Tag Archives: Hachette

Windswept & Interesting: my autobiography – Sir Billy Connolly

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Hachette Australia

OCT 12, 2021 | 9781529318265 | RRP $49.99

What an absolute privilege to be able to review this! I’ve been a fan for more years than I can remember and have eagerly watched his comedy, travel shows and documentaries as well as the books written by Pamela Stephenson. His own description of ‘windswept and interesting’ is one I’ve used often and many times in my own conversations – it really has, to my mind, become part of the vernacular.

One might think that after so much has been written and shared about hi, that the man himself would not have much more to add, but not so. Because aside from the recollections and anecdotes, it is Billy’s innate gleeful humour that lifts this beyond straight autobiography to become a literary stand-up delivery 🙂 and a laugh-out-loud reading experience.

What truly amazes me is that when one looks at the bald facts: losing his mother before he was 4, the crowded and haphazard tenement life in Glasgow and the terrible abuse from not just one by two members of his close family, it could be reasonably expected that this man would be one of these archetypal comics – morose, bitter, depressed. Not Billy. This is a man whose warmth, joy in life and generosity of spirit is so evident, that one cannot help but smile at the least but mostly guffaw as he rambles his way through his memories.

We find out much about his childhood, the good and the bad, his teens (and really, couldn’t such an upbringing easily result in a kid going off the rails?), and his start, in a working life, as a welder in the shipyard where he found, seemingly much to his own surprise, that he could make people laugh. It was his love of music, in particular the banjo, that provided his first entrée into entertainment though. His ability as a banjo player should not be under-estimated (and I’m extremely envious of my ex, who remembers going to see The Humblebums many years ago). Along the way in his early forays into performing, his patter became part of each show and, little by little, began to eclipse the musical side. In the mid 1970s his appearance on the Michael Parkinson show (anyone else remember that?) catapulted him from ‘cult hero’ to not only a national star but international as comedy shows, TV programs, documentaries and movie roles followed.

It took the dual diagnosis of cancer and Parkinson’s to slow down his incredible life as a performer of live shows, though TV and film work has continued, as has his art (a talented creator), fishing, farting and writing.

For those of you who are fans of the Big Yin, I don’t need to recommend it but for those who may not be (seriously? you’re kidding, right?) but enjoy to learn about the rise of someone from less than ideal beginnings to a much-respected, be-knighted (who’d ever have guessed that back in the start?) and dearly loved icon, I heartily give this my highest accolade: this is one review book that is remaining on my own shelves as I know it will give me the greatest pleasure to re-read it – and laugh aloud again as I do so.

Thursdays at Orange Blossom House – Sophie Green

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Hachette

JUL 28, 2021 | 9780733646126 | RRP $32.99

Sophie Green has once again crafted a beautiful and resonant narrative that will capture the hearts of readers, just as her first two books did, with its exploration of the ‘circle of women’ always so evident in her work and, to my mind, so very important to so many. Indeed, as we all face these uncertain and increasingly anxious circumstances which threaten to engulf us, there are many (and, of course, not just women) who are feeling increasingly isolated and Sophie’s books remind us that making connections, forging bonds and the solidarity of sisterhood are such vital concepts for us all.

There is so much to love about this. First for me, it’s set in Cairns. Ok, so I know that Cairns is not right next door to Redcliffe, but it is Queensland and I have at least been there several times – the first when I was six (all the way from Sydney). Secondly, it’s set in the ’90s and I love the preface to each new episodic time frame with the movie releases, top songs etc – very clever device that instantly takes all of us back to a moment in time.

So, it’s 1993 (which incidentally was the year I started teaching, mature-age graduate, in a little Queensland country town) and Grace Maud (always known by both names) has retired from cane farming and the farm established by her grandfather, having handed over the management to her son and daughter-in-law. She’s 74 and knows that it’s time to take that step back but the move into town and her feeling of isolation and creeping old age has her feeling very down. High school teacher Patricia has resigned herself to being the ‘bunny’ of her siblings, caring for her aging parents particularly her mother with dementia, having given up her dreams of travel and a more exciting life. In her early 40s and reckoned quite beautiful, Patricia has condemned herself to a solitary and resentful existence, alone and unappreciated. Youngest of the three is Dorothy, daughter of German immigrants who feels she has always taken a back seat as she has helped her parents with her profoundly deaf sister. Now she is married to a warm and loving German man and desperate to have a baby and the repeated disappointments and trauma are threatening to completely overwhelm her.

Each by some quirk of fate end up at Orange Blossom House where vivacious and exotic Sandrine teaches yoga each week. This in itself is quite the novelty for the time and place, given that most Cairns residents view yoga as the province of vegetarians and weirdos. But the quirky and lively Sandrine is far from a weirdo and her excellent teaching and, more importantly, her leading each woman to release the negativities they hold is a catalyst for the trio who over time bond with such tenderness and support that it is supremely engaging for the reader.

I have absolutely reveled in each one of Sophie’s books and this was no exception. That I read it over two nights is testament to my complete capitulation to her wonderful character driven narratives and the sense of connectedness I feel each time I read her books. I have already recommended verbally this to so many of my friends but now I’m fully endorsing it here.

Get hold of it!! And give yourself the pleasure for a few hours of an escape to the tropics and some thoroughly enjoyable company.

Backyard Birdies – Andy Geppert

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Hachette

JUL 28, 2021 | 9780734420695 | RRP $19.99

Imprint: Lothian Books

Well, you know, I’m a secret bird geek. I love spotting them. I take part in the annual backyard bird survey every year and, even going way way back to my first year of teaching, had my class keeping tally of the birds they saw in the backyards and on their properties. The bird gardens at Maleny are a favourite day trip. We throw our food scraps out onto the grass to feed the neighbourhood bin chickens and crows (mostly). So yes, all in all, a friend of the feathery ones…

And then this book arrived – and I laughed and laughed with the absolute hilarious joy of it. I pretty much expected that I was getting a serious little beginners’ book of bird identification albeit with cutesie illustrations. What I didn’t antipicate was this gloriously uproarious slant on the birds we might most expect to find in our backyards (and here I’m thinking Brisbane backyards as author/illustrator Andy also hails from Bris Vegas).

To whit (but not, in this case, to whoo):

This is a common pigeon. Common because it’s almost identical to every other pigeon.
You’ll sometimes see a white one. That’s because it’s just had a bath. I made that last bit up.

Other avian facts you will discover include:

Seagulls can’t talk.

They can only shout.

and

Kookaburras love hearing jokes from everyone except dads.

Even kookaburras know that dad jokes are terrible.

Along with the fascinating facts… and near-facts… are the delightful and quirky illustrations with each bird depicted next to a common (or dare I say, garden variety) plastic bucket for reference to size and a feather, ostensibly, sticky-taped to the page. Each bird is accompanied by a map for distribution and it’s scientific name so there is some semblance of real information *wink*. The glossary that concludes the book refers not so much words of scientific or technical definition as much as the more random ones chosen by the author.

Most of my friends know that I donate my review books regularly – to a variety of sources – but I found this so amusing and so well-suited to my own sense of humour that it is very likely destined to live on my own bookshelves.

Do not hang about – get thee to your bookseller immediately and order this one. You will definitely not regret it!

Highly recommended for your readers from around six years upwards – I can well picture having a lot of fun with junior classes!

The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency : The Edge of the Ocean Book #2 – L. D. Lapinski

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Hachette Australia

APR 13, 2021 | 9781510105959 | RRP $16.99

Now that Flick is officially a member of the StrangeWorlds Travel Agency, and with one exciting adventure already under her belt, in which she demonstrated some unexpected and remarkable powers, she and Jonathan Mercator are summoned to help another world. This time they are joined by Jonathan’s distant cousin, Avery, to whom Flick takes a strange instant dislike.

The urgent request for help has come from Queen Nyfe, who rules as a pirate chief over a motley crew of almost skeletal ships, in a world called The Break. This strange watery flat world is used to ships disappearing over the edge but in recent times, it’s become apparent that the world is breaking up and so the dangers have increased exponentially for Nyfe, her crew as well as the other mariners and the mer-people who also inhabit the once vast ocean.

Flick, Jonathan and Avery face more than just the pressure of saving The Break’s peoples. The various inhabitants are fighting amongst themselves and navigating the subterfuge on all sides is tricky indeed. Added to this is the shocking realisation that Jonathan’s lost father appears to be indeed dead and his grief renders him almost helpless in the struggle to work out how to transport ships, gigantic mer-people and pirates through a suitcase to a new and suitable world – even if they can actually find one that will fit the bill. And then there is the (to Flick’s mind, weird) way her feelings towards Avery and what seems to be a reciprocal feeling change as the quest unfolds.

Once again, this series delivers amazingly rich narrative with characters with whom readers will fall in love. I, for one, will eagerly anticipate the next instalment and your readers from around middle primary upwards will adore this new instalment.