I’m not in the habit of promoting books I haven’t read, but I don’t have time to read these properly before Christmas and I think I’ll be doing my readers a favour if I share news about four lovely books in my pile of books for review. They’re all from Wakefield Press who have never sent me a book I didn’t love, so I feel confident that these will make perfect Christmas gifts for that special person who’s hard to buy for…
First up is a war classic, with the slightly unnerving title They Hosed Them Out. It’s a novel by John Bede Cusack, who was an Australian air gunner in World War II. First published in 1965, and (from my initial browsing) a frank – indeed brutal – account of the air battles over Europe, it also includes a biography of the author by his daughter Kerry McCouat, and an introduction by war historian Robert Brokenmouth, who also annotated the text.
Here’s a sample of Cusack’s style:
But the German is a wily foe: just when you think you’ve got him beaten, he erupts. It was a day like the one when we did our first train hunt; visibility restricted to one-and-a-half to two miles. We had attacked a railhead in Holland and, after crossing the coast, came down to sea level, which was considered a good tactical move as fighters have a restricted advantage at sea level.
There were three boxes of six.Ours was leading when, out of the mist and flying right on the sea, came six Focke Wulfs with yellow noses, the badge of the dreaded Hermann Goering squadron, all picked and ruthless pilots. They made one concentrated attack on the rear box, coming straight in from dead astern. In a matter of seconds three of our planes plunged with mighty splashes to their doom in the cold North Sea. The rest scattered. (p. 138).
But it’s not just a whole lot of air battles. The hero is, by the look of things, a-hem, a ‘frisky’ young man with a typical Aussie sense of humour and the usual lack of respect for pomposity and decorum. It looks like an entertaining read, and I think my father will love this book. (He had just been accepted into the RAF when his father was diagnosed with cancer and he was given compassionate leave to care for him until he died).
Next up, for lovers of opera is the inspiring story of Marjorie Lawrence, Wotan’s Daughter, by Richard Davis. I have more than browsed through this one, and while it doesn’t make up for the disappointment of not being able to buy tickets for The Ring Cycle next year (already all sold out, even to AO subscribers like us), it is a beautifully written and fascinating account of one of our best-loved opera singers.
It’s a beautiful book printed on silky expensive paper and there are gorgeous photos of Lawrence smiling bravely after she was struck down by polio. It begs for a CD of Marjory Lawrence to accompany it (but you can preview her tracks at iTunes as a taster). Everyone I know who likes classical music will love this, but it will also appeal to older Australians who know of her even if they’re not really fans of opera because she was much admired for her courage and she sang for the troops during the war.
At the Very Heart is a lovely coffee table book. All Australians have an attachment to the arid inland of Australia, even if (like me) they’ve never been there. This book celebrates the tough Aussies who live there.
This is what the blurb says, but it can’t convey the fabulous full colour photography that makes this such a stunning book:
Among all the 19th and 20th century stories of settlement around the world, Australia’s experience of its vast interior was one of the toughest. Few environments resisted the incursion of settlers so implacably and were so routinely perilous and fatal. It bred a sinewy people, hardened by severity and tragedy, made resilient with wit and grit and, as generations were born into it, deeply imbued with a love of its terrible grandeur and beauty. At the Very Heart draws together words and images of these people who forged this mystical union with the land over a span of 100 years – the people who live and work across Australia’s farthest horizons, together with the staff of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM) and its successor Frontier Services, who have devotedly served remote families and provided vital services which they would not otherwise have received.
There is a touching photo of a proud mother holding her toddler, who is swathed in a mosquito net covering her entire head and neck; some poignant shots of nurses and patients; delightful snaps of kids at a playgroup; inspiring studies of Aborigines and fabulous B&W historic records of life in these remote places, including one which is a then-and-now photo (which shows that the place was a bit neater in the old days!)
Finally, although I’ve been to Plein Air exhibitions at the NGV and I always visit the South Australian Art Gallery when I’m in Adelaide, I’m not familiar with the work of a landscape painter called George Collingridge so I’m looking forward to reading a new biography called Plein Airs and Graces: The Life and Times of George Collingridge by Adrian Mitchell. He’s also the author of an account of William Dampier’s explorations called Dampier’s Monkey which I enjoyed very much, see my review) and this explains Mitchell’s interest in his subject: Collingridge was the first to assert that the Portuguese were the first European discoverers of Australia in the 16th century. I bet it didn’t make him popular with the Anglophiles of his time … I expect to enjoy this one too.
BTW I was pleased to see on the Wakefield Home Page that a book I reviewed a while back, Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage by Barbara Santich won Best in Australia in the Best Culinary History Book competition. The book will now go on to compete internationally for Best in the World during the Paris Cookbook Fair, February 2013. Bold Palates would also make a lovely gift for a foodie friend, see my review.
To buy these books for someone you love, click the links:
Or direct from Wakefield Press. (They have some of them as eBooks too, but I don’t know how you wrap up an eBook and put it under a tree!)