About Jamie Ashbird

Jamie Ashbird was born from an egg on a mountain top. At least that's what she keeps telling people. In fact she was born, quite boringly, from a uterus and was raised in Melbourne. It is here, in her native habitat, that she roams about watching the world go by and quietly judging people. She is also a writer... ahem, apologies, typo... she is almost a writer but wastes too much of her time watching other people play video games on YouTube.

Come At Once If Convenient

The Adventure of the Colonial Boy
Narrelle M. Harris
Improbable Press
March 2016

 

colonial-boy-v-smlThe Adventure of the Colonial Boy by Narrelle M. Harris is a Sherlockian novel steeped in a strong brew of Victoriana—in the sense of both the era and the state. And to see our much beloved characters running about in places so familiar and dear is an utter delight.

These are my places, you see. The places my almost daily perambulations take me—down Collins, past Parliament, up to Eastern Hill, around the old terraces near St. Vincent’s, the road up to Kyneton.* Is this what it feels like when a New Yorker watches all those movies set in New York? Or are they so inured to them that it seems the natural way of things? Perhaps I should just read more books by Melbourne authors set in Melbourne. Seems a legit fix.

The Adventure of the Colonial Boy is one of the latest from Improbable Press—a press dedicated to the more romantic interpretations of the Holmes and Watson relationship.

For those who know, you know this facet of the relationship has been discussed, studied, elaborated upon for almost as long as the original stories themselves have been around. For those of you wondering what on earth the world has come to, I’m afraid I’ve got some news for you. Here, let me make you a cup of tea. You wrap this shock blanket around your shoulders, have a bit of a sit down—we need to talk. But first, let me tell everyone else about this lovely book.

We enter into our heroes’ world two years after Holmes’s apparent destruction along with his great nemesis, Moriarty, at the falls of the Reichenbach. Holmes’s ever faithful companion Doctor Watson, still mourning the greatest loss of his life, now mourns the recent death of his wife, Mary.

After a strange day of near-misses, Watson receives a message that sparks near equal amounts of hope and anger and suspicion—“Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same—S.H.”. He follows the familiar summons, making his way to the antipodean post-gold rush city of Melbourne.

There, both Watson’s anger and hope are vindicated when he finds Holmes alive and well. Well, alive anyway. From here they must overcome their recriminations and (please allow me this wonderful cliché) find their way back to each other, emotionally. All the while they pursue and are pursued by the remaining dregs of Moriarty’s web.

Holmes’s two year endeavor to eliminate this intricate syndicate of criminals has led to Australia and the pursuit of Sebastian Moran. For Dr. Watson, memories of his younger days spent in the Victorian gold fields with his brother and father are brought back, as well as the memory of the scandal from which he has been running ever since.

Narrelle M. Harris evokes a tangible sense of colonial Australia with an intricate and at times wonderfully gruesome mystery worthy of Doyle’s best. The Victorian is strong with this one and the romantic relationship between Holmes and Watson is handled with the deftest of delicate touches. Their years of miscommunication are finally confessed and resolved—or are they? Spoilers sweetie. This book was promptly added to my growing list of blanket books. Cozy-fireplace-hot tea-rain patter-blanket books that just make you want to curl up and keep reading.

 

*Well, obviously I don’t walk up that one daily. Or maybe that’s not so obvious to everyone. I do not walk daily to Kyneton. I’d need a lot more porridge in the morning.

Butterfly In The Dark

The Perfect Girl
Gilly MacMillan
Hachette Australia
March 2016

It’s easy to forget—considering there are generations that have grown to adulthood knowing no different—that the internet of things is still new to humanity. Certainly in terms of laws and regulations, the internet is still something of a frontier with the frontier mentality of “anything goes”. Because what are the consequences of misbehaving, really?

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Here, Though the World Explode…

The Night They Met
Atlin Merrick
Improbable Press
December 2015

 

tntmMany moons ago, in a more innocent time when the world was young and carefree, I reviewed The Day They Met—a series of short stories about the day (the many days) that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson met. Because they did, they do and they will, and in every which way throughout time and space.

There was, however, one terrible dastardly thing about this book—it ended. How unutterably rude. Of course, all books must come to an end so I cannot fault it for doing so but still, the cheek. The impertinence, I say!

So colour me all sorts of bright and cheerful hues when The Night They Met was released. Oh yes, my pretties, they’re back—John Watson and ‘Herlock Sholmes’… I mean, Hemlock Shromes… I mean… oh, you know who I mean. The sun may have set, dear reader, but the temperature is about to rise. Continue reading

The Name’s Vitkus. Ona Vitkus.

The One-in-a-Million Boy
Monica Wood
Hachette Australia
12th April 2016
Paperback
$29.99

isbn9781472228369-detailImagine for a moment. Imagine turning a hundred. Imagine turning a hundred and receiving a letter from Queen Charlotte herself.* Are you imagining it? If you are, I’m going to have to ask you to step away from any sharp objects and stop being so utterly ridiculous. A royal head of state by the time you’re a hundred? Are you mad? No, you’re much better off deciding which world record you should aim to be the oldest person to achieve. Much more likely.

Miss Ona Vitkus has the right idea. At a hundred and four she has some way to go to join the ranks of oldest living person but she’ll certainly die trying. Of course, it took the boy to get her interested in life again. Assigned by his scout troop to help her every Saturday, it doesn’t take long for Ona to open up to the little boy, so odd and different from his contemporaries. She finds herself recalling her past for him and in doing so, she slowly unlocks a past buried so deep she hadn’t realised it was still there. Continue reading

Food For Crows

Story of Antigone
Ali Smith, illustrated by Laura Paoletti
Allen & Unwin
November 2015
$16.99

410T8NkJ-3L._SX368_BO1,204,203,200_It’s perhaps not the easiest thing to do, to introduce a child to the convoluted and depressing world of Greek tragedy and somehow engage them in the story. Certainly when I was subjected to Oedipus the King at the age of eleven I was bored out of my skull. Coming after the much more interesting and child-friendly histories of the feats of Heracles, anything that came in play form might as well have been a list of shampoo ingredients for the all the interest they held.

One would imagine then that adapting Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone for younger readers would be a daunting task. It is a challenge that Ali Smith has risen to with aplomb. In her adaptation, The Story of Antigone, the tale is told from the point of view of a crow. A charming character, we are introduced to our witness at the very end of a battle as she describes how to grab a quick morsel for dinner before all the human women (the still-alives) come to collect their dead (food for crows). The theme of death, of human carcasses as things that provide sustenance to other creatures, is constant. Continue reading

The Demons and Devils of Van Diemen’s Land

The Diemenois
JW Clennett
Graphic Novel
Hunter Publishers
December 2015
Hardback
$39.95

CoverDiemenois-841x1024Like anyone who survived the same public school education that I did, I’d hazard to say I know more about ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, and the social and political environments that led to the first and second world wars than I do about Australian history.

What I do remember of my schooling on Australia’s history can be listed thusly:

Pangaea, Gondwanaland, Megafauna, Dreamtime, human fire-clearing practice leading to the evolution of fire-dependent flora, Abel Tasman, First Fleet, Convicts, Burke and Wills.

Vicious colonisation, genocide, bloody massacres were mentioned, sure, but in a kind of blink-and-you´ll-miss-the-whole-apartheid-thing way. It’s enough to suspect some sort of government conspiracy of silence on our shameful past. Hmm. Continue reading

Confetti and Cakes and Cats, Oh My!

The Adventures of Miss Petitfour
Anne Michaels, illustrated by Emma Block
Bloomsbury
December 2015
Hardback
$19.99

miss_petifourDigressions are things that should occur once things have begun. Don’t you think? One couldn’t possibly begin with a digression when there is nowt yet to digress from.
Of course, I could have begun and then gone off on a digression but I’ve always been a little contrary. I do love a good digression. It is in life’s digressions that one finds the adventure, the pith, the meaning. Does this have anything to do with the story at hand? No, not a whit. Continue reading

My Life Got Flipped, Turned Upside Down

Hester & Harriet
Hilary Spiers
Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99
October 2015

9781925266412I am quite sure I have previously expounded on my early-onset curmudgeoness, which began some time around the onset of puberty. Some may have called it simply “being a teenager”, and certainly many similar behaviours were involved. However, it also involved a whole lot of tutting at rude people, finding fellow teenagers to be irritating, and enjoying Brussels sprouts. In other words I have always been old.

Not that Hester and Harriet are old. Do not, under any circumstances, let them overhear you saying that. They are at most late middle-aged, okay. Got that? Continue reading

The King of Infinite Space

Hamlet
Nicki Greenberg
Allen & Unwin
2010

Hamlet+coverOne of the fastest selling seasons of Hamlet in Britain came to a close only a few hours ago. The National Theatre’s record breaking performances at the Barbican were helped along by the pulling power of Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch playing the eponymous role.

And while some poor sad bitter critics may have been lamenting that the audiences were not true theatre goers but merely (merely?) blindly screeching fangirls (and boys), the truth is, even if it was via the attraction of a major star, it brought an entirely fresh new audience to the experience of live theatre and perhaps has inspired them to see more. A win for theatre I would say, and every subsequent play one of those first timers sees from here on in is a fine—if invisible—middle finger to those critics who have nothing better to do than to harp and moan over the “death of theatre”. Continue reading

Auguria et Cancri

The Book of Speculation
Erika Swyler
Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99
July 2015

TheBookSpeculationMany, many years ago I enrolled in a fiction writing class at the CAE. It was the very first writing class I’d ever been to and I can’t recall if I learnt anything useful but I did learn that some people are just not very nice.

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Truth and Truthability

Newt's Emerald
Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin
September 2015, RRP $18.99

Newts EmeraldMy dearest reader

How much I have to tell you. Oh, but how are you? I trust you have been well?
I have the misfortune to suffer constantly from my nerves and have confined myself, of late, to my chambers. However, this has not prevented me hearing the most scandalous news.

I trust you have heard of Lady Truthful Newington who has come to London for the season. She has been staying with her aunt, Lady Badgery—that notorious virago—and is quite the heiress, and handsome too if the reports are true. No doubt she will attract those young gentlemen in need of a lady of fortune to bolster their own, or lack thereof.
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Nature Hath Reared Beyond This Hawthorn Glade

AT HAWTHORN TIME
Melissa Harrison
Bloomsbury Circus
June 2015, RRP $29.99

At Hawthorn TimeNo matter where you live, most people get a sense of the year passing and changing, even in the deprivation of the city—a bit. And more and more and more the more green you have around you. And for many, including me, the pull of the green becomes stronger the longer it has been since you surrounded yourself with it.

At Hawthorn Time is a braided tale of the lives of four people. Kitty and Howard have made their tree-change, from the smoke of London to idyllic village life. Though perhaps that’s the idyll that we all may still have in our minds about country living. Kitty and Howard soon discover that moving to the country is not a panacea for all of life’s ills.

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      IN A DARK WOOD WANDERING Hella S. Haasse  (trans. Lewis C. Kaplan and Anita Miller, Arrow Books, 1989, ISBN 0 09 9744708) In a Dark Wood Wandering appears to be a compulsory part of any good second-hand bookshop collection.  Though compared at its release to The Name of the Rose and … Continue reading