April 2015 adult new book releases, reviewed by Janet Croft

April 2015: New adult books reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the reading…..

Non-fiction

The Nasho’s War, Australia’s National Servicemen and Vietnam. HB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $39.99

I regret that it has taken a few months to read this book and prepare this review. Some of it was not easy reading but in total, it is a full and interesting account of Australia’s servicemen in action. There are lots of facts and figures, including a lot about the political background to Australian involvement in Vietnam. There are outlines of various battles, most told from the points of view of various servicemen. The author is at pains to disprove many of the myths which persist about our involvement—for example he refutes the myth that there were no welcome home parades for our soldiers, and secondly that conscription was an unpopular imposition by the then government. Many comments made during the war do not match with our opinions about the war in retrospect.

*Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

Oops, this book slid off the pile under the bed—it has been available for a few months. Normally we expect to read a crime fiction mystery from this talented and experienced author. Now however she presents a look at the science behind the solving of a crime—there are chapters about the work that is undertaken at the scene of a crime, and the role of pathology, sometimes entomology, fingerprinting, the study of blood spatters, toxicology (poisons and drugs) and other technological skills (for example facial reconstruction) to help solve a crime. McDermid outlines the developments in each of these areas over the past thirty or so years, and gives examples of cases where each branch of science has been pivotal in a solution. It is not light reading; it is a detailed study and sometimes the content is dense, but it is a book of historical significance and will be of relevance to any budding crime fiction author as well as well as amateur detectives and readers of crime fiction.

*Inside Alcatraz, by Jim Quillen. HB from Random House. RRP $35

Jim Quillen’s life did not start well; his mother was alcoholic, and his father disowned him. He took to a life of crime and was eventually sentenced to 46 years in prison. Because he then escaped, he was then sent to Alcatraz, and spent ten years there. Life in this most reviled of prisons was harsh, with no attempts made to rehabilitate the inmates. Most of his early prison years were spent planning escapes. This is an insider’s account of prison life; the attitude of authorities did not encourage hope or the chance of a reasonable or productive life. Eventually his family learned of his whereabouts and contacted him. He resolved to press to gain an education and some work qualifications. It is an interesting story—firstly because of its outline of the effects that prison can have on inmates, but also how, given a bit of encouragement, many can rebuild a life and become productive members of society.

*Passing Clouds, A winemaker’s journey, by Graeme Leith. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

Graeme Leith has led a full and at times adventurous life, with considerable success as a father and winemaker, but he was not as successful with a few marriages. There was also a dreadful tragedy for him, with his favourite daughter. It is an interesting and very readable story—how he started as an electrician, his trip to Europe and his battles to earn enough money to live. I enjoyed his story of how he rewired the electricity meter in England to avoid the extra charges imposed by the landlord (My husband has memories of a similar effort with a gas meter!) Graeme’s efforts to build a successful winery is a story in itself. He speaks with affection of the people who helped him, with wry humour about how he learned the business side of things and there is even a chapter on his dogs. Early in the book he comments that he always was good with language, and able to express himself. This skill shines through the book—it is quite rare to find an “amateur” who can produce such an excellent read.

**The Five Choices, The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, by Kory Korgon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne: PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99

The authors suggest that there are two possible reasons to read this book: the first is that you are fairly content with your management procedures, but wonder and think about suggestions to improve your productivity (Q2, in the book). The second reason is that you feel snowed under and constantly under pressure with your work and fear that you are on the verge of exploding! The choices to be made have been selected because they relate to findings in neuroscience, and time management research over many years. In brief the five choices are: Act on the important, don’t react to the urgent; go for Extraordinary, don’t settle for ordinary’ Schedule the Big Rocks, don’t sort gravel: Rule your technology, don’t let it rule you, and the last one—fuel your fire, don’t burn out! I found the book surprisingly readable, and interesting. The sections are clearly delineated, and there are diagrams and summaries to break and summarise the content. There is an excellent appendix about how best to handle emails—this is fun to read, and the suggestions are sensible. There is a second appendix too, which is a summary of the key ideas from Franklin Covey’s Time Matrix, which he developed after years of research into people and their time management. I feel that this book has an extra possible audience—those students doing business management, who will find it a summary of important principles for their future work. It’s an interesting text.

Beyond Will Power, the Secret Principle to achieving success in Life, Love and Happiness, by Alex Lloyd. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99

The author is a psychologist and naturopath of many years experience. The blurb which accompanied the book says the programme to reduce stress and improve quality of life will “deprogramme fear and reprogramme love”. I did not find this book as easy to read as the previous title, but I accept Lloyd’s statement that 97% of self help programmes fail, because most of us cannot trust our will power to follow through with a programme without help. This is OK—if you are interested to read it—the author claims that forty days of following the programme will be successful.

***The Debs of Bletchley Park and other stories, by Michael Smith. HB from the Quarto Group (UK) and released in Australia by Allen and Unwin. RRP $39.99

Bletchley Park was the ultra-secret establishment in England which housed those defence staff whose role it was to break and decipher the codes used in WW2 by the Germans, and then also the Japanese. At its peak there were twelve thousand people employed at Bletchley, eight thousand of them women. Lots of books have been written about breaking the codes. When you began work there, you had to sign the Official Secrets Act, and for years the workers would not discuss their work with anybody—maintaining such secrecy became difficult when the nature of the work at Bletchley became public knowledge. It is an excellent read. The work was vital to the war effort and made it possible to keep track of U-boats; the Brits learned Rommel’s plans and were able to confuse Hitler about the landing site for D Day. One fact that I had not read anywhere else is that the Japanese emperor intended to surrender—it is a great shame in retrospect that there was no diplomacy attempted to achieve this: perhaps the use of the nuclear bombs was unnecessary. The other stories referred to in the title are particular events or topics associated with the work at Bletchley Park. It’s an engrossing war story from a totally different angle.

***Outback Vets, by Annabelle Brayley. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99

The author has lived and worked in various outback areas of Australia and has written a couple of other stories about people who work in the outback—notably Nurses of the Outback. She is familiar with the areas she writes about. Here she presents brief biographies of some of the country’s most remotely located vets-based in all states, and including one on Norfolk Island. As she says, “These people are without exception responsible, reliable, resilient, focused and dedicated”. I think my favourite story has to be that when Jack Coffey, based in Burra in South Australia, was able to save a horse whose hoof had been almost completely ripped off when it was caught in wire. The description of how Jack managed this is understated, and matter of fact, but reveals immense skill and familiarity with horses. I can imagine that other country vets, one of our sons among them, will read this book with considerable interest, and hopefully learn from it. The book will also appeal to many rural people because it also tells about the joys and trials of a rural lifestyle.

The Modi Effect, by Lance Price. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99

The subtitle of this book in “Inside Narenda Modi’s campaign to transform India”, and the reason Modi’s success in the 2014 election in India was such a big deal was that Modi started his working life as a very poor ‘chai wallah’ who helped his father serve tea on the trains. India is the largest democracy in the world, and possibly the oldest. It is a complex country with many languages, religions, much pollution, more millionaires than the total population of Australia, but a huge need to lift the living standards of the majority of the population. The book describes how he ran a campaign which concentrated on social media and digital technology-and India is one of the most advanced nations in the use of such media. Already he had proved himself to be a successful state governor of the previously very troubled state of Gujurat but initially it was thought impossible that he would win enough votes to become prime minister. He had to receive more votes than anyone else, in any election in the world. He needed sensible, ethical policies plus a way to explain them to the mass of voters throughout India. His most amazing innovation was to produce a ‘virtual Modi”—a 3D hologram of himself which was beamed to places he could not reach in person. It is a fairly dry book, but fascinating to see Modi’s dedication and commitment to his peoples, and to the policies which he sees as vital for the well being of India. Maybe there are lessons here for Australia- many of us have lost much of our respect for our politicians because they appear overtly interested in political power rather than the long-term needs of the country.

**Daughter of the Territory, by Jacqueline Hammar. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

The Northern Territory of Australia was a difficult place to settle for all agricultural pursuits, and the necessary lifestyle required many deprivations for those who tried it. The long-term compensation for such deprivation and hard work was often-over many years- financial success. Jacqueline Hammar was born in Darwin, raised in the bush with aboriginal children, and then married a capable stockman. After several years in different places, they took up four thousand square kilometres of undeveloped country out from Borroloola. For seven months, during her second pregnancy, the only white people Jacqueline saw were her husband Ken, and their three year old daughter. This is a great story of the lifestyle of the people who made the territory. I admire such people, and this is an admirable, did- it -really -happen story which we know to be true. Wonderful reading.

 

Airmail, Taking Women of Letters to the World, curated by Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy. PB from Penguin. RRP $29.99

It was only a couple of months ago that I read and reviewed the forerunner to this book—Women of Letters. This was a compilation of articles, often read aloud as letters, but all read to live audiences around Australia by some of Australia’s best-known literati. Now the book has been expanded. The curators have gone international so we find here correspondence from people in Indonesia, the UK and USA and Ireland as well—all the articles were first presented at live events, and there are items form several gentlemen of note as well as the women. Much of the letters deal with social comment, some is about past regrets, or family history—the range of content is considerable, much of it is witty and appealing although there is some which is boring. However, the art of letter writing is still an art….thank goodness! As with the first book, all the proceeds go to Edgar’s mission, a sanctuary for neglected animals in Victoria.

Through the Farm Gate, A Country Memoir by Angela Goode. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $22.99

I read and reviewed this book when it was first released. I believe my review is still on my wordpress archive. It was a good read from an Australian who has experienced the highs and lows of life on the land, and in love.

Fiction.

Wish you were here, by Catherine Alliott. PB from Penguin. RRP $32.99

James is a foot surgeon whose work seems to involve lots of bunions and ingrown toenails. While he and his family are on a flight to France, James is the only doctor on board, but is able to give a simple injection to the daughter of a very prominent opera singer—an injection that saves the girls’ life. The opera singer is so grateful she offers James and his family the use of her chateau, so the family can enjoy a very smart holiday. The family which takes up the offer is a large cast—children, their boyfriends, mothers, fathers, sisters—it is amazing how many turn to enjoy the chateau…The family has a history of problems, and the book raises some of these in what becomes a very complex plot as the potential for further problems and new relationships are fully explored. It is all too complex for a really good holiday, but is enjoyable reading.

14th Deadly Sin, by James Patterson. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

The extra detail on the front cover is “A Women’s Murder Club Thriller”. It is an American crime thriller novel, with Inspector Lindsay Boxer and her three best friends to the fore, because it is all action, and probably averages a person shot per page. A gang posing as police are raiding drug dens in San Francisco, shooting witnesses, stealing the drugs and large amounts of money. The mystery is whether they are really police or crims. The language and setting are American, the story is American and I could find nothing at all to recommend the story to any Australian-male or female.

**The Chocolate Promise, by Josephine Moon. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

Christmas Livingstone was so named because her mother felt she was the greatest gift ever. Christmas has a shop in Tasmania which sells chocolate. It is not just because chocolate is good to eat, but because Christmas believes it is good medicine—which is why she has called the shop the Chocolate Apothecary. She had ten rules about happiness—the last one was to hold no romantic attachments, as your heart can be broken. All the other rules were positive, about how to enjoy life and make pleasant things happen so it is a cheerful story about people with zest for living, and chocolate, and one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read so far this year.

Girl in the Red Coat, by Kate Hamer. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

When Carmel is taken to a festival in England, she becomes separated from her mother in the crowd. A white haired man finds her and claims to be her grandfather. He tells her mother has been in an accident and eventually said that she had died. The so-called grandfather is a religious extremist; he manages to take Carmel to America. I found it the saddest of stories—a mother who cannot find any trace of her daughter, a daughter who thinks her mother is dead and that her father must be more interested in his new girl friend than in her. The story continues over the years. It is only the hope that all will turn out well for Carmel which keeps you reading.

****The Complete Peanuts, by Shultz 1987-88. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

Peanuts is referred to as the first post-modern comic strip—the drawings are austere, but the messages from Charlie Brown and Peanuts his dog are timeless, often poignant, or quite brutal at times in how they portray life and the many small cruelties we inflict on each other. I have enjoyed remembering these cartoons, produced in their original sequence for the two years of 1987 and 1988. I can remember using some of the strips which deal with school and school life, in my monthly newsletters to my students—who were always able to see the irony in what happened compared with what should happen. This book is timeless, and will stay in our book case –wonderful browsing for successive generations of thoughtful people.

The Ever After of Ella and Micha, by Jessica Sorensen. PB from Sphere and Hachette. RRP about $24.99

Ella is about to marry her long time boyfriend Micha when a package from her past arrives and disrupts the wedding and possibly the subsequent lives and hopes of both Ella and Micha. I did not find the story   interesting or appealing, and I disliked much of the so-called passion and the way in which it was presented.

*Emerald Springs, by Fleur McDonald. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP about $29.99

Amelia grew up in Emerald Springs, then went away to university. When she returned to her childhood home it was with the intention to establish herself as responsible and reliable, in contrast with the image she knew she had taken to the city of being a carefree and irresponsible teenager. Amelia takes on the job of Show treasurer, only to become the victim of an on- the- road robbery as she was driving to the local town with the takings from the very successful local rodeo. Amelia is knocked out, but thought she recognised a voice as she was attacked…she determines to remember what she heard, and to work to solve the crime—as it is, her fiancé Paul is under suspicion because he has just spent a lot of money to refurbish his house so they can be married. There are other suspects, and gradually the plot intensifies and there are other robberies before all is resolved. It is a well thought out plot, and makes for quite a good, easy to read novel.

*The Last Dance, by Fiona McIntosh. PB from Penguin. RRP $32.99

The author says that she does not plan her books; she prefers to let the story flow, and see what eventuates. Stella and her friend Madge are old friends who work their way up through the ranks in a large department story. They meet two lightly inebriated gentlemen at a dance. These gentlemen are not as they seem, and the story which has begun as a gentle romance in rural England ends in Morocco as a spy thriller! It is a complicated story, but     cleverly composed and structured. The characters have unsuspected links and while you hope that it will all end well, the ending is unexpected and surprising.

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP about $20

This is a reissue of a book first published about eight years ago. It has been made into a film, which presumably is why the book has been reissued. It is the story of a lonely woman, her loveless marriage to Ken, long term pharmacist in the small local town, and their subsequent lives. The story is well told, and the characters rounded and plausible—the big objection to this edition is that the print is tiny, which detracts from the enthusiasm to persist with the story.

The Woman who Lost her Soul, by Bob Shacochis. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

This book made the final list for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. Set in various countries around the world at the start of the century, it is a long (700pages) and dramatic narrative, with romance, passion, spies and high drama and a large cast of leading characters from Tom Harrington to Burnette, to Eville, Marko, and a heap of others. I did not enjoy the story, and I did not finish the book because it was as if the story was in the clouds—there is a huge amount of detail about every event, but such detail did not make the story live for me– it did not seem real and skipped from episode to episode with insufficient connections for me to follow or enjoy.

The Exit, by Helen Fitzgerald. PB from Faber and Faber RRP about $30

Catherine and her mum live together-Catherine is a young self interested woman devoted to Facebook; her mother is grossly overprotective of her, and writes ‘to do’ lists for Catherine. When Catherine finds work at the local Aged Care Home she has to allow a few people into her life, including Rose, who has Alzheimer’s. As Catherine becomes more empathic, she loses her narcissistic tendencies and becomes a great asset to the Home. She becomes much more aware of how other people feel, so much so that she finds herself thinking how Rose might feel. It is delightful to see how Catherine develops into a thoughtful and caring person. There are some dramatic and tragic turns to the story, but they are for you to read about, not me to reveal.

*****The Novel Habits of Happiness, by Alexander McCall Smith. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

McCall Smith has published two series of books which really appeal to me. The no 1 Detective Agency books about Mma Ramotswe and her life in Botswana, and the series, of which this book is the latest release, about the philosopher, wife, mother and lover, the Scotswoman Isabel Dalhousie. I think this is the best book so far in this series. We experience daily life with Isabel, ponder the ideas of reincarnation, the many pettinesses of life which we need to put aside, and remember, when involved with the life of a mother and her grieving six year old son, that ‘You should not keep the truth from people’. Isabel is a ‘people person’, generous with her time, and her money, but most of all, her personality as she seeks to help not only the mother Kirsten, but also Isabel’s niece Cat, and others around her. Always present but in the background are Isabel’s husband Jamie, whom we know to be delectable, and a steadying and joy-giving influence in Isabel’s life, plus of course Charlie, now three. By the end of the book, there is the hint of a growing family. Some reflective and thought provoking books are pleasant to reread, and I look forward to a wet weekend this winter — hopefully to glean more wisdom and tranquillity from McCall Smith, via Isabel. I feel I know her very well indeed. It is an outstanding book.

***Crystal Creek, by Charlotte Nash. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

Christina Price had a medical student placement at Townsville’s army base. This was not her first choice. She had grown up in Townsville, and had a difficult childhood, without a father, and with an alcoholic mother. She was bullied at school, and only realised that life held promise when a doctor showed kindness towards her. To become a doctor from her background was extraordinarily difficult as she tried to manage and support her mother at the same time. She had to work to earn money to live, and with the need to balance this and the demands of a medical course, plus the need to study, she became well organised and self-sufficient, but had to avoid social situations and offers of help. All of this sounds a bit grim for a novel, but Charlotte Nash is a highly accomplished author who is familiar with similar backgrounds to those she describes, and so is able to convey the emotions involved when army life and medicine meet. I have read and reviewed all three of Charlotte’s books. In spite of the fact that the dust covers suggest chick lit, all three stories have been eminently readable and enjoyable. Surely the publisher could do better with the covers….

*Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big thing, by Lisa Walker. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

Arkie is in the depths of depression and self-pity, and on the verge of throwing herself in front of a moving train, when, in Byron Bay on the railway station in the middle of the night, she meets Haruko, a young visiting Japanese woman. For Arkie, suffering after the breakdown of her marriage to Adam, (because of her own lustful affair with a married man), the meeting is serendipitous—Arkie is attracted by the charm and eccentricities of Haruko, and, having been saved from the train, the two travel together to Brisbane. Arkie has been a very successful marketing guru, with the ability to predict what will be the next big thing or fashionable trend, and she soon realises that Haruko has similar talents. Inspired by Haruko to investigate a pilgrimage, but without any real money, the pair decide to make a pilgrimage to several of Australia’s big things, starting with the Biggest Red back spider….at the start the story seems rather farcical and surreal, but a serious story unfolds about the relevance and purpose of life, with several cpmments about themes in The Wizard of Oz as well. The need to nurture one’s spiritual life is also a feature, and there is a lot about the self-realisation which can occur when making a pilgrimage-no matter where such a journey takes you. There is a really satisfying ending, and I must say that it only took the first couple of chapters before I was engrossed by the story, and these feelings persisted throughout. Another excellent read.

*Last One Home, by Debbie Macomber. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

Cassie made a poor decision twelve years ago, when she ran away from a loving and happy family to marry a man who proceeded to become ever more abusive until, to save her own life, and that of her daughter, Cassie fled to a shelter. She had had no contacts with her own family, because her husband had physically hurt her when she even suggested such actions. Now, battling to establish a home for herself and Aimee, Cassie works really long hours as a hair stylist, and at whatever other part time jobs she can find. It is only when she applies for a Habitat house—and has to work voluntarily on other peoples’ houses until she has earned the credits for her own place, that she meets Steve, and other people and learns to trust and befriend others again. In the meantime, her two sisters, Karen and Nichole, apparently happy and successful in marriage, find that their lives are not always smooth either. Eventually there is reconciliation among the three girls, and potentially, life for Cassie and Aimee with Steve looks hopeful. I found the story glib and predictable, but for one redeeming aspect: any woman who is in a physically abusive relationship, and blames herself for her plight should read this book because it may help her gather the courage to leave such a harmful and degrading situation.

**Nanny Confidential, by Philippa Christian. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99

This story is a novel, but the author has around the world, over many years, as nanny to the children of wealthy people whose lifestyle, both at work, and at leisure means that they do not, or will not spend the time to raise their own children. The scenarios, events and issues raised in this novel are based on the author’s experiences; there is no doubt that it has been in many ways a hard -to -believe life style, but also made me question why some of these people ever had kids. I felt, as does the nanny quite often, sorry for the kids. Easy, and interesting reading about a lifestyle just a tad different from ours but one to which I would never aspire.

The Possibilities, by Kaui Hart Hemmings. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

Sarah is trying to pick her life up after the death in an avalanche of her young adult son Cully. Everyone else around her seems to have problems too, and as well, Sarah’s father has come to live in her basement. It seems that Sarah will learn to live again, but then a stranger, Kit turns up, and Sarah has to face again all those questions that she has faced over the past twenty three years or so. I didn’t enjoy the story—so much sadness, and a distinctively American flavour to the story.

****Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $19.99

What a stark and confronting novel! It is the story about a fifty-year-old professor of Psycholinguistics and how she realised and learned that she had genetically inherited early onset Alzheimer’s. It made me face my greatest fear, that as we grow older, either my husband, or myself, or both of us might develop Alzheimer’s. I found the author’s choice of perspective- to tell the story as Alice experienced it—quite hypnotic, and I only put the book down for a break when I needed a bit of emotional respite from the intensity of the story. Whilst there is sadness the book is also about love, and the emotional pain of those around Alice firstly as realization of her condition seeped through, and then as her decline became more rapid. The recently released film of the story has had rave reviews, but the book also deserves them; really, it is a story we all should read. It was heartening at the end of the book to read in the author’s additional notes, that there has been some progress in the search to understand the development of the condition, and some hope also about future effective drug treatments.

***The Liar, by Nora Roberts. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

I have read lots of Nora Roberts’ novels over the years—this is probably the one which I have found the most interesting, and in which the characters are most rounded. There is also a substantial plot, as Shelby lives through the consequences of the death of her husband in a freak accident, when she learns that he had lived a double life, and was a cheat, thief, liar and a bigamist. She hopes and expects that when she is able to return to her home base in Tennessee, with her young daughter Callie, everything will straighten out. This is not to be the case, and when violence erupts in her local town, it becomes evident that Richard’s crimes continue to haunt her and there are unpleasant events to survive before past events are brought to a conclusion and Shelby has a real chance of future happiness. A good story.

Turtle Reef, by Jennifer Scoullar. PB from Penguin. RRP $32.99

I have read all of this authors’ previous novels, and have found them light, but mostly plausible. This story has a very strong environmental preservation message, and maybe that is the reason that the story of Zoe, and her life and work at the local marine park on the Queensland coast seems shallow and unconvincing. The main characters, other than Zoe, are her boss, the charming, elegant and seemingly dedicated conservationist Bridget, Bridget’s fiancé, the handsome, wealthy, but enigmatic Quinn, Quinn’s young brother Josh, who suffered brain damage in a riding accident, and Leo, Bridget’s father, and the mayor of the local shire. While the information and details about the marine animals in the park are detailed and interesting, the story is not presented as a multiple narrative; at times however, (with Zoe’s perspective usually in our mind), there are clumsy switches to ideas, opinions or events which are presented as if it is Quinn, or Bridget who is the narrator. Such switches might make some of the action more explicable, but they do not improve the feelings that the story or characters are plausible. OK, if it appeals.

Bad Behaviour, by Rebecca Starford. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

The story begins when Rebecca changes schools to attend a private school which sends all its students to a rural setting for a year based around outside education. She becomes one of sixteen girls aged fourteen or fifteen, who share a dormitory, and each other’s lives. With no staff member sleeping in the same building, night times became a time for bullying, breaking of rules-particularly with regard to smoking and alcohol, plus sexual exploration. To say that Rebecca did not enjoy her year would be an understatement, even though at times she went with the pack and was cruel to others, she also was the object of bullying. As a young adult she later faced alcoholism, lost her drivers’ licence, and had several tumultuous lesbian relationships, before she felt that maybe; just maybe, she had worked through the emotional effects of that disastrous school year. It was not a story I enjoyed, but it is a coherent novel.

***We All looked Up, by Tommy Wallach. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $16.99

This story could also be categorised as young adult fiction, because the story mainly concerns four teenagers who get to know each other only in the last weeks as the world awaits the passing of an asteroid which may, or may not hit Earth, and may or may not obliterate, or at the very least, cause massive damage to the planet and all life. This multiple narrative becomes compulsive reading—we get to know Peter, Eliza, Andy and Anita, as seniors about to leave school, and head to the future—Andy has few plans, Anita feels stressed by her parents hopes and plans for her, Eliza’s dad has cancer, and Peter feels that maybe his future as a sports star is a bit simplistic. At times I was tempted to jump ahead, and read each of the stories singly, but then as the quartet get to know each other, the story blends together as they live for the present, as, with a 66.6%chance of hitting Earth, the asteroid Ardor, comes ever closer. Life becomes a matter of priorities, and right now, that priority is to live and enjoy one day at a time…..a gripping novel, and probably strongly thought provoking if you are a teenager reader.

That Girl from Nowhere, by Dorothy Koomson. PB from Century and Random House. RRP $32.99

Clemency Smittson grew up knowing that she was adopted. She had to know this because she was a black child with white adoptive parents. Life is complicated; the fact of adoption and her thoughts about why her biological parents had not wanted her are always in the background. Clemency is a jeweller who remodels or as she calls it, reloves old pieces. This is what she loves and what she is good at. One day while talking with a client in an old folks home Clemency meets her blood sister. The book then is about meeting her birth family, and learning why she was put up for adoption. She also has to deal with the fears of her adoptive mother that Clemency will not love her an more. This may well appeal to people in similar circumstances to Clemency.

 

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