April 2013. Adult books– Reviewer: Janet Croft
Back to the Pilliga, by Tony Parsons. PB From Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This is an Australian adventure, with the police unable to catch a kidnapper, so Lachie Sinclair, who is ex-police, and who grew up on Kamilaroi Station on the edge of the Pilliga in NSW, is given the task of finding the bank robbers and recovering their wealthy hostage. It’s a fast moving story written by an author who understands the bush, and country people so it’s a very easy readable story, with the authentic background making it all seem very plausible.
Fish Change Direction in cold Weather, by Pierre Szalowski. PB from Allen and Unwin Canongate. RRP $22.99
This is a feel good story, which begins with a desperate ten-year-old boy begging the sky to help him bring his separated parents back together. Then comes an extraordinary storm, and several improbable events occur, when the resulting power blackout brings people together to help each other. We meet several of these people and learn how our un-named boy makes new friends. And yes, there is a happy ending: it is a shame that more kids who find themselves similarly distraught can’t get the sky to help them too. It’s an OK read, but fairly fanciful.
Life after Life, by Kate Atkinson. PB from Doubleday and Random house. RRP $32.95
I found this to be a most unusual novel. It is deliberately disjointed and offers multiple narratives where various characters have the choice to influence, or not influence, events. It reminds me of the “Choose your own adventure” books which for a time were popular with children. The historical period is the Second World War, and I found the stories of the characters, and their choices too confusing to try to follow it all in sequence, but it gives a good summary of life in Germany and England at the time.
The Captive Sun, by Irena Karafilly. PB from Picador and Pan MacMillan. RRP about $30
Modern Greece has been a country of conflict and political upheaval. In its comparatively recent past it has separated from Ottoman Turkey, suffered German occupation, threats of communist takeover and a repressive right wing junta. The Captive Sun is not a political book, but an account of the life of Calliope Adham, who grew up as the daughter of the headmaster of the local village school. Calliope is widowed early in World War 2 and recruited as a translator by the occupying German army, but she remained an active member of the Resistance. After the war she set up a library for younger girls who were denied an education by their traditionalist fathers but made her living as a translator. Calliope is a strong-minded woman, who held to her values as she led an active life in all respects. The book has a lot of substance to it, which makes for a highly readable story which also gives insight into many aspects of Greek life.
The Autumn Bride, by Ann Gracie, PB from Michael Joseph and Penguin. RRP $24.99
This is an excellent Regency novel, with links in style to the redoubtable Georgette Heyer, but much more humorous, and a bit more feisty. Abigail Chantry is a governess, but has to leave her job suddenly when her younger sister and two other girls are rescued from a brothel. By chance, Abigail is able to find a roof over their heads, with an old noblewoman who has been cruelly treated by her supposed carers. All goes happily until the return from overseas of Lady Beatrice’s nephew Max, lord Debenham. I read this novel in one sitting, and can thoroughly recommend it as a well planned, easy to read and delightful story.
The Hidden Cottage, by Erica James. PB from Orion. (Hachette) RRP $29.99
Living in a small English village has its delights. People know each other and help each other. Owen Fletcher grew up with an abusive father, but eventually was successful in work, made a fortune and chose to return to the only village where he had been happy as a child. He purchased the hidden cottage where two spinster sisters had taught him the piano and had shown him that there was good to be had in life. Mia Channing had three grown children and a controlling husband who could never get his family relationships together. The book is great for readers who are looking for a romantic read. It is not all positive reading, but leaves hope that life can turn out happily.
No Way Back, by Matthew Klein. PB from Atlantic and Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
Jimmy Thane went right off the rails— he was a man who worked as a manager in failed companies for adventurous financiers seek to resell for good profits. He becomes caught up with alcohol and drugs before he recovers his life, comes clean and under control. At work, he is given, as a last chance, a company to resurrect. His wife has stayed with him despite all the problems Jimmy has had. The book starts with Jimmy trying to work out what is wrong with the company, and how to fix it. It is a well written and interesting story but the ending is unexpected, violent and shocking.
The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Jodi Picoult always has a strong theme to her stories. This book’s central issue is guilt. Sage Singer is very conscious of the scars on her face, the result of a car accident that she still feels guilty about. She works as a solitary baker, baking bread at night and not dealing with people. When Sage befriends Joseph Weber, an elderly man who has been a good citizen for more than sixty years he asks Sage to kill him. Joseph has changed his name, and hidden the fact that he was a senior officer in the German prison camps during the Holocaust. The contemporary parts of the story are Picoult at her best. The past details of life as a Jew in prison camps are confronting. I have read other books about this part of WW2, and visited some of the camps, and don’t care to read more when I am reading a book for pleasure.
The Girl under the Olive Tree, by Leah Fleming. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $$24.99 also available as an ebook for $13.99
Penelope George grows up in England in the 1930’s, privileged and expected to join the list of society debutantes and to find the right husband. Her sister needs her in Athens and Penny escapes her mother and finds a job as a Red Cross nurse in Athens. Refusing to return home, as the war gets closer, Penny finds herself stranded in Crete, one of the few nurses left on the battlefields there. It is a life of real hardship and danger but also a time to develop strong friendships. Sixty years later Penny makes the journey back to Crete, to see if she can find traces of friends, lovers and some who were friends on the German side. At times I feel there are too many books written based in war zones. However Fleming has done her research well, and produced a story to enjoy.
Ryder’s Ridge, by Charlotte Nash. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99 Also as an ebook
Daniella is a young doctor who decides that work in a small western Queensland town is a good way to get away from a domineering doctor father, and also away from the demands and frustrations of work in a large impersonal city hospital. Charlotte Nash captures the feel of how a small town community works, how people get along together, and how they can sometimes be very knowledgeable about affairs in the community. Small towns can be great to live in—the key is that you have to want to be there! Daniella’s growing attachment to Mark, the attractive and talented heir to the neighbouring cattle station is the feature of this story. Daniella has to deal with a potential father in law who doubts her ability to fit into the local scene, and not break up the long family history in the area. This is good light reading. It is always good to have a story with an Australian background which makes the story come alive because it is vividly and accurately portrayed.
Touch and go, by Lisa Gardner PB from Headline and Hachette. RRP $32.99
The Denbe family had everything going for it; Justin was the hard working owner of a big construction business while Libbie ran the house that people envied, and where Justin’s’ workmen were often welcomed for a meal. Things went wrong when Justin followed his father’s habit of infidelity and Libbie became hooked on prescription painkillers. Their fifteen-year-old daughter Ashlyn began to look for what had happened. The nightmare really started when the entire family was abducted. Tessa Leoni is asked by the Denbe family’s company to help the police get them back unharmed. This is a complex but tightly interwoven story with insights into the behaviour of people in extremely difficult circumstances. It is full of action and suspense.
Amber Road, by Boyd Anderson. PB from Random House. RRP $32.95
Colonial Singapore was an outpost of the British Empire- a naval and trading base for the so-called Far East. Victoria Khao was the seventeen year old daughter of a wealthy Chinese family who had grown planning to marry Sebastian Roustead, the son of a powerful British merchant family but when the Japanese easily conquered the supposedly impregnable British fortress in WW2, the easy life disappeared. Sebastian had returned from Cambridge University with his English fiancée, and Victoria had to deal with life under the Japanese. The book is about Singapore and shows how each race– Malays, Indians, Chinese and Japanese– had to work out their place as the British Empire crumbled, and the war eventually ended. It is an interesting story that gives lots of understanding about the history of the 20th century in the area. I enjoyed the book, and the history.
In Diamond Square, by Merce Rodoreda. PB from Little, Brown and Virago. RRP $29.99
This is a very Spanish novel –it evokes the places, the small villages, and the nature of family life, with the dominance of the man’s mother, the spoilt son, who expects to have everything his own way, and the bewilderment of Natalia, as she marries after a whirlwind romance, only to find that settling into married life removed much of her individuality, and turned her into a shadow of her formal lively self. When Tony is born, Joe buys his first pigeon, and builds a pigeon coop on the roof terrace. The Civil War took Joe away from the family home to fight the fascists, and when he was killed, Natalia had to find work to support the children. To her relief the pigeons all gradually fly away! Eventually Natalia found happiness as she met an adult Anthony and married him. It is a sombre, reflective story, but certainly gives considerable insight into what it was like to be a young Spanish girl at the start of the 1930s.
Guilt, by Jonathan Kellerman. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
Guilt begins with the finding of an old brass box in a garden—the box contains the bones of a young baby. Alex Delaware is a psychologist who helps police with their investigations. The action is ramped up with the finding of more baby bones, a few murders, and the description of film star lifestyles which seem to be spiralling out of control. The investigative work is well presented, but the suspense was not satisfactorily sustained. The ending is unusual, and I found it unpleasant.
Grace Grows, by Shelle Summers. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
I began this book, and almost switched off after the breezy and chick lit style introduction. However, I am pleased I persisted, because the introduction is in keeping with the character of Grace, and the story develops smoothly, plausibly and with humour and zest. Grace’s almost accidental boy friend Ty develops into a really likeable bloke too and his life as a rising musical star rings true. The relatives of both Grace and Ty are rounded characters, and the interactions between all of them are really lifelike. The story is enjoyable, and easy to read.
Mob Rule, by Hannah Evans. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $29.99
This parenting guide-cum-commentary is quite readable, although much of it has been known for some time as I too, am a mother of boys—though I must add, our mix was spiced up with a couple of girls as well. The content is fairly predictable; it is written with humour, and acceptance and will be a useful guide for any one who is lacking in confidence in their ability to parent using their instincts. My only gripe with the book is that it is written in the present tense—maybe this adds immediacy to the story telling, but it just doesn’t read well.
Sex and the Citadel by Shareen El Feki. PB from Vintage and Random House. RRP $34.95
Life in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world is changing. It seems to be a strange combination of Arab Spring and the most rigid of fundamentalist Islam. The recent—well, two years ago now—uprising in Tahrir or Liberation Square in Cairo began the process which led to the end of the thirty year rule of President Mubarak. Within this movement was a new way of looking at what younger Egyptians wanted from their lives, their government and family traditions–more freedom of choice, more education and less male dominance in families were some of the most important emphases.
People hold many differing views about life in Islamic cultures, and this book presents a frank discussion of what happens, what people want and what needs to change in line with peoples wishes. I found it really interesting.