February-March 2014 Adult and non-fiction book releases reviewed by Janet Croft

February-March 2014 releases—Adult non fiction and fiction.  Reviewer:  Janet Croft

The more stars, the  better! 

Non-fiction:

1914 Poetry Remembers, edited by Carol Ann Duffy. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP  $29.99

As well as presenting many of the poems written during the Great War of 1914-8, Duffy commissioned present day poets to consider the past, and to write their own responses to that war. The result is a broad field of attitudes and forms of poetry.  An excellent book for senior secondary school students as well as those who love poetry.

*Sir Henry Parkes.  The Australian Colossus, by Stephen Dando-Collins.  HB from Knopf Australia, released by Random House.  RRP  $45

Generally known as the Father of Federation, Parkes was Premier of NSW for five terms.  He was married three times, and continued to father children into his late seventies.  Parkes was born in England to poor parents who could not afford to educate him.  His life was always a struggle.  Despite starting a newspaper and various businesses, he could not manage money well, and ran up enormous debts.  Parkes was really only ever interested in politics.  He was an extraordinarily far-sighted man, who felt that Australia should not be a depot for convicts or be dependent on British rule.  He always believed that all adults should have a vote.  His belief in the need for free trade between the colonies, and over the years, despite much opposition, finally his ideas contributed hugely to the acceptance of Federation, and also to closer ties with the USA.  Australia has certainly developed into a stronger nation because of his ideas and leadership.  It is a pleasant, and interesting book to read.

**Under The Microscope, by Professor Earl Owen.  PB from Vintage and Random House.  RRP  $34.99 and as an ebook

When Earl Owen was born with a tumour on his leg, the treatment he received as a child and as a young boy was incorrect, extremely impersonal and inhumane.  He grew up determined to become a surgeon who would provide his patients with information, and treat them well.  Owen was an intelligent, hardworking man with an amazing brain which he used in many and varied ways.  He was prepared to design instruments to aid his increasingly complex microsurgery.  He was a pianist good enough to perform in public.  Because he had to sit down a lot when using a microscope, he designed a special chair for the purpose, and went on to design comfortable chairs for the Sydney opera house.  This is an inspiring book about a man who made a positive difference to the lives of many, many people.

Yours Truly, Women of Letters.  Curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire.  PB from Penguin.  RRP  $29.99

The subtitle of the volume is “Cathartic Confessions, Passionate Declarations and Vivid Recollections”.  The two curators have encouraged Australian women to write, and at times lay bare their souls and secrets in letter form. Most of these letters were originally used by the curators in a series of concert shows around the country. Not all of the letters are by women, but all are well known in public life, especially in the theatre and the media and each offers insights into many aspects of their lives.  Some are very funny, others are thought provoking, and others are a bit crude, and poorly written.  Most of the book was enjoyable, and if a particular letter did not please or satisfy, it was easy to move to another.

How dogs Love Us, by Gregory Berns.  PB from Scribe.  RRP about $25

Bern faced lots of hurdles from his colleagues, when he wanted to take a dog on campus to subject it to MRI scans to study its thought processes. The book is easy reading, but definitely for dog lovers.  Findings from his studies confirmed the accepted practice and belief of dog lovers everywhere, that dogs need, and want to be treated as we treat other humans, with trust, reliability and politeness.

***To the Edge of the world, by Christian Wommar.   HB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $45

Travelling across Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway is now one of life’s most interesting and pleasurable travel experiences. It is six days of watching the birch trees pass, drinking a bit of vodka and marvelling that a train can run exactly to time over such a huge distance.  The early days of the railway were never like this.  The building of the railway was a feat that made Russia the strong nation that it now is.  It required a huge commitment from the Tsars, the Communist Party, and in fact became a factor in the world economy.  At one time more than 125,000 Americans were employed to make rails and bridge girders, which were then shipped to Russia.  The completion of the line opened up Siberia to the rest of the world, people moved to and from the area, trade was established, and wars fought, with China and Japan.

This is an outstanding story, which gives an excellent understanding of the huge scope, and history of the enterprise.  I am glad to have travelled on the train, and to have  enjoyed the results of so much work, so many people, and over such a long period.

4 Play.  Ignite your Kitchen Siren.  By Mrs Turnbull.  PB from Simon and Schuster.  RRP  $29.99

I was misled by the title of this book—I thought it was a cookbook, which used just four ingredients for each recipe! This is sort of true, but the author has viewed the challenge of creating such a cookbook as a challenge to nurture, in quite a cheeky way, the relationships of those who use the book.  There are lots of double entendres in the writing, and some of the suggestions are quite lascivious. Great for those to whom such thoughts appeal—otherwise, the recipes can be successful in themselves. The author, Kim McCosker, has written other books with the same numeral involved.

*Plague and Cholera, by Patrick Deville.  PB from Hachette.  RRP  $29.99

Alexander Yersin was a protégé of Louis Pasteur, who identified and then vaccinated against Bubonic Plague, (which was later renamed in his honour as Yersinia Pestis).  If he had settled down to a life of medical research he would likely have been one of the brilliant scientists whose major work is rewarded with a Nobel Prize.  Yersin was a man with a constant stream of ideas.  He had a romantic love of travel and understanding of how the universe worked.  He never married, but settled eventually in Vietnam, where he conducted research ranging from the growing of rubber trees and Cinchona from South America to make quinine, to trying to breed more efficient and productive domestic fowls. And animals for the production of vaccines.  It’s an entertaining biography of a man who endeavoured to make the  world a better place for the rest of us.

**Beyond Cyberbullying, by Michael Carr-Gregg.  PB from Penguin.  RRP  $19.99

This small volume by one of Australia’s best-known psychologists, and an internationally recognised authority on teenage behaviour seeks to bring parents up to date with all the digital technology with which their children are familiar and comfortable as they are growing up. Carr-Gregg defines cyber bullying as “the deliberate and repeated harassment of someone using digital technology and includes behaviours such as posting hurtful messages or images, sending repeated unwanted messages, excluding someone from an on-line group, creating false social networking profiles to impersonate and ruin someone’s reputation, and encouraging others to bully the victim.   The main goal is to tell parents how to recognise if their child is being bullied via mobile phone or Internet, because of the adverse social and emotional effects such bullying can have on the teenager.  This is not a difficult book to read—it would be good to place in a teachers reading shelf in a school, or for parents to have at home, particularly if the parents are not as tech-savvy as the kids.

*****The PWMU Cookbook.  PB from Hachette.  RRP  $29.99

This is one of the best known of community-generated cookbooks.  It has been around in Australia since 1904, so 110 years, and is still popular, because it is a book of basic recipes, with some fancier meals included in this volume.  It is useful for those who are young, and not yet confident in the kitchen, contains lots of useful handy hints, particularly cleaning tips, and the index is easy to follow, as are the directions.  There are also some Asian recipes.  , notes on how to freeze food so that it doesn’t spoil, how to make play dough, cough medicine,  a list of comparative measuring  equivalents for liquids and solids, and how to clean stainless steel appliances.  The notes for this review have come from our younger daughter, who now has the book and loves it!  Hard to go past this book as a birthday present for someone about to leave home and set up a kitchen for themselves!

Fiction titles

The Silversmith’s Wife, by Sophia Tobin.  PB from Simon and Schuster RRP  $24.99

A silversmith was a skilled artisan who also needed to be a salesman, and to be  tough enough to be able to collect his debts.  Pierre Renard had his shop in Berkeley Square.  He was ruthless and ambitious, but one day was found dead by the watchman, with his throat cut.  Renard’s wife Mary presented as a dutiful wife but in truth was treated very badly by her husband.  This book is a murder thriller set in the 1700s in London.  I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters as the story twists and turns.

Private, by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan.  PB from Century and Random House.  RRP  $32.95

Thom and Jennifer Harlow have been the perfect actor and actress couple for twenty years,  and winning  lots of awards. With their three adopted children, they have collected funds to set up orphanages around the world in needy places. Now the Harlow family has been kidnapped, and Jack Morgan’s security company has to find them.  No Prisoners is a group of ex-Afghanistan veterans who kill another person every day.  They ask for ten million dollars to stop the killing, and they strip the Los Angeles County of $160 million because they are able to hack into various security codes and then web sites. This is a fast moving story with heaps of action and lots of bodies.  Patterson is a successful author so his name alone is sufficient to guarantee a market for the book.

***The Midnight Rose, by Lucinda Riley. PB from Pan Macmillan.  RRP  $29.99

This book is so enjoyable that you will make yourself find time to keep reading it.  It is a complicated story of the British heirs to a large estate in Cornwall.  The family needs to marry money to be able to maintain the house and their lifestyle.  Other principal characters are from an old Indian family, who seeks to marry their daughters to wealthy, but often older, princes, plus a shy American actress who is brought to England to star in a movie.  When Anahita is sheltered by the Marahani of Cooch Bihar as a companion to her lifelong friend,  Anahita and the Princess Indira become very close friends and then are sent to Britain to school together just before the start of WW1.  The story is well written, and covers more than a century of passion, friendship and history.  It is easily one of my top reads for the start of 2014.

*Essie’s Way, by Pamela Cook.  PB from Hachette.  RRP  $29.99

When Miranda is planning her approaching wedding, she remembers that her mother had an old necklace which would suit the dress Miranda is having made.  Miranda’s mother however denies all knowledge of any such necklace.  Miranda decides to push the matter, and in the search finds evidence that maybe her grandmother, long believed to be dead, is still alive.  As Miranda follows the clues, she is able to put aside her doubts about her impending marriage, and becomes embroiled in the affairs of her grandmother, and learns that there is a time when it is better to follow the heart and trust one’s instincts than to persevere with what increasingly looks like an unhappy future.  Good, light reading, somewhat similar in style to the author’s previous book Blackwattle Lake.

*Summer at the Lake, by Erica James.  PB from Orion and Hachette.  RRP about $29.99

Floriana hoped that she would not be invited to Seb’s wedding—although they had separated a couple of years earlier, the wound and longings were still there at times.  When Floriana, pondering these facts as she walked home was involved in a minor car accident she then  met Adam, and a busybody old spinster, Esme as they sought to make sure she had not been hurt. The contact became friendship, and later,  with Esme and Adam, Floriana travels to Italy for Seb’s wedding, where  the reader then learns of Esme’s past love, and of her wish to find out what happened to him.  An intriguing, well crafted story of past and present love– pleasant reading with a satisfying ending.

The Girl with all the Gifts, by M.K.Carey. PB from Hachette, RRP  $29.99

A future based story of a young girl who is kept imprisoned in a wheelchair, and in a cell, although she is not disabled. Together with a lot of other children, Melanie  is used for experimental feeding and surgery, although most of the time the children are kept hungry.  Melanie is an unusual girl—she has immense strength of character, helped perhaps by her very active imagination, which sustains her when she is feeling low and being mistreated.  Melanie loves her teacher, Miss Justineau, who treats the children as if they are children, and tells them stories.  The book tells how, with persistence and courage, Melanie gradually uncovers the truth about her position and is able to rally the other children, to fight Seargeant Parks and the inhumane regime which has kept the children imprisoned.  OK reading, but not a happy story.

***A Gift to Remember, by Melissa Hill.  PB from Simon and Schuster.  RRP  $24.99

Darcy Archer is an orphan.  Her Aunt Katherine keeps trying to match her with suitable males, but Darcy persists in her work as manager of a smart bookshop in New York, and in riding her bike to work in all weathers.  One cold, very snowy and difficult morning, a well dressed man, leading a husky run into her at a street corner.  Darcy is unharmed, but the guy suffers amnesia.  Darcy finds herself looking after the husky and trying to piece together the facts of the man’s life.  How Darcy finds out the guy’s name, and gives him back his identity, they both realise that they share many interests, and are comfortable together.  There are a couple of false leads, but, yes, a happy ending.  This excellent   lazy day reading, with quite a few classical allusions in the story, and with a very clever ending.

*Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin.  PB from Orion and Hachette.  RRP  $32.99

Ian Rankin has written a best selling series with the Edinburgh policeman John Rebus as the investigator. Thirty years ago Rebus was a member of a group of policemen who referred to each other as ‘the saints of the shadow bible’.  They were effective, looked after each other and were reputed to use whatever means necessary to gain a conviction.  As Rebus continues to investigate  this latest crime,  past practices  return  to haunt them.  Times have changed, trust has been lost and Rebus has been demoted.  It’s a very good story.

The Grass Castle, by Karen Viggers.  PB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $29.99

This story tells of an unusual friendship. Abby is a young PhD student who is doing research on kangaroos in the Brindabella Ranges outside Canberra.  Her family life in the Victorian Alps area had been difficult and she had grown up to be an independent loner.  Daphne is an old woman.  Her family had owned the mountain country which was resumed by the government to form the national park.  Daphne loved this old family countryside and had wondered, when a child about what had happened to the local aborigines.  The book explores a lot of issues– what happened with families during the Great Depression, what happens when old farmers retire to town, and the conflict between conservationists and National Park managers when drought and over breeding forces a kangaroo cull so close to Canberra.  I enjoyed the story and that the author was so familiar with background to her subject matter.

Revenge, by Martina Cole.  PB from Hachette.  RRP  $29.99

Michael Flynn worked his way up to be the gangland leader— he is charming,  a devout Irish Catholic  and family man but ruthless.  Flynn became disillusioned with his priest, who stepped back from friendship after Flynn confessed to murder.  Flynn felt it was up to God to forgive him.  It’s a harsh and   rather crude story, with a lot of bad language.  Flynn was respected by people who knew him because of his principles.  He made enough money form his drug trade to pay for protection, and feared nothing.  Flynn’s beautiful daughter is a rebel and sets out to hurt her father—she has an illegitimate son, drinks and has indiscriminate sex.  When she is captured, chained up and starved, Michael Flynn will do anything to find her.  A brutal tale, but  which carries its story well.

The Girl in the Yellow Vest, by Loretta Hill.  PB from Random House.  RRP  $32.95

Loretta Hill is an engineer who has worked on large development projects in the north of Queensland.  This experience shows out clearly in this story of two women: Emily, who is an engineer, the other, Charlotte, who runs the resort which is close to the export terminal  with which Emily is involved.  For Emily, love grows from her close friendship with Will; for the older and more experienced Charlotte, it is  to  be a mature love and companionship  with a man whom she  had originally thought to be pompous and overbearing.  This is really good light reading, with a strong feel of the authentic in the detail about the setting.

*The Heart Radical, by Boyd Anderson.  PB from Bantam and Random House.  RRP  $32.99

The world seemed to be changing rapidly in 1951.  Pink, for the British Empire, was disappearing off the map, India had gained independence, and Britain was trying to retain Malaya, because its rubber and tin mines were important to the British economy.  During the Second World War, locals who resisted the Japanese were helped by the British.  In the early fifties, the same people fought for Malayan independence, this book is partly a war story, partly an historical novel.  Lawyer Su-Lin Tan now lives in London and meets Professor Paris Thumboo.  They had been children together during ’the emergency’.  Su-Lin had watched as her father defended in court the rebel leader Toh Kei.  It was a fascinating period in history, and this is a really well constructed  story of the period.

****The Little Old Lady who Broke All the Rules, by Catharina Ingelman-Sandberg.  PB from Macmillan.  RRP  $29.99

The managers of the old people’s home where Matha lived were more interested in profit than the old people. At 79 Matha Anderson decides that a life of crime would be more interesting than the boring life in the home, and  that it would be a way to rebel against the petty rules imposed on the residents.  It’s a very light-hearted and amusing book.  The robberies are successful, nobody is hurt and the perpetrators now look forward to life in the Bahamas.

First Phone Call from Heaven, by Mitch Albom.  PB from Hachette.  RRP  $29.99

Seven of the residents of coldwater start to receive phone calls, apparently from the after life.  At first they are overjoyed to speak to their family members again.  The voice is just the same!  When the media get wind of this phenomenon, the town fills up, the phone shop sells thousands of phones, shops are busy and people are excited.  Sully Harding receives calls from his late wife, but as  his young son waits for his call from his mother,  Sully starts to investigate how this can be happening.  I have enjoyed all of Mitch’s earlier books, and this is another positive story.

Hurt, by Brian McGilloway.  PB from Murdoch Books.  RRP  $19.99

Hurt is a crime thriller, set in Derry, about the underbelly of a raw Irish city, and what can and does happen to children of alcoholic and/or criminal parents.  It is not a book to enjoy, and in fact is quite difficult to read.  It tells of the policing of such societies and how police forces deal with issues of respect and the abuse of power.

The Undertaking, by Audrey Magee.  PB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $29.99

Peter Faber is a German soldier who is fighting on the Russian Front.  To get leave, he is married by proxy to Katherine in Berlin.  They do not meet until he is allowed to take leave.  The book tells about the darkest time in German history as they fight against the barbaric Russians in their winter.  I found the story as dark and depressing as the Russian winter.

*Far Side of the Sun, by Kate Furnivall.  PB from Hachette.  RRP  $29.99

In the 1940s the Bahamas seemed to be Paradise, with a beautiful climate, and far away from the war in Europe.  It offered a great lifestyle for wealthy people but  black locals did not have it as good.  Young Dodie Wyatt is not part of the wealthy scene.  As she walks home from her job as a waitress, she comes across a man in an alley who has been stabbed. She gets him home but he is too frightened to go to hospital.  Before he dies, he tells Dodie a name, and gives her two gold coins.

It is an intriguing story of wealth, corruption, love and murder and how these islands are managed by the wealthy for themselves.  There are elements of history woven into the tale—how the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had been sent there during the war to get them away from their German friends.  Pleasant and enjoyable reading.

The Harem Midwife, by Roberta Rich.  PB from Random House.  RRP  $32.95 and as an ebook.

The harem of the Otterman Empire in Constantinople was a conniving establishment, in opulent surroundings.  Its two main aims were to provide a son and heir to rule the next generation.  As well, there could be up to  six hundred sex-starved girls to entertain the Sultan.  Sultan Murat 111 had  only one  son, who was sickly,  but the sultan was only interested in his wife, who could no longer bear children— and this was seen as a crisis in that world.  Hanna Levi is a Jewish midwife, trusted by the sultan’s mother and the head eunuch.  They all wish to get the sultan to bed Leah, a Jewish slave, so that he can sire another heir.  The novel is very detailed, with a large amount of factual material.  History does not prove if they are successful in their goals but  Sultan Murat went on to sire 101 children.

The Secret of Magic, by Deborah Johnson.  PB from Penguin.  RRP  $29.99

The Secret of Magic was an old book where black and white children played together in a magical forest.  The book was banned in the Deep South of America.  In 1946 a black, decorated soldier Joe Howard Wilson, returning from service in the second World War was within an hour of reaching his home when he was dragged from a bus, and beaten to death.  Regina Robichard worked for the NAACP legal Defence fund.  She was black, young and had grown up fascinated with the old Secret  of Magic Story.  Racism is rife in the southern states and Regina encounters it in Mississippi, as she tries to deal with the cover up of Joe’s death by the law and the old fashioned establishment.  It is a sad tale from America.

*The Unpredicatable Consequences of Love, by Jill Mansell.  PB from Hachette.  RRP  $29.99

Set in Cornwall, England, this cute and endearing love story is one to take away on holiday.  The characters are young and very believable as they are making their way in the world for their first few years after high school and coming to understand how they are perceived by others.  The main character, Sophie is a photographer who, having  sworn herself off men for good then finds a special someone who will not give up pursuing her.  The result is very mushy and  sweet and I really relished  it for a change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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