Book Review – ‘Reckoning’ by Magda Szubanski

Enlightening personal history of identity, country and family.

Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, War, History

No. of pages: 400

Magda Szubanski’s childhood in a suburban migrant family was haunted by the demons of her father’s life in wartime Poland. At nineteen, fighting in the Warsaw resistance, he had been recruited to a secret counter-intelligence execution squad. His mission was to assassinate Polish traitors who were betraying Jewish citizens to the Nazis. The legacy of her father’s bravery left the young Magda with profound questions about her family story.

As she grew up, the assassin’s daughter had to navigate her own frailties and fears, including a lifelong struggle with weight gain and an increasing awareness of her own sexuality. With courage and compassion Szubanski’s memoir asks the big questions about life, about the shadows we inherit and the gifts we pass on.

Magda Szubanskiis one of Australia’s best known and most loved performers. She appeared in a number of sketch comedy shows before creating the iconic character of Sharon in ABC-TV’s Kath and Kim. She has also acted in films (Babe, Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, The Golden Compass) and stage shows. Reckoning is her first book.

Magda Szubanski is an impressive woman and a magnanimous writer. Her style is beautiful, melancholic, and haunting. I was bursting with pride and envy upon reading her memoir – her writing skills are first class.

I’m not big on memoirs or autobiographies, but frequently pepper them in my reading schedule because I like to take in a wide breath of writing styles and subjects. ‘Reckoning’ first attracted me because Magda has been the one Australian actress/comedian that has been a constant with me throughout my life. I was always amazed at her work, her humour, her skills in all the endeavours she put her hand to. Then as I started to get into the memoir, I discovered that we were kin on so many other levels. Her father is Polish and served – and survived – the war; my partner is part Polish, descendant from the royal family, and served in the NZSAS, and some of the atrocities he has lived through quite frankly scare the bejeezus out of me. Magda counts herself as a part of the  LGBTQIA+ community as do I, and issues pertaining to identity, coming out, admonishing over labels and perception I can fully relate to. The loss of loved ones – check! And trying to navigate the world as a woman in male dominated industries… need I say more. Though in having said all that, ‘Reckoning’ heavily deals with history and identity of a country which was just about wiped off the face of the earth. A people who only have a history of pain, death, and displacement.

Reckoning’ is a lot to digest. It’s full of a time of humanity at its worst, mixed together with Magda coming to terms with her families role in that period, and, like a heavy sweater, something she drags around with her, trying to fit in today’s society. So I had to put this down a lot. It was emotional, difficult, and confronting subject matter. Distinctly Australian and nostalgic. But also triggering. It brought up all my insecurities again, as Magda faced hers,  and had me reliving precious childhood memories that I don’t even have the opportunity of sharing with family again because they have all passed on.

We also get snippets of her professional acting career; and not really a behind the scenes feel, but a glimpse into her emotional and mental states around those events. I loved how this is not anything like the memoirs I’ve recently read from other famous female actors and comedians. In comparison those are fluffy, feel good pieces, where ‘Reckoning’ is a soulful powerhouse.

This memoir feels more like a love letter to her father, and the Polish people. It’s about her discovering her heritage and using that as a lens to confront her own identity. Though this writing was completely unexpected, I can say with all honesty this memoir is the best of this genre I have read to date. The only down side is that it may isolate some younger readers and can get a little bogged down in history. But this is definitely a memoir I will be recommending to everyone.

Overall feeling: I stand with you…

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Highway Bodies’ by Alison Evans

A zombie apocalypse Aussie style!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, LGBT

No. of pages: 376

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Who will you rely on in the zombie apocalypse?

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Bodies on the TV, explosions, barriers, and people fleeing. No access to social media. And a dad who’ll suddenly bite your head off – literally. These teens have to learn a new resilience…

Members of a band wield weapons instead of instruments.

A pair of siblings find there’s only so much you can joke about, when the menace is this strong.

And a couple find depth among the chaos.

Highway Bodies is a unique zombie apocalypse story featuring a range of queer and gender non-conforming teens who have lost their families and friends and can only rely upon each other.

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Once I got into ‘Highway Bodies’ I could not put this book down – I stayed up until 3am to finish it, and every tap, scratch, and spook noise from outside my widow and I’d freeze like I was living in a zombie apocalypse too. Having lived in Melbourne, Australia for over 7 years, it was great to recognise many of the landmarks referenced in this novel. And it was additionally a breath of fresh air to read a story where cis, straight-gendered people were the minority. ‘Highway Bodies’ has a lot going for it.

Told in three alternating perspectives from differing groups of teenagers as they witness the initiation of a viral outbreak from a meat processing plant, turning the population into flesh eating zombies. One of the narratives in particular is expressed in dialect slang – which is jarring at first – I didn’t like it so much, but then as the novel progresses and you get used to it, it really shines through and separates this perspective or Eve from the other two. Eve is transgender and flees from his home after his father turns and attacks Eve’s mother and brother. There is a lot of gore in ‘Highway Bodies’ think ‘The Walking Dead’ starring a diverse group of teens.

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleDee leads the second narrative, a member of a rock band renting a house in the countryside while they practice and write new songs. Dee identifies as bisexual and we see many expression of genders and sexuality in her bandmates and throughout the novel. After the power cuts off and they cannot access the internet or get cell service they venture into town to find bodies everywhere, the whole town slaughtered. It doesn’t take them too long to run into their first zombie.

JoJo is our final non-binary protagonist, one of a pair of fraternal twins from a previously abusive home. Their mother is a nurse and after she returns to work and does not return home, JoJo and sister Rhea sneak to the hospital to investigate. Finding their mother, turned, and amongst a horde of caged zombies from a military presence.

After that things really to go hell in a fight for survival: from the zombies, the elements, and other survivors.

It took me a bit to click to what was going on with the switching of narratives in the beginning, it’s not until 50 pages in that you get a sense of the rhythm of ‘Highway Bodies’ and after that the pace and tension keep increasing right up until the end. I enjoyed Alison Evans writing style much more in this novel than I did in her debut ‘Ida.’ ‘Highway Bodies’ has a gruesome realism befitting the dystopian landscape. I found myself invested and caring about these teens plight. The conclusion is a bit of a one-two punch, but satisfying.

The three things holding me back from awarding a perfect score for this novel were the fact I didn’t know what was going on initially with the switching of perspectives. Maybe some chapter titles to let the reader know whose story we were following would have been helpful. The other was the affirmation of gender pronouns to be used when characters were introducing themselves to each other. I get the practicality of it, but in the setting the dialogue did not feel natural and true to the characters… but it is only my opinion. I would have liked to have seen a more intimate setting, or a correction to make this scene feel more authentic. And finally, though there is romance in ‘Highway Bodies’ it wasn’t given enough time to develop to a point for me to really get into the couplings. They were cute and I was rooting for them, but it missed some angst or something.

I have to applaud the representation in ‘Highway Bodies’ it helps raise awareness and give a voice to minority groups. I’m enjoy experiencing a world through the eyes of someone other than a straight white cis-gendered protagonist.

I liken this to Mindy McGinnis ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ it has the same level of brutality, a survival story – and as such is mostly predictable. You want the protagonists to stay alive and make it to the end of the novel; but the journey there has many unexpected turns. ‘Highway Bodies’ is one of my most favourite zombie apocalypse reads to date. And I can’t recommend this enough.

Just some trigger warnings for younger readers for assault, violence, gore, murder, and you know general zombiness.

Overall feeling: Aussie Awesomeness!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Wreck’ by Fleur Ferris

Uncovering secrets is a dangerous job.

Wreck Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 288

From Goodreads:

Tamara Bennett is going to be the first journalist to strictly report only good news. Finished with high school, Tamara is ready to say goodbye to her sleepy little town and part-time job at the local paper. O-weeks awaits, which means parties, cute boys and settling into student res with her best friend Relle. Things take an unexpected turn, however, when she arrives home to find her house ransacked and her life in danger. What is this mysterious note? And why does it mean so much to one of Australia’s most powerful media moguls? Caught between a bitter rivalry and dangerous family secret, who can Tamara trust? Or should she trust herself?

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Wreck’ roped me in straight away. Told in dual perspectives, alternating chapters between present day 18 year old Tamara, about to commence O-Week at a Melbourne University; and five years in the past from the 13 year old son of a media mogul William. It starts off with a bang – Tamara being burgled, attacked, held at gunpoint; and William navigating away from an abusive older brother and a ship unsuccessfully navigating a violent storm, about to succumb to the dark ocean. From that point it was hard to put this novel down. I read it in one sitting. It felt like it went fast. The pacing was fantastic, action and mystery at every turn.

I think this is the best Fleur Ferris novel I’ve read to date. And it gets even more props for being set mostly in Melbourne, Australia. A place I like to call home. We get a real sense of Australian life and culture without it feeling stereotyped in Ferris’ writing style. Tamara likes to surf and cares about our beaches, clearing rubbish when she can. Thongs are a big thing: that’s flip flops for my American readers. And we get the some local colloquialisms too. It helped me strongly identify with the main characters.

Tamara is an aspiring journalist, determined, righteous, and full of optimism. We get a strong sense that her character development is all about overcoming fear and uncovering the truth, something strongly tied to her journalistic integrity. William comes across as desperate and scattered, a victim. But there is a softer, more rational side to him. This novel is more about his redemption.

Wreck Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

One thing that really stood out to me with ‘Wreck,’ is that instead of the trend in YA where the characters isolate themselves from people of authority whose job it is to police, investigate, protect with flimsy rationale or convoluted circumstances, ‘Wreck’ embraces the adults and brings them into the story. It was truly refreshing and added a layer of realism to the narrative. And gave the protagonists a major helping of intelligence in my opinion.

There was instant hate and frustration at the antagonist of the story from the get-go. Knox makes the perfect villain, though I would have liked to have seen him a more rounded character instead of his only motivation being jealousy and greed.

Wreck’ is easily predictable for me, not like the uncertainty of ‘Found.’ Though it is a great ride right to the end. There was one thread left hanging that I felt was essential to the story. While it is resolved in principal, I felt it needed a stronger resolution and a more emotional ending to really pack a punch. That said, Fleur Ferris as cemented herself as one of my favorite authors. I really hope she keeps writing YA thriller/mysteries.

Definitely recommend this one to all!

Overall feeling: Ay Chihuahua!

Wreck Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Wreck Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mountain Apocalypse

Novel-esque dystopian conditions make for interesting living on my mountain top.

 Mountain Apocalypse by Casey Carlisle

 

Some days I feel like my life mirrors the post-apocalyptic YA novels I enjoy reading. I was forced offline yet again from failing hardware. Finding a solution with my smart phone and an online order, thinking I was being clever ensuring a quick resolution, I ordered the parts needed and awaited for them to be delivered to my door. When in reality it added an extra month to my hiatus from the world wide web. It would have been so much quicker to suffer the forty minute drive to a regional centre and purchase the parts in person. Grrr!

 

That was my easiest obstacle to overcome these last few weeks…

 

We ran out of water.

 

Nothing to drink, no showering, I couldn’t even wash my dirty dishes. Learning all the life hacks up here is character building. Living on a remote range means I have to pump my water from a rain tank or from the natural spring…. It’s no longer as easy as turning on a tap and paying the bill at the end of the month. Just like my writing had resorted to the primitive: writing on paper with a pen, it was strangely exhilarating to overcome these obstacles.

 

The fact that the days up here are incredibly humid and temperatures average between 32-40 degrees Celsius – you get hot and thirsty! (Not to mention develop somewhat noticeable body odour) I was concerned about my three fur babies in the extreme heat – they are covered in tick luxurious hair and used to the cool Melbourne weather… for three days they did not stop panting. It called for plenty of douses in the shower with cold water (until it ran out) and trips in the air-conditioned car. I’d Maguyvered a tray to slip over the steering wheel to act as a desk, the blessedly chilly air from the vent and novel make-shift office, only spurred my imagination. I managed to scribble out the plot points for a sequel and finished writing a few chapters.

 

Next week a cooling unit is going to get installed into the Writer’s Cottage – thank heavens. But will the quiet everyday pace be less challenging and my writing suffer?

 

At night I’m battling toads, and all manner of biting insects – I have what is dubbed our ‘snake rake’ when venturing outside, a torch in the other hand following the dogs to relieve themselves while I stand guard. It’s pitch black out here… you really can’t see more than a few metres in the glow of the led light. But looking up – it’s breathtaking the amount of stars you can see filling the night sky. You only really see snakes in the daytime when it’s hot, and the trusty rake is used only as a deterrent for all the curious local wildlife. All the critters up here are BOLD. They aren’t used to predators or human habitation. Birds will practically eat from your hand. Reptilian and rat-things simply stare at you uninterested. And there I am, this crazy redhead, waving my rake and hands telling them to ‘shoo!’

Yeah right lady, this is our mountain.

Talk about a fish-out-of-water story!

 

You have to dress practically here – gone are my business attire and high heels – I’ve had to purchase “gardening outfits” that make me look like I’m about to venture off on a long hike. But I suffer the fashion crisis rather than get sunburnt, bitten, scratched, poked, or slip on my backside. I’ve already done all of those things, and value these new rumpled clothes and hardy footwear – if only there was something to stop me from walking though spider weds and swatting-waving for ten minutes afterwards in hopes the creator of the sticky structure in not still clinging to me somewhere.

 

I half expect to see Katniss break from the trees with her bow and arrow…

 

Really, I’ve only been living here four weeks and already sustained a hip injury, bitten by spiders, had a tree ant fall into my top and wreak havoc, bruised my legs so badly moving boxes and furniture I look like I fell down a ravine, poked myself in the eye with a stick (don’t ask) and turned beetroot red from overexposure (10 mins in my case) to the sun.

 

But for some reason, have written one of the highest word counts in a while… so there is a lot to say for unplugging and returning to nature.

 

Let’s just hope my situating does not escalate, although I’m prepared. Bring on zombie frogs and vampire wombats I say!

 

What difficult situations have inspired your writing?

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© Casey Carlisle 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

When do you write? How do your write?

Where dou you write by Casey Carlisle

Hermit writers, coffee huggers, napkin scribes… we all have our own way of spanking our inner moppet.

I have colleagues that can write anywhere, but for me that only happens when I’m in ‘the zone,’ a sink hole could open up and suck down the entire block and I’d be none the wiser. Unfortunately those moments (of manic writing) aren’t so frequent.

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If I have my earphones and cell phone, while listening to whatever playlist I’m in the mood for, it enhances my ability to shut out the world and focus. The tram on the way to and from work was the best place for me to utilise some downtime. Sometimes in the park, library or a café. I think without music I’d lose the best tool I have in helping me to write. (Secretly – having the earbuds in helps block out the flatmate and his frequent nonsensical blurts, and other noises *cough-farting-cough*. He loves to think out loud and constantly pulls me from the narrative I’m creating.)

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Now it’s all about the nature fest!

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Comfortably set up in my new digs, offering frequent trips outside the study – or just the magnificent view – inspire me… a natural spring, view of the beach, discovering edibles on the property macadamia, avocado, orange, mango, brazilian grape (jubuticaba), paw paw, and lemon fill my nose with cool fresh scented mountain air, energizing me to work (and tempt me into adding more to the garden beds – who knows I could develop a green thumb and live self sufficiently? Here’s hoping 🙂

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My new soundtrack while at the computer consists of wildlife – ducks and ibis on the spring, kookaburras laugh every evening, colourful rosella parrots, frogs galore (tiny ones) and a multitude of insects… such a change from the city. There is less noise to block out and I’m finding focus easy.

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With the warmer weather, I’m more inclined to be found outdoors, scratching on a pad with an old fashioned pen. I’m a little wary at times because I spotted a snake yesterday, weaving past and up into a tree. I had visions of happily scribing away before a ninja tree snake descended from above. Bonsai!!

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The sky is so clear at night and I can see far more stars compared to the Melbourne skyline. I’d love to perch on the balcony and tap away at the laptop, but until I get a screened enclosure, I’ll have to skip it. The mosquitoes are like an itchy death squadron and I’m covered in ugly red bumps.

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So, for now, I keep to the study and coffee shops (and maybe poolside at my Aunty’s house) until I make a few changes. And who knows, the beach is fifteen minutes away and there are so many quaint places of interest close by. Next time I feel claustrophobic a short drive and a change of scenery…

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Where is the best place you find your muse? Do like to shut out the world or be in the thick of it?

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Do you always use a computer to write, or switch it up with an old fashioned typewriter or pen?

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© Casey Carlisle 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tips for being a stand out Job Applicant… by Casey Carlisle

Don’t follow the crowd – success in job applications relies on much more than sending in a Resume.

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I was having an informal chat yesterday with some friends, and we got on to the topic of finding work, as all of us had started a new job in the past 12 months. Comparing our experiences and admitting on how much harder it was to gain employment than it was a number of years ago and the added pressure of the inflated cost of living highlight what a different climate we live in.

I have to concur, I count my pennies a lot closer today than I used to. There isn’t that much disposable income in my household any more.

But while looking for work, it’s no longer enough just to troll the job boards and send in your resume. Employers are getting 350 to 500 applicants for vacancies today*. So you need to do a lot in order to stand out. Unfortunately it may not have a lot to do with your experience. It comes to using concise language, bullet points, and easy to read layout for your CV – and a killer Cover Letter!

Then, once you have their attention, they’ll look at your skills and experience.

It’s similar to Ballroom dancing competitions; you do all this training to perfect your routine… but that means little if the judges don’t see you. So dressing it up in a sparkly, sexy outfit; stunning hair and make-up to mesmerise the adjudicators is a must. Then while you are busting out the moves on the dance floor, you’re competing with many other couples. The dance track will go, on average for 1-3 minutes; and in that time a judge will watch you for maybe 5 seconds. So you need to make those five seconds count!

So, like a dancing competition, don’t dismiss the window dressing. It’s survival. Do what you can to make your application stand out and present your best qualities clearly. Employers and Recruiting Agencies have a limited amount of time to fill vacancies, and most will only glance at your resume before binning it.

On your job search don’t be afraid to use contacts, show your Cover Letter and Resume to friends, or better still, pop into a Recruiting Agency and ask a Consultant for their opinion. It’s free and they could shed some light on valuable tips to have you stepping into your dream job sooner rather than later.

Many job boards will integrate with Social Networking sites, so use people you know to help you find work. Set up an online profile for employers to check out. Make it impressive – add pictures, media clips, copies of certificates. In today’s age of connectivity, use what’s at your disposal. You can even network with professionals online to boost your reach and credibility.

Remember to put all your skills in your CV or profile. You’re more than your qualifications. What life experiences do you have? What are your dreams & hobbies? Employees want people with passion to join their team. Ask friends to help build your lists, they can be much more objective and identify aspects you overlook.

When you’ve done as much as you can, applied for the jobs you want – be prepared. If they call, many will be conducting a telephone interview as soon as you say ‘Hello?’ So keep notes on the job you applied for handy. Print out a copy of your Resume and Cover Letter so you can refer to it in a glance. The last thing you want to do is stammer through a phone conversation when being put on the spot.

I hope these points will help you – they definitely made the process much easier for me. And don’t forget…

You are outstanding! Be bold and ask for what you want.

*actual figure from feedback of 50+ employers and recruiting agencies in Victoria for the month of February 2014.

© Casey Carlisle 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

You’re smarter than you think…. by Casey Carlisle

Image When I moved to Melbourne for work, meeting a plethora of new friends, I had to endure that ‘getting-to-know-all-about-you’ stage again. I’d been cloistered away within the same safe group of friends for nearly ten years, so doing the ‘sell yourself’ thing to prospective employers and new connections was a little daunting. But one comment from my new friends stuck out at me – ‘You’ve done all that?’ It got me critiquing my CV wondering if it was all that unusual.

What I found, (although I may be a little ADD) realistically, I’d included all of my extracurricular activities. How many of us multi-task a number of careers or hobbies? You have interests outside of work, or sport, right? These are your forgotten secret skills! It is like checking through all the jacket pockets in your wardrobe and discovering some overlooked cash.

I’ve invested as much passion, if not more in each of these activities, and once achieving some sort of benchmark, I’d move on to another challenge.

Many of us switch career paths completely, or have more than one thing going on in our lives, create multiple streams of income, satisfy our creative urges, continuing at a mundane job to pay the bills. Everything is relative, everything is a feather to stick in your cap.

Forget about that shoulder-padded blazer you wear to work, what about the sloppy-joe you wear coaching, or the overalls you don when renovating the elusive ‘junk room?’ Are you the go-to person for any IT issues in the family? Do you like to read up on topics you may have overheard to satiate your curiosity or review the latest flick on a blog? It may be time to amalgamate your wardrobe and give all your skills equal standing, you’ll soon discover that you are far more interesting than you think!

So my answer to their wide-eyed wonder at the stories of my past is… ‘Yes! And I’m sure if you really think about it you have accomplished just as much too.’

Turn your passions into inspiration.

© Casey Carlisle 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.