October 2014 —New books for Adults- Reviewer: Janet Croft
The more stars, the better!
***Strictly Parenting, by Michael Carr-Gregg. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
Hooray– What a great resource for parents! The author is a family psychologist, and his years of experience shine through as he offers large doses of common sense about parenting in an era where too many parents either spoil their kids rotten, or hot house them to such an extent that a ten year old is treated as if he were two. There are articles about parents and their behaviour; potted outlines of how children of certain ages may fairly reliably be expected to behave, and an excellent section of many issues which parents will encounter as their children become teenagers. This is a must read book for parents whose kids are causing stress of any type. It is also a useful book for teachers and others who deal with children who may think they are too precious to be controlled or trained!
**Sell up, Pack up, Take Off, by Stephen Wyatt and Colleen Ryan. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99
This is a stimulating and informative do it yourself manual about how to retire, and go to live or travel for extensive periods overseas. Certainly it offers the suggestion of a retirement where the most can be made of retirement income, by living in places where the cost of living is much cheaper than in Australia. Both the authors are economists, and know the accounting business. They have both lived in a variety of countries. They have put together details of visa requirements in various countries, an outline of how to deal with Australian taxation and superannuation issues when not in the country, comparative costs in a variety of destinations for rent, food and most importantly perhaps, the availability of good heath care. Their suggestion is to go and try it for a while, and see if the novelty, and variety of experiences are worth it — what you think could be too difficult is all possible. It is an excellent book, and it was good to see it featured in the Financial Review Smart Money magazine (30-31 August 2014)
Class Act, by Maxine McKew. PB from Melbourne University Press. RRP $19.99
This thought provoking book makes an excellent case for the implementation of the Gonski report—unadulterated, and complete, so that education does not further fragment our Australian social fabric into the haves and have nots. McKew has profiled several schools in lower socio-economic areas, and outlines what progressive and passionate principals have done to raise the standards of behaviour, staff and student pride in their schools, and most importantly interest and achievements of the students. We read of the small school which draws most of its students form Redfern in Sydney, and also of the Roseworth School on the outskirts of Perth, among others. There are similar threads through each of these profiles; they emphasise the need for integration with the school of the parent body as well as the need to maintain educational standards, and not dumb down the curriculum—rather, the reverse. The second part of the book has chapters by leaders in the field of education reform, such as Ken Boston, and Patrick Griffin. Again, for teachers particularly, this section makes fascinating and thought provoking reading. I enjoyed this book, and I am still pondering my reaction to some of the suggestions made. The book should be in every school staff room in the country!
Unlock your Style, by Nikki Parkinson. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This is a reference book for women who want advice about how to dress with style. It is suitable for women of all shapes and sizes—which is more than we can say for most women’s magazines at the moment, where stick thin is still touted as the ideal. Nikki’s justification for this book is one to which I can relate—she was brought up in a house where there were dolls such as Barbies to allow her to indulge and think about fashion, and as a result, she experienced a backlash about all things feminine and stylish in later years- everything from makeup to accessories hairstyling and associated products as well as every incarnation of fashion. The book is a useful and appealing guide. especially if you struggle about how to achieve a stylish look at any time. It may not be relevant in ten years time, because the fashion references will change, but it is thorough and helpful reference for now.
*A comprehensive guide to classroom Management, by Louise Porter. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $69.99
The subtitle of this large book is ‘facilitating engagement and learning in schools’. The author is a well-experienced child and clinical psychologist, with lots of experience working in schools with both staff and students. Much of the emphasis in on students who do not fit the ‘normal’ criteria, and in particular students who display various aspects of behavioural or learning difficulties. Because the author is Australian, the scenarios presented and discussed, and the suggested approaches are appropriate for our schools; the observations and comments are detailed and thoughtful, and most of the suggestions are pragmatic and realistic. There is only a short section about the types and causes of behavioural difficulties, and I was surprised to find no comment about children, who while they may exhibit some attention difficulties, also have a profile of dyslexic characteristics. Coming from a similar professional and experienced background, I particularly admire the detailed presentation in section 3, the Guidance approach, because it is practical, and very clear. It should offer many suggestions for individual teachers, and administrators. This is another book for the table in the staff room and will also be really useful for student and newly qualified teachers.
Fifty Weapons that changed the course of History, by Joel Levy. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $35
This is a daunting, and at times depressing book, because from the development of the stone axe on, all the weapons have led to subsequent greater loss of life, in ever-nastier wars. In particular, the comment right at the end of the book about robots-the fiftieth weapon discussed- is that, if, in time to come perhaps, wars can be fought by robots, but not people, there will be different ethical dilemmas to consider, makes me regret the invention of most of these weapons! This is not to criticise the book—it provides an excellent summary of the inventions, and accompanies the detail with excerpts from various texts about the usefulness or other wise, and drawbacks in some cases- such as with the long bow- of some of the weapons. It also discusses how engineering and technical developments influenced design and manufacture. The illustrations—photos and historically accurate drawings are fantastic—I think possibly the most interested group of readers for this book may well be teenage boys, but it is certainly for interested adults and history students as well. I would also change the title of the book to the fifty Weapons which influenced the course of History.
****A history of the Book in 100 books by Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $35
I have spent more time browsing sections of this book, and poring over the outstanding photocopies of the books presented, than on any other indoor activity this week. Now—that is a solid recommendation of the attractiveness and interest that the book has generated for both my husband and myself! The book presents materials from the beginnings of cave art, over 40,000 years ago, to the advent of the eBook. And regarding the question of whether books in print will ever be totally replaced by digitisation, I agree with the authors that a printed book is still much more than something just to be read and that it still has a long future. The choice of materials presented are typical of various genres, but not necessarily the most popular or obvious of each type. This has appealed to me, because of the variety offered. To see examples of early books for children; the beauty of the illustrated medieval manuscripts, detail about the early and varied versions of mass-produced books from different continents—all of these are fascinating and delightfully illustrated. There are also specific details about the carbon dating of various books, and a link of connections to other similar books, plus a detailed glossary of printing terms, and a bibliography at the back of the book. In all, this is a beautiful volume—and very reasonably priced, for what you get– it will be treasured wherever books are loved and read.
*Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant, by Owen Beddall with Libby Harkness. PB from Hachette. RRP $34.99
Many people find the idea of work as an international flight attendant attractive—see the world’s exotic destinations with plenty of time off to enjoy life in five star hotels and life in the worlds’ most interesting cities. If you work in first class, you will also meet some of the ‘important’ people in the world. So much for the glamour! This is a book crammed with information, from how to get the most out of flights, the general descriptions of different categories of people—those with unpleasant attitudes, politicians and South Africans are not generally admired. There is also lots of humour, and some very personal accounts of some of his more memorable trips. The twelve years Owen spent with Qantas gave him a great understanding of the job, and the airline business. Whilst it is generally light reading, as a keen traveller and appreciative of his approach, I enjoyed reading the book. PS—for locals here in Grafton—Owen lives part time in this area.
The Summit, by Ed Conway. PB from Little Brown and Hachette. RRP about $32.99
It has often been stated that the unsustainable sums of money that Germany was ordered to pay, as reparations after losing World War 1 were the underlying cause of the Second World War. The huge financial demands and repercussions from war also contributed to the Great Depression of the 1930s The Americans had not been repaid the money borrowed earlier by Great Britain, and this was why the USA was reluctant to enter World War 2. After the end of WW2, the financial summit, generally called Bretton Wood, was held in the early 1950s in the Mt Washington hotel, with some forty-six countries represented. This conference was to sort out how countries would set the value of their currencies, the place for gold reserves, and what say countries such as China and Russia should have. The world economy then ran relatively smoothly until 1971 when the USA could not back the dollar with gold. During the financial summit there had been discussions of returning to a gold standard. This all makes for interesting reading about economics and history, but it did not leave me with a complete understanding other than that no one totally understands economics and banking!
Walking the Woods and the Water, by Nick Hunt. PB from Nicholas Brealey Publishing and Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99
This is the description, and discussion of events during the author’s long walk, over seven months, from Holland to Turkey in 2011. The inspiration for the walk came from a similar journey, eighty years earlier, by Patrick Leigh Fermor—just as that adventurer wrote books about his experiences, so too has Nick Hunt, and the comparison between the two journeys is often drawn as we read this story. Hunt had only Fermor’s books as his guide for his trip. The story is in small font, and is quite long and compressed. I feel that to enjoy the story, some experiences of having enjoyed similar walks or pilgrimages will help, because it is a story about going slowly in this age of speed, and being open to whatever experiences open them selves to the traveller. There is a lot of solitary reflection, and lots of descriptions of the countryside and town; at one stage the author marvels that so much has remained constant in some ways over the eighty years. Reflective, but interesting and pleasant reading for those to whom the idea appeals.
*****The Small B!G, small changes that spark big influence, by Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein and Robert Cialdini. PB from Profile Books and Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99
The three authors of this wonderful book are management scientists—their field is that of how to understand consumers, and the decisions they make, and further, how to persuade them in favour of certain decisions. Whilst this may sound a bit heavy, the book is one of the most fascinating books about marketing, and the understanding of human behaviours that you could ever imaging. It has already given me a different perspective to look at ads on TV, rather than that of a jaundiced viewer! In more than fifty short chapters there are lots of observations and evidence from research that may help you get a given result in a set situation. Some of the more interesting articles concern how people have been shown to react when a letter is framed in a particular manner in order to obtain a given result—such as the payment of tax on time for example. Another interesting topic is that of what happens if you are a charity, and you ask people how much they are prepared to donate for one person in need. You then ask how much they would donate if it were many more than one person, and the result according to the research, increased the donations given overall by more than 90 percent! I could give more examples, but really, it is such a potentially useful book for consumers, as well as for marketers that the best advice I can offer is to read it and keep it as a reference!
A Fig at the Gate, by Kate Llewellyn. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
The author does not give her age in the book, but says that she is older than she feels! So do most of us, and the blurb tells us that she is in fact in her seventies. The book is about how to live and enjoy both house and garden in water -scarce South Australia,the more so because the author is passionate about her garden. She likes to produce food as well as flowers and trees. In her circumstances life is a compromise between success with the garden, and being kind to her chooks. It is a pleasant read, not just about the garden, but also a bit about how society works in her part of the world, and about the delights of friendships as well.
***I, Migrant, by Sami Shah. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Listen to the media and our politicians and you would think that Australia is under threat of millions of boat people, illegal immigrants, mostly Muslim of course, and potential terrorists—all up, people who should generally be feared, and should not be allowed into Australia under any pretext. Sami Shah was raised in Karachi but gained his university degree in America. His wife Ishma came to Australia first to get her degree in psychology. Life in Karachi then became a real test of life or death because Sami worked in advertising journalism but wanted to be a stand up comedian—not a good choice in Karachi as it is easy to be shot by someone who might not appreciate your humour. The couple were eventually given a visa to settle in Australia provided that they lived in rural Western Australia. Ishma was able to get a job in a migrant detention centre in Northam, WA and Sami started to find work. He was the subject of a highly rated episode of Australian Story on ABC TV. It is not often that you find a book which you feel that everyone should read. It is entertaining, at times confronting, and gives an excellent understanding of a major issue for Australian society. Highly recommended.
*How to get there, A Memoir, by Maggie Mackellar. PB from Vintage and Random House. RRP $32.99
Maggie Mackellar’s previous book, “When it rains’ was a memoir written when she was in grief after the death of her husband. She had been living on the family farm at Molong, life was comfortable, there was family around to help with children and a place to run their horses, dogs and assorted pets. This book is about her move to Tasmania, more than ten years later, to a sheep station owned by her new partner. She talks about the doubts she had about finding love again, the doubts about how her children would adapt, plus the problems of how to move horses and pets. It is an inspiring book for people who have faced massive changes, thought them through, and then faced them courageously, in spite of a degree of homesickness for what they have left behind.
Childhood of an Idiot, by Dom Harvey. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $23.99
This is an autobiography which will resonate with readers in their mid to late thirties, probably in both Australia and New Zealand. The author is a well known and respected radio personality in New Zealand. His childhood was before the rush of technological innovations such as the computer and its offshoots, and also before parenting was the subject of enforced regulations such as seatbelts in cars, so called safety equipment in playgrounds and other restrictions of the rights of children to explore their world. It is a refreshing honest portrayal of family life, with rows, upsets and the ability to get on with things, and each other. I found it quite entertaining reading.
In my Mother’s Hands, by Biff Ward. PB from Allen and Unwin, RRP $29.99
This is another memoir of family life, and growing up in Australia in the 1950s. This was my era too, and I can empathise with the author’s memories, and with others who also experienced the suppression of lots of events in families—particularly those associated with mental instability of illness, which at the time was little understood and often treated by incarceration. The author’s father, the historian Russell Ward, was a household name in Australia, and this too created pressures for the family but as comes out in the book, it was his strength of character and support for his wife which held the family together in spite of the horror of the events surrounding the death of their first child. Serious reading.
Smashing Physics, inside the world’s biggest experiment. By Jon Butterworth. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
This book was released while I was overseas, and it has taken me too long to look at it—I say look at it, because I found the subject matter too complicated for me to follow—I have never studied physics, and although I was interested in the discovery of the Higgs boson last year, to read about it in depth, or with understanding was beyond me. It is without doubt an important book and for senior science students at school and at university, it will be an interesting and informative read. I did enjoy learning what a boson was, and its role in natural law.
It Will Get Better, by Stella Gibney. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Yet another autobiographical memoir from New Zealand. Stella Gibney was the fifth of six children—her family life was relatively uneventful and happy until she was sexually abused by a stranger when she was six. From then on, life had many hardships. Her father became alcoholic, and the family never had much money, so moved frequently and there was a lot of marital abuse. When she was fourteen Stella was raped, and her adult life continued with more downs than ups until she began to write, and found she could find positives in her like—including her reunion with the son she had when fourteen, but who had been adopted out. This is an easy to read, moving story of life, and how to make it work.
*** The Turning Tide, by C.M Lance. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Mike Whalen was raised in Broome, in WA but did a lot of his army training around the beautiful, rugged Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria. He had family friends there and had worked there during his holidays. The Turning Tide is the story of his life; the hardships of fighting the Japanese in Timor, the lifelong regret of leaving behind the wonderful Timorese people who helped and kept them alive during this period. After the war ended he went to Japan with the army to work on repatriation. He married a Japanese woman who later died from radiation sickness. The author captures the emotions of friendship and loyalty among the army mates in wartime really well—and the sometimes-complicated lives and relationships which people have, have also been clearly portrayed. This is one of the best books I have read this year.
Billabong Bend, by Jennifer Scoullar. PB from Michael Joseph and Penguin. RRP $29.99
It has taken me a while to get to read this book—it arrived while I was overseas. However, I am pleased now to have read it. Differences of attitudes exist between traditional famers, conservationists and irrigated cotton farmers on the northern plains of NSW, and in the Northern Rivers area. Nina Moore has inherited the family farm and wishes to run a sustainable, viable farm without cotton. Billabong Bend next door is to be sold and Nina thinks she has made a good deal to buy it form Eva Langley. Eva’s son appears to be just waiting for her to die for him to sell. It is a smooth flowing, easy to read story of local feelings, old and new friends, and the possibility of romance, turned sour. There is not a lot of depth to the story, but the background is authentic, and it is a pleasant read.
**Marble Bar, by Robert Schofield. PB from Allen and Unwin RRP $29.99
This is a loose sequel to the excellent Heist, the story of a gold mine robbery, which I reviewed earlier this year. Robert Schofields works as a mining engineer so he understands the Western Australian bush, and has had dealings with the characters who work and live in the isolated mining communities. Marble Bar is set in the Pilbara and it is the hottest town in Australia. Gareth Ford is working in Newman, and looking after his six year old daughter. His past seems to catch up with him—although he is exonerated from the gold robbery mentioned above, he is again suspected when a workmate is killed in his house. This is another fast moving story, particularly when his ex-wife re-appears and it seems that she wants to reclaim custody of their daughter. As well, the gold from the heist is still hidden somewhere…it’s a gripping read, with an ending which leaves the possibility of yet another story in the sequence.
In Love and War, by Lesley Lokko. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Lexi Sturgis is a war correspondent; she has seen the worst that life can offer, but as a result she finds it difficult to form friendships or relationships. Because she has to leave home to follow stories in very stressful war zones, ordinary life seems to offer little of interest. Most of the action in this fast moving story is based in Egypt during the so-called Arab Spring, when lots of changes occurred throughout the Middle East. The story makes the reader feel part of the action, and helps us to understand the ways in which families work in these regions. An enjoyable book.
*Golden Boys, by Sonya Hartnett. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
When the Jensen family move into a quiet neighbourhood, with their two sons, father Rex as a dentist, and with much more income than their neighbours, things change. The Jensens build a swimming pool, and actively encourage nearby children to share the pool and the expensive toys of the two Jensen boys, Colt and Bastian. Colt is often critical of his father’s overbearing and condescending behaviour. There is a lot about how children interact, but also about the devious means by which children can be enticed into behaviours which might end up compromising their security and self-confidence. It is a lifelike, interesting novel and astute commentary on aspects of suburban life in Australia.
***The Sunnyvale Girls, by Fiona Palmer. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
This has been described by one of my friends as a sweet, heart-warming and very easy read! It is certainly a story to appeal to those who are into romanticism. The other aspect that stands out, among the characters is the determination and strength of Aussie girls who have a rural background. Maggie is the widowed grandmother with a daughter Toni, who runs the farm, and granddaughter Flick who also lives and breathes life on the farm. A bunch of long hidden love letters are found in the old homestead as it is being renovated by Flick, and we are led to believe immediately that these letters will reveal the missing part of the puzzle concerning Maggie’s past love life. If there is an element to this story which could have been developed further, it is that instead of building suspense, the author ploughs headlong into the issues without much background or drama. Excellent, light reading.
Land of a Thousand Mirrors, by Nayomi Munaweera. PB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $29.99
This is an evocative novel, which resonated strongly with me, following our extended visit to Sri Lanka three years ago. The novel features the live s of two women, Yasodhara, of Sinhala background and wealth, the other Saraswhatie, of Tamil background, plus the men in their lives, and their experiences during and after the vicious and acrimonious war which erupted in 1983 between the two long time racial groups of Sri Lanka. The story alternates in its narratives between members of the two families, and their environments, their hopes, and experiences– as refugees in America as well for example– but always it comes back to the two women, and how, in spite of such differences between them and the their backgrounds, the future is together—as indeed we hope that is to be the case with their country. The flavour is undeniably Sri Lankan, and it is almost possible to hear the singing languages as you read. There is a lot about the fighting and maltreatment of the women in particular, so it is not all easy reading but enthralling and poignant for those who are interested.
The Target, by David Baldacci. PB from Macmillan. RRP $29.99
North Korea is currently one of the grimmest societies in the world. It is poorly governed, the people are poorly fed and if you are convicted of any crime, your entire family is sent to the prison camp with you. Will Robie and Jessica Reel are two of the best American government agents. After they are sent in to North Korea to keep a promise made by the President to try to extricate a Korean double agent, they are then assigned to be with the president’s family for a short holiday because Chung-cha, who had been raised in the horror of the North Korean prison camps but eventually became a special agent for the Great Leader, is to be assigned to kill the President’s wife as revenge for the American actions. These characters all come together in a dramatic finish to this story. The book is well written in that it presents clearly the emotions of the agents from both countries.
The Girl in 6E, by A.R. Torre. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Deanna Madden has a few other names. She has not set foot outside her apartment for three years, because she has uncontrollable urges to kill people. She makes a very good living as a performer on a web cam web site. At first I thought the book was pornographic, but it becomes interesting when Deanna finds a link between a client who is interested in child sex and killing, with what appears to be a fantasy young girl he calls Annie. When Deanna sees on the TV news that a young girl named Annie has been reporting as missing she feels she is better able to trace her strange and evil client than the police. It develops into a much more interesting story than it appeared at first. Whilst it is designed to both shock and horrify, it also shows what nasties can be revealed from certain web sites.
The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton. PB from Picador and Macmillan. RRP $29.99
In the 1860s, Amsterdam was a wealthy trading city. The prosperous families were inbred and bound together further with strong religious ties. Nella Oortman is only eighteen when she is married by arrangement to a prominent merchant Johannes Brandt. It is a loveless marriage. Johannes is often away and when home, keeps to his own bed. Johannes’ wedding present to his bride is a small, perfect replica of their house. A miniaturist continues to make perfect copies of the people and animals in the house. These miniatures have an uncanny ability to predict future events. It is an unusual story—full of secrets and unexpected events, but it keeps you reading to discover the end of the story.
Top Secret Twenty-One, by Janet Evanovich. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter who chases people who are out of gaol on bail, but have broken their bonds. This story is described as comic crime, and everything is just a tad overdone. American crime stories are always full of action, with plenty of killings, and often an element of romance. That is certainly the case with this story. The exaggeration of characters, and action did not appeal to me, but the author is really popular, so it is as well that not everyone will find it as unattractive a story as I did.
**What Milo Saw, by Virginia MacGregor. Paperback from Sphere and Hachette. RRP $29.99
This story is told from the perspective of the lead character, nine-year-old Milo, who really does only have ‘a point of view’. His eye condition allows him see only a narrow pinhole view of the world, but even though he misses a lot of the bigger picture, his attention to detail and acuity through the pinhole picks up more than most people. It is a lovely heart warming story about family, love, caring for others and about being brave and confident enough to rock the boat when things are not as they should be-which is what Milo does when he sees old folk being mistreated at the nursing home where the family have just left his beloved grandma. I enjoyed the simplicity and honesty of this story.
***Courting Trouble, by Kathy Lette. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99
I enjoyed giggling at aspects of this very witty and clever story. Kathy Lette’s sarcastic use of similes is hilarious, as for example “ Being popular in the British legal world is like sitting at the cool table in the cafeteria of a mental hospital — such humour sets the scene for an great read. These funny comparisons are so liberally spread through out the book that the reader becomes almost blasé about them towards the end of the story. With reference to the main character Tilly’s lack of prowess in the kitchen, she quips ‘ My cuisine starts with broad categories such as ‘mineral’ or ‘linoleum’. Tilly is a barrister, her mother Roxy a solicitor, and the story tells of the injustices which plague them both. The story follows one of rape against sixteen year olds. Share this book with all your girlfriends—it is a great read.
Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This is the story of the wife of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne, whom he married after her disastrous first marriage, when RLS was 25 and Fanny ten years older. The tragic beginnings of the book do nothing to encourage the reader to continue the story. It took me quite an effort, but at last my persistence was rewarded, as I was able to tune in with RLS and Fanny to their fully adventurous life together. They travel to various parts of the globe to obtain relief for RLS from the symptoms of a severe lung ailment—possibly tuberculosis, (although eventually he actually died from a brain haemorrhage) but finally settled in the South Pacific. As their turbulent life together continues, Fanny is forthright, tempestuous, emotional and independent, and she is beautifully portrayed. RLS has the creative temperament, but is not always kind to Fanny, whose main desire is to keep him healthy. There are three parts to the story—it was well into the second part before I was hooked to finish the story. It is a memorable one.
All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99
This is a story of how easy it is for women to fall prey to addictions. Allison Weiss is a typical overworked mother, with ageing parents and an undisciplined daughter, a marriage to maintain, and a business to run. She finds that the only thing that gets her through her day is an ever-increasing dose of painkillers, until she realises that she is becoming addicted to them. This is not a story to enjoy, but it is well written, and engaging because we can feel very sympathetic towards Allison, and it can also serve as a notice about how easy it is to lose sight of priorities, and for life to spiral out of control.
Treason’s Daughter, by Antonia Senior. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
The English Civil War in the 1600s was a time of divided loyalties even within families, as well as strongly felt religious affiliations. Families ended up fighting for or against the King, or Cromwell’s roundheads. I thought this would be a story that might give me some understanding of the period, and why events happened as they did, but the religious and political details did not entertain or enlighten me, and I found the story very heavy going.
We are Called to Rise, by Laura McBride. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99
The subtitle of this story is “When the worst in life brings out the best in us”. It is based on the lives of four people who live in Las Vegas—an immigrant child who lives with parents from Albania, who are struggling to adjust to the freedom of life in America; another couple experience a marriage breakup after years of infidelity by the husband and the fourth narrative is about the soldier who has done three tours of duty in Iraq when his long-term partner is killed. The soldier wakes up in hospital with amnesia, but knows that he does not want to return to reality. The story is based on real events. It is the child who is the centre of the story, and brings all the other stories together—that part is a positive, and in spite of all the sadness in the book, there is the feeling at the end that the child will blossom, finally, in American society, and because of her, other people will, to some extent at least, also be healed. Difficult to read, but a positive ending.
Mothers and Daughters, by Kylie Ladd. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This story about four young mothers, and their teenage daughters made me feel relieved that my daughters did not go off the rails, or become so adult so early—also that we were able to navigate adolescence more placidly and with fewer confrontations than in this story. The publisher’s blurb outlines the plot very succinctly. “ There is tension, bitchiness, sex, drunken confessions, bad behaviour and breakdowns—and wait till you see what the teenagers getup to”. If all of this appeals, you will enjoy the book.
Animals, by Emma Jane Unsworth. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99
This is the story of two young women, Tyler and Laura, who share a flat in Manchester. They go out together, misbehave badly together, and about the only difference is that Laura is engaged to Jim, a teetotaller classical pianist; the relationship is stormy but passionate. Tyler wants to destroy the love relationship, but she is on drugs too, and desperately unhappy herself. This is not a pleasant story, but it would be readable, were it not for the superfluity of swearing and unpleasant images of life in the fast, fast lane.
Fiona’s Flame, by Rachael Herron. PB from Random House,. RRP $29.99
This readable story is about Fiona, and her life when she settles in the small town of Cypress Hollow on the cost of the USA. Fiona is the owner of the local garage, and while she has been in love with Abe, the captain of a whale watching ship, and harbour master, she will never let on—until she falls off his boat, into the icy water. The pair does not agree about the future of the old deserted lighthouse—Fiona wants to demolish it, Abe feels emotionally attached to it. How the matter –and the relationship—are resolved makes for good light reading—mostly for women.
***A Perfect Heritage, by Penny Vincenzi. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
The House of Farrell is an old family cosmetic business that appears to be failing. The founder, Athina Farrell has been the matriarch following the death of her husband and partner Cornelius. She is domineering, difficult, clever and out of date. When the banks start to push and venture capitalists put up a proposition to restructure, Athina is totally opposed, and does everything she can to make life difficult for Bianca Bailey, the business manager placed to reinvent the business. This is a book with huge scope—complex families, big business, plenty of dramas, divorces and affairs. You can always hope, in such a book that things work out. At the finish the excitement is how it does actually come together. Penny Vincenzi is a very successful author, and this novel is another example of a hard to put down book and hard to forget story.
***Evergreen Falls, by Kimberley Freeman. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99 also in eBook
First impressions are important when you pick up a book! After the first two pages I was hooked on this story— when a snowstorm isolates the Evergreen Spa Hotel, followed by a death and a cover up. The story spans the era from the opulence of the Australian social scene in the late 1920s to 2014. Well-bred and wealthy families and poorer working class families are thrust together at the hotel in the Blue Mountains area and the mixing of these families sets the tone of the story– it becomes an intriguing, deliciously scandalous story as events unfold. Evergreen Falls is beautifully crafted, and thoroughly readable. The mystery maintains its strength and effect throughout, until the story reaches a highly satisfactory conclusion.
The Lace Balcony, by Johanna Nicholls. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99
The blurb on the cover of this book states that Johanna Nicholls is Australia’s finest historical writer, and after reading the book I’m inclined to agree. The research which shows out in the historical background and details adds immensely to the power and ring of authenticity of the story. The first hint of romance is when the lady’s maid Fanny Byron kisses a convict sentenced for the gallows the next day, while promising to be there for him as he dies. The electricity and heat which is forged by this single kiss is the impetus for the rest of the story. Fanny Byron is reborn as Vianna Francis and becomes a courtesan to the moneyed aristocracy in Sydney in the 1820s. After such an engrossing read, I will make sure that I hunt out the author’s two previous stories, Ghost Gum Valley and Ironbark, which I don’t think I have read.
Nest, by Inga Simpson. PB from Hachette. RRP $27.99
This is a gentle story, with much emphasis on the flora and fauna with which Jen; the main character feels surrounded as she lives near a small hinterland town. Jen is faced with vivid flashbacks to pain and loss in her own past, after a small girl goes missing, and the search is on to find the child. As the season breaks and the rain comes the child is found, and Jen too finds release from the unknowns of her past, and succour form the beauty of the native life around her once more. A gentle, positive read.
*The Art of Baking Blind, by Sarah Vaughan. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
While this story begins as that of Kathleen Eaden, a cookery writer and wife of a supermarket owner in the 1960s, it is also the stories of five other women from varied backgrounds- and their families-as the wives and mothers seek to take on the role of the original Kathleen and her public image as super mum, wife and cook in a TV programme. Always there are extracts form Kathleen’s book to guide each chapter as both happy and stressful events in the lives of each of the women are revealed. The characters are strongly drawn, and rounded, and could live next door—while the events related will rouse memories of similar highs and lows in other families. The cooking is fun to read about and it is an interesting, engaging yet at times sobering read about lives which in some ways at least will parallel events in the lives of many of the readers.
***Return to Fourwinds, by Elisabeth Gifford. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This has been a month of reading several novels, and autobiographies of family life. In all of them, secrets have been kept, and sad or unpleasant events suppressed for the sake of appearances. Here we have a highly readable novel which reads as if it were true. You can easily step into the shoes of all the characters the writing is so compelling, and the story so plausible. What I think I liked most was the coherence of the story over the generations live, and how issues, which might be secret for one generation, are revealed and family members are able to tell each other what may have been previously withheld. The ways in which World War 2 affected most families is also revealed in a most realistic manner. There are some similarities in style with the author’s previous bestseller, Secrets of the Sea House, but that that increased for me the readability of this book. It’s a great story, and highly recommended.
Upstairs at the Party, by Linda Grant. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This was a most unusual and unconventional novel. It deals with the consequences of life on a new university campus in Britain the 1970s, when a couple with uncommon sexual proclivities encouraged a group of students to experiment with radical ideas and lifestyle. For one of these Adele, the change lasts all her life, and adversely affects her life forever. It is not a happy story, or a pleasant one to read, and I was not able to finish the book.
Girl 43, by Maree Giles. PB from Hachette. RRP $24.99
There is a strong feeling of authenticity about this story, probably because of its factual base in the history and events at the infamous Parramatta Girls’ home in the early 1970s. It was the era of rebellion, both socially and sexually, but it was also the era where ‘fallen’ girls had their babies forcibly taken from them for adoption to ‘good’ families. For Ellen, otherwise known as Girl 43, her time at the Gunyah Girls Home made her realise that she did not want to go to gaol, or to be a rebel who was punished for having a mind of her own. This is a story about one very concentrated and active year in the life of Girl 43, until she is able to make a fresh start in her family, and in a new environment. It is good reading for adults and older teenagers.
Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey. PB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $$29.99
This is a murder story with a big difference, because the only person who remembered the girl who disappeared more than seventy years ago, is Maud, and Maud has lost her memory—almost totally except for her memories of her sister, Elizabeth, and that she disappeared. When a skeleton is found in Maud’s garden, the story at last is complete. It is a convoluted story, with multiple generations struggling to live with Maud, and much evidence of Maud’s loss of memory, and ability only to harp about the fact that “ Elizabeth is missing”. I did not find the story easy to read, or the theme pleasant.
*The Incorrigible Optimists Club, by Jean-Michel Guenassia. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
In the dictionary a club is defined as a place where one meets with others for social, poetical athletic or other pursuits. Here the Club is a bistro on the Left Bank of the Seine in Paris, and the patrons are a mixed group of men from Eastern Europe—notably, Russia, Poland, and Hungary. All of them are refugees, and enjoy each other’s company as they drink, talk or play serious games of chess. Michael Marin is a young teenager. He is a compulsive reader, but not an enthusiastic student, but is developing into a competent photographer and he is drawn to the atmosphere of the club because the men are interesting, and have interesting backgrounds. This is a big book that holds the interest very well. Michael is exposed to a world of ideas and politics that most young people miss. The fact that someone has translated this book from the French indicates that it is well worth reading—and it is a fluent and easy to read translation.
I Can’t Begin to Tell You, by Elizabeth Buchan. PB from Michael Joseph and Penguin. RRP $29.99
Set in Europe before and during World War 2, this is a story of love which is complicated by divided national loyalties. Kay Eberstern lives on her husband’s rural estate in Germany. Although her husband is prepared to tolerate the Nazi regime in order to protect t his family heritage his wife is persuaded by British Intelligence to undertake some resistance and sabotage work. So begins an era of deception, and hidden agendas, together with threats to the relationship of Kay and her husband. The ending of the story is perhaps predictable, but it isn’t a fairy tale one! The story flows well, but it is after all yet another story of life in wartime. For those to whom this appeals.