Stars in the Night, by Clare Rhoden

1970 in suburban Melbourne: ‘That was how it happened, thought Harry, feeling the memories rise; they were never far away .. Trusting you to remember, trusting you to do something about it. As if you could fix things, mend the dead, put the world back the way it was.’

And so we go back into Harry’s memories, into the seared experiences that gave him nightmares for decades, back to the day in 1917 when Harry cannot find his foster brother Eddie. Harry searches. He crawls out of the Passchendaele mud in no-man’s land searching for him. He looks into dugouts and stumbles down communication trenches and he asks at Casualty Clearing Stations. Fifty years later his granddaughter comes upon an old notebook in the attic and asks him,”Who is Eddie?”

The Stars In The Night is a story of love. Nora waits for Harry but he harbours fears whether she can accept him after what he has been through. Eddie hopes for a life with Claudelle. It is a story too of love between men, brothers-in-arms, Harry and Eddie, Wallis, Hartigan, Alex. From Gallipoli to Flanders the war thunders over all of them like the endless numbing artillery barrages. But it does not end for them when the guns fall silent.

We only recently have begun to speak openly of PTSD and try to understand that it messes people up for a long time. Harry survives wounds and sickness and comes home, but in dreams he returns to no-mans’ land, still trying to rescue mates. The women have their losses too, made harder to bear by Harry’s inability to speak of things he simply does not want to bring to mind. Harry’s mother Ellen, for instance, cannot connect with him any more.

The mines and the shelling is like the end of the world. The worst we have seen, and we have seen some bad ones. Harry and me are fine but it makes you cry. There are so many dead you cant help but walk on them’. Eddies notebook.

Clare Rhoden takes us into this vast arena of events, from the debate in Australia about the rightness of the war, into terrible battles, and on through into the waves of pyschological effects upon those who survived and their families. These 220 pages hold material for a 1000 page book. But the author has brought large and complicated things down to the personal level by revealing them in the way that we all ordinarily talk to each other: through a household argument, the queries of a nosy neighbour, the grumbles of soldiers about the food and the cold, the guarded talk about Gallipoli by a sergeant to a fresh officer as they weigh each other up, and through diaries and letters home. This makes The Stars In The Night deeply personal and emotional. I got so caught up in it that I paused reading several times so as to absorb it. I cannot praise this novel highly enough both for its story and it’s technical execution.

Although it is about the experiences of Australian soldiers, this heartache and loss described in this novel could really be about the horror of any war, not just the one that millions prayed would be ‘The War To End All Wars.’ The character Harry Fletcher, like many veterans, could not bring himself to attend Anzac Day ceremonies but stayed quietly at home. Yet for anyone interested in the scars left by the Great War and thus the origin of the ‘Anzac legend’, the facts of it, and sometimes the mythology of it, this is a must-read.

Lest We Forget.

Note about ‘Anzac’ to readers unfamiliar with the term: The first units of Australians shipped out in 1915 were merged with the first New Zealanders into the Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). Their losses in Gallipoli and later in France shocked both young countries. Australia, population four million in 1914, sent 417,000 volunteers to the conflict. 62,000 died. Both Australia and New Zealand suffered casualty rates of over 55% – killed, wounded, gassed, captured, marked as ‘missing’. The term ‘ANZAC’ endures.

Personal note 2020: As I began this book, Australia was dealing with the Black Summer and the whole world was attuned to news about some sort of virus. There was tension in the air, and for the first time I think I had an inkling of what it might have felt like in late 1914 in the households across nations as they readied for conflict, not knowing what lay ahead. On the day that I thoughtfully laid down The Stars in the Night, Anzac Day services were cancelled for the first time due to the menace of Covid-19.

Where to find The Stars in the Night:


From publisher Odyssey Books , from Book Shop Org (supporting local bookshops)from BookDepository (with free shipping worldwide) and from Amazon in softcover and Kindle, Barnes and Noble in soft cover Nook, Chapters Indigo, Booktopia, and Waterstones. Or, ask your friendly local bookstore to order it in for you.

Clare Rhoden has also written a dsytopian series called The Chronicles of the Pale. See more about the series at her website here. My review of the first book, The Pale, is here.

Another novel I have reviewed here on this blog about WWI is ‘Nursing Fox‘ by Jim Ditchfield which focuses on the nurses. You can read about it here.

Acknowledgement: The graphics shown here are by courtesy of Clare Rhoden and Odyssey Books.

Mark, your reviewer here, is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Nursing Fox by Jim Ditchfield: Nurses on the Western Front

You may have seen ‘1917’, a visual immersion in the hell of the Great War. The novel ‘Nursing Fox’ also takes you into that rain of death, and in particular, the struggle to save the wounded on the front line.

Jim Ditchfield’s novel is a homage to the women who served as nurses on the Western Front. He says, ‘Although they performed a crucial role, the nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service are rarely mentioned in accounts of that conflict’. I feel well read about that war but until now I did not know about the conditions these nurses had to endure. The Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS) had to be close to the trenches to give the wounded the best chance of survival. That meant the doctors, nurses and patients got regularly shelled and bombed.

We follow the fortunes of Lucy Paignton-Fox who has been raised on a cattle station in the Northern Territory. She has studied for what was in 1914 for women an extraordinary chance to train as a doctor. But when Australia follows Britain into the war in Europe, Lucy volunteers to be an army nurse.

NursingFox 001

The nurses work until exhausted and then keep on working. The wounded stream in from ‘stunts’ (battles) the names of which are now engraved on war memorials: The Somme, Fromelles, Pozieres, Ypres, Messines, the Menin Road, Passchendaele. Each name represents astonishing numbers of mangled humans.

‘There were only 41 men still fighting fit, four walking wounded, one who needed a stretcher. Just 41. The company had been 250 strong when the stunt started’. P.120 John Mitchell reviews his shattered company.

We are also introduced to John Mitchell of the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) and to Adam Haywood (Royal Flying Corps), Through their eyes we see the fighting on the ground and in the air. We are taken through the frentic disorganisation of things as basic as getting fed, getting the hospital tents set up, and moving about on the shattered ‘roads’ (planks laid over mud). As readers we get to know as little of the ruthless decisions being made by the base-wallahs (staff officers) as do the troops and nurses. But we see the results in the plethora of grim details. As well as the human toll, the author reminds us of the transport horses and mules killed by artillery or worked to exhaustion. There is no blaze of glory anywhere, just the endurance of the unbearable by men and women at a time when the best anyone could hope for was a ‘ticket to blighty’ (a wound so bad they’ll be sent to England.)

For a gripping account of the service of the nurses in France, and for a carefully researched and engrossing picture of how awful was ‘The War To End All Wars’, I highly recommend Nursing Fox.

Where to find Nursing Fox: From publisher Odyssey Books , from BookDepository (with free shipping worldwide) and from Amazon in softcover and Kindle, Barnes and Noble in soft cover Nook, Chapters Indigo, Booktopia, and Waterstones. Or, ask your friendly local bookstore to order it in for you.

Another excellent novel involving the field hospitals and nurses on the Western Front is The Bishops Girl by Rebecca Burns. You can see my review here.

Personal Note: One battle name in particular gave me an irrational start: The Menin Road. As a child in New Zealand I lived on a quiet suburban street called Menin Road. The streets all around bore names which I later learnt to be battles of that terrible war. It’s curious to think that as I played games on the neat lawns I had no idea across the other side of the world so many thousands had died by the original Menin Road that their number will never be known.

Mark is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Songbird: The Griffinsong Trilogy Vol 1, by J Victoria Michael

How could she have fallen through a brick wall in Melbourne, emerged from a mirror on the other side, and finished up surrounded by mountains?’ Ch. 2 Alone

Songbird is the first in a trilogy called GriffinSong. Aeryl has gone out at night to pick up medicines at a late night chemist (drugstore). That’s all. Nothing unusual there. And she has arrived another world via a collision with brick wall. She desperately needs to rejoin her child but the mirror from which she emerged does not seem to work in reverse. But right now her immediate problem is to avoid being burned alive by the people in this strange place.

‘Aeryl tried to picture the distance between here and Irenya’s other reality. Was it as far away as the stars netted in Meias’s hair. Or a hand span through the mirror? Were there other worlds sliding across the surface of theirs?’ Ch. 3 Distractions.

The hallmark of a good series, I think, is that you finish the first book very keen to know what happens next. In this regard, Songbird is a winner. I had to know how on earth, or how on this strange world, at least, she would ever get back to her child. Fortunately for the reader, the next volumes are now available. My recommendation? Get them all and read them one after another.

‘This is a cruel twist of fate, that an infant in another world should be derived of her mother in order to transform ours.’ Ch. 5 Quandary.

Where to find Songbird and the GriffinSong trilogy.
From publisher Odyssey Books, from Book Shop Org (supporting local bookshops), from BookDepository (with free shipping ), Amazon in softcover and Kindle, Barnes and Noble in soft cover and Nook, and Waterstones, among others. Or, ask your friendly local bookstore to order it in for you.

Mark, your reviewer here, is also the guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

When No One Is Watching: Poems by Linathi Makanda

The poetry of Linathi Makanda is both universal and about searing personal experiences. I think each reader will find something here that particularly resonates for themselves. Often poems can each be read as stand alone experiences whether or not they are linked with others. This compilation cries out to be read as one poem and journey.

‘Love Rising’

The four parts begin with ‘Love Rising’ and here the poet’s thoughts may at first seem to concern the common enough subject of poems, looking for love and yearning to be wanted for oneself. The poet is young and confident. She trusts in her love and her lover.

‘.. I am liberated.
Let us join hands on arrival, let us celebrate.’

But even in early pages there are suggestion that this is not going to be about starry-eyed love somehow resolving itself. The poet is already thinking beyond her situation to that of other women.

‘My mother never talks about love
Only about the men she’s lost.’

I was also intrigued that next to a joyous poem about her lover she places memories of her grandfather, good memories, which will be a contrast to her later bitter thoughts on men.

‘Love Lost’

Now the story evolves into one well known to too many, one of hurt, betrayal and self doubt while struggling to put on a brave front. The poet offers lines about thoughts people hide tightly within and do not share even with those they trust ( … ‘My mother doesn’t know’..). The poems are not complex, the language is the easy rhythm of spoken English, yet time and again Makanda can express the universal feelings of self doubt and insecurity in a few plain words.  This question, for instance, asked by all wounded souls, will inform the rest of the book.

Why can’t you see me?

‘Internal Uprising’

In the bitter lines of ‘Internal Uprising’, we see doubt and hurt rise to anger, anger directed to oneself as much as anyone. As the narrator curls up into depression, her thoughts turn again to where she could surely seek support, her mother. But she cannot ask:

‘How do I tell my mother I attract men who do not stay?
How do I tell her I attract men like my father?’

In the midst of lines about blaming all on men, she can still see that they are not the whole crux of her turmoil.

‘Sometimes these men do not hurt us.
We hurt ourselves.’

And then she is taken down and taken very low.

It smells like it wasn’t my fault but it feels like it was.

At this point, I just stopped reading.  I felt I had seen something too private and raw for some reader or other like me to stumble over even in a published book. I picked it up again because the poet has chosen to express the dark hour known to far too many women, and so it is for knowing.

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Hope Rising

 Because within this book each reader will find lines that resonate with their own memories, experiences and dark hours, I think it is important to know that the last part concerns Hope.  The narrator thrashes her way back above chasms of suicidal thoughts by caring about herself and expressing hope through art and poetry for fellow women. She is writing now:

‘ .. A letter to all the mothers who have daughters that hurt when on-one is watching.’

When No One Is Watching is an emotional journey for the reader and one well worth taking.

Linathi Thabang Makanda is a South African-based writer of poetry and prose. She strives to portray genuine emotion through her writing and photographic art. She believes in creating a home, through her crafts, for people trying to find their voices. Her website also offers work beyond her poems such as the videos Letters To The Ones We Miss. (Please be mindful of the trigger warnings.)

Where to find When No One is Watching, by Linathi Makanda.
Publisher Odyssey Books, from BookDepository (free shipping worldwide), also Bookshop Org, Waterstones, Amazon (in Kindle too) and Barnes and Noble .  (The images here are courtesy of the author and the publisher, Odyssey Books).

I encourage you to also consider the poetry of Loic Enkinga. How to Wake a Butterly can be found at Bookshop Org, at BookDepository (free shipping), Waterstones, Amazon in Kindle and also in paperback, and Barnes and Noble, among others. My review of this collection can be read here. This too is published by Ensorcellia, an imprint of Odyssey Books where you can find more fine poetry.

Mark is the guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Get snuck up on today with ‘She Ran Away From Love’, by our own Mawson Bear

‘This gentle little book snuck up on me. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was glad I dove in.’

She Ran Away From Love is a small book that looks like a children's book but asks big questions
A teddy on the cover, yes, but this is mostly a book for grownups

She Ran Away from Love is an adventure on more than one level. It’s the physical journey of a small, frightened bear who finds love just a bit too bright for comfort, but it is also an inner journey in which the little bear finds herself.’

Our heroine Frilly goes on a quest. You can read it during a short break yet you may think about it all day

‘I suspect this book will touch different readers in different ways. I smiled through the entire book.’
Review by Bernice Sneedy at Amazon AU. ‘

Thank you Bernice Sneedy for this kind review of Frilly’s quest to find herself.*

Mawson’s Guardian adds: And LOOK! Its HALF price for a soft cover to hold in your paws (or hands, as the case may be) at Amazon Australia. And only $3 on Kindle everywhere.

Go on, get snuck on yourself!

Other places to find She Ran Away From Love by Mawson, one of this world’s few published Writer-Bears:

Our publisher is Odyssey Books. Look also at Bookshop Org (supporting local bookshops), at BookDepository (free shipping), at Amazon everywhere, at Amazon Australia (where Mawson naps), at Barnes and Noble, at Dymocks, at Booktopia, at Walmart, at Google Books, and more. 

*Oooh, that reminds me of another Bernice, a really cool young detective. Why not plunge into my review of Bernice Takes A Plunge while you are here.

Your host, Mark, is Mawson Bear’s Guardian, photographer, editor, blundering typist, chocolates fetcher and cushions re-arranger. Baffled Bear Books ABN: 4787910119.

Stories by Rebecca Burns: The Settling Earth

The women in these stories voyaged from Britain to the ends of the earth, “the Antipodes”. Driven by hardship, propelled by hope, they left behind their old lives and strived to make new ones in New Zealand. But the settlers brought with them the same stultifying conventions and social constraints they had left behind. For women in particular, sometimes little seemed to have been gained.

Isolated on bleak farms or confined to soul-destroying boarding houses, these women are each at the mercy of men’s whims and male control of property. They live one slip away from destitution, and must reach deep inside themselves, getting past old ways of life and old conditioning, to do what they need to do to survive.

Each story is complete and satisfying in itself, and yet, like life, they are also connected by events or characters; so that the stories towards the end satisfyingly close the circle of themes raised by the earlier ones. The last story, by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori viewpoint of these arrivals.

 I found The Settling Earth to be a fascinating perspective into frontier New Zealand and Burns new novel Beyond The Bay further looks into life in a raw new country as seen through the eyes of two sisters in Auckland.

Novels and short stories by Dr Rebecca Burns

Where to find The Settling Earth: Published by Odyssey Books, The Settling Earth is at BookDepository, Amazon, and Bookshop Org, among others. More excellent short stories by Rebecca Burns can be read in Artefacts and Catching the Barramundi. Her novels include The Bishops Girl and Beyond the Bay. See her website here.

You are with Mark at Baffled Bear Books. I am guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears. Mawson has his own website too, called (wiggles ears modestly) Mawson Bear.

The Bishop’s Girl, by Rebecca Burns

And then, as the cloth was split in two, long, black hair tumbled forth, still attached to grey bones, now wet in the midday sun. …Behind, a crow called accusingly.’ Prologue.

A hundred year old mystery, secret lives, torn relationships. The Bishops Girl by Rebecca Burns.
Cover image shows the mystifying nurses smock that both excites and puzzles researchers for decades.
A hundred year old mystery, secret lives, torn relationships. The Bishops Girl by Rebecca Burns

My first impression of The Bishop’s Girl was of a quiet story of frustrated lives as two scholars in hushed archives are stymied in their own ambitions by their boss. And this is indeed one of the stories threaded amidst several layers in this novel. But then it becomes clear that this no less than a cold case detective story. From few clues arise many questions. Why, for instance, was the Bishop considered so important as to be dug up from a wartime district and then reburied in England? How did an unidentified woman come to be buried with him? Who was she? The scholars, Jess and Billy, find hints and fragments in the old letters but will these leads come to anything? And I read on enthralled by the mystery of it.

As we learn more of the unexpected century old romantic connection with Greece, and as Jess begins an affair, I found myself reading for the tangle of relationships between lovers, between spouses, between parents and children, and all of their messiness and importance.

But now, with hindsight, I think this absorbing and satisfying novel is mostly a story of secrets, especially of secrets within families, and how they can have far reaching repercussions. It is a great read on all these levels.

Where to find The Bishop’s Girl which is published by Odyssey Books. At BookDepository, Amazon, and Bookshop Org, and Waterstones, among others. More excellent short stories by Rebecca Burns can be read in Artefacts and Catching the Barramundi. Her novels also include Beyond the Bay. See her website here.

You are with Mark at Baffled Bear Books. I am guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears. Mawson has his own website too, called (wiggles ears modestly) Mawson Bear.

Artefacts and Other Stories, by Rebecca Burns

With skill and economy, Rebecca Burns allows us to slip into moments in the lives of her characters when the meaning and emotion of their struggles up to that point seems to compress. Memories overwhelm. New choices perhaps appear.

That compression of time can be triggered by an item, an artefact; perhaps a greatcoat, a letter, a bootie. Bits and scraps. Moments. Glimpses.

Artefacts lrg 2477

In ‘The Bread Princess’, we discover that an array of bonnets can give us impressions of the changing attitudes in a small community across a century. In other stories we view obliquely into the psychological impact of the 1914-1918 war through unexpected portals: a kitchen, a railway waiting room, a cricket match.

These snippets about each of Burn’s characters are like a sheaf of loose pages fallen from the larger books of their lives. We discover enough to give us a feel for who they are and to wonder what will happen to them, even while we must accept that we’ll never get to read all of their pages, just as we cannot ever really know someone’ else’s life story.

Where to find it: Amazon, BookDepository, Bookshop Org, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, Chapters Indigo and more. Or ask your friendly local bookshop to obtain it for you.

Artefacts and Other Stories, by Rebecca Burns is published by Odyssey Books. More excellent short stories can be found in The Settling Earth and Catching The Barramundi.

You are with Mark at Baffled Bear Books. I am guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Who is this Writer-Bear named Mawson? He is a pondering author for our befuddled times

Do you sometimes feel a bit muddled about, well, Things ?

Sometimes rather ruffled when Things just go and, well, Happen ?

Sometimes feel confused one moment and completely baffled the next?

It’s not easy being Grownup. All this business of having to be sophisticated and industrious all day long! It just wears you down. But when you arrive in Mawson’s cosy world, the frazzled reader can flop down among the cushions and relax. Make your world a world of calm, for a little while anyway.

Listen to the quiet

Dreamy Days and Random Naps is Mawson’s latest little book stuffed with happy moments. If you are a daydream believer in a world still bright despite everything, then this book is for you.

Here you can find the answers to just about nothing at all. You can forget you ever had questions anyway. Mawson and his friends are befuddled about most things most of the time – just like so many of us. And that’s all right.

In She Ran Away From Love, by Mawson, his little friend Frilly feels hopelessly baffled by Big Questions. But does she give up? No! She sets out on a quest. See where it takes her.

‘Writing about love, dreams, happiness, and finding your own identity is all found within this short happy book.‘ Review on Amazon UK.

And in his first book, It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In , Mawson attempts to put into words that mysterious feeling of Feeling Lost.

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It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In” is a book about optimism, searching for new adventures and making the most of life and love’. Review on GoodReads by Debbie Young, author of the Sophie Sayer Mysteries.

Our publisher is OdysseyBooks where you can find fun and beautiful books with pictures for grownups.

Where to find Mawson’s Books: At Amazon everywhere, including at Amazon India, and at Amazon Australia (where Mawson Lives), Amazon UK and Amazon France, among others.

Reviews of Mawson’s Books at GoodReads.

It's a Bright World to Feel Lost In It’s a Bright World to Feel Lost In
reviews: 26
ratings: 34 (avg rating 4.32)
She Ran Away From Love She Ran Away From Love
reviews: 27
ratings: 33 (avg rating 4.30)
Dreamy Days and Random Naps Dreamy Days and Random Naps
reviews: 23
ratings: 26 (avg rating 4.38)

If you would rather not use Amazon, Mawson’s book are all over the place. Try BookDepository, or Barnes and Noble, or Dymocks, or at Booktopia, and soon to be at more.

You are at Mark’s blog, Baffled Bear Books. Mark is guardian and hapless typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears. Baffled Bear Books ABN: 4787910119

A Single Light, by Patricia Leslie: monsters prowl the Australian highlands

‘When Rick Hendry is contacted by a federal agent to help investigate a growing number of mysterious vanishings across Australia, he finds himself immersed in a world where normal is a very narrow view of reality. The two men are joined by a doctor, an archeologist, a journalist, and an Afflur Hunter.’ 

They soon discover that in the bush, south of Sydney, among the beach goers, walkers and picnickers, a menace grows. The mysterious Bledray monsters are preparing for a Gathering; a feast of epic proportions. Only the Afflur Hunter and Guardians can stop them, but their strength is failing and humans are needed to help prevent a second holocaust’. 

A Single Light is an urban fantasy tale of ghoulish monsters and non-human protectors battling to save humanity amid the spectacular and rugged landscapes of the Royal National Park south of Sydney.‘ From Back Cover.

Reporter Gabriella worries about the state of her colleague Rick Hendry who is clearly not sleeping well. It turns out he doesn’t want to sleep because in sleep he dreams – and the dreams terrify him.

‘There was something out there, taking people ..’ p.36. Officer Anthony Biglia.

Biglia comes across an expose written by Hendry and believes that the reporter can help him. They swap their theories. Jamie Morell finds abnormalities in the victims’ blood. None of them can work out how and why eight people are dead.

‘All are equal in the face of eternal hunger.’

For the Bledray, Maliak, Moriah, Jedidiah and Laeh, the humans exist only to be protected or to be hunted. On the plains below the high country lie millions of souls, a feast to gorge on.

‘ She ran then, urgency gripping her as the screaming of dying souls mixed with the stars and faded into oblivion.’ p. 136

I found that the hunger of the creatures is somehow believable- it’s the idea of insatiable appetite taken to extremes. The sense of menace grows as the hunters of souls and the hunters of Bledray converge upon one another until there is a climatic encounter as bush fire rages. (The fire scenes particularly struck me in the light of the huge fires in NSW last summer which covered some of these same ranges.) The author’s attention to detail and sense of place in the descriptions of these highlands in serves to ground the story. You can read more about Patricia Leslie and her work at her website  patricialeslie.net.

Patricia LeslieA Single Light_a novel by Patricia Leslie_The beach almost deserted

Where to find A Single Light: From the publisher Odyssey Books. Also at Amazon Australia, at Amazon USA, at BookDepository, at Barnes and Noble, at Chapters Indigo, Waterstones, Booktopia and more. Or ask your friendly local bookshop to obtain it for you.

Patricia Leslie also wrote The Ouroborus Key, an absorbing blend of Sumerian mythology, esoteric Templar secrets, and a detective story. This makes for a fascinating combination as you can see from my review here.

The graphics shown here are courtesy of the author and of publisher Odyssey Books.

You are at Mark’s blog called Baffled Bear Books. Mark is a dark coffee tragic and bibliophile as well as the Guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears.