About Me

My Photo
Victoria, Australia
I am an author of Young Adult Fiction books. I worked as a teacher in the Pacific Islands for seven years. Whilst in the Solomon Islands I taught PSSC English before the ethnic tension in 2000 forced a change of plans. I love Pacific literature, art and music. You can find me on Facebook at Beth Montgomery Author.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Father's Islands by Christobel Mattingley

Before I read Christobel Mattingley's book I knew zilch about the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman. In fact, I didn't even know he was Dutch. Now I have a great deal of respect for a man who spent years at sea for very little thanks from the Councillors and the Governor General who sent him on such dangerous expeditions.
My Father's Islands (NLA
 Publishing, 2012)
   My Father's Islands is written from the point of view of Tasman's young daughter, Claesgen, who spent most of her life in Batavia (now Jakarta) during the mid 1600s. This gives emotion and depth to a subject I have always found hard to get enthusiastic about - explorers. I think this is because my father raved on about Bourke and Wills and Charles Sturt and Oxley and Blaxland and numerous others for much of my childhood. It has given me a kind of allergic reaction to Australian explorer stories. With this in mind, I think I did well to finish this small book.
   However half way through the story Tasman's ships left Tasmania and journeyed to New Zealand, Tonga and later, the Solomon Islands and New Ireland. These were the parts I found fascinating, especially his encounters with the islanders.
   The text is pitched at children, though it is a good book for history buffs of all ages. It is filled with charts and illustrations taken on Tasman's journey along the S
outhern Ocean, past Tasmania, through to New Zealand and then on to the Pacific Isles.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Ponape, 1994 Source: B. Montgomery
On wet, windy, winter days, like I'm living through right now, I wish I could be back in Micronesia, enjoying the sun, the sea and the slow pace of life. Dream on...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Island of Four Rivers by Christopher Morgan

I actually listened to this as a talking book and I must say it kept me enthralled over many hours driving in the car. It is the story of Henry Davis, a boring middle-aged man whose life is falling to pieces. His wife and daughter have left him, and his father has had a stroke and is in a coma in hospital.

The Island of four Rivers (Scribe, 2006)
   Henry moves in with his mother, much to her dislike. Then his sister Eleanor, formally a nun, turns up with a Latin lover.
   So what has any of this to do with an island? Well, there is another story going on in this novel.   
   "Crabby" Davis, a Victorian explorer, has been left on the island of Sulupandasan. He befriends a local poetry-writing chieftain, battles an evil beast, makes an enemy of a witch-doctor and falls in love with a beautiful island maiden. There are four rivers on the island and from time to time each one dries up. Crabby goes on a quest to try and find the source of the four rivers. At the great lake a giant turtle is blocking the stream, causing the river to dry up. It might sound weird, but the two stories come together beautifully at the end when Henry needs to decide about turning off his father's life support system.
   Despite the serious background to this book, there are plenty of lighter moments and even times that made me burst out laughing. I also loved the fact that my home town of Wonthaggi was mentioned in the text. Henry Davis is transformed in this story from a selfish bore to a risk-taking man in love. And the story of his fantastical ancestor Crabby, is both a tribute to and a gentle parody of, the old swashbuckling stories of colonial exploration.
   A delightful story!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Our Island by the children of Gununa, Alison Lester and Elizabeth Honey

Our Island (Viking, 2014)
Our Island is a picture story book with gorgeous illustrations by the children of Mornington Island State School. The pictures were drawn using crayons and then food dye was used as a wash over the top. The results are terrific, providing shadows and texture in all the right places. All the pages show some aspect of their island, either the wildlife or the landscape and how the many settings provide the best habitat for the range of creatures that live on the island.
   A delightful book for young children.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Sea on our Skin by Madeleine Tobert

The Sea on Our Skin
(Two Roads, 2012)
This is the story of a violent man, Ioane, who marries a girl named Amalia on a remote island somewhere in the Pacific (but quite like Fiji). The book has the feel of a fable as the characters are in many ways unreal. This is especially the case of the old man in the canoe and the co-joined twins who are different genders. This quality doesn't detract from the story, however. If anything it enhances it.
   Ioane beats his wife and leaves the island only to return years later. He repeats this strange behaviour over and over, and throughout this time Amalia bears him five children. Each has a clearly defined personality and each is affected by their father's treatment of their mother.
   Eventually Amalia fights back and Ioane's life is changed forever. But his need to escape the island has been imprinted on one of his sons. And so the need for travel conflicts once again with the love for home in the next generation.
   I loved this book because of it's fairy-tale qualities, it's haunting commentary on relationships and death and the way the characters are bound to the sea. Tobert comments on the ocean in some way on every page, but the result isn't repetitious, it's beautiful.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Island Homicide by Catherine Titasey

My Island Homicide (UQP, 2013)
My Island Homicide is a crime novel, complete with a corpse, a range of suspects and details of police procedure. It is a crime story with a difference though, because it's set on Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait. I enjoyed reading this novel because of the snippets of creole throughout and the descriptions of island life. It made me want to jump on a plane and go and explore this remote part of Australia.
   The story goes something like this: Melissa, a missing person, is found dead in a well by the central character, the newly appointed Senior Sergeant, Thea Dari-Jones. Over a period of many months Thea falls in love with a local fisherman, adopts various stray animals, interviews suspects and eventually ends up arresting a man and sending him to court. By this stage the sergeant's love life has blossomed into something serious and she is heavily pregnant when the case goes to court. Throughout the whole story the threat of black magic lurks. I liked this touch as it is a theme I am interested in developing in my stories as well.
   Titasey has crafted a sound crime plot with interesting details and plenty of red herrings. My only criticisms would be that  the constant roll call of characters onto the page was confusing and some characters had little depth. I found I wanted to get to know them
better. Despite this, it was an enjoyable mystery.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Shark Island by David Miller

Shark Island (Oxford University
Press, 2009)
David Miller spent many years in South East Asia and his experience shows. Shark Island is filled with little details of island life: the smell of indigenous foods, the lush vegetation and the spray of the sea. I found this book fascinating for the way it described a little known way of life, that of the Sea Gypsies of Malaysia. One of the main characters in the book is young Jik, a Sea Gypsy boy. Jik's sea faring skills are considerable and his personality is endearing.
   Jik befriends Hannah and Ned, English children whose parents have been kidnapped. The three friends escape armed men in speed boats, elude helicopters and battle their way across the open sea in an attempt to find the missing adults.
   This book is non-stop action and the plot has great twists and turns. I think many kids would enjoy it for the pace and the depth of the story. A terrific read.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

An Ocean of Cricket by Adam and Barrie Cassidy

Years ago when I lived in Nauru, a small cricket competition was set up by an expatriate Australian teacher.There were four teams: the Aussie teachers, the kiwi builders, the Indian public servants and the Island labourers. I remember that the teams were so short of players that most of us chipped in to play. Resources were in short supply. The two batsmen divided up the gloves and pads as there was only enough for one player. So I wore one glove and one leg pad onto the crumbling concrete pitch.
   I actually opened the batting for Australia against India. What an achievement! I think I made a total of five runs. There were no thigh pads, no helmets, no box (not that the women needed one of those) and I remember receiving a bruise the size of a dinner plate on my thigh after one match.
An Ocean of Cricket (Victory Books, 2013)
   The field was crushed coral; there wasn't a blade of grass anywhere. There was only one mat for the pitch so at the end of each over, the batsmen changed ends. It was lots of fun but far too hot under the tropical sun.
   I remember one of the islanders came from Samoa and he was a natural at cricket. But I think he'd had lots of practice back home as the book An Ocean of Cricket depicts. This pictorial feast is a celebration of cricket in a few Pacific island countries.
   Adam Cassidy works for the International Cricket Council (ICC) in their East Asia-Pacific office and his father Barrie, is a well-known Australian journalist who hosts the sporting program Offsiders.  They collaborated to produce this wonderful book which all cricket lovers would find interesting. The pictures are great - showing men, women and children all participating in cricket at the 'grass-roots' level and the more serious ICC sponsored levels in Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and PNG. The pictures of the kids playing in the villages are delightful. Some are so young they can barely hold a bat. For many villages, the ocean is the outfield. Women players feature just as often as the men and many uniforms are vibrantly coloured. It's no doubt that these people are passionate about their sport.
   If you love cricket and you love the islands then this book is a treasure. It certainly brought back lots of fond memories for me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Drawn from Paradise by David Attenborough and Errol Fuller

Drawn from Paradise (Harper Collins, 2012)
It was a delight to read this coffee-table book about the European discovery, art and natural history of the birds of paradise. The illustrations are works from artists over the centuries dating back to lithographs from the 17th Century. Birds of Paradise reached Europe long before Europeans explored the island of New Guinea. Plumes and skins were traded along what was once known as the spice route and found their way to the royal houses of Europe. As the hunters took the feet and wings off the birds before they were traded, Europeans of the time assumed that birds of paradise floated in the air and never roosted.
   This book shows the development of our knowledge of birds of paradise over the centuries and the way in which they were named by taxonomists.
   For those of us who adore these birds, this book is a 'must have' as it shows their important place in history and indeed, in European art.