My Written Reviews

My Review of

Emerging from the Shadows: Transcending Fear to Freedom
by Elaine Lees

Elaine Lees’ memoir Emerging from the Shadows: Transcending Fear to Freedom is unique for several reasons. Firstly, Lees does not concentrate on domestic violence, yet the abuse she suffered prompted the writing of the book. Secondly, the opinion of the author’s child is also expressed in her mother’s book. Lees’ daughter, Kiri, eloquently voices how she felt as a small child subjected to the horror of seeing her mother and brothers flagrantly abused by their mother’s partner. And lastly, and this for me is the most significant part of the book, Lees sought to emerge from the horror of abuse through reconnecting with her Maori heritage.

The author discloses that had her father not left the family when she was eleven, had she not reacted to this event with rebelliousness, had she listened to her parents that her choice of partner in her teens might not have been the right man for her, she would arguably not have spiralled into the world of abuse.

Her parents had taught her that the woman was the home-maker. Consequently, keeping a spotless, harmonious home and being a kind and attentive partner was how Lees thought she should handle the abusive situation she found herself in. In her early adult years, she did not understand that nothing she could say or do would ever appease the abuser or end the abuse. It was the partner who had the issues, whatever they were, not Lees or her children.

Fortunately for Lees, she had experienced an idyllic early childhood and later, some exceptional vocational accomplishments. She also recognised the tremendous guilt she experienced for exposing her children to abuse. Though there were strong perceptions of low self-worth and failure in Lees, there was also a spark of the potential to shine that had always been there. She identified what she needed to do to transform her life and set about doing it. Elaine Lees is clearly an incredibly insightful woman because she recognised the lessons that could be learned from the innocent observations of her children, particularly Kiri. She also acknowledged that the loss of the spiritual connection to her parents and the innate wisdom and life experiences of her mother and her mother’s Maori culture affected her. Lees understood that her Maori heritage offered answers to how to traverse the adversities that occurred in her life. And so began her journey of self-discovery.

Maori culture is deeply spiritual. Lees explains that when we connect with that part of us that is Spiritual, the non-physical part of us that connects to Source (or God or Creator, whichever the individual believes in), when we are fully connected to our Wairua (Spirit) and our Mauri (Life Force) we can stand in the fullness of who we are; we can stand in our own power, fully connected to all that is. Lees further observes that since we cannot see our mauri, most people lose their connection with it. The five senses, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling become the senses people trust and rely on. We must realign our spiritual self with our physical self in order to begin to flourish.

Women everywhere need to leave, must leave, abusive relationships. Yet often they do not. How many have the courage to do so when any self-worth they might have possessed has been beaten out of them? We now know that the abuse is likely to increase immediately, if or when a woman leaves the abuser. The abuser perceives his victim is getting away, so his need to ‘get back at her’ rapidly intensifies. This was graphically illustrated when, after leaving her partner, Rosie Batty’s eleven-year-old son was murdered by his father. When abused, a woman’s self-identity can be so eroded that many begin to question who they are. When they have lost sight of who they are, they see no option other than to remain where they are. If they fight back, they are beaten; if they don’t react to the abuse or if they try to please the abuser to avoid further abuse, they are beaten for their stoicism.

There is abundant wisdom and insight in Lees’ memoir. It inspires women to acknowledge and embrace their birthright of Mana Wahine, no matter what nationality they are for Mana Wahine is the intrinsic feminine psychic force that is within all women. Emerging from the Shadows teaches with the overarching theme of learning from the maiden, the mother and the matriarch. This book should be distributed to every Australasian high school and read by women everywhere.

Thank you, Elaine Lees. You are clearly an amazing woman. See

Rhonda Valentine Dixon

My Review of

The Adventures of Polly Rocket
by Jennifer Calvert

Number 6, Tumble Tree Lane, Lavender Farm evokes a lazy safe and pretty place. Vivid imagery is a strength of this author and once again she doesn’t disappoint. In The Adventures of Polly Rocket, Jennifer Calvert has Polly Rocket the wily cat and Butterbean the silly puppy inhabit a generally harmonious house and yard with a kind and caring family – until a snake appears. Polly’s process of elimination regarding what Butterbean sees ensures she isn’t disturbed to too great a degree – until she recognises she needs to take action.
Most folks are either cat people or dog people. I am unashamedly a cat person. Polly Rocket is an apt name for a smart, stealthy cat and Butterbean splendidly suits a slobbery, silly brown puppy.

For me, the fact that Polly Rocket is really the saviour of the day is exactly what I’d expect. As an adult, I can see that Polly is not only the true hero, but the incident at the centre of the narrative is simply part of her ‘job’. There is no fanfare, no need for approval, no need to be distressed when she isn’t given due credit for her wiliness and bravery. It is her nature to be brave.

The colourful illustrations do this delightful children’s story justice and the tale itself is engaging and fast-paced. I can envisage this book being any child’s favourite.
I love the ending. Polly Rocket has places to go, adventures to have and who-knows-what to save, every night. She certainly couldn’t accomplish much if a slobbery puppy bounded along. Best to sneak stealthily past Butterbean, out the cat flap and into the night.

Well done Jennifer Calvert. This is a delightful yarn. See

Rhonda Valentine Dixon

My Review of

Untie Your Tongue and Speak Purrfectly
by Gillian Farry

Though the digital age is very young, technology is evolving faster than many, particularly elderly people, can possibly cope with. There is no denying that Smartphones are extraordinary and the capabilities of personal computers truly astonishing. If we choose to, we can conduct global business from our bed or a moving vehicle. However, we are also seeing some adverse effects of the new technology on human communication. Frequent users have developed an abbreviation of language, which may be useful to some extent, but it does little for conveying intended meaning in interpersonal communication, except perhaps when it comes to bullying. Indeed, the anonymity technology provides has caused an upsurge in bullying and the consequence is an increase in teen suicide.

Gillian Farry, BA, MA and Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, has written a book that I think should be mandatory in every school curriculum. Untie Your Tongue and Speak Purrfectly! is a concise guide to effective communication. (The book is illustrated with black cats, hence its purrfect quality.) Gillian reminds us that simply how we present to others is communication. If we are self-absorbed, lack empathy or fail to listen, communication with others will be less than purrfect. We need to be aware that our facial expressions and body language are as important as the words we say. And most importantly, we need to remember that we should not assume that our own personal meaning is included in our message, that if we say something, our meaning will be conveyed too. This is not the case. Everyone’s understanding of language differs and everyone’s perception of a situation changes with how they read the person saying it. When we are emotional, or if we are ambiguous, we cannot expect our meaning to be always understood.

If we only converse in ‘text speak’ or fail to learn to ‘read’ or listen to others, if we fail to learn how to communicate in a way that is expected of us in certain situations or if we do not develop empathy, we may not get out of life all that we could have. Gillian’s excellent book teaches us what we need to know to communicate kindly and effectively.

Rhonda Valentine Dixon

My Review of

Black Tears
by Lesley McConnell
Illustrated by Pratime Sakar

If ever there was a children’s book that needed to be written, this is it. Black Tears describes what happens to a family affected by domestic violence. The book is beautifully presented in hard-cover format by Ocean Reeve Publishing (Gold Coast). Pratima Sakar’s clear, colourful illustrations bring the text to life perfectly.

When domestic violence is a family’s reality, the children in the home can often feel that if they were better behaved, or if they achieved higher marks at school, or if they accomplished any number of other things, the situation at home might not be the way that it is. They don’t have the maturity to know that this is absolutely not the case. When a parent is violent, it is the fault of the parent, never the child. When the author introduces the domestic violence (pg 14) she ensures that the reader knows that it is not okay for a person to make a child feel frightened and sad, like Brian feels. Not now, not ever. These four words are repeated throughout the text. And they are very effective.

The abuser is Brian’s dad. He has a stressful job, working long hours with extended periods away from home. Clearly, he is not coping. Mum and Brian, and even the family dog, Arthur, are walking on eggshells when dad is home. Lesley McConnell touches on the physical responses of Brian and his mum; the fact that each is tired at the beginning of the day because the stress causes sleep to elude them – and the black (mascara) tears evident when mum has been crying. But more powerful are the emotional messages her text elicits. How can a child reconcile the love he has for his dad with the fear and hopelessness that his dad’s abuse evokes in him? Where does a child go in his heart and head when he doesn’t feel safe in the one place he should feel safe? And how can a child begin to understand adult issues when the adult perpetrators of the abuse don’t understand the issues themselves? So, Brian does what he can to keep himself safe. And he keeps the abuse a secret.

Brian does what many children do when they don’t understand the world around them. They became angry and confused. These emotions manifest in bad behaviour. Brian smashes the window with a golf ball. He tries to make sense of his father’s behaviour by comparing his reaction to it with his mother’s response to him when she is angry with him. He loves his dad but hates the angry abusive dad. Mum loves Brian but doesn’t like the angry, naughty Brian.

All bad behaviour – all behaviour – is communication. Teachers spend so much time with our children that they are often the first to recognise that something is amiss. And fortunately, Brian’s teacher sees changes in him that prompt her to question him. This illustrates yet another issue that the child is trying to deal with. Should he reveal his secret? There is often shame in being abused. What would his friends think of him if they knew what his father was doing? What would people say if they saw the house when dad had trashed it? The conflicting emotions can cause a child to be physically sick.

Brian’s dad wants to be a good husband and dad. He accepts help to learn to deal with his stress appropriately. Brian sees the changes in his dad and practices some of the same stress relieving techniques.

Black Tears is lovingly dedicated to the author’s brother Brian, who grew up with abuse in the home, in orphanages and at boys’ homes. But McConnell’s brother’s pain was not recognised by a valuing adult and he was not offered techniques that would alleviate his stress. He was not exposed to teaching that would show him a better way to live. He became a perpetrator of domestic violence and when the emotional pain became too intense, he took his life. In writing this book, McConnell seeks to show children who are living with domestic violence that they can question their reality and understand that there other ways of ‘being’. Domestic violence is not okay, not now, not ever.

This book is a very valuable resource and I will sing its praises as for as long as I have a voice.

Rhonda Valentine Dixon

My Review of

Horns and Halos
by Jennifer Calvert

Horns & Halos is a fitting title for Jennifer Calvert’s first collection of poetry. My immediate perception is that the poetry is autobiographical. The horns are evident in the lovers who’ve wronged her and the human conditions that have left her lost and empty. They are all there; vulnerability, betrayal, despair, broken promises and the weight of responsibility.

The halos are the love; love for a lover, a husband, a child, for nature, for the beauty of renewal and for the glow of desire.

Jennifer creates blank verse with considerable insight and stunning imagery, often with abundant sensuality, a generous amount of cheekiness and always with a minimum of carefully chosen words.

This is a wonderful, warm collection of poems to delight women in particular.

Rhonda Valentine Dixon

My Review of

McAlister’s Way
by Richard Marman

When you know the author is a mature man with a classy Wiltshire (England) accent, it is quite a surprise to find the narrator in the prologue of his book is a teenager speaking in the Aussie vernacular. Fifteen-year-old Zac is compelled to stay with his grandfather whilst his parents are dealing with his mother’s illness. Once the awkward lad sees some value in the grandfather that he barely knows, the latter begins to tell the boy of his life.

From beginning to end, this is a fast-paced tale which tells of the grandfather, Danny McAlister’s search (when Zac’s age) for his own father, thought lost while fighting the Japanese in WWII. The story covers considerable distances, from North Queensland and the New Guinea Highlands, from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the islands in the Bismarck Sea. And it features people and professions such as pirates and fighter pilots that most people don’t encounter at their average backyard barbeque. To me it is reminiscent of the kinds of Boys Own adventures that kept boys reading long into the nights of early to mid-last century.

Danny’s experiences highlight a multitude of international social issues of the era, from sexual abuse in Australian boarding schools to the unfamiliar social norms of isolated island societies, from the criminal codes of Filipino pirates to the attitudes towards Japanese Comfort Women enslaved and consigned to the sex trade during and after the war.

The author, a former RAAF (helicopters and heavy transport) and airline pilot, not only extensively researched the historical occurrences and locations, but he also experienced many of Danny’s escapades in his Vietnam wartime service and this contributes to the passion and realism of this excellent book. McAlister’s Way is Young Adult Fiction. It is a thoroughly good yarn and I’m ready for the next in the series, Richard Marman. You’ll find Richard’s work at

Rhonda Valentine Dixon

My Review of

of Cathryn Warburton’s chapter in Get Known Be Seen: How to Write Your Book and Leverage It

Cathryn’s story is powerful and inspiring. From a timid and shy child, emerged The Legal Lioness. The catalyst for this extraordinary life was the disappearance and presumed murder of Cathryn’s little friend, Mishack when Cathryn was six and Mishack, three. This dreadful event ensured the shy child learned to be protective of all that she cherished. Subsequently, the young adult Cathryn studied law and began advocating for those who required the law’s protection – even when they didn’t necessarily realise they needed it.

The Get Known Be Seen author expo was the first time I saw Cathryn speak. I immediately recognised her authenticity and her genuine love for her work. The qualities that evolved from events in early childhood are evident in everything she does. She acknowledges that many people will, in the future, prefer to deal with a legal robot because such an innovation will cost less than her services, but that doesn’t perturb Cathryn. She confidently networks, seeking people who see the qualities in her that would inspire the confidence in them to readily work with her. Her biographical books, From Coward to Legal Lioness and (the book about living with chronic illness) allow potential clients to see the real woman before choosing to work with her.

Cathryn has also published Bullet Proof Your Brand and Lawyer in Your Corner to assist small business owners to avoid any legal pitfalls while conducting business in this rapidly changing world.

Cathryn’s is just one story in Get Known Be Seen: How to Write Your Book and Leverage It – and it’s an enormously inspiring one. Cathryn’s details are on

Rhonda Valentine Dixon

My Review of

Deadly Cargo
by James Patterson (with Will Jordan)

Predictable is the first word that comes to mind for this, the first James Patterson book I’ve read.
Most of the characters were introduced in the first several chapters (they were credible and believable; some likeable, some not so) and once that was done, the narrative got down to the business of the good guys versus the bad guys.

Since there was no evidence whatsoever of drugs or weapons, other than those in the personal possession of the characters, the ‘cargo’ was foreseeable, though why it should be called ‘deadly’ is puzzling. The only thing deadly about fifty-two women being locked in a steel shipping container for the purpose of being sent into sexual slavery would have been the smell if they hadn’t been found and rescued.

The saving of both the protagonist and of the distressed damsel (the protagonist’s colleague) was unsurprising and that the bad guys were Russian (since their vessel bore a Russian place name) was inevitable. It was also predictable that the Russians were abundant in brawn and personal weapons and less endowed with intellectual prowess.

However, I did not expect the definitive fireball to occur where it did. That was pleasing to me. I enjoyed that bit.

It is not documented why Will Jordan participated in the writing of this book. It is dated 2017 and Will Jordan has been an internationally best-selling author in his own right since 2012.

I suppose I should give another James Patterson a whirl, just to see if it is better than the first.

Rhonda Valentine Dixon
17 March 2019

My Review of

The Invisible Girl
by Mary Shelley

The first sentence of this rather dark short story consists of over ten and a half carefully constructed lines of stunning language. Were it not for the abundant information given in such a beautiful fashion, today’s reader might be put off. But for me, it piqued my interest and I read on.

The narrator presents a picture of ‘a lovely girl in the very pride and bloom of youth’ within a watercolour which hangs over the chimney-piece in the tower of a summer-house. The description of the painted girl in her surroundings is at odds with the ‘rudeness of the building’ in which the watercolour hangs. Below the picture is the inscription “The Invisible Girl”.

This tower and the girl play a central role in the remainder of the story.

The reader is taken on a metaphorical journey with a family of considerable means, Sir Peter Vernon, his son Henry and Sir Peter’s ward, Rosina (who is, in fact, the girl in the picture). Love blossoms between Henry and Rosina, but they are compelled to keep their feelings secret for fear of exciting the wrath of the father. Henry has long been spoiled by Sir Peter’s idolatry as much as ‘the old baronet’s violent and tyrannical temper would permit.’ Rosina, a cheerful-tempered, timid girl, is generally careful to avoid displeasing her protector. Both Henry and Rosina instinctively know Sir Peter will mightily disapprove of their affection and though Henry’s love is pledged (and reciprocated), he knows to wait until a propitious time to offer his sweet lady his hand in marriage.

Enter Sir Peter’s nasty sister, Mrs Bainbridge who ‘detects the attachment of the unsuspicious pair’ and tells her brother.

Sir Peter sends his son away and chooses the richest of Rosina’s many admirers in order to marry her off, despite being desirous of keeping her ‘for his own comfort’. This ‘comfort’ is not defined, but I suspect Sir Peter loves Rosina but knows it is unrequited love.

Rosina refuses to marry and is banished – sent to Sir Peter’s seat in Wales. From there she escapes into the woods and at night, into the tower on the promontory. She is determined not to be retrieved and married off to someone she doesn’t love.

People residing close to the tower sometimes see a light in the window. There is talk of the light being burnt by witches or smugglers. When Henry is on the turbulent sea making his way to his father’s country house, a sailor tells him that he has heard the light is burnt by the ghost of a maiden who lost her sweetheart. Sometimes seen in the woods, she is known as The Invisible Girl.

I won’t tell you any more. If you can handle flowery language (it is written at the beginning of the eighteenth century) it’s worth your time. A professor at uni once told me he would have to drag my writing into the 21st century. He would probably have cringed at Shelley, but for me, the syntax adds to the romance and Gothic-ness of the story.

We did Shelley at book club. Each of us read a different book. Two of the ladies read Mathilde. And when Margaret’s review was read out, I noted similarities in themes to those in The Invisible Girl. Similarly, when Ruth wrote her review, she mentioned she was puzzled and quite disturbed by the inference to incest. The tempest on the sea, the veiled references to an inappropriate relationship with a younger girl – they are in The Invisible Girl and in Mathilde. The former was heavy going by today’s popular standards, but worth it for me. Now, to dig out Mathilde.

Rhonda Valentine Dixon
23 March 2019