sometimes explosive, always intriguing.

I am particularly fond of the Native American deities to which I’ve been introduced through these little books (be they real or from Cantwell’s fertile imagination). I am content to let the Curtis family rest in peace (they’ve certainly earned it!). But, could there more stories about White Buffalo Calf Pipewoman, Nanabush and the rest, from further back in time, when the gods were stronger, perhaps …

Turtle's Weir: Book Four of the Pipe Woman's Legacy by [Cantwell, Lynne]

Anyhow, whatever is to come, let it come: what has been written has been written. And very well written it has been. Those who are up to speed on these three series will recall that Naomi Witherspoon negotiated a truce between all the gods and all the humans which led to all kinds of benefits for mortals, including freedom from most diseases. But the truce was uneasy. Some gods would be happy to see it founder. And a trickster god is always happiest making mischief.

A disease believed banished returns. And it strikes close to home. Rogue gods are on the loose again. The Curtis clan is in disarray. So it falls to far-seeing, web-weaving Webb Curtis to work out what is going on and do something to prevent Armageddon (no, really) if he can only remember what. He is stronger than he knows, however, and is helped when he least expects it by a little cucumber-loving turtle god.

If you’ve never tried these books and you like a bit of magic realism, are into godly pantheons, or simply enjoy a good adventure then you will enjoy these books.

My only gripe with them is the shortness of the novellas of which they are composed.

Where to buy my booky-wooks

April 16, 2018

Just in case there is a reader left in the world whom I haven’t bored with this, you can find all my books on AmazonUK here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Judi-Moore/e/B0040GMLKM/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1523838418&sr=1-2-ent

AmazonUS here: https://www.amazon.com/Judi-Moore/e/B0040GMLKM/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1523838390&sr=1-2-ent

Feedaread (in paperback) here: https://www.feedaread.com/search/books.aspx?keywords=judi%20moore

Fishpond (in paperback) here: https://www.fishpond.co.uk/c/Books/q/Judi+Moore?rid=319979540

And when I’ve finished Smashwording them, there’ll be a whole new lorra places you can find them (and they’ll work on a lot more electronic devices).

Wonders will never cease     Little Mouse

Is death really necessary?     Ice Cold Passion: and other stories


My Writing Journey: Judi Moore

April 8, 2018

Kathy Sharp has been investigating local writers’ ‘writing journeys’. This week she’s investigating mine.

Kathy Sharp

JudiMooreMy guest this week is the talented Judi Moore, who tells us about life as a professional writer:

When my brother and I were clearing out my parents’ effects in the Nineties, I came across a short story I had written at primary school. It was about getting a grey cocker spaniel for my birthday. A couple of things immediately became clear to me. I got myself a dog (I’m now on my third canine) and started writing in earnest. I’ve been a professional writer since 1997. I find now that my life is completely suffused with writing, thinking about writing, thinking about the writing of others, and reading. I am lucky. Although, I do take credit for being single-minded enough to make the choices which got me here.

So, I’ve been living on bowls of steam for more than 20 years! And I’ve enjoyed every day of it. The…

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Lovely ***** review of ‘Wonders will never cease’

April 5, 2018

Wonders will never cease by [Moore, Judi]

Reviewed By Grant Leishman for Readers’ Favorite

Dr Fergus Girvan is your archetypal British university professor; learned, scholarly, loves the young girls and his many bottles of good plonk. In Wonders Will Never Cease by Judi Moore, we meet Fergus, who is suffering a bit of a mid to late life crisis as he realizes his chances of finally gaining a “chair” at Ariel University may be fading. The young women he surrounds himself with have suddenly become less interesting and decidedly duller, although still wonderful for his ego and libido. His new found relationship with his high-school aged daughter is tested when he discovers that Andy has fallen in love with a middle-aged Lothario who bears no small resemblance, in both morals and motivation, to Fergus himself. Suddenly Fergus finds himself having to ally with Mary, his daughter’s mother and a woman he tries to avoid like the plague, to try to save their beloved daughter from the letch’s grasp. Throw in a supporting cast of characters that could have come out of any British sitcom and you have the makings of a funny, quirky and typically British story. Fergus bumbles his way through the situations that present themselves as he begins to realize what is actually important in his life and what he should be focusing on.

I’ve always been a big fan of good British humour, the darker the better, and Judi Moore has brought us a story in Wonders Will Never Cease that absolutely fits that mould. When I was reading the book, and especially the wonderful, bumbling, but earnest portrayal of Fergus, I couldn’t help but think of those many wonderful sitcoms produced by the British, (Black Books comes to mind here), with their self-deprecating humour and the stuffy, class-ridden characters that inhabit them. I felt Moore perfectly portrayed the sometimes senseless and rarefied, ivory-tower atmosphere that is academia the world over, but more especially so in the British system. I particularly enjoyed the age-old debate of the importance of the classics and humanities in the university system, as opposed to science and business, something that was such a hot topic in the Thatcher Britain era when this book is set. Comedy and humour is hard to write and good comedy, when discovered, should be cherished and held up for all to see. Moore clearly has her finger on the pulse of what is comedy, and this book certainly encourages me, as a reader, to seek out more of this author’s work.

Hooray for Weymouth library

March 25, 2018

The libraries round here are jolly good. Not least because they now have all four of my titles available to borrow. Huzzah. You can get them from any Dorset library, I understand.

Below is a link to Weymouth library (don’t say I don’t look after you):


I appear just behind Judi Dench.

This is my usual position.


Review: ‘Thirty Poets Go to the Gym by George Szirtes’ (Candlewick Press, 2018)

March 19, 2018

There are three reasons for getting hold of this delightful little volume.

The first is to enjoy thirty completely fresh, amuse-bouche of George Szirtes’ poetry. His facility with words, rhyme, metre, cadence, assonance, consonance is masterful. This is always so with his poetry. But for this collection he is speaking with the voices of others – and he captures those others beautifully.

Which leads on to reason the second: if there are poets amongst those treated in this book that you do not know, this little volume will introduce you to them most engagingly. I had never come across George Herbert before so was particularly entranced by the concrete example (a poem created in the shape of a pair of barbells – a recurrent image in the collection, unsurprisingly) of his seventeenth century style.

I particularly liked the e.e. cummings and the Emily Dickinson pastiches (being both poets that I much enjoy, but occasionally feel are a teensy bit pretentious too): both had me laughing out loud. To name but a few of the others treated, Sylvia Plath and Rainer Maria Rilke are here; also Dante and William McGonagall. But my personal favourite is the Edith Sitwell. If you have never heard William Walton’s Façade, with Sitwell bellowing her poems through a megaphone over the music, then you really, really must remedy that. In the meantime treat yourself to this Sitwell-ese. If possible, bellow it – through a megaphone is ideal (it brings out the rhythm). There isn’t a dud in this collection. And there is even an engaging little coda.

Oh, wait – I said there were three reasons for getting hold of this collection. The third is the completely gorgeous little book in which the poems are contained. The paper is thick and creamy, the cover feels delightful in the hand. The design is restrained and classy. It begs to be given as a gift.


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