The more stars, the better the read!
Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey, by the Countess of Carnarvon. From Hodder. RRP $29.99
Highclere Castle is known as the house/castle in the TV series Downton Abbey. Many of the great houses of England were too expensive to maintain by individual families when their wealth base was destroyed by death duties. The Carnarvons were burdened by these responsibilities and the need for male heirs who had to marry heiresses in order to keep their households and lifestyles intact. This book about the Carnarvon family shows how they and their household lived through wars and peace. The fifth earl was one of those who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen, and he did not survive the so-called curse. It is a revealing book about how people lived in their society circles, fought in the wars, and looked after their staff. Interesting social history of a now bygone era.
***The Stalking of Julia Gillard, by Kerry-Anne Walsh. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Also available as an eBook.
The sub-title of this book is “How the media and Team Rudd contrived to bring down the Prime Minister.” Kerry-Anne Walsh has been part of the Canberra press gallery for twenty-five years. As the public, we have been fed a daily barrage of what the parties want us to hear, as presented by a media which needs the next big story. Kerry-Anne Walsh has written a very good summary of Julia Gillard’s time as Prime Minister of Australia. It needed a book to provide more than the day-to-day events, and to allow an overall picture of the three years term. Julia Gillard was handed a particularly difficult parliamentary situation after the 2010 election, with a hung parliament. The only path to form a government was to deal with minority parties and independents. Despite an ongoing destabilising attack from the previous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a press that did not like her, and an opposition who felt robbed of their ‘right’ to govern, Gillard led a government that made a lot of major decisions. It has often been ignored that she showed considerable ability to steer new legislation through to law. This is a book which should be read so that voters can think about the decisions they have to make, and that they make at a time when neither majority party has a leader who is respected by the majority of voters, or possibly, interested in anything other than their own right to political power.
If I tell you…I’ll have to Kill you. Edited by Michael Robotham. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
The editor has spoken with numerous Australian crime writers, including Shane Maloney, Peter Corris, Kerry Greenwood and Gabrielle Lord about their approach to writing in the crime genre. It is interesting to see how each of these authors operates. Some research and plan for months, others let the story take them along. They all say that you should read a lot, watch, listen and travel so that their range of experiences make their books feel authentic and interesting. It is a book about authors, not about crime. The cover of the book is off-putting as it looks like a cheap thriller novel. Disregard the cover—the book makes interesting reading about well known authors whose works you have probably enjoyed.
For God’s Sake, by Jane Caro, Antony Loewenstein, Simon Smart and Rachel Woodlock. PB from Macmillan. RRP $32.99
This book is for people who are interested in religion and the major world religions. It presents how each of the major world religions looks at various big life issues.
Jane Caro is an atheist; Antony Loewenstein is a Jew who is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause; Simon Smart is Christian, and Rachel Woodstock grew up as a member of the Baha’i group, and is now a follower of Islam.
They each discuss their views on questions such as: where do we find hope? What is a good life? Can we believe in a good God when there is so much suffering? Doesn’t religion oppress women? The four authors admit to their surprise at discovering how much they all had in common regarding all of these issues. This is a book which should be read as we all seem to have lots of misunderstandings about any creed which differs from our own. We can also assume that the public stereotypes of how each faith is viewed are more likely to be the result of tribal customs rather than the creed of the faith.
The Bhutanese Guide to Happiness, by Gyonpo Tshering. PB from Little Brown and Hachette. RRP $14.99
When I was in Bhutan a few years ago, I purchased a book called the Boneless Tongue, which, like this book, is a collection of Bhutanese proverbs, and words of wisdom. This book however is much simpler, and the sayings spread out with only a couple to each page. I have found that this is very easy to browse, and to chuckle, or at least smile at many of them. It is true—the Bhutanese know that they have a good life, and that happiness is more important than wealth. They are also devoutly Buddhist, and I think this is the basis for much of their contentment with life, and earnest endeavour to live a good life. After all: “Life is like footprints in the snow”. “Every step will show” For those who like to think, and appreciate the good things of life.
Tell my sons, by Lt. Col Mark Weber, with David Murray. PB from Random House. RRP $32.95
This is a serious book, about an American serviceman, who served his country with honour, but, who when diagnosed with cancer at 38, dedicated his last years to writing his thoughts about many aspects of life, so that his sons would learn to know him, even after he had died. So we learn not only of his army life, but also of his fears, and most of all, of his love for his wife and three sons, and wish or prayer, that these young boys would grow up to be proud of their father and their country, but most of all, of their own integrity, partly as a result of what their father tells them in all these letters. The letters are moving, and I found it impossible to read the book straight, but rather delved into certain topics, as I felt able at the time.
**The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, by Tim Harford. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
The world wide financial crisis has been part of our lives for more than six years. It is probably an election campaign, with all the promises from politicians, that will make us think how decisions about financial policy will work out. People react to the working of the economy and save, or spend, stay in a particular job, and businesses make decisions. Tim Harford is able to explain a lot of how economics works on the small scale, and also why government or business decisions can produce unusual or unexpected results. After watching some of the recent election campaign antics, I think they would spend their time better to read this book, because it contains a lot of logic and wisdom that they could all use to our advantage.
Zealot, by Reza Aslan. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.95 (and in eBook)
The subtitle of this book is The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a biography following two decades of research into the life and times of Jesus, conducted at the universities of Santa Clara, Harvard and California. Their conclusions are that Jesus was a poor carpenter, that he spoke only Aramaic, and that he was as much a rebel against the rule of Rome as against a corrupt Jewish temple. With most of the New Testament written by people who did not know him personally, or live at the same time as Jesus, the researchers have endeavoured to write a factual account of the times.
The knowledge of both Jewish and roman Law and how both were applied makes for a very interesting comparison between historical and biblical sources. A really thought provoking book about the man who became the cornerstone of such a powerful religion.
The Golden Thread, the Story of Writing by Ewan Clayton. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $45
From the invention of the alphabet, the history of writing has been one of innovation, of ever increasing variety of styles and methods as well as the rationales behind them. The invention of the printing press was the most dramatic improvement, but it coincided with the development of printing and handwriting outside the monasteries as well, so the skill became ever more broadly spread throughout society. The author also comments that writing expresses much more than just words—the appearance of the scripts, either mechanically or manually produced can heighten the emotional impact of the content. We know that writing and the written word is here to stay—we hope that the beauty of the production contains to aim to please, as well as to inform. A technically heavy book, but with gems of information and knowledge within. For interested readers.
The Antiques Magpie, by Marc Allum. HB from Icon Books and Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This is a fascinating collection of facts about antiques. From an article on copyright, and how patent registration marks and details are organised and moulded into products, to an article on how to spot a fake, there is much to learn from the content. There is an article on collecting comics, and what to look for—also, trains, posters, and an outline of what is a Grecian urn, and how to pick the era. I found it great fun to browse, from an historical point of view, but it will also be useful for the serious dealer or collector because there is so much information that I have never seen in one book before. Good value.
Pardon Me for Mentioning, edited by Alex Kaplan, Julie Lewis and Catharine Munro. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
One of the delights of the Sydney Morning Herald each morning is the letters to the editor section. The SMH and the Age recive more than 2000 email letters a week, plus via other more traditional menas. But—what happens when the letters do not pass the censor’s pen? Here is the answer. It is a collection of letters, mostly of relevance to the past year or so in Australian life, but which did not comply with the criteria for publication. Politics is a major theme of protest and dissatisfaction—a plague on both their houses—as both left and right wing politicians are criticised and abused for various failures of policy or civilized behaviour Most delightful, are the quirky bits, some just a tad naughty, and where clever use of language and spoonerisms with names make their points with devastating clarity. What a shame our daily reading cannot be as spicy and pungent as this book. A fun read.
Tsunami and the Single Girl, by Krissy Nicholson. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99
The author found herself in the middle of the tsunami in 2005, while she was in Sri Lanka. This event led to a huge change of career for her, and since then she has become an aid worker in zones all over the world where humanitarian problems need to be resolved. This is a really interesting read, and Krissy has had a most fascinating career learning more about people, and their resilience, as well as about man’s inhumanity to man. The other thread in the story is Krissy’s search for a soul mate and love. And this too seems sorted by the end of the book. There is an excellent section on how to become an aid worker at the conclusion of the story, and this alone means that this book should be on all library shelves. It is good that the book is available as an Ebook for this reason too.
Hell on Earth, by Michele Cunningham. PB from Little, Brown, and Hachette. RRP $35
Almost 3000 servicemen including 1500 Aussies perished when they were moved, largely by foot, from Changi, following the collapse of Singapore, to Sandakan prison camp in North Borneo in mid 1942 as the Allied fighting came closer to the Japanese lines. It is a violent and horrifying account of the maltreatment of these prisoners by the Japanese, and of the resilience of the survivors, and even those who perished. Perish they did, but their spirit was never broken. I found this a really sad, and difficult story, but it is a story which needed to be told, and will become part of our war history records.
Confessions of a Latter Day Virgin, by Nicole Hardy. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99 Also as an EBook.
Nicole tells of her long standing conflict of being a Mormon, but wanting a life in broader society which is not constrained by the Mormon emphasis that life for a woman is about becoming a homemaker and bearing lots of kids. It reveals the battles she faces within her own family, and with herself as she seeks to find her own future and personal happiness. It is easy to read, but I dislike the use of the present tense for such a narrative.
The Ukelele Handbook, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney and Tom Hodgkinson. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $24.99
I was curious about this instrument, because recently I was given one, and have been keen to learn a little more about the history, and how to play it, other than the titbits which friends have shown me. This really is a very useful little book. I had not idea that the history of the instrument was so rich, or that it is such a flexible instrument. The biographical details about well-known uke masters are fun to read, but the best part for me has been the songbook, and the instruction section. There is a tab notation guide, which gives the notes and fingering using the frets on the instrument. It is easy to follow, and a delight in terms of simplicity. I think this book will be very popular with the ukulele groups that seem to be springing up around here.
**Reports from a Turbulent Decade, from the Lowy Institute. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
Over the past decade, the Lowy Institute in Sydney has researched and analysed the major issues in global politics. Their thinking provides a source of fresh policy ideas for Australia’s decision makers. Our media gives only a very quick and often-superficial account of the news of the world, and this book, written by Australia’s brightest thinkers provides an opportunity to understand a whole range of issues affecting our world, and various government decisions. Topics covered range from diplomatic issues with China, the reasons behind policies in the USA, and how we should deal with India. Australia has just been subject to what has been viewed as a very poor quality election campaign. Read this book and you will feel that every aspiring politician would be better off reading it too, and spending less time campaigning because they would be better informed should they be part of the new parliament.
****A Smile for My Parents, by Heather Henderson. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Heather Henderson is now eighty-four years old. She is the only daughter of Australia’s longest serving Prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies. Henderson, whose husband was a diplomat, has been asked for years to write her recollections of growing up in the lodge in the 1950’s and early 60’s.
It is always interesting to gain another’s perspective of famous people. Sir Robert and Dame Pattie were sometimes depicted as aloof and pompous. My only meeting with Sir Robert was when I was at university in Melbourne in 1964—he was really cheerful, funny and great company that day! Heathers’ memories show them to have been people of principle, who gave so much of their lives and time to serving Australia. A few things stand out; Bob Menzies had two older brothers who both went to war. His parents said that two was enough for a family, so Bob said that he would serve the country via parliament. Currently when we have just changed governments, there is a feeling that Heads of Department, who were appointed by Labour, should be replaced. Menzies did the opposite. He preferred to be advised by people who did not necessarily agree with him. Nugget Combs, the former boss of the Reserve Bank, was the example given. It has been refreshing to read a report of a prime minister of more than fifty years ago whose main concern was the country, not the gaining or retaining of political power for its own sake.
The Riddle of the Labyrinth, by Margalit Fox. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $35
Archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans found about a thousand tablets covered in an unknown script in the ruins of the palace at Knossos after the palace had been pillaged and burnt. The burning had baked the clay tablets and preserved them. Deciphering an unknown language is extraordinarily difficult. They did not know what the symbols represented, the subject of the text or what relationship the script, which is referred to as Linear B, had to any known ancient alphabet or languages. It took until the middle of the 20th Century for the script to be deciphered, largely through the efforts of two people working independently—one was an eccentric American teachers, Alice Kober, and the other a British architect Michael Ventris. They worked without the benefit of computers. Both had the ability, usually found only in children, to pick up another language really easily. Both were familiar with dozens. This is an interesting book—at times really detailed, but an excellent example of how dedicated people can achieve amazing intellectual feats.
Bonzer, by Sandy Thorne. PB from Michael Joseph and Penguin. RRP $29.95
It is a bit difficult to classify this book—it is an autobiography, but because it tells—mainly—the story of a childhood, it will appeal to teenage readers—in quite a lively way actually, because Sandy’s childhood was unorthodox, and very active, as she managed many escapades which would have parents either tearing their hair our, or despairing of such a wild child. Set about sixty years ago, the freedom of life for Sandy was quite different from what most children experience today- closeted indoors, often in front of a screen of some sort. The result is that Sandy has grown into her professions- that of comedian and yarn spinner, almost by accident, but with great success, as the stories she tells are really amusing. Good reading for a wide age range.
***Veni Vidi Vici, by Peter Jones. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $35
This book makes more sense about the Romans than any other book I have attempted to read. Maybe it is because everything is handled in chronological order; maybe it is because it is a concise explanation of life in classical Roman times, spreading over more than 1200 years; maybe because it is designed to be simple so as not to be off-putting—I don’t know what it is, but the book is a joy. It is fantastic to have so much information presented in such an interesting manner. The sub-title is “Everything you wanted to know about the Romans but were afraid to ask”, and I am thrilled to have had so many bits and pieces both explained, in their place. I like the way in which Jones uses primary source material to support his information, and I also like the fact that this book will appeal to a wide range of ages, from about 14 years to adult. It will certainly be an excellent book for upper secondary students.
****On the Trail of Genghis Khan, by Tim Cope. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $29.99
Genghis Khan ruled the biggest continuous kingdom in history, stretching from China across to Europe and Russia in the thirteenth century—in fact, anywhere he could find grass for his horses. He is remembered in Europe as a brutal dictator whose troops raped, razed and pillaged wherever they went. History in Asia, although much the same as in Europe, recognised that Genghis Khan was an enlightened ruler who allowed freedom of religion. A large number of his troops came from the peoples he conquered, and most countries prospered under his rule. Tim Cope is a most adventurous traveller. Previous trips, and the books which resulted from them are about biking and rowing across Russia. As Tim followed the routes covered by Genghis, he rode on horseback from Mongolia to Hungary, and the trip took more than three years. It is a wonderful account of the hospitality he encountered, as well as an account of much of the history of the areas travelled, and commentary on the results of harsh forms of some of the governments, particularly in the Soviet period. The book is an engrossing and inspiring read.
**History’s Greatest Decisions and the People who made them, by Bill Price. PB from Murdoch Books. RRP $29.99
This is another in the series from Murdoch Books about the most important events or decisions in various spheres of life and the world. This time, it is decision making. There are segments involved with social change, military decisions, science and innovation, culture, politics, diplomacy and religion, so the scope is enormous and there is not much detail about any one decision or series of decisions The period covered is also immense, from Caesar, to the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and the development of the internet. There is a brief list of resources at the end of the book for anyone who is interested to follow the stories in more detail. It is an interesting book to browse, and as with many of these books it will be a good one for secondary school libraries.
Hildegard of Bingen, by Fiona Maddocks. PB from Faber and Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
I was intrigued to read this book, because I am familiar with some of Hildegard’s musical compositions, and also, have looked from across the river, quite close to Frankfurt, at the Abbey where she spent so many years, I was sorry to be without the opportunity to cross the river for a closer look. Hildegarde was quite extraordinary for her time—in the range of her interests, and in the manner in which she wrote letters to various popes, and other influential men. She experienced not infrequent seizures, and in these times had considerable numbers of visions which she then wrote about, covering a wide range of topes, including sex, marriage and love, as well as medical conditions and treatments. We also learn lots about life, especially within the church for women of the 12th century. The book is not easy to read, but it is really interesting for history buffs, and those who are interested to read how life for women in the Church has not really changed all that much in some respects! No credit to the Catholic Church on this one.
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. PB from Random House. RRP $24.95. Also available in eBook
Letters from Skye is one of those books which captures a true romantic’s attention within the first few pages. The First World War is the setting where a young poet, whose first publication is read and devoured by an American student. His fan letter to her is the beginning of a literary conversation that continues to grow and blossom over time. He goes away to war while she continues to write poetry. They fall in love via the letters they send, even though she is a married woman. The tension between the two characters is very real and engaging and thus I found it hard to put the book away. I love a good romance story! It had believable characters, genuine war scene descriptions, and that universal theme – love conquers all.
**Children of the Jacaranda Tree, by Sahar Delijani. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
I find it reassuring that so many books are appearing about successful refugees from the Middle East. At a time when the urge from most Australian politicians—probably because of ignorant public opinion- is about how to stop refugees reaching our shores, it is good to read such a vivid and optimistic story about the reasons people want to leave some autocratic and rigid regimes such as Iran. The story of the Islamic revolution in Iran is heart-wrenching and seems almost unbelievable to us, but to Amir, his wife Axar, and their baby daughter Neda it was terrifying real, and took luck, as well as persistence for them to escape. The second part of the story mostly concerns Neda, after she is able to find refuge in Italy. This book is based on the experience of the author and her family. Not easy, but interesting reading. I will suggest this book to year 11 and 12 students, when it fits in with their themes for English.
The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $24.99 Also available as an e-book$11.99
This is about two young teenagers who manage to cope for themselves. Their mother is always on the move and prefers to flee when life becomes difficult. During one period when the sisters, ”Bean” and “Liz’ are fending for themselves, they decide to return to their mother’s family, to try to establish some stability in their lives. Their uncle Tinsley is a recluse but takes them in. It is a story about difficult situations and people, but it is surprisingly readable and appealing, with an ending that could only happen in America.
Three hours Late, by Nicole Trope. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
It has taken a long time to read this book, because the topic is unpleasant, and the story is not a happy one. Liz is the victim of domestic violence and now dreads to see her husband Alex. Mostly though, she is afraid for their son Luke, and panics when Alex is more than a few minutes late returning Luke to her care. Even a reasonably acceptable ending to the story cannot change the fact that overall it is a story about unhappy people and a child who is in the middle.
The Professor of Poetry, by Grace McLeen. PB from Sceptre and Hachette. RRP $29.99
When Professor Elizabeth Stone discovers that she has brain cancer, and not long to live, she decides to return to the university city where she had been a student, and to look up her first tutor, for whom she had, and now acknowledges that she still has, a crush on him. It is a poignant story, told delicately, and with lots of emotion and memories fluctuating through Elizabeth as she both relives the past, and then comes to terms with now. We learn of her intense shyness as a student, and her self-doubts, and also of the loneliness of Professor Hunt, and his unassuaged longing for Elizabeth as well. I enjoyed the story, and felt the ending was really satisfying. Mostly for women.
Look Me in the eye, by John Elder Robison. PB from Bantam and Random house. RRP about $20
The author of this book was recently in Australia, speaking at the Byron Writer’s Festival. His talks were impressive, and I decided to read the story of his youth, and upbringing, as an Apsergian at a time when the condition was not commonly recognised, and Robison was regarded as a social deviant. Much of his recall of his childhood is unhappy, particularly when his mother was unbalanced and his father a violent alcoholic. John took care of his younger brother much of the time. Later in the book, when Robison was adult, and discovered that he had talents which enabled him to make a good living as a sound engineer, the story becomes much more interesting, and I am keen to share the story with a few young Aspergers teenagers, because his success may help them to experiment with their own skills so that they may become as well adjusted to so-called ‘normal’ life as has Robison. Worth reading.
The White Queen, by Phillipa Gregory. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $19.99
This historical novel tells of the life of Elizabeth Woodville, who married the warrior king Edward IV, and had to work hard to defend and protect her two young sons, who were to become the famous, but missing princes in the tower. The setting is heavily historical, and there is lots about war, ans allegiances, and changing allegiances. It is a highly readable story about a period about which I knew very little, and a redoutable woman, who worked really hard to look after the interests of her sons.
Sunshine on Scotland Street, by Alexander McCall Smith. PB from Little Brown and Hachette. RRP about $20
Every time I see that Smith’s new book concerns this extraordinary street in Edinburgh, I look to see the identity of the major character, sometimes with a bit of . While some of the stories are wonderful (those with Isobel Dalhousie as the heroine for starters) others are beyond my patience and understanding. I found that this story, with young Bertie as the over protected, rather sad temporary young dog sitter of Cyril, grew on me as I read. I was particularly happy to see that life improved for Bertie.
*From Alice with Love, by Jo Dutton. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
This is the story of Alicia, who moves back to Alice Springs to look after her critically ill mother, only to stay in the Red Centre, and find a job setting up a school, and then teaching is an isolated community. The Arrernte people are central to this story, their lives, problems and wishes for a better future in spite of the continuing intervention and interference from governments. The story has a ring of authenticity about it which would be hard to produce without first hand experiences. There is a romantic sub plot to accompany this interesting, very Australian, novel.
Dead Cat Bounce, by Peter Cotton. PB from Scribe. RRP $29.95, eBook $19.99
Peter Cotton has worked as media advisor for three Australian cabinet ministers, and also as a foreign correspondent for the ABC. It is this background that he has used to write a thriller based around a federal election and the murder of two prominent politicians. The bodies were planted on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, both the men, and a dead cat found nearby had been killed with carbon monoxide. It is good to read an Australian thriller with such a familiar background.
The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, by Nick Trout. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99, eBook available.
Set in the USA, this is an engaging story of a vet, who has worked primarily as an animal pathologist until he returns to the small town of his youth, and to the vet practice left to him by his estranged and broke father. Cyrus finds that it is easier to go along with events as they turn up on his doorstep, and with which he quickly becomes involved, than to follow his initial urge which was to sort out the practice, sell, and get out. The romantic carryover from his earlier youth is reactivated , and the result, together with all the animals is a very readable story. The story is made more interesting because of the authentic veterinary details supplied by the author, himself a practising vet.
The Night Guest, by Fiona McFarlane. PB from Hamish Hamilton and Penguin. RRP $29.99
I found this a confusing story. Ruth is elderly, and at a stage where she really does need someone to look after her. Soon after she thinks she hears a tiger prowling around her house at night, the mysterious Frida appears and says she is there to look after Ruth. But Frida is not as she appears, and her motives are complex. I found the story hard to follow and did not complete the book.
The Mannequin Makers, by Craig Cliff. PB from Vintage and Random House. RRP $32.95
This is an unusual story. The carpenter started life carving figureheads on ships for the shipyards on the rive Clyde in Scotland. He became a ship’s carpenter and spent time ship wrecked in the southern ocean. The other mannequin maker trained his twin children to stand for hours as realistic mannequins in a shop window. It is a story of small town New Zealand, deception and some distinct characters.
Rose Harbour in Bloom, by Debbie Macomber. PB from Random House. RRP $32.95
This is largely a story about three women, and how they each handle their lives over one weekend when they are all staying at Jo Marie’s B and B—a venture which she has recently begun since the apparent death in Afghanistan of her husband. The other two women are Annie, who is organising a fiftieth wedding anniversary party for her grandparents, but who is also having love troubles, and Mary who is recovering from extensive surgery for breast cancer, and desperate to see the man whom she loved dearly, but walked away from about twenty years earlier. This story is told part in the first person, from Jo Marie, but the rest is in the third person as observer of Annie and Mary. Many of her sentences are short, and follow the same structure, which makes for tedious reading. It is OK reading, but a very predictable story.
Ostrich, by Matt Greene. PB from Hachette. RRP $24.99
A story about growing up, when you have more than a few problems with your health, and your image, and your family. The book just did not appeal to me.
The Vale Girl, by Nelika McDonald. PB from Pan MacMillan. RRP $29.99
This is a very impressive first novel by a young Australian. Ostensibly it is the story of Sarah, and how she disappears when she is about 15. It is also however the story of the small town in which she lived, of the people who lived there, especially her friend and admirer Tommy, but also it is about living in dysfunctional families, of learning to live without a parent, and of the pain and intense emotions which are part of life as adolescent grows to adult life. The story is told as multiple narratives which are well suited to the story, and these add to the tension of the hunt for Sarah, and develops the feeling that the reader knows all the major characters. Excellent reading for mature teenagers and adults. There are also some comprehensive reading notes at the end of the book which will be helpful for people who read this book as part of a group.
Traces of Absence, by Susan Holoubek. PB from Pan MacMillan. RRP $29.99
This is another story which will appeal to members of local book clubs. It tells of the nightmare for Dee when her daughter Corrie, on a gap year in Argentina, suddenly and apparently inexplicably, goes missing. Dee immediately travels to Argentina, but her search is fruitless. Four years later, she travels there again, to follow up a lead that Corrie is alive, and is travelling around the country. The story raises issues of the mother-daughter relationship, of travel, and of how important tolerance and love are if mental pain and suffering are to be avoided.
*The Best Man, by Dianne Blacklock. PB from Pan MacMillan. RRP $29.99
This is a long and quite complicated story. Madeleine has had a tough life, and had to make her own way after her father died when she was quite young. Her mother found it very difficult to cope and be independent. Madeleine is both happy and contented to have met Henry who offers her stability and a predictable future. Madeleine works in publicity for a publisher, and her boss, Liv has twins, is happy as a single parent, but also is pleased that Madeleine has Henry in her future. The future however is unpredictable and when Madeleine meets Henry’s best friend, Aiden, and Liv meets David, the futures of both women become more complicated, more unpredictable but also entwined. This story is good reading, mostly for women.
The book of Heaven, by Kent Wascom. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This is the story of Kent, who becomes a settler in the areas of the United States which were just opening up, the Mississippi Basin and then down to New Orleans. It is also the story of how he meets and falls in love with Kate. There is violence, ambition and political intrigue and the search for power as the story unfolds. I did not find it easy to read, and did not finish the book.
The Russian Tapestry, by Banafsheh Serov. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Russia is a huge country that has suffered much from war and revolutions as well as the harsh climate. The political systems have always favoured the wellborn, the rich and the political leaders. Always, the peasants have been with a life of not much hope. The Russian Tapestry spans periods of dramatic change in Russia—in particular, the end of the rule of the aristocracy and the brutal period of the German invasion during the First World War. The Serov family were soldiers and loyal to the Tsars. After being forced to join the Red Army, they escaped and managed to get to Australia. This book is an historical novel, but with lots of fact, and is an interesting account of Russian political and social history.
Ocean Child, by Tamara McKinley. PB from Quercus and Pan MacMillan. RRP $29.99
Lulu Pearson is a young sculptress, trying to make her way in London in the years after the First World War. Lulu has been raised by her aunt; Lulu never knew her father, and her mother, who lived in Tasmania, was not interested in her. Lulu receives a strange letter from a horse trainer in Tasmania to say she is the owner of a racehorse, and what is she going to do about it. The story is a semi-historical novel, as Lulu returns to Tasmania and starts to trace and find family members. She comes to realise that really, she should live on the islane. This is good, light, but entertaining reading.
**The Disciple, by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99, and available as an eBook.
Edward Hinde was a complex man—he had been convicted fourteen years ago for a series of brutal ritualistic murders and is locked away in a high security prison with no apparent access to life outside its walls. Sebastian Bergman is the psychologist and criminal profiler who had been responsible for catching Hinde. Bergman’s life had been chaotic for some years, and when Bergman discovers that he has an adult daughter, he then realises that in fact this young woman is in fact one of his closest work colleagues. Somehow Hinde, from behind bars, is organising another series of murders, seemingly with a link to Bergman, who realises that his daughter Valyna is at risk because Hinde is out to exact revenge for his imprisonment. It’s a complex story, very dramatic, and with quite a deal of violence but an intriguing read.
Man vs. Child, by Dominic Knight. PB from Random House. RRP $32.95 (and as eBook)
The story about what happens when a guy who has always protested that he doesn’t want to be involved with kids, loses his girlfriend because of his decision, but then finds himself caught up when the next love of his life, whom he had first known when they were at school, but is now single again, comes with a toddler in tow. Light and entertaining reading, and quite funny in places.
War Clouds Gather, by Peter Watt. PB from Macmillan. RRP $29.99
Local Mclean resident and well-known author Peter Watt has written a series of novels about the Duffy and Macintosh families, and I found myself turning back to the complicated family tree to sort out where everyone fitted. It is an excellent story set in the period just before the Second World War. There is not much about the war, but more about the circumstances which led to war. The story is set in the Middle East, Spain, Germany and on a northern Queensland cattle station. I found it highly enjoyable –it’s a book which is hard to put down until finished.
*Darkening Skies, by Bronwyn Parry. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Jenn Barrett left Dungirri years ago, when she was still a teenager, and not long after her cousin was killed in a car accident. There were many gaps in the facts of the accident, and an innocent man was blamed, and sent to prison. The story develops into a well written Australian mystery romance novel, when Jenn and Mark, who had been driving the car at the time of the crash, but suffered amnesia as a result, begin to ask questions to set the record straight. The story is a refreshing change from the American standard, and the story is delightfully Australian in flavour. It is fast moving, entertaining with a bit of depth to the content.
I can See in the Dark, by Karin Fossum. PB from Random House. RRP $ 32.95
Riktor is a nurse who prefers to work in nursing homes which provide care for helpless people at the last stages of their lives, mainly the very old. Riktor is a person with no friends and he leads a very lonely life. Riktor befriends an old alcoholic, and provides him with vodka, and then, when he catches the man stealing some money, Riktor kills him. Generally I find that it is better to avoid books where the word “dark’ is used. This is a well-written story about a sad man. It shows an aspect of life that most of us do not wish to see.
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Nicholas Young, heir to one of Asia’s largest empires, brings his American born Chinese girlfriend to Singapore for a friend’s wedding. The book is about the super rich Asian families who protect their dynasties, and are very snobbish about who marries whom, and who has the most money. The book is supposed to be satire, and amusing. I found it a very lightweight novel about a level of society and wealth that is totally unreachable for most people.
*****Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer. PB from Macmillan. RRP $29.99
Jeffrey Archer needs no introduction as an author. He is a master of his craft, and is one of the few people who can make the reader feel that to sit back and enjoy his stories is more important than anything else you should be doing ! Best Kept Secret is the story of Harry Clifton and Giles Barrington. At times I felt that the story is one part of a series, as a lot of background is assumed knowledge. What is left is classic Archer, with authentic background, parliamentarians, authors and international crooks. Archer has always done revenge well. His characters are interesting and attractive. This is a book which you will want to read in one day!
****Thornwood House by Anna Romer. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $24.99
What a great book! I loved It.! The story begins with a flashback to an eerie Australian bush countryside scene. It is menacingly dark and foreboding in mood. A thunderstorm has erupted and the threatening stance of a large man carrying a heavy axe handle as a weapon is enough to propel me into the book. Who was the man? Who and why is he threatening with an axe handle? Moreover, why does this scene continue to appear in the mind of the main character, Audrey? When Audrey Kepler inherits a large Queensland estate from her “ex”, who has mysteriously committed suicide, she uproots from inner city Melbourne .The estate comes complete with a typical Queenslander homestead, gardens and veggie patch, back blocks joining treed gullies and tracks through the countryside, and provides Audrey and daughter Bronwyn much needed stability and security. It is only when trying to unravel the mystery behind her ex’s suicide that Audrey finds other similar and disturbing unresolved deaths within the same family. Her links with the past, through Tony and the new house together with a recurring nightmare, lead Audrey to uncover some very sinister goings on. . I loved the way Anna Romer’s writing leads us through very familiar descriptions on Southern Queensland’s volcanic landscapes, of flora and fauna. You get a real warm sense of belonging to the place which is why I felt I couldn’t put the book down! Top reading .