Book Review | A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe

loving faithful animalSet in Australia, A Loving, Faithful Animal shares the stories of a members in a disjointed family dealing with issues. Sisters Ruby and Lani spend a good deal of time outside the home. Their father, a sometimes abusive, Vietnam Veteran lives there, but often leaves for indeterminate lengths of time. Sometimes bruised, when not tracking down her husband in seedy bars and motels, their mother prefers an escape that involves living in her memories. Lani’s promiscuous habits and other poor decision making mean young Ru is often fending for herself.

The writing in this book is impressive, but clarity is sometimes lacking. Rowe’s use of the informal “you” in addressing Ruby made the story easy to jump into. However, coupled with chapters devoted to alternating family members, it created an additional layer to process. Each character’s section emphasized different aspects of the family’s shared story and all the sections came together well to make a whole. Readers who want the whole story spelled out will find problems with this format because there are several gaps left in the narrative. This book would appeal to fans of artful or raw fiction, especially those interested in reading about dysfunctional families. It is set to be released in mid-September, soon you should be able to place a hold on it a library near you.

I received an advance reading copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading A Loving, Faithful Animal, you may be interested in Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh (2017).

Film Review | The Daughter starring Sam Neill & Geoffrey Rush

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After many years away from his birth town and father, middle-aged Christian returns home to attend his father’s second wedding. The relationship between father and son is tense, owing to something other than the fact that the upcoming wedding involves the 31 year old housekeeper his father had previously employed. As Christian reunites with his old friend Oliver, he pieces a few old secrets together that threaten to break apart Oliver’s family.

This Australian drama based on Henrik Ibsen’s play provided much more than I’d bargained for. The story line was intriguing and the characters were easy to relate to. The acting was very realistic without anything being overdone. Music set to the film worked quite well and served to enhance the movie overall. While the budget for this film couldn’t have been too much with it’s rural setting, I’m actually surprised it hadn’t drummed up more attention in the film world. Though it may bring on a few tears, The Daughter is certainly worth checking out from your local library!

Blue Mountains & Katoomba NSW – Train from Sydney, Australia

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Blue Mountains NSW

After a giant buffet breakfast at Shangri-La, I walked to the Central Railway Station to catch a train to the Blue Mountains. Normally you could catch a train right from Circular Quay, but this weekend there was track work happening downtown. I’d been advised that to save money I should purchased an Opal card from a 7-11 shop to prepay for the train. Since it was Sunday, the train fare was capped at AU $2.50, so this was much cheaper than the regular rate. The train ride was a bit slow, but very comfortable. About two hours later I arrived in Katoomba.

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Katoomba street art

It’s a crunchy town with lots of cafés, a fair number of ethnic restaurants, and lots of outdoor shops. After walking through town and stopping at a few spots to take photos of street art murals, I got to the trail head of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. I planned to see Leura Falls, but didn’t see it anywhere. Oops. Despite this, the trail had lots of greenery, pretty birds, some nice view points for pictures. There weren’t a lot of people on the first part of this trail, but the visitors I did see were mostly international.

 

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Three Sisters

Eventually, the trail looped around and I got to the Three Sisters rock pillars. After taking a few photos, like a good little sheep, I followed the crowd down a steep set of stairs. Fortunately, before descending too far, I learned there wasn’t much to see at the bottom, just a trail along the forest floor. I turned back and headed for Cascade Falls. It’s a nice small waterfall, but nothing spectacular. People really take their time with photos here, so be prepared to be patient! There is a nice park there with picnic areas that you can enjoy before walking back up the hill to town.

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Cascade Falls

Back on main street in Katoomba, I grabbed a to-go order at Yellow Deli. A few great healthy choices here, I enjoyed a tofu burger and a veggie sandwich. It’s always fun to enjoy a great boxed meal while riding the train!

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Dr Alex Allen Park in Katoomba

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Katoomba street art

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Prince Henry Cliff Walk

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Inside train from Sydney to Blue Mountains

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Sydney Central Station

Pictorials | Sydney, Australia – market month photo 22

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Green veggies, Paddy’s Markets Haymarket. 2016. Sydney, Australia.

Day Long Walking Photo Tour of 20 Sights in Sydney, Australia

The loop I walked this day provided me with ample photo opportunities and around 10 miles worth of pavement covered. I am a fairly quick sightseer, though I do take lots of photos, and the walk from start to finish including a brief lunch stop lasted about 6-8 hours. Adding breakfast and dinner onto this would pretty much exhaust you, but allow you to feel you’d seen just about all of downtown Sydney’s major tourist spots in a day. Below is a summary of the itinerary and at the bottom I’ve broken it up by place with brief explanations and photos I shot in Sydney.

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Itinerary:  The location of my base hotel was near the Rocks district, the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay. I started by walking down through the Rocks district, past the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, along Circular Quay and past the ferry terminals and the Opera House to the Royal Botanical Gardens. From there I continued to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which is very worth seeing and offers free admission. I continued through to Hyde Park for a nice view of St Mary’s Cathedral and the park itself is Australia’s oldest with a lovely tree lined walk. From there it was a few minutes to St Andrew’s Cathedral, again Australia’s oldest, and a fine example of the Gothic Revival style.

About two blocks down George Street, Chinatown begins. Though this isn’t particularly interesting if you have high expectations or have been to large Chinatowns like those of San Francisco and New York, the Chinese Friendship Garden is reasonably priced and worth a visit. From there you can visit Paddy’s Markets, which offers a huge selection of touristy trinkets, bazaar goods and a large fruit and vegetable market in the back. If that market leaves you with a taste for more you can possibly stop by the Powerhouse Museum before grabbing lunch at the Fish Market. Close up views of many sea delicacies you’ve never heard of provides an excellent photo opportunity. Need more fish? The Australian National Maritime Museum offers free admission and free Wi-Fi.

Next to the museum is the Pyrmont Bridge, a pedestrian bridge with a flare and great view of the city and Darling Harbour. The Sydney Observatory is also free and as a member of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences offers informative plaques. The park around the Observatory is very nice with benches and large trees, good for cooling off or taking a rest. It’s downhill from here to Lower Fort Street and the Miller’s Point community that you can see on your way to Dawes Park and Sydney’s Harbour Bridge. A late afternoon stroll unto the bridge will give you some great views of the harbor and the Opera House with boats cruising the blue waters.

My suggestion is to use the Google Maps app on your smartphone. You can search the locations ahead of time and save them as stars them on the map. Do this while you have Wi-Fi and you will still be able to access the map with locations when you no longer have service. If you let location services work, you can use the GPS tracker to follow your route around the city from star to star during the day all without having cell service. People in these neighborhoods are also super helpful about offering directions when asked. Most of them speak English and don’t at all mind pointing you along your way.

Places of Interest:

Rocks districthistoric area of downtown Sydney, traditional sandstone architecture gave it the Rocks name. Offers many shops and restaurants.

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Museum of Contemporary Art Australia : offers free admission to some exhibits and aims “to engage audiences with contemporary art and ideas through the presentation of a diverse program of exhibitions and special events.”

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Circular Quaya large transit hub for trains, ferries and busses, but also has restaurants and good views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Check out the Spice Room for some excellent Indian food.

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Sydney Opera HouseArchitecturally stunning, it opened in 1973.

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Royal Botanical GardensCelebrating their 200th anniversary this year (2016), the gardens cover 74 acres and have diverse plant species. Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is a big photo draw here, though I’m not entirely sure why.

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Art Gallery of New South Wales offers free admission, has lots to see in various styles

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Hyde Park 40 acres, oldest park, big fountain, lovely old tree lined path, big monument

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St Mary’s Cathedral : Geometric Decorated Gothic, Roman Catholic, longest Australian church, consecrated in 1882

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St Andrew’s CathedralGothic Revival, Anglican Church, Stained glass windows, Australia’s oldest, completed in 1868

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Chinatownhas an actual gate, lots of restaurants, some shops

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Chinese Friendship Garden pagodas, plants, teahouse and tranquility. adults AU $6

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Paddy’s MarketsHaymarket location dates back over 150 years. lots of stalls, trinkets and a fruit and veg market.

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Powerhouse Museum : you have to pay to go in here, so I did not go… it is part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences group.

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Sydney Fish Market“largest market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest seafood market in terms of variety in the world”

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Australian National Maritime Museumfree admission, maritime collections and exhibitions

Pyrmont Bridge : opened in 1902, a pedestrian bridge since 1981 in the swing style with a great view of the city

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Darling Harbourhome to restaurants, attractions and more…

Sydney Observatory : free, park, historic site, telescopes, planetarium, member of Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

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Lower Fort Street in Miller’s Point : historic neighborhood, protested area…

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Dawes Park : historical park with great views of Sydney Cove, at the end of Harbour bridge

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Sydney’s Harbour Bridgesteel through arch bridge, finished in 1932, length = 1,149 m (3,770 ft)

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For more about my Sydney trip, check out this post about arriving in Sydney and look forward to my future post about visiting the Blue Mountains and maybe another on Sydney’s beaches.

Arrival in Sydney, Australia – Harbour Bridge & Contemporary Art

The pilot announced the flight from San Francisco to Sydney would be about 14.5 hours. Luckily, United provides free beer and wine on this flight (I skipped the sleeping pills).

Flying into Sydney was quite a site with the beautiful harbor and trees everywhere. After arriving around 8am I chose to take a Redy2Go shuttle from the airport to my downtown hotel. Taxis run about AU $65, and there’s a fee for using the train through the airport station, so $17 USD for a 30-45 min ride with a handful of other travelers seemed like the best option. You can pay by credit card at the shuttle counter at the airport or book ahead online.

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The hotel room wasn’t ready upon arrival, so I enjoyed strolling across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and snapping photos of the Opera House and harbor. Then I meandered through the historic Rocks district and checked out the free exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. The 20th Biennale of Sydney, on display from 18 March– 5 June 2016, featured some excellent photographs.

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20th Biennale of Sydney exhibit at Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

I grabbed lunch nearby past Circular Quay at Yayoi Garden, a Japanese restaurant popular with business lunchers. The food was unique and service was great, but taste was a bit lacking in my Omaze Don and the sashimi.

After lunch, the day and a half of flying and jetlag were catching up to me, so I took a hot bath and tucked myself in for a quick nap that ended up lasting 12 hours, oops… Check out my next post about walking ten miles around Sydney to see all the sights in a day!

Book Review | Lexicon : a novel by Max Barry

book cover Lexicon : a novel by Max BarryAnother great read from Max Barry, Lexicon begins at full throttle as a man is being kidnapped from the airport by two suits. They are pursued from multiple angles and the victim is sure he is not the guy they’re after. Barry’s newest novel will please fans as he’s crafted a slightly fantastical story with realistic interpersonal relationships and a hint of love.

Vaguely reminiscent of Stephen King’s Desperation and Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, Lexicon is a gripping, action-packed thriller that will keep you guessing in piecing together the puzzle. The basic premise is that words carry neurological stimuli and can be used to bypass the brain’s natural barriers in order to control people’s actions. An individual’s personality dictates which specific words will render him defenseless, but the discovery of a bareword that effects everyone is a real catalyst game-changer. Chapters alternate focus between two main characters until paths ultimately converge. This book is a bit of a departure for Barry and most critics will probably think that is a good thing, while long time readers may be wondering if he’s jumped on the mainstream train. Holds are prevalent, but check it out from a nearby library.