The more stares, the better the read!
*The Silver Moon, by Bryce Courtenay. HB from Penguin. RRP $24.99
This collection of short stories and reminiscences were mostly written when Courtenay was terminally ill and in the last months of his life. He writes of what he has realised have been the most important things in life, notably the joy of growing things, his pain at the death of their son through blood acquired AIDS, and his memories of growing up in South Africa, and how they influenced both his most famous book, The Power of One, but also gave him the determination to make the most of his life. I love the memories of his viewing of the giraffe drinking at dusk—it is vivid, poignant, and poetic. The chapter on “How to write a work of fiction” is an excellent outline and guide for a budding author, and should be read by all HSC kids who are attempting the Extension 2 English subject. A sombre yet moving book, and a tribute to Courtney ‘s memory.
**Walking Free, by Munjed Al Muderis, with Patrick Weaver. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99
How much Australia stands to gain from the acceptance of refugees such as Munjed! He escaped from the regime of Sadam Hussein because as a young doctor early one day in the hospital, he was revolted by the decree which said that he was to cut off the ears of army deserters. He locked himself in a women’s toilet cubicle for five hours. Then follows the outline of his trip to Australia—the time spent in Malaysia, and then Indonesia, his contacts with other would be refugees, and how he became involved with people smugglers. The most harrowing time he experienced was without doubt the period he spent in the Curtin Detention Centre before finally he enlisted and paid for the help of an approved refugee advocate and lawyer. Munjed came from a wealthy family, but there is no doubt whatever that he was a genuine refugee applicant, and that now, when he is established as a leading orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in the osseointegration of prostheses following amputations we should be thrilled to have him as Australian. Easy, compelling reading and a story which should make us cringe at the appalling treatment government policies currently have towards refugees.
*An Outback Nurse, by Thea Hayes. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99
Thea Hayes qualified as a nurse in Sydney in 1959. She had a sense of adventure so went to Europe for a trip then, following her return to Australia she applied for various jobs, and was offered a place on Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory. She was not sure that she wanted the job, but accepted. Wave Hill was then owned by the Vesty family, a British family and was a huge station of thousands of square miles, with sixty thousand cattle, two thousand horses and two hundred aborigines on the staff and living with their families on the station. Thea was the nurse, who did a bit of bookkeeping and looked after visitors to the station. It is a really interesting book, told as her life on the station where her husband Ralph eventually became station manager. The station became well known to the public, when Gough Whitlam, as Prime Minister handed over part of the Wave Hill lease to the local aboriginal tribe. Thea comments about the life of the aborigines and station workers, both before and after the handover. The Vesty family had the reputation of being mean and hard managers but a comparison of their ways to handle problems, compared with problems of today—problems with alcohol and underemployment—is worth studying. An easy to read, and interesting account of a period and place in Australian history.
The Bush, by Don Watson. HB from Hamish Hamilton and Penguin, RRP $45
This is a large book that covers a vast range of the features that represent the national character of country Australia and the people who live in the bush. The author grew up on a small farm in Gippsland, Victoria. His early memories and background gave him the ability to write about the characters found in the bush, the seasons and their variations around the country, and the animals. I felt it is a book which will be best enjoyed by Australians who live in the large cities because it is an evocative look at the Australia about which these city dwellers know little, but with which they feel a continuing fascination.
The Innovators, by Walter Isaacson. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $39.99
This is a serious and long look at the digital revolution of the second half of the twentieth century, up to today but it actually begins with the daughter of Lord Bryon—yes, the poet. His daughter Ada Lovelace was taught maths—mainly, it seems to keep her away from the style of life her father led! However, she became a talented mathematician and is credited with the first punch card computer programme, to use with a machine designed and built by Charles Babbage. From then on, the book outlines the further creative leaps of certain people, plus the cooperation which occurred as different people saw the further possibilities of earlier innovations. The book does not just deal with computers, and programmes, but also with the transistor, the microchip and automatic machines such as weaving and spinning looms, plus games. I found a lot of the book too technical for my limited understanding of how coding and computer programming works, but I did learn that there are several elements involved—technical and mathematical knowledge, a willingness to cooperate with others, and human creativity—and that without this final element, many of the innovations with which we now live, would not have occurred. Serious, scholarly reading for those interested.
Mindful Actions, by John Shearer. PB ( $15) from Balboa Press, available from firstname.lastname@example.org
This is designed as a self-help book, and it is suggested that most of us will benefit from a change in our outlook on life so that we slow down and think more of what is happening around us. This approach will reduce stress, increase our awareness of ourselves, our motivations, and our attitudes to others. Shearer prefaces each short chapter of topics which are relevant to the practice of mindfulness, with quotations from a variety of prominent world philosophers and thinkers. Thus, for example the chapter on values begins with a quote from Dr Wayne Dyer, that ‘ If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. There are chapters on beliefs, attitudes– one titled ‘ Notice with curiosity’ among others. It is a short book, but refreshing to see such a positive attitude to life and the way we feel and act. For those to whom it appeals.
*Lady Lorene, the Truckie Queen, by Tom Dawkins. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
The story of Lorene Whittam and her husband Mac began with a small business which carted fruit to Adelaide markets. The sub title of the book was earned by Lorene over the 50 years of the partnership, as the business grew to become a stock carrier as well as other goods because it was Lorene who was the organiser—she went to the saleyards and found the jobs, always had good dogs, and would take delivery for the buyers and arrange the transports. This required excellent talent for organisation, communication and patience. Lorene and her husband raised four successful children, treated their staff well, and worked hard. This is a really good story about the livestock industry over the past fifty or so years, and how it works, for those who have worked in the industry and for those who like to read a success story of people who have worked hard.
The Classics Magpie, by Jane Hood. HB from Icon Books and Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This wonderful miscellany will keep trivia fans and people who enjoy ancient history interested and amused for ages. There are descriptions of various aspects of life, form chariot racing to eating like a roman, facts about the Elgin Marbles, analysis of the myth of Prometheus, a translation of part of a play by Aristophanes about women who went on strike for a variety of reasons, including sex. The character Lysistrata suggests that if women had the vote, they might be more successful at government than the men—the play is bawdy, suggestive and fun. There are items about medicine, including a plant which was used as a contraceptive, and Pliny gives the details—the comment is that the plant was used so much it became extinct. The final section covers some of the questions asked by the ancients which are still relevant for us…all in all, it is a great little book. Highly recommended for interesting reading.
***Speeches that Changed the World, edited by Simon Sebag Montefiore. HB from Hachette. RRP $36.99
This collection is of more than 50 speeches, which have helped people understand the world, motivated nations to action and inspired individuals and groups on particular issues. It includes speeches from prophets, rebels and tyrants and a few villains, including Hitler and Stalin. With each speech there is an introduction which explains the context in which the speech was made and the accompanying DVD contains footage of some of the most significant and famous speeches, including Chamberlain’s ‘peace in our time’ speech, three of Churchill’s most significant wartime efforts, and, most recently, Rudd’s apology to the stolen generation, and Osama’s “Yes, we can” speech. Churchill’s speeches are a delight to listen to, both for the content, and also for his mastery of English, and how to speak in public. This is a wonderful collection; my immediate reaction as I read the introduction, was that the book should be in every school library in Australia—both for the quality of the spoken language, even as it is written, in those early speeches which are not on the DVD, but also for the life such reading and speaking gives to the history in which each was delivered.
***Mistress, by Matthew Benns and Terry Smyth. PB from Random House. RRP about $30
This is a fascinating look at the mistresses who have served some of Australia’s most prominent men. The French may be more accepting of extra-marital liaisons but Australians will also appreciate a touch of voyeurism, but, in particular enjoy the strife which can occur when the antics, indiscretions, costs and problems of prominent citizens are brought to public attention. Early British settlers from First Fleet times were quick to take advantage of the women who were available to them. Most of these women sought to exchange their favours for improved conditions for themselves. The book makes entertaining reading—for the flavour of it, the chapter headings include; “A Founding Father’s Fancy, Maggie and the Murderer, and “The Fabulous Jim and Junie Show’. It seemed on occasions that the authors positively relished the task they had set themselves!
To Name those Lost, by Rohan Wilson. PB from Allen and Unwin, RRP $29.99
Tasmania in the 1870s was a harsh wild place. Most of the population were convicts or ex-convicts, and families had been broken up with the father was sent to do more time. Thomas Toosey, who went to fight in the Black War, had promised to return to Launceston to find his son William. The colony was in turmoil and finding each other proved difficult. The book seemed to be mostly about rioting and plundering and there was no pleasure in reading about so much misery and unrest.
The Killing Room, by Christobel Kent. PB from Atlantic and Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Sandro Cellini is a retired policeman who feels he should take another job to give him an interest and to relieve his wife of the need to support them both with her work. An old Italian residence has been renovated to become a luxury resort which overlooked Florence. The first guests are wealthy, worldly and at times difficult. The first security advisor was not very successful and finally was found, having been brutally murdered. Sandro is offered the job and soon wonders what he has let himself in for. It is a complicated novel, that can cut you off without revealing the next move. It’s a genuine murder thriller.
The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café, by Alexander McCall Smith. HB from Hachette. RRP $34.99
Once more we return to Botswana, and the events, either uplifting or mundane in the lives of Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s first female private detective and her now-called partner Mma Makutsi. Mma Makutsi is aware that her status in life has improved, firstly with her marriage to Phutti, then the birth of their son, and now she decides to establish a business of her own, a café for superior men. As usual things do not go to plan, and there are several twists, and set backs before the establishment is set on a more straight forward path—with the help and guidance and face saving activities of Mma Ramotswe of course. There is a sub plot here with Charlie the apprentice would -be –mechanic- but- not- yet -qualified learning that there is more to life than little work or application, and girls. Reasonable reading, but I did not feel the need to read it as quickly as I have done with some of the earlier books in this series.
**The Beat Goes On, by Ian Rankin. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Ian Rankin lives in Edinburgh and has written his best seller series based around the police work of Detective Inspector John Rebus. This book is a collection of short stories, some previously published, but others are written for this book. Rebus is an experienced, thoughtful, but sometimes rebellious police officer who has the ability to solve both complex and ridiculously simple crimes. This is a really enjoyable volume of varied short stories, all in the genre of crime fiction.
The Great Plains, by Nicole Alexander. PB from Random House. RRP $$32.99
The Wade family has diverse interests, including large farming enterprises in both Texas and outback Queensland. The family has experienced many hardships over the years, and these are the basis of this story. When Philomena Wade’s parents are killed by the Apaches led by Geronimo, and Philomena herself is kidnapped, the family’s search for her continues to give purpose to successive generations. When finally she is found, and reunited with her family, she is a changed person who identifies more with her Indian upbringing than her white family. This is a highly charged and fascinating epic story, with the characters vivid and true to their respective cultures– Indian, Aboriginal, white American and White Australian. Excellent reading.
Gutenberg’s Apprentice, by Alix Christie. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
It is well known that Gutenberg was the inventor of moveable type, and responsible for the first mechanically printed Bible. This book is the historical novel about how this all happened, and about how the process had to be hidden from the public and the Church. Peter Schoeffer was a scribe in the days when books were copied by hand. His adoptive father was a merchant and financed Gutenberg’s work. It was a huge undertaking to cut the type, and find enough calfskins for vellum. It took four years to print one hundred and eighty copies. This is a fascinating book. In the 1450s Germany was a trading nation, the Church had a lot of control and power and Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. The author has captured vividly the atmosphere of the times, the lives of the people, and gives clear pictures of how medieval towns and trade worked. An interesting read.
The Sunrise, by Victoria Hislop. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
In the summer of 1972 in Cyprus, Savvas Papacosta is sure that he will make a fortune with his refurbished hotel, particularly with his talented manager Markos Georgiou at the helm. Savvas’ wife Aphrodite is not so sure. Life on Cyprus is subject to on going upheavals because of the conflict between Turkey and Greece over control of the island. How the optimism of Savvas about the success of his hotel, and the resort area of Famagusta unravels, and his domestic life as well, makes for interesting reading historically, but it is not a happy story. For those to whom it appeals.
***Leaving Time, by Jodi Piccoult. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99
Alice Metcalf loved to work with elephants. She worked in Botswana on a project which looked at how elephants handle grief, how the process differed within the social hierarchy of the herd, and how it was quite different where death had occurred as a result of poachers or the occasional cull. The book makes interesting reading just because of this fascinating content. Alice married and moved back to America where her husband ran an elephant sanctuary for so-called rogue elephants who originated in circuses or zoos. Alice’s daughter Jemma is left alone when Alice disappears, and her father Thomas is grief stricken and living in a home. The ending of the story is unexpected. Jodi Piccoult is a master storyteller, and weaves an intriguing story about Jemma’s search for her mother. The themes Piccoult deals with in her books are always unusual, but the reading of all her books is a joy for the reader.
**Us, by David Nichols. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99, and in ebook.
Douglas Petersen is a scientist who was brought up in a conventional, strict, English family. His wife Connie comes from a more mixed up background. Her father disappeared and her mother remarried—to a Cypriot shopkeeper from a large family. The marriage of Douglas and Connie seems quite secure, and neither felt the need to change their attitudes. Their first child died young, and their son doesn’t really fit into their world but as chinks appear and grow, they decide on a grand tour of Europe, to see if everything can be sorted out so that they remain together. It is a good story—very realistic, with all the pressures and pleasures of family life revealed.
Tumbledown Manor, by Helen Brown. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
I was a bit reluctant about reading this book, because it looked as if it was going to be about another old mansion with a mysterious family history—and it is! The story is OK, but I did not feel that the depth of Lisa’s character was fully explored. She had been a feisty, opinionated moody writer, and I felt as though, having dumped herself in the position to ‘do up the old manor’, she was more than capable of handling the task. Instead she develops into a helpless female. It all seemed incongruous, and consequently the story lacked conviction and appeal.
The Hunter, by Tony Park. PB from Macmillan. RRP $29.99
Tony Park is Australian, but lives half the time in South Africa. He has written ten novels which are set in Africa. Hudson Brand is a safari guide and private investigator that spends much of his time hunting people, generally people who fake their death to make an insurance claim. This is the s story of the search for one such man. The other investigator on the scene is suspicious of Hudson Brand as well as the insurance cheat—has he been murdering prostitutes? It is a robust story—set in game reserves from the Masai Mara in Kenya, to Zimbabwe and South Africa, so the natural background and animals are both beautiful and hazardous.
*Euphoria, by Lily King. PB from Picador and Macmillan. RRP $29.99
Anthropologists of the mid twentieth century loved New Guinea—there were lots of different tribes, and in the 1930s many had never seen a white person and were totally unpolluted by our way of life. Euphoria is the story of three anthropologists. Andrew Bankson, who had been living and studying alone along the Sepic River, had been driven half mad by the memories of the deaths of his brothers. When Nell Stone and her Australian husband arrive two years later, Bankson finds them a tribe to study. The story is based very loosely on the work of the historically famous Margaret Mead. It is interesting for the information gleaned about tribal customs from anthropology as well as tor the dramatic and romantic relationship between the three people.
*****The Essential Footrot Flats, by Murray Ball. HB from Hachette. RRP $35
After forty years, it is stated that this will be the final Footrot Flats book. This large collection of strips about Wal, the star—Dog—and their family and friends has been compiled to present a selection of the Ball family favourites over many years. These are fantastic comic strips. They present rural life in New Zealand –a lifestyle which has many parallels in Australian rural life; at times they read as if they are descriptions of our own family life on the farm. Often amusing, they are also sometimes a wry look at the way things go wrong as well. This is a superb collection, which we, and our adult children will treasure, and I’m sure there will be thousands of other families in Australia and New Zealand who will also enjoy it to the full. Compliments to Murray Ball for the pleasure he has given us over many years, and now, our thanks for this volume!
Malice, by Keigo Higashino. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
The quote from The Time’s literary critic about the author descried him as “The Japanese Stieg Larsson”, and this comment certainly increased my interest in the story. It is an intriguing but complex murder mystery. The unfortunate aspect of the complexity is that there are so many Japanese names, and it is difficult to keep the persona separate as you read. Best selling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found murdered in his home. The detective Kaga digs deep into the past lives of all involved with the novelist and unearths a totally unexpected story. It is very clever writing.
Moriarty, by Anthony Horowitz. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
After a highly successful career as an author for children and teenagers, Horowitz was approved by the Conan Doyle Estate to write novels in the vein, and using the persona of Sherlock Holmes. The first of these books, Silk, was very successful, and this is another fascinating story of deception and deduction for fans of the original master detective. Horowitz has absorbed the style of Conan Doyle well, so there are lots of clues which don’t immediately appear to lead anywhere, and which the reader cannot sort out. Inspector Jones from Scotland Yard and the American investigator Frederick Chase become involved after the deaths of Holmes and Moriarty to try to identify and find the shadowy mastermind who has replaced Moriarty in criminal activities. It is masterly story telling, but complicated in places.
**Nightingale, by Fiona McIntosh. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99
This is a book for the romantics! It is set in World War 1 at Gallipoli, when nurses aboard floating hospital ships treated broken men and boys for their shrapnel wounds, bleeding bodies and the failing hearts. It doesn’t sound like a romantic setting, and it isn’t, but Claire Nightingale strikes it lucky, and finds gold when she meets and shares a cup of tea with Jamie Wren, only- apparently- to lose him when he was later listed as missing presumed dead. Nightingale does not give up, and returns to Turkey and Istanbul, after the war to search relentlessly for the love of her life. The characters seem to be drawn from real life, and their thoughts and feelings are depicted as such. It was a thrilling and captivating read—such sustained and entrancing passion!
It Started with Paris, by Cathy Kelly. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This is a book which has some vivid romantic scenarios—in Paris, with an engagement announced at the Eiffel Tower, but where the marriage later falls apart, but is given new life after a generation, when their daughter is to be married and Grace finds herself spending a lot of time with her ex-husband again. There are other sub plots—an ex-nuptial pregnancy and others. The result is that it all just became a tad too complicated—perhaps mainly because the list of characters was too long—all well rounded, but just too many to read about and appreciate as needed.
The Good Life, by Martina Cole. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This seemed to be a book where the title is supremely ironic—love does not come easy, and crime is neither pleasant, nor easy either. The story tells about Cain, his wife, whom he wishes to divorce, and Jenny, who wants to marry Cain. All are inextricably bound in with various gangs of criminals and this is an unpleasant story of the mix. Not only is the topic unpleasant, but also the language is too often crude. Others will doubtless like the mix, but I was unable to finish the book.
***Gray Mountain, by John Grisham. HB from Hachette. RRP $39.99
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, many big firms were quick to cut back staff numbers. Samantha Kofer was a bit relieved when she was suddenly laid off by her law firm because although a city girl, she could take a different job with her high flying but disbarred lawyer father. She decided on a total change however and found unpaid work as an intern for a legal aid clinic in the coal mining district of Appalachia. While the work and people could be confronting, the coal mining companies and their chosen law firms were totally ruthless. Very quickly she had to deal directly with clients who had major problems. John Grisham is a prolific and well known author and it is always a pleasure to read his books. Because of his own legal background, there is a strong feel of the authentic about his stories.
Pegasus, by Danielle Steel. PB from Random House RRP $32.99
The author is recognised world wide as an accomplished writer of novels with a romantic flavour. This one begins in Germany, at the beginning of Hitler’s rule, then moves to the USA, where Nick and his two boys flee to escape incarceration after Nick learns that he is in fact half Jewish. Marianne, only daughter of Nick’s great friend Alex is also sent away to escape the Nazi regime and moves to England. When Nick had to leave Germany he was able to take some of Alex’s famous horses with him as a gift– including two Lipizzaners and much of the story centres on Nick and his two sons as they benefit from this wonderful gift, as they begin a life in the circus. Nick falls in love again and Marianne also finds love. Because it is wartime, there is also tragedy on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a very readable novel.