Book Review: A Life At the Edge of the World by Michelle Scott Tucker

Summary

In 1788, a young gentlewoman raised in the vicarage of an English village married a handsome, haughty and penniless army officer. In any Jane Austen novel that would be the end of the story, but for the real-life woman who would play an integral part in establishing Australia’s wool industry, it was just the beginning 

John Macarthur took credit for establishing the Australian wool industry and would feature on the two-dollar note, but it was practical Elizabeth who managed their holdings—while dealing with the results of John’s manias: duels, quarrels, court cases, a military coup, long absences overseas, grandiose construction projects and, finally, his descent into certified insanity.- goodreads

My Thoughts

As soon as I finished reading A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville, I knew that I must read A Life at the Edge of the World. I really wanted to get to know the real Elizabeth, after reading about Kate Grenville’s imagined version.

This is the true story of a strong woman, who was truly a farmer, and not just a farmer’s wife, in the days when women weren’t expected to do much more than socialise and entertain. The Macarthur farming enterprise into Merino Sheep would not have happened or been successful without Elizabeth at the helm. She did the work, but then stood back and allowed her husband to take the credit, without a complaint.

I thought Elizabeth’s life, although priveleged, to be very sad. Her husband was away in London often, and for long periods of time, while Elizabeth stayed home and managed the farm, while caring for a large family of children. Four of her children died, and her boys also spent time away from her, in London.

Michelle Scott Tucker, has captured Elizabeth Macarthur perfectly, due to her meticulous research. This is evident in the bibliography, the notes which contained a huge amount of detail, and the comprehensive index.

I learnt about John Macarthur at school, but knew nothing of his wife Elizabeth. I’m so pleased that I read this book to set that wrong right. Elizabeth Macarthur’s story should be taught in history lessons, along with the story of her husband. Elizabeth was as much a pioneer of the wool industry and of this country, as was her husband.

Quotes From The Book

“As her daughter’s health improved, Elizabeth turned her energies and focus to the farms. That is not to say, with John away, she hadn’t already been working. Apart from a handful of aristocrats, Elizabeth and the other women of her era never stopped working. They worked every day of their lives and worked extraordinarily hard. The so-called ‘farmer and his wife’ were, in reality, both farmers and then, as now, the wife’s labour inside and outside the home was crucial to the running of the farm and the economic wellbeing of the family. Elizabeth Macarthur was no exception. She was, at that time, again, merely one of a number of women who had sole responsibility for their families’ farms”. (p.208)

“Australian history has been, until recently, very much the history of white men working—as farmers, as soldiers, as miners, as explorers. Women and other outsiders were largely written out, as if they were merely peripheral to the real story. In the history of Australian farming, though, women very much were the real story. Elizabeth Macarthur is only one of many women who were—and are—crucial to the family farming enterprise. In her ambition, her fortitude and her love for her family she was just like many other strong and intelligent farm women”. (pp. 329-30)

 Star Rating: 4.5 stars

 

About the Author

Michelle Scott Tucker

Michelle is a writer, a mother, a company director, a feminist, a policeman’s wife, a gardener, a management consultant, a horsewoman and an indifferent cook. She lives on a small farm in regional Victoria.

 

Published in 2018 by Text Publishing.
Softcover, 385 pages, including bibliography, notes and index.

All books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library, unless otherwise stated.

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Aussie Author Challenge

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Yes My Accent is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told you by Kunal Nayyari

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Summary

Of all the charming misfits on television, there’s no doubt Raj from The Big Bang Theory — the sincere yet incurably geeky Indian-American astrophysicist — ranks among the misfittingest. Now, we meet the actor who is every bit as loveable as the character he plays on TV. In this revealing collection of essays written in his irreverent, hilarious, and self-deprecating voice, Kunal Nayyar traces his journey from a little boy in New Delhi who mistakes, an awkward first kiss for a sacred commitment, gets nosebleeds chugging Coca-Cola to impress other students, and excels in the sport of badminton, to the confident, successful actor on the set of TV’s most-watched sitcom since Friends.

Going behind the scenes of The Big Bang Theory and into his personal experiences, Kunal introduces readers to the people who helped him grow, such as his James Bond-loving, mustachioed father who taught him the most important lessons in life: Treat a beggar as you would a king. There are two sides to every story. A smile goes a long way. And, when in doubt, use a spreadsheet.

Kunal also walks us through his college years in Portland, where he takes his first sips of alcohol, and learns to let loose with his French, 6’8” gentle-giant roommate, works his first-ever job for the university’s housekeeping department cleaning toilets for minimum wage, and begins a series of romantic exploits that go just about as well as they would for Raj. (That is, until he meets and marries a former Miss India in an elaborate seven-day event that we get to experience in a chapter titled “My Big Fat Indian Wedding.”)

Full of heart, but never taking itself too seriously, this witty and often inspiring collection of underdog tales follows a young man as he traverses two continents in search of a dream, along the way transcending culture and language (and many, many embarrassing incidents) to somehow miraculously land the role – Goodreads

My Thoughts

I was searching for a book to read for a review for the letter ‘Y’ when I came across this book written by the star of my favourite TV series, The Big Bang Theory.  I would usually shy away from autobiographies written by celebrities but thought I’d give this one a go, as I was keen on reviewing a book of genre I usually don’t review.

I didn’t have huge expectations but it wasn’t long before I was hooked. Kunal and Raj sound as though they are the same person, but that is possibly, because he has brought himself to the role.

. He writes with a self deprecating humour that is very funny to read, while coming across as being very genuine, as he talks about how appreciative he is of his fans.  I laughed and laughed, when I read about his Big Bang audition. And then laughed more, while reading about his marriage to Miss India.

I would describe Kunal’s book as being very sweet, very charming, very funny, but most of all very well written. I enjoyed this book much more than I expected and was sorry when it came to an end.

Yes, My Accent Is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven't Told You

Published in 2015 by Atria Books, 245 pages

Quotes

“Because words are powerful; they can hurt and wound, and one word can lead to a thousand horrors. So don’t forget to be impeccable with your words.”

“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why are you writing a memoir? You’re only thirty-four.’
This is not a memoir. I’m not a president, or an astronaut, or a Kardashian.
This is a collection of stories from my life.”

My Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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O: On Writing by Stephen King #atozchallenge

On Writing: A memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Summary

There is a reason why Stephen King is one of the bestselling writers in the world, ever. Described in the Guardian as ‘the most remarkable storyteller in modern American literature’, Styephen King writes books that draw you in and are impossible to put down.

Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near fatal accident in 1999 – and how the inextricable link betwenn writing and living spurred his recovery.

My Thoughts

On Writing is so much more than a text book on creative writiing. It is also part memoir and contains so many tips for aspiring writers. I’m not an aspiring writer but as I read this book, as a Stephen King fan, I wanted so soak up all the advice and how-to infomation that he was giving about writing.

As is usual with King, he writes with humour and ensures that his book is a ‘page turner’ – even if it is merely a book about writiing. I absolutely loved this book, and can see myself coming back to it again and again.

Included at the end, is a chapter listing books that are favourites of King – he says because he has been entertained by them.

I’m sure all fans of Stephen King would love this book.

Recommendations

“The childhood memoir is a triumphant display of wit, storytelling and guts. His advice to writers is hard-nosed, practical and level headed in the classic journalistic Orwell-Hemingway tradition” – Evening Standard

“Absolutely fascinating….basic instructions….sensible advice” – The Sunday Times

“A fascinating combination of autobiography and personal voyage through the books and films that have inspired the phenomenally successful author….an invaluable insight into his working methods that will no doubt be pored over by aspiring authors throughout the world….a subtle and revealing portrait of his home life and the recent traumatic car accident” – Publishing News

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

King at the 2007 Comic Con

Stephen King is a No. 1 Best Selling Author many times over. He is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. Many of his books have been adapted into major films and TV series. King received the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In 2007, he won the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America and in 2015 he received America’s National Medal of Arts.

He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist, Tabitha King.

First published 2000 by Hodder & Stoughton
This edition published in 2012
Paperback, 354 pages, including booklist

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The Lost Boys by Paul Byrnes #atozchallenge

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

The Lost Boys by Paul Byrnes: The Untold Stories of the under-age soldiers who fought in the First World War

Summary

In the First World War of 1914-1918, thousands of boys across Australia and New Zealand lied about their age, forged a parent’s signature and left to fight on the other side of the world. Though some were as young as thirteen, they soon found they could die as well as any man. Like Peter Pan’s lost boys, they have remained forever young. These are their stories. – blurb

This extraordinary book captures the incredible and previously untold stories of forty Anzac boys who fought in the First World War, from Gallipoli to the Armistice. Featuring haunting images of the boys taken at training camps and behind the lines, these tales are both heartbreaking and rousing, full of daring, ingenuity, recklessness, random horror and capricious luck.A unique perspective on the First World War, is military history made eeply personal, a powerful homage to youthful bravery and a poignant reminder of the sacrifice of war. – inside cover

The Lost Boys: The untold stories of the under-age soldiers who fought in the First World War

My Thoughts

A heartbreaking record of the underage boys who enlisted for WW1. The information was taken from service records and family interview. There was quite a bit of speculation about the way things may have been but that is understandable, and gives colour and a personal touch  to to the stories of these boys.
Photos of the boys in uniform are included. When looking at these photos, it’s very difficult to understand how recruiters could possibly have thought them to be over age. Most of the boys looked like baby faced young boys playing dress ups in soldiers uniforms. The sadness of that brought tears to my eyes.

A beautifully presented hardcover book with dustjacket. Black and white images of war are imprinted on the hardcover.

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

 About the Author

Paul Byrnes joined the Sydney Morning Herald in 1976, reporting from various corners of the world, for a decade, before specialising as a feature writer and film critic. He was director of the Sydney Film Festival for ten years,  until 1998. In 2007, he won the Pascall prize, Australia’s highest award for critical writing in the arts. This book is the result of a lifelong interest in the First World War. He lives in Australia and France

Published in 2019 by Affirm Press. 364 pages including index

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K:Kin by Nick Brodie #AtoZChallenge #aussieauthor20

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Kin: A Real People’s History of our Nation by Nick Brodie

Summary

From convicts, goldminers and sailors, to high country horsemen, nurses and soldiers – and almost everyone in between – KIN is about generations of real people living real lives. Join historian and archaeologist, Nick Brodie, as he traces his family back to their first arrivals in Australia. As their lives intersect, KIN provides a unique historical insight into Australia’s past: colonies grow and wars are fought as Nick follows his people and their children across land and sea, in their everyday occupations and through their hardships and most memorable events. Follow Nick’s journey to discover how his kinfolk lived, the bigger story of the history of Australia, as their stories become both his and ours. – blurb

My Thoughts

The author uses stories about his own ancestors to create a full and thorough explanation of Australian history. I really enjoyed this book, but as family history and Australian history is my passion, be aware that I could be biased. I loved the ancestry charts included and really enjoyed following the lives of the author’s ancestors. Even though Kin is a very thorough history of Australia and of his own ancestors, it is very easy to follow.

Kin is based on very thorough research, both ancestral and historical. My only criticism would be that I’d have liked to have seen a list of sources at the back of the book. But this is addressed by the author at the end, where he gives his reasons for not including them.

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

Nick Brodie is a historian, archaeologist, writer and university lecturer. Born in country New South Wales, his fascination with the past dates back to when he was old enough to dig in his parent’s backyard. The rusty objects and broken bottles he uncovered have since been lost, but his tenacious curiosity and a passion for exploring history remain – back cover

Published in 2015 by Hardie Grant Books
Softcover, 370 pages including index, acknowledgements and authors notes.

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2020 Aussie Author Challenge

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Journey from Venice by Ruth Cracknell #AtoZChallenge #aussieauthor20

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Journey From Venice by Ruth Cracknell

Summary

Grand Dame of Australian theatrical community, Ruth Cracknell, much loved by the people of Australia,  tells of her journey from Venice when her husband takes ill.

Venice beckons, promising Paradise regained fro Ruth Cracknell and her husband Eric, as they set forth on a carefully planned holiday.

What they are seeking is time. Time to think, time to gaze, time for each other. But from the moment the holiday becomes an uncharted journey, their time is measured.
– from the blurb

Journey from Venice

My Thoughts

As a fan of Ruth Cracknell, in the  much loved TV series, Mother and Son,  I was pleased when I came across this book. I found Journey From Venice to be a raw and deeply personal account of the illness her husband suffered in Venice. At times it read like a travel log or a diary, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book or the sadness of her experiences.

The parts of the book that were about Venice were more enjoyable to me than when the story focuses on their life in Australia. I found this memoir to be deeply sad, as I read about the roller coaster ride experiences of the end of life of Ruth’s much loved husband.

 Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

About the Author

Ruth Cracknell lived in Maitland, NSW, in early childhood, before her family moved to Sydney. She was educated at North Sydney Girls’ High School and began a professional career in radio at the age of twenty. she travelled to England, where she worked for the BBC in radio, returning to Sydney in 1954.

In theatre, she was known for her interpretations of both classical and contemporary drama as well as for her particular flair for comedy. She also worked extensively in film, television, radio and animation, and won numberous industry awards. She is perhaps, best know for her role as Maggie Bears in the ABC series Mother and Son.

A member of the Order of Australia, Ruth was awarded honorary doctorates from Sydney University and the Queensland University of Technology. She died in 2002, aged 76.

Published on 22 February 2001 by Viking Australia. 288 pages

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My name is Why by Lemn Sissay

My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay

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The above title is both the name of a book and the name of an event, featuring the author, that I attended a few days ago. Lemn Sissay’s story about his life as a foster child and in institutional care in England, is a dreadful story about the failures of the care system in the UK.

Lemn has devoted his life, since turning eighteen and leaving care, to finding out the truth about his life, and why he was placed into care. He has spent his life trying to right the wrongs of his life, by fighting to get his records, and fighting for acknowledgement of the many wrongs that were done to him.

My Name is Why is the record of those files, which show the truth about Lemn Sissay’s life, from birth to age 18. When he first read these files, he found out his real name. He also found out that while he had spent is life until age 12, in the care of uncaring foster parents, and after age 12 in institutions, his mother had been writng to the authorities and pleading for him to be returned to her. She had been doing this since shortly after his birth.

Lemn Sissay is one of England’s best loved poets. His presentation and performance on stage is very powerful and very moving. But at times he is also very very funny. His humour also comes through in his writing.

Here’s a quote that I love  from Lemn Sissay’s performance: Family is a collection of disputed memories between one group of people over a liftime.

Unsurprisingly My Name is Why hot number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Well deserved.

My Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The first video below shows Lemn Sissay talking to an audience about his life. The second video shows him performing his poem called Suitcases and Muddy Parks.. This poem almost reduced me to tears.

Huge thanks to the  Bendigo Writers Festival for bringing Lemn Sissay to our city, both for the event this week and for the Bendigo Writers Festival in 2018.

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The Way Home by Mark Boyle

The Way Home: Tales of a life without technology

Summary

It was 11pm when I checked my email for the last time and turned off my phone for what I hoped would be the last time.

No running water, no car, no electricity or any of the things it powers: the internet, phone, washing machine, radio or light bulb. Just a wooden cabin, on a smallholding, by the edge of a stand of spruce.

In this book, Mark tells of his experience of living totally off the grid, and being fully self reliant in this modern world. We are with him as he builds his house with just his bare hands, collects water from the stream, as there is no running water in his house. He learns to make a fire, and forages and fishes for his food.

As Mark goes about living his very basic life, where everything revolves around the sun and the seasons, he experiences what it is like to be human. He is totally reliant on himself for all his needs. But this lifestyle does bring up seemingly unsurmountable problems. For example, how does he write this book and present it to his publisher without the internet?

My Thoughts

As someone who has made the lifestyle decision to live off the grid, I was very keen to read this book. The difference between the author and ourselves as that we haven’t completely given up on the reliance for modern technology. We have solar power and rain water tanks but we do also have all the latest mod cons. Or most of them. For me, giving up our modern lifestyle completely, would be a step too far, even though I do understand how rewarding that type of lifestyle would be.

Mark Boyle’s writing is very refreshing. I felt like I was living his day to day struggles. This book is very honest and a great insight to what it would be like to give up on modern technology for a long period. I do suspect that very few of us could live the lifestyle that Mark chose, giving up modern technology, family and relationships. Most of us have family commitments and then there are medical issues to consider.

Mark Boyle deserves huge congratulations for carrying out his plan to live off the grid and without technology. He also deserves congratulations for this book.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

Mark Boyle is a business graduate who lived completely without money for three years. He is a director of Streetbank, a charity which enables people around the world to share skills and resources with neighbours. He lives on a small parcel of land in Ireland.

Published in April 2019 by Oneworld Publications. Softcover 260 pages

Butterfly On A Pin by Alannah Hill

Butterfly on a Pin

Summary

A memoir of love, despair and re-invention

Alannah Hill, one of Australia’s most successful fashion designers, created an international fashion brand that defied trends with ornamental, sophisticated elegance, beads, bows and vintage florals.  But growing up in a milk bar in Tasmania, Alannah’s childhood was one of hardship, fear and abuse.  At an early age, she ran away from home, with eight suitcases of costumes and a fierce determination to succeed, haunted by her mother’s refrain “You’ll never amount to anything, you can’t sew, nobody likes you, and you’re going to end up in a shallow grave, dear!” – from the dustjacket

This memoir follows her journey, from run away to success to breakdown, and her reinvention of herself, as she once again heads towards success in the fickle fashion industry.

My Thoughts

My main reason for reading this book is that I remember seeing Alannah Hill, many times,  in the street, in Melbourne in the early days of her career. At the time she was very popular and had a chain of Alannah Hill shops. She always stood out in a crowd as she dressed in vintage florals, lots of lace and bows at a time that fashion was quite plain and boring.

I expected the book to be lightweight, fluff about fashion, and I really didn’t expect her to be an accomplished writer. Much to my surprise, from the first page I could tell that Alannah Hill could write.And she had something to say. I experienced many emotions as I read this book. I laughed and cried and felt very angry at her mother, while at the same time, feeling sad for her mother.  I found the book to be very moving and poignant.

Butterfly On A Pin is a very honest, compelling memoir. Alannah does not mince words and though her story is very, very sad at times, she manages to put a humorous slant on her experiences. Her story could be very depressing, but definitely is not.  Due to her writing skill, Hill manages to draw the reader into her world, as she shines a light on the fashion industry and her experiences. I found myself feeling very much in awe of her talent and for her forgiving nature.

Unflinching, funny, shocking, inspiring, and tender.  This is a story like no other
These words were written on the dustjacket.  I can only agree whole heartedly

My Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

Alannah Hill is a designer, author and stylist.  For seventeen years, she was the founder and creative director of the brand Alannah Hill, one of Australia’s most iconic fashion houses.  In 2013, Alannah left her extremely well known brand, and in 2015, launched her new fashion brand, Louise Love.  Alannah lives in Melbourne, with her teenage son, and her beagle Jack.

Published in 2018 by Hardie Grant Books. Softcover 325 pages

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#AtoZChallenge R is for Ransacking Paris by Patti Miller

 

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter R

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Summary

Patti Miller was a mother of adult boys, when she arrived in Paris,  where she intended to write for a year. She felt as though all her dreams had come true. In her words: ‘As if the light that comes after the sun has gone down, has spilled gold on everything’.

Patti grew up on Wiradjuri land in rural Australia, where she had a happy childhood and where her heart and soul still belonged. But she asked herself what she thought she would find in Paris that she couldn’t find at home. How could she feel a sense of belonging in this city made up of centuries of other peoples stories?

To find out, Miller jumps between the reality of her world, and the fantasty of chatting with French writers of the past, Montaigne, Rousseau, de Beauvior, and other memoirists.  They travel with her through the streets of Paris, and have coffee with her, as she chats to them about their lives, discusses with them, the important things in life – family, love, suffering, desire, motherhood, truth telling, memory and how we discover who we are in the world, and our relationship to place and identity.

This is the story of Patti Miller’s year in Paris, in 2005, where she writes her memoir and discovers who she is in the world.

‘This great world of ours is the looking glass in which we must gaze to come to know ourselves from the right slant’ – Michel de Montaigne

My Thoughts

The format of Ransacking in Paris is a chapter for each month of the year that Patti Miller is in Paris, which to me really worked. I  loved the way she wove her memories sentimentally into her thoughts today and into her conversations about the lives of the famous authors from the past. 

“All those Mountain years, I wanted to live in Paris, it was my dream, but everyone has unfulfilled dreams. C’est la vie. I began to turn to memoir, more and more interested in exploring the self in writing, ‘the self’ as a physics and metaphysic as Montaigne put it. Why on earth couldn’t the self be a respectable subject for literature? It was a territory as complex, as vast, as any other, a moment-by-moment hallucination of sense impressions, emotions and thoughts, continuously creating the experience of a shady, chestnut tree, an itchy leg, a smiling face, a sense of belonging, of love, and grief and delight. isn’t an ungraspable sense of being, in fact, the only thing that connects each one of us” – Ransacking Paris, page 12

The paragraph above to me is beautiful descriptive writing and warms my heart. It makes me want to put everything aside and spend time writing my memoir.

This book is a very personal account of Patti Miller’s year in Paris, as she makes friends, and tries to live her life to way the locals do.  The book goes very deeply into her thoughts and feelings, about stepping out of her life in Australia, and away from her family for a full year. Ransacking Paris evokes a very strong sense of identity and place.

Recommendation

‘Miller produces compelling prose…beautifully rendered and perceptively evoked” – Australian Book Review

I’ve read this book twice now and would recommend it highly.

My Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

About The Author

Patti Miller was raised on a farm in Central western NSW.  She has written many books and in 2012 won the NSW Premier’s History Award. She has taught writing for over twenty years, including at the innovative Faber Academy in Sydney. Miller regularly takes groups to Paris to write for extended periods.

Published in

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#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary badge

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