Adult book reviews (new books for May-June 2013) Reviewer: Janet Croft
The more stars, the better…
In Stockmen’s Footsteps, by Jane Grieve. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP about $32.99
Jane Grieve tells the story of her life to date, starting with life on the family farm near Toowoomba, with school then work and travel in the 1970’s. Her working life culminated with the ten years she spent working to develop the Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach. Her childhood was conventional, and after four years of boarding school, life in the sixties was what you made it. University was not available to many because of the costs; so many were trained on the job, then travelled abroad if you were lucky. It was good to be inspired by Michener’s ”The Drifters”. The establishment of the Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach was a fine bicentennial project. Jane was involved from the early days of the project, and in her ten years there she worked her way up to the role of executive director, so she is able to tell about the many legendary Australian identities who made it all happen. Walking around it all with the queen and Prince Phillip at the opening was a highlight, but in the book, it is the stories of all those in the background which make it a story of the outback to enjoy.
**The Alchemists, by Neil Irwin. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
The heads of the central banks of the USA, England and Europe have enormous power. They are not elected, but make decisions that affect the lives and the future of everyone in the world.
Economics does not seem to be an exact or well-understood science. Politicians and bankers are generally blamed for the economic crisis which has adversely affected peoples’ savings, and dramatically increased the numbers of jobless people in many countries.
Neil Irwin is a financial journalist for the Washington Post, and has had access to the leading central bankers—people like Ben Bernanke and Bernard King have studied what caused and aggravated the great depression of the 1930s.
The Alchemist is far from light reading! However it gives a full coverage of the causes of the crises, and what is now being done to alter such circumstances. It also discussed the difficulties of working within the various countries most affected, as well as talking about some of the politicians who are involved. I found the chapter on China particularly interesting. People who are interested to read more than the headlines in the popular press, and to understand the complexity of the problems facing our world will find it worthwhile, and interesting to persist with this book.
**Return of a King, by William Dalrymple. PB from Bloomsbury, RRP $30
Afghanistan is a country that sits on one of the crossroads of the world- it was part of the Silk Road trade routes and site of the Great Game between Russia and colonial India. England invaded in 1839, and was humiliated then, and again later. Russia tried again in the late 1980s, and the defeat they suffered there marked the beginning of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Similar games are still happening there, with no lessons learned from history as now the Americans, with help from Australia and NATO countries are close to pulling out of the country with little evidence of victory, or of leaving behind a stable government.
Dalrymple has spent a lot of time researching the history of the country and in particular the first British invasion and subsequent war. He has files and books from Russia, India, Afghanistan and Britain. This outstanding book covers meticulously the history of the war, the reasons for actions that were taken and subsequent history. Most invasions have been for spurious reasons and poorly executed by armies who did not understand the country or its peoples. We travelled through Afghanistan in 1971, during one of the stable periods in its history. We remember a wonderful, tough people, who lived in a country of spectacular variations and stark beauty. We can only hope that the people will eventually sort them selves out so that everyone in the country can live in peace, dignity and with basic human rights for everyone. Dalrymple lives in India—and his books on the subcontinent are all wonderful reading.
The Serpent’s Promise, by Steve Jones. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
Steve Jones is a British geneticist and professor who have taken a scientist’s look at the Bible. He is not interested in believers and nonbelievers, but looks at DNA and Mitochondria to trace people’s origins. In the chapter called the Leper’s Bell he has a very interesting discussion about world plagues and diseases, and how too much emphasis on hygiene can lower people’s resistance to disease and allergies. The final chapter looks at how societies manage themselves. The Old Testament outlines the brutal penalties for those who did not abide by the rules set down in the book of Leviticus. A society will not succeed without certain standards of morality and behaviour. Karl Marx wrote the rules for communism and Groucho Marx made a comment about faith;” The secret of life is modesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that you have got it made”. I found this to be a really interesting and very readable book. It is not an attack on religion, but a witty and thoughtful look at the world through the eyes of a scientist.
*The Bedside Book of Philosophy, by Michael Picard. HB from Murdoch Books and Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
Philosophy is defined at the start of this book as ‘Literally, the Love of Wisdom; or the Study of Reality, Knowledge and Values.’ The author points out that despite the growth of Science as the preferred bearer and upholder of Truth in all things mental, philosophy continues to intrigue and guide much or our thinking. This book certainly does this. As well as short biographies of the most significant of world philosophers, there is an outline of the major schools of philosophy, and vignettes of issues, and puzzles which will keep the reader interested, pondering and puzzling for ages! It is adult reading, but will also suit intelligent and thoughtful readers of about 14 and over, and provides a potentially useful summary for students of philosophy.
Work with Me, by Barbara Annis and John Gray. PB from Little, Brown and Hachette. RRP $32.99
This is a book about how gender intelligence, and the acceptance that men and women think differently from each other, can help improve workplace relationships and lead the way to improved synergy in the workplace and more rewarding careers for many women, without them having to learn to think as a man in order to succeed in a business environment. The authors have worked on these angles for many years, (and you may remember their earlier work: Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus). Some of the questions this book discusses in its first section, titled the eight Gender Blind spots are: do women want men to change? Do women ask too many questions? Are men insensitive? The second section makes suggestions on how awareness can lead to growth in gender intelligence in the workplace.
*The Book of Fate, by Parinoush Saniee. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
The subtitle of this book is “Fifty years of Life in Iran”, and it is the personal story of a woman who grew up in Iran, married and raised a family there. In the beginning, in the pre1979 revolution Iran, which led to the deposing of the Shah, the author was a typical Iranian girl. She did not have much status as a daughter and was expected to both obey her brothers, and marry whomsoever her family decided would be a good match. Neither of these were situations which would be tolerated in our society! Her eventual husband was involved in the revolution and for a time the family was happy. The next stage saw the rise of the equally oppressive and religiously fanatical leadership of the ayatollahs, where the battles over beliefs made the leaders of the revolution into public enemies. One paragraph summed it up rather well: “The oppression we had lived under in the Shah’s time had not allowed us to learn how to properly profit from freedom. We did not know how to debate, we were not accustomed to hearing opposing points of view, we were not trained to accept different thoughts and opinions.” This is a book without much pleasure in the reading, but maybe some help in understanding life in the Middle East. There is a trend in our society to hold that all Muslims are terrorists. The Book of Fate has become a best seller because the content is authentic, and from an insider who has lived through many years of upheaval and change.
***The Universe versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence. PB from Hodder. RRP about $33
Alex Woods was an unusual child. His single mother made her living as a clairvoyant. Alex became very well known because a meteorite crashed through the roof of their house and hit him on the head, so he achieved instant fame as a rare survivor of such an incident. He was also left suffering epileptic fits and needed to manage his moods to control the fitting. At school Alex did not fit in, and found it difficult to make friends. While evading some school bullies he strikes up a most unusual friendship. Isaac Peterson was American, and had been injured as a soldier in Vietnam. He grew and smoked marijuana for what he saw as medical reasons, and had been diagnosed with a degenerative condition that would mean that he would die a grim death in a few years time. The book is really about the fight to die with dignity before life becomes intolerable. Alex and Mr Peterson, as Alex calls him develop a plan and a timetable. This is a well-written approach to assisted suicide, from the patients’ viewpoint, which outlines the difficulties faced in getting your way. People worry about being in a similar situation and it is good to read a story, which makes a lot of sense of a subject which is difficult to discuss with many people.
Whisky Beach, by Nora Roberts. PB from Piatkus and Hachette. RRP $30
Nora Roberts has an approach to writing that works and her books are usually best sellers. Eli Landon’s life has reached a low point. He had been successful in his legal career, had a beautiful wife and a large extended family. His wife however, strayed, and was murdered. Eli is the person the police are convinced killed her and the affair drags on for a year until Eli is released from suspicion. His grandmother falls down the stairs at Whiskey, her ancestral home, and is in hospital. Eventually Eli returns to the old family home and gradually finds respect there again as an inhabitant of the small coastal town– and love again too, as his friendship with Abra grows. However past events have not been cleared up, and resurface. Nora Roberts makes the story come alive, and keeps the suspense and entertainment to the end. Good light reading.
Never Saw it Coming, y Linwood Barclay. PB from Orion and Hachette. RRP $30
Keiosha Ceylon claims to be a psychic, and able to find people who have been lost. In reality she is a single mother who lives with a boyfriend who is too lazy to work and whose only contribution is to answer the phone to provide a backup reference for Keiosha’s scams. This is a lightweight, easy to read story with plenty of action, as Keiosha’s plans tend to unravel.
With All my Love, by Patricia Scanlan. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $25
This is the story of three generations of women—Briony is the youngest, Valerie is her mother, and Tessa is the grandmother whom Briony had loved so dearly, but had thought was lost to her for ever, until Briony finds a box of unread letters her grandmother had written her. Family relationships are often a mixed bag of happiness and sorrows, and this book is no exception. The font is large; the characters are well developed and could live next door to any of us, so the story reads as if we really know the people and understand their lives. Cathartic reading for all women at some stage of their lives
***The One hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out the Window, by Johan Jonasson. PB from Hyperion and Harper Collins. RRP $30
This is a long title for a charming and unusual novel. Allan Karlssen does not want to celebrate his one-hundredth birthday in a nursing home which imposes too many restrictions and will not allow him to have vodka. He decides to climb out the window and finds himself on the final and probably best escapade of his very interesting life.
During his life Allan had trained himself to be an expert on explosions. He fought for both sides in the civil war in Spain, and offered what he saw as a simple solution to a problem, to the experts who designed the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project. Allan led a most unlikely, highly adventurous life, in many countries, including Spain, China, Iran Russia and Korea, as well as the USA. He met and was friendly with many world leaders. The novel covers much of the world, with his many improbable escapades, and is a most enjoyable read.
Seduction, by Kate Forster. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
A pleasant story set in rural England, with old houses and family, new movies, bad fathers, and good characters. Middlemist is a house that has seen good times over many years. By the time Merritt and his sister Kitty inherit the house is seems as if it will be too expensive to maintain. Life falls into place when actress Willow Carruthers is offered another chance in a movie, which will be made at Middlemist. At times the story is erotic, it has a good ending and overall is pleasant reading.
House for All Seasons, by Jen McLeod. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $24.99 Also available as an ebook.
The Dandelion House was owned by a seemingly exotic woman called Gypsy. It was a few miles out of a small rural town. When Gypsy died, the house was bequeathed in shares to four women who were all familiar with the house because they had visited it often during their school years. Gypsy’s will stated that each woman had to come separately to the house and stay there for three months. After all had done this they could then decide what they would do with the house. In the twenty years since leaving Calingarry School the girls had each gone their own way, and married. They were now about ready for a mid life crisis. This is an involved story. The author portrays her characters well, but there is a lack of understanding of rural and small town life which can irritate readers who are more familiar with such settings.
Starting Now, by Debbie Macomber. PB from Penguin RRP about $32.99
Libby Morgan had set herself a professional goal, but after she was laid off by her law firm, she realised that her life had been missing something. She also realised how difficult it could be to live without a decent job. Making partner in a large law firm required too many personal sacrifices, and Libby had been too busy to maintain friendships or find a partner for marriage and family. The book is pleasant lightweight reading, and it is satisfying to see Libby achieve long-term stability and balance in her life.
Little White Lies, by Lesley Lokko. PB from Orion and Hachette. RRP $29.99
Three lifelong friends came form widely differing backgrounds and their lives followed varied paths. Although living mostly in London, they each had connections with many countries. Annick was the daughter of a French actress and the president of an African country. Her parents were assassinated in a coup, and there is always the hint of stolen money hidden somewhere in a Swiss bank account. Rebecca is the daughter of a Jewish banking family, with always enough money to do whatever she wants. Within this boundary she was expected to marry a another Jewish banker to keep the family line going. Tash was the illegitimate daughter of a Russian refugee. Her good education was paid for her unknown father. She had to work hard, but eventually became very successful in business. This is a very enjoyable story as the author keeps the friends connected across the decades and through the individual and joint ups and downs. The friendship even survived the disappearance of one child while Tash was babysitting the children of the other two.
***Shadows on the Nile, by Kate Furnival. PB from Sphere and Hachette. RRP $29.99
Egypt is a country that fascinates archaeologists, grave robbers and travellers. In the 1930s, the Kenton family are a real mixture. The parents are followers of Fascist Mosleys, Tim works in the British museum and has an Egyptian girlfriend that his parents would not approve of, and Jessica is just starting to enjoy life in London and is devoted to her family. The family secret is Georgie; while the term autism was not used in those days, Georgie was too difficult to handle in the family, and is in a home. The plot is fast moving and intricate. It keeps the reader involved and interested, both because the characters are strong and rounded, and because the locations are so interesting. Excellent, hard -to -put -down reading.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris. PB from Abacus and Hachette. RRP $29.99
The book is not about diabetes! There is a very loose thread about love in various circumstances and guises, woven through the collection of short stories from this American humorist. The contents are a random collection of stories from those that you might hear say in airport queues, such as the thoughts of a French taxi driver who thinks all Americans are racists for example. There are lots of comments about what it was like to grow up in America. It is pleasant reading, which requires no effort, and when you finish the stories you wonder what it was all really about.
The Son, by Philip Meyer. PB from Random House. RRP $32.95
The McCullough family lived in Texas from the time it was declared an independent state. The book covers the story of the family from the time Eli was captured and raised by the Comanche after they had murdered his family. The last surviving member of the family grew rich because of investments in oil, and she tells the story of the family as she comes closer to death at age eighty-six. The book really is the story of Texas, the Indians, the Mexicans and finally the white settlers. The Indians understood the land and fought to hold it. The Spanish and Mexicans were there more many generations before the white settlers came. Most of the story is about how brutal and greedy each person was, and it could be described as history in the raw. The author presents rounded characters well and fully, and has produced an interesting story.
**The Shadow Years, by Hannah Richell. PB from Hachette, RRP $$29.99
Five friends finish university with a wish to delay what they see will be a conventional life of work marriage and family. They find what appears to be an abandoned cottage beside a lake, and set out to be independent and self-reliant. The second part of the book is set thirty years later when Lila is left the cottage in a stranger’s will. Lila has recently lost a baby after a fall downstairs, in an accident of which she has very little memory. Lila tells her husband she needs time to recover, and starts to renovate the cottage. She is puzzled about the previous inhabitants, and why, with gear everywhere, they had left so suddenly. She also feels there is someone else around. It’s a really well constructed story—as I read, I was trying to work out how the two parts of the story were connected—there are remarks made, apparently random at the time—which were significant, as the story moves to a remarkable conclusion. It’s a fine story, and the book should sell well.
Dare, by Tracey Cox. PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99
Dare contains various erotic fantasies, written from a woman’s point of view. Publishers may have come to realise that after the enormous success of the Fifty Shakes of Grey series, that there is a market, and a need for explicit sex books for women. The claim is made that this book is real life, and not just erotic fiction or porn. The author is an established author, and also well regarded as an expert in relationships. She has also produced a range of pleasure products. Each of the women who describe their experiences, begin with their fantasies then talk about their decision to dare, and finally outline the event as the fantasy is brought to life—some of these events were wildly successful, in others there was a dismal failure…. I have no doubt that the book will find many women keen to read it, either to be aroused, stimulated, or simply entertained.
Silver Clouds, by Fleur McDonald. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
The Nullarbor is a lonely place to live, with much distance to cover, and lots of bad roads. Tessa Matheson had some bad experiences growing up, and was pleased to have the opportunity to move to London to work. There however, she indulged in too many parties, too much drinking and eventually she had to resign for bad behaviour. She returns to the family station in time for the funeral of her beloved aunt. Silver Clouds is a story of the life people live on the isolated stations. How Tessa recovers from her past excesses, and makes plans for the future and how the background of her pioneering family helps her achieve these goals all make for good reading.
*Into My Arms, by Kylie Ladd. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $$29.99. Also available as an ebook.
Skye meets Ben—they are both teachers—the attraction is immediate and mutual. Several months later the passionate relationship falls in a heap when Nell, Skye’s mother, recognises the similarities in appearance between Skye and Ben, and realises that Ben was her third IVF egg. Devastation complete, Skye eventually meets Hamish, marries him and has Molly, but the relationship is stormy. In the meantime, Ben, as teacher becomes involved with a family of refugees who are having trouble, and seeks to help one young lad achieve better and school, and be happier. This is a compelling read, with heartbreak involved as the reasons for the intensity of the attraction between Skye and Ben is revealed, but there is an astonishingly unexpected ending, and contentment for all characters hinted at. Highly recommended.
****Paris, by Edward Rutherford. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
How pleasant it is to read such an entertaining novel which has also left me with so much greater understanding of the history of this most wonderful of cities in the world! As we read of the connections which occur among four very different families over centuries, it is possible to see how Paris has grown and works. The various scenarios include a good description of the building of the Eiffel Tower, and the families which were involved, the people behind various revolutions, and why they felt that aristocrats should not rule the city or nation. There are several well-known historical characters who appear throughout the book, not as major players, but as part of the history. Such inclusions add to the atmosphere of the story. An extra part of my enjoyment of this book was after I heard the author, in Sydney for the Writers’ Festival, interviewed by Margaret Throsby on Classic FNM—it was excellent listening.
Love Sweat and Tears, by Zelie Bullen. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This is another entertaining story—the author grew up in a single parent family outside Perth, and there was no spare money. Right from the beginning, when she used to ride her horse to school, Zelie knew that she loved animals and she went on to do a diploma in Agriculture before getting a job as a stunt actor. One aspect of the story which must have been hard to write about, is the catalogue of accidents and deaths of family members and friends. Zelie’s career looking after and working with animals for films then took off; her love of, and skill in handling all animals shines through the rest of her story. It is very easy to read, and will be enjoyed by animals lovers.
Sumerford’s Autumn, by Barbara Gaskell Denvil. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $24.99, ebook $13.99
There is a lot of history, some real, most fictional in this story about the Sumerford family, and how Ludovic, the youngest of four sons to the Earl makes his own way in life, with no expectations of every inheriting either the title, or much land. Early in the story he takes pity on a young girl whose younger brothers have either been murdered, or killed in an accident. Ludovic introduces Alysson to the household as a maid, while he continues with his life as a smuggler. There is deep unhappiness and unrest in the household, mainly because of the vagaries of Ludovic’s oldest brother, and the story is at times tumultuous and brutal. It is a long and convoluted story, but I enjoyed it, even though I skipped a few of the most brutal descriptions.
A Fort of Nine Towers, by Qais Akbar Omar. PB from MacMillan. RRP $27.99
What has happened in Afghanistan over the past thirty years does not make sense to anybody. The Russians invaded and killed indiscriminately; the many local tribes fought and killed each other. The Taliban gained control with brutal tactics and horrible repression of women. Many think the Koran has been used wrongly to justify actions and attitudes. Qais Akbar Omar and his family lived through this period. This is his story of what the people have been through. Knowing something of the different tribes and the strength of family relationships enable us to understand a little of what has happened, and why so many people have felt that the only way to stay alive is to leave this country they have loved. The story is a bit confronting, and not pleasant. You finish the book hoping that life will improve for them all.