Monday, September 16, 2013

September Book Review # 2

Life in colonial Victoria, Australia was always going to be tough for Ned Kelly.
Born to Irish Catholic parents, his father an ex transported convict, the family were second class citizens in a English Protestant dominated society.
Scratching to make a living on 80 poor acres near Greta in rural Victoria after his father's death, Ned resorted to a little horse and cattle stealing to make ends meet. He had been in trouble with the law from the age of fourteen and was to spend some time in gaol for his sins. His continued criminal activity brought him under the watchful eye of the local constabulary. In fact it's safe to say they were out too get him.
Ned (falsely?) accused of attempted murder of a policeman eventually went into hiding with his brother Dan where they were later joined by friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart and would be forever known as "The Kelly Gang".

While on the run they shot and killed three policemen, committed two major bank hold ups and murdered a police informant.
After the latter event, the gang rode openly through Beechworth to the small railway town of Glenrowan to wreck a special police train that had been sent up from Melbourne with a force thought to be large enough to finally capture them. .
It was here the classic siege with multiple inhabitants taken hostage and a long drawn out shoot out with police took place. And it was here that the gang wore their famous armour.
Ned was the only member of the gang to survive and was captured.
He was hanged on 11th November 1880 at Melbourne Gaol.
Ned Kelly is Australia's most famous bushranger (outlaw).
He is considered by some to be merely a cold-blooded killer, while others consider him to be a folk hero and symbol of Irish Australian resistance against the Anglo-Australian ruling class.
The expression 'as game as Ned Kelly' is a ingrained in the Australian language.

Glenrowan is a detailed account of Ned's life, the siege and his ultimate demise. There are also details of the bizarre aftermath. Suffice to say his remains (minus his skull) were finally laid to rest on 20th January 2013.
It has been meticulously researched and despite the huge amount of factual content is entertainingly written. The personal portraits of all the major players are particularly insightful.
Australians learn about Ned from an early age. Most of us think we know it all. But reading this it's obvious we don't. Highly recommended for those interested in this facet of Australian history or for those who appreciate a good rollicking tale, the Australian version of 'a western'.
For those who want an abridged version, you can read that here.

Not another Civil War book I hear you cry!
Well, it IS the most written about event in world history.
1861 The Civil War Awakening was published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the war and covers a relatively short period leading up to and including the first few months of the conflict.
And for me it introduced a whole new cast of little-known Civil War heroes—among them an acrobatic militia colonel, an explorer’s wife, an idealistic band of German immigrants, a regiment of New York City firemen, a community of Virginia slaves, and a young college professor who would one day become president. 
As examples, Major Robert Anderson, a southerner who remained loyal to the Union and moved his small garrison without orders from the indefensible Fort Moultrie in Charlestown Harbor to the more secure Fort Sumpter and managed to hold out for two days under withering bombardment before honorably surrendering.....with no loss of life (on either side).
Elmer Ellsworth, a showman, friend of Lincoln and former of the first Zouave union army unit to see combat where he was killed removing a confederate flag from a hotel in Alexandria.
Major General Butler who accepted the escaped slaves from the Confederate side into Fort Monroe with know intention of returning them to their 'owners' (much against Lincoln's policy at the time), designating them as contraband.
Goodheart shifts focus away from the power centers of Washington and Charleston to look at the actions and reactions of citizens from Boston to New York City, from Hampton Roads to St. Louis and San Francisco, emphasizing the cultural rather than military clash between those wanting the country to move forward and those clinging to the old ways.
One of the best books on this subject for me so far.
And was this my last 'real' book?

Space Chronicles was my first Kindle book which I can read on my iPad mini too. It's all a bit weird at first but you soon get used to it.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of my favorite 'scientists'. His official title is astrophysicist and science communicator.
Funny, educational and the ability to write about complicated issues with such simplicity makes his books a joy to read. I reviewed his book on Pluto (the now dwarf planet, not the puppy) some time ago.
His interviews on the 'Daily Show' are always entertaining and when reading him you can almost hear him talking to you.
This book contains everything you ever wanted to know about space and space exploration, scientifically, and politically; past, present and future.
It can be a bit rambling and repetitive at times (did the the credited editor go MIA occasionally?) but de Grasse Tyson's enthusiasm for the subject shines through and you can easily forgive the transgressions.
Sometimes I get the feeling that I don't read enough Australian books.
The selection for this category on Amazon for Kindle is fairly limited but a plough through the listings one night highlighted a local author I had never heard of, Drew Lindsay.
He writes detective novels and the first of his Ben Hood Series was a free download.
Despite not being into that genre, some of the reviews convinced me I should give it a go.

Coral Sea Affair turned out to good easy read with familiar settings in Sydney and Far North Queensland. Dialogue was typically Australian, the characters real enough, the plot was a bit far fetched but, hey, it doesn't hurt to suspend reality occasionally.
The author is an ex cop, security officer and insurance fraud investigator as well as a diver and pilot.
All these life's experiences are well utilized.
There are apparently nine more books in the Ben Hood Series.
We shall see!
Samantha arrives in a small country town to start a new life. She has emotional baggage.
The first person she meets is Ethan the town vet. He also has a lot of baggage.
But the sparks fly. They circle each other.
WiIl they or won't they?
Will the mountain of baggage get in the way?

The House on Burra Burra Lane has a plot ripe for a Universal (Hallmark) Channel movie adaptation except it's set in the foothills of Australia's Snowy Mountains not Smalltown, USA.
A lightweight read with little character development, a simple plot despite the small twist and a very predictable ending.
One to wizz through while taking a breather from more serious material.

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