July 2015: New adult books reviewed by Janet Croft
The more stars, the better the reading…..
*The Test Book by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
I am ashamed that this book was found under my bed several months after it should have been read and reviewed—my only excuse is that it is a very slim volume and easily hid! The subtitle of the book is “64 Tools to lead you to success”, and the book provides an outline of the 64 tests most commonly used in market research, psychological testing and other aspects of our lives. It is not designed to be a test battery, but for people who are curious about measures which various professionals may use, and which can offer insights into aspects of human behaviour. There are outlines of tests of character and personality characteristics—of which the best known is probably the Rorschach test. Others include assessment of our handwriting, and tests of Emotional Intelligence. There are tests associated with our bodies– physical and mental health, skills and career choice, lifestyle and society and knowledge and beliefs. It is a fun book to browse- as a retired psychologist some of the tests were familiar to me, but this is presented in a manner which allows anybody to learn something about the variety of tools which professionals have at their disposal. In every case there are sample questions from each test—each chosen to offer some clues as to how anybody might handle the entire test. An interesting book for the library!
*****The Silly Book of Weird and Wacky words, by Andy Seed. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99
This should be categorised as non-fiction. It is a delightful miscellany of lots of the weird and wonderful words, and phrases we have in the English language. There are limericks, tongue twisters, puns, some famous quotes, samples of pig Latin and amusing epitaphs, spoonerisms and some poems. This is a great book for kids who are interested in language, but also a delight for interested adults. I’ll probably publish this review, with a few examples in my adult reviews post as well.
Ardennes, 1944, Hitler’s Last Gamble, by Antony Beevor. PB from Penguin. RRP $25
This is a sombre, scholarly account of the last major offensive launched against Allied troops in France, by the Nazis in 1944. The author comments at the end of the book that it was a brutal and ruthless attempt to turn the tide of war in Germany’s favour, but that Hitler and his lieutenants misjudged their desperate and courageous opponents to such an extent that the Nazis were doomed to fail. A comprehensive account of the battle for historians of WW2.
Beyond Measure, by Margaret Heffernan. TED HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $16.99
This is a small book about how small changes in decisions can have clear impacts on future events. We have reviewed several of the TED books now. Each takes only a few hours to read, but all have contained fascinating ideas and information. Margaret Heffernan is interested in how effective managers and companies can uncover or realise small changes to procedures and actions which result in improved attitudes, break down work barriers, and increase productivity. Such small changes can affect large organisations such as the CIA, or very small family run companies. It is rare to find a book where you keep thinking about someone whom you are sure would enjoy the book, or an organisation which would benefit if all board members were to read it! Excellent, thought provoking value.
***Windsor’s Way, by Tony Windsor. PB from MUP. RRP $32.99
It is a rare pleasure to read a well-written book from a politician. Tony Windsor spent all his years in both state (NSW) and then Australian Federal parliament as an independent. He saw this status as the best way to represent his electorate. One of his convictions is that if the National Party had not formed a coalition with the Liberal Party in Australia, the Nationals would often have held the balance of power in the parliament, and would have been in a position to further the interests of rural communities more effectively than when in coalition with an urban based party. Windsor certainly used his position as an independent, and sharing of the balance of power to great effect for his electorate and rural Australia in the last parliamentary term Many National Party supporters felt that Windsor was a traitor to their party when he chose to support Julia Gillard for Prime Minister following the 2013 elections. He remains convinced that this was the correct decision. The book is easy to read, and presents very considered opinions.
The Secret World of Oil, by Ken Silverstein. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99
The author has researched the oil industry in all its aspects and shady deals. Government involvement, traders, law firms, and lobbyists make the recent crisis about soccer and FIFA look like child’s play. It is an interesting book if you want, or need to understand what goes on with this vital area of world trade.
***The Diet Myth, by Tim Spector. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
Books about diets are popular, and are frequent publications. Many human populations are becoming more obese and unhealthy, and it is often acknowledged that after someone tries a diet, they will end up heavier than before. Tim Spector is professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London. Epidemiology is the study of large groups of the population in the attempt to understand the causes of disease. This is a book that does not recommend a specific diet. It is more about the trials done with large groups of twins, specifically to look at the relationship between the millions of microbes in our bodies, their diversity and how they are really important to digestion, appetite and the ability to maintain a healthy weight. Many people in western societies believe they should lose some weight. Spector’s book is a valuable source of knowledge to help understand the causes of obesity and why it is difficult to succeed with diets. It is easy to read, and clarified for me many misconceptions about our diet.
*Online Gravity, by Paul McCarthy. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $32.99
This serious book tells how our lives are being transformed by the large, multinational companies which have already changed much of the way we live and do business, worldwide. The author seeks to present his information in a manner which will not be off-putting to the lay person, and I feel he has succeeded. He shows that the changes to how we do business, for example to book hotels via airbnb or Booking .com, rather than a travel agent, has not led to a decrease in employment, but a considerable change to the shape of employment. He outlines seven laws of online gravity that are shaping the new world of business –whilst there are still some areas of our lives that are off-line, more and more areas are coming under the pull of online gravity. The seven laws are the global nature of business, which affects individuals, companies and governments; big winners also means big losers—risk; the proliferation of intangible goods, and their marketability—for example, bitcoin, and online video games; the acceleration of change around the globe in all areas; the proliferation of data and how it is spread and used; understanding of new social patterns which emerge online; the growth of entrepreneurs—for example the development of Uber and airbnb and the casualisation of the work force and outsourcing of specific tasks. This is an easy to read, but really thought provoking book and it has helped me understand much better how the internet and being online both affects my life now, and how it can be useful. Excellent book for students of business and IT.
Sex by Numbers, by David Spiegelhalter. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99
The subtitle of this book is ‘What Statistics can tell us about Sexual Behaviour’. This is quite a technical book which has been made more readable for the average person by the use of interesting specific questions related to sex and sexual activities which are then answered using the available research and statistics. Thus it covers not only frequency or type of sexual activity, but also the possible consequences and emotions involved. The author is professor for the public understanding of Risk at Cambridge, (UK) and the book is published by the Welcome Foundation, a ‘free visitor destination for the incurably curious.’ I found the range of contents fascinating, and the discussions interesting.
*A Double Shot of Happiness, by Judy Sharp. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $$32.99
I have huge sympathy for any mother who finds that doctors just do not listen to her when she says there is something not right about her child. This was the author’s experience until her son Tim was three years old—he was not communicating or talking, did not sleep and was not toilet trained. When the diagnosis of autism was eventually made, she was told that Tim’s condition was so serious that he would have be institutionalised, that he would never talk, or go to school. Eventually, battling on by herself after leaving an abusive marriage, Judy one day decided to draw a picture to attempt to communicate with Tim—and the rest, as they say is history. Tim is now an established artist, and is known world wide as the creator of Laser Beak Man. This story is a delight to read, as we learn how Tim emerged from isolation to become a confident person, and skilled artist, with a very disctinctive and humorous style. I love the pictures in the book, and thoroughly enjoyed the story, whilst still cringing at the hard time Judy had to begin with.
***Future Proofing your Child, by Kathy Walker. PB from Penguin. RRP $32.99
Wow, this is another pragmatic, and potentially- particularly for first time, or young parents— aid to learn to become an effective parent. It is too late to learn to train your child in positive ways, when they are already teenagers. Too many young parents feel that they should be friends to their child and reject the need to discipline, or guide their children’s behaviour. I love the titles of some of the sections of this book—‘Hooray for boredom’, ‘let them miss out’ and ‘why you need to say no’, are a few of the guidance suggestions. There is also the acknowledgement that the parent needs to be an advocate for their child, and that anger from the parent is usually not constructive. There is a lot of information for the parent too—about peer pressure, about use of the internet and so on—it is an easy book to read, and highly recommended for young parents.
*Brain Maker, by Dr David Perlmutter. PB from Hachette. RRP about $29.99
This book maybe should be reading conjunction with The Diet Myth (see above!) We are all aware that debilitating brain disorders, such as autism and dementia are occurring at ever-earlier ages, plus a range of cancers, with apparent ever-greater frequency. Here the author explains the connection between intestinal microbes and the brain. He describes how the microbiome develops from birth, and evolves depending on environmental issues. He discusses the disadvantages of elective caesarean births and the hazards of overexposure to antibiotics among many other issues. He makes some simple dietary recommendations and outlines practical steps to improve the ecology of our guts. It is an easy and very interesting read.
Black Sheep: The hidden benefits of Being Bad. By Richard Stephens. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
The publisher’s blurb which came with this book described the book as ’more pub conversation than science book’. It is certainly a book which contains some memorable information, from comments about why many women swear quite vigorously whilst in labour, to what is revealed by a study of how car drivers hold the steering wheel and why parachuting can be the perfect remedy for feeling stressed. There is a wealth of surprising information about a miscellany of issues. There is also an analysis of near death experiences, and quite a lot about why many people seek out extreme sports, and weird experiences. It is a book to browse over time, and then to use perhaps to spice up a dinner table conversation! A fun, and interesting read.
At the water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99
Scotland during WW2 was a bleak place- and not particularly welcoming to strangers who looked sufficiently healthy to have enlisted. Madeline and Ellis Hyde and Ellis’ friend Hank are from wealthy American families. They have disgraced themselves in society and are cut off from their families but propose to redeem themselves by doing what Ellis’ father failed to do, to find the Loch Ness Monster. The start of the book irritated me as Ellis and Hank are absolute prats, sure of their social position, draft dodgers and generally unpleasant. About half way through the story the full and interesting description of life and society in the small village improved my mood and I finished feeling pleased that I had persisted.
*The Girls, by Lisa Jewell. HB from Random House, RRP $39.99
This developed into an engrossing read. It is loosely in the form of a multiple narrative, with the main narrators Clare, and Adele, although with some other variety, including letters form Pip. The unfolding of the drama is not sequential, with episodes before, and after as what happened to Grace on the evening of her thirteenth birthday unfolds. In the process we learn lots about the nature of life on Virginia Terrace and Crescent, and in the communal areas which the community shared. We follow the lives of Clare and her two daughters, and gradually the events which led to Clare’s estrangement from her husband Chris, are explained. We learn about the hippy lifestyle which Adele has adopted, with her husband Leo and their three daughters, and how the other young teenagers of the area fit in. I thought originally that it was a book for teenagers, but really it is adult fiction and reveals many of the issues which face many families, and women in particular. It may also appeal to older teenage girls of maybe 15 and over.
The world without us, by Mireille Juchau. PB from Bloomsbury, RRP $29.99
Tess Muller has become an elective mute. She has a younger sister Meg, and together the two girls are concerned about why their mother Evangeline goes for a daily walk pushing an empty pram. There is an omniscient narrator to this story—however this did not help to explain the intensity of the story, or all the moodiness and heavy emotion. I did not enjoy the story.
Invisible woman, Taking on the Vintage Years, by Helen Walmsley-Johnson. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
The author did not have an easy start to life and later it was not always easy to make a living. Her latest and most successful job is to write a column about ‘vintage years’ for the English Guardian newspaper. This column covered a range of topics including issues about ageing, work, fashion and family matters. It has been said that ageing is not for sissies—a lot of this book is humorous, some is advice about what to avoid as you age gracefully. It is probably a book best directed to women who are past middle age—given of course that it is only the woman involved who can decide when she has reached that point!
***The Lighthouse, by P.D James. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99
The story is about a murder or suicide on a small holiday island off the Cornish coast. With only a handful of staff and guests around, it should be a relatively easy case for Adam Dalgliesh to solve. P.D. James is an old style mystery writer. During the course of the novel you begin to suspect everybody, only to find at the finish that there are a few twists and turns you have missed. This is a very enjoyable, well-constructed and intriguing story. Both good English, and very British.
Flood of Fire, by Amitov Ghosh. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This historical novel is set in the 1840s in India and China. The story is based around the start of the opium wars where England set out to establish trading bases in China. England had been buying huge quantities of Chinese tea and the merchants needed to sell opium to China to get their money back. The book is the final of the Ibis trilogy and it took a bit of time to place the characters because I had not read the earlier volumes. There are a lot of Indian names and slang terms which do not mean much to English speakers. The range of characters, races and the amount of history together make for an epic book which is well worth reading in its own right. If nothing else it is a pleasant way to understand a bit more of the history of the Asian region.
**All Together Now, by Gill Hornby. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Bridgeport is a small town outside London. The town and its people are going through a trough economically, and seems to have lost its heart, with so many closed businesses. The local choir was only just surviving when a membership drive brought in a few people who needed something to revive their lives. Bennett used to be a choir boy, but has been laid off from his work, and this proves the incentive for his wife to leave him. Tracey is just existing, with an uninteresting job and her young son not interested to find a job. All Together Now shows how a small community can pull together. It is an uplifting and amusing story, and an enjoyable book.
***Black Rabbit Hall, by Eve Chase. PB from Penguin. RRP $$32.99
Black Rabbit Hall is the name the Alton family call their rambling Cornish home, once a wealthy family seat, but now used as a holiday house. The clocks are unreliable, but this never seems to matter. Time is not important when you are holidaying as a happy family. Life goes awry when the childrens’ mother is killed in a riding accident and it is not long before the children start to plot against their new stepmother. Thirty years later, Lorna Smith is looking for a place with a difference to hold her wedding celebrations and feels a connection to Back Rabbit Hall, only to find, as with everyone else, that the strands come together in unexpected ways. This is a classic English mystery, with families, old houses and an unpredictable ending. Excellent reading.
Close to Home, by Pamela Cook. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Charlie Anderson is a vet, and loves her work. When he is called to a small town where her family originated, it is to investigate a possible outbreak of the Hendra virus, which is deadly to horses, and sometimes to humans. The story unfolds easily, and predictably, with a romantic attachment, as well as tensions within her extended family. It is an OK read, but a tad too predictable.
*The Homestead Girls, by Fiona McArthur. PB from Penguin RRP $32.99
Part of the strength of this story comes from the author’s background as a rural midwife and her knowledge of the flying doctor service, and life in outback Australia. The characters are well rounded, the action and environmental descriptions interesting and appealing. The result is a plausible story which stays with you long after the novel is finished. Recommended for a good holiday read.
Wicked Charms, by Janet Evanovich, and Phoef Sutton. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This is another with Lizzy and Diesel as the principals. Lizzy is the steady one, and Diesel, as always, wants action. The story is about the hunt for a lost pirate treasure, somewhere off the coast of New England, in the US. It is easy to read, almost too easy to read. The plot is predictable, and lacks the ability to grab and hold the reader. Maybe it is my aversion to stories which are co-written too— try it if you are a fan of the principal author.
****I Saw a Man, by Owen Sheers, PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This is a story, mainly about two men, who are linked only by a tragedy. The story evolves into a complex, but enthralling story of how people interact with each other. Michael Turner and Caroline had married after both had experienced unsettling careers. He was a writer and would immerse himself totally in his current story; she was a journalist who covered war zone stories. Their domestic peace and harmony was shattered when Caroline was killed by an unmanned American drone, while in Pakistan. Most of the story shows how Michael tries to rebuild a life when he befriends the family who live next to them in London. Daniel was the American who controlled the drone. His name and role in the tragedy was covered up by the military, but it finished his career, and he left his family to find peace with himself. It is a vivid and gripping book about guilt and redemption. The topic might sound depressing but the story contains excellent detailed scenarios of the dilemmas and friendships which occur in contemporary life.
*Himmler’s Cook, by Franz-Olivier Giesbert. PB from Atlantic and Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99
Rose was born in Armenia and grew up at the time of the genocide of the Armenian people by the Turks prior to World War 2. Her story becomes one of survival, from very tough beginnings, told as episodes from her diary, and flicking from past to present as she battled to survive and make a life for herself. From Rose’s life we learn of life in Marseilles during the war, of the twelve months she spent as cook for Himmler towards the end of the war, and then how Rose travels the world– to China, at the time when Mao was gaining power, and finally to America. We also learn of Theo, Rose’s pet, and how Theo supported Rose to remain strong and convinced that she could cope. It is not an easy story, because it jumps about, but it is really interesting, and backed up with substantially historically accurate material. The translation from the French has been expertly handled.
*A Quiet End, by Nelson DeMille. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
John Corey is a rather Maverick style Federal agent. This is the third thriller about him and here, Corey has been given the easy job of surveillance of soviet agents around New York. The agency felt that such a job would keep him out of their hair. Corey is matched with Tess, who appears as an inexperienced trainee. When the Russian delegate changes his routine and heads out of the city events become interesting and suddenly develop into a nuclear threat to New York. It is an exciting story that is well written–the only thing you always know is that the bomb will not go off! The unknown is how Corey will stop this happening. ..
****My Grandmother sends her regards and apologises, by Fredrik Backman. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Here we have an intelligent, but grieving seven year old girl as the narrator. Elsa is grieving because of the death of her beloved companion and grandmother, with whom she speaks in a secret language, and who tells Elsa the most wonderfully exciting and comforting stories about the Land of Almost Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas. Following Granny’s death, Elsa is charged to find a series of letters Granny has left for various people whom she knew very well in her life—ostensibly to apologise for her past actions, but also to ensure that there is a link between these people and Elsa, because Elsa’s mother, like her mother before her, has been mostly an absent parent. And Elsa is only seven. I loved this story. Parts of the action are complicated, as are some of Granny’s stories, but it all coalesces at the end of the book, and it has been the most enjoyable book for the month for me. It would also be appropriate for older teenagers of 14 and over.
***The Unbroken Line, by Alex Hammond. PB from Penguin. RRP $32.99
The author is promoted, on the cover of the book as “the Australian John Grisham”. The story features Will Harris who has a legal background and the plot centres around how corruption can become entrenched at all levels of society. As Will Harris is struggling to establish his legal practice his partner seems to be living a fast social life and not pulling in enough work to the practice. Will agrees to help the troubled son of family friends, and also, to do some borderline unethical work for a mobster family. It is a fast running story, really well done, and probably the author is deserving of the comment on the cover of the book! The setting leads to some unexpected areas of Melbourne and is at times violent. Excellent reading.
Peg Plunkett, Memoirs of a Whore, by Julie Peakman. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Peg Plunkett was Irish and had to deal with all the issues which were rife in that country in the 1800s. It was a time of famine, oppression from England, and the Catholic Church had rigid and unsympathetic attitudes to an unmarried woman who could easily be compromised. Peg was a woman who did not always make good decisions about men, but was always looking for someone who could provide for her. Starting from a violent domestic background, she eventually made her life as a courtesan and ended up as madam of a brothel. It is more a social history of the era than an exotic tale.
**The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Thaniel Steepleton is a telegraphist in the Home Office. He leads a dull life and has no prospects. One night he returns home to a reverse robbery—someone has left a watch on his bed. The alarm which is set into this watch saves Thaniel’s life, as it gets him out of the office before a bomb explodes. Thaniel then goes looking for the watchmaker, Keita Mori, a lonely Japanese genius with the ability to predict the future. This was an intriguing story, different and entertaining, with some genius, and pleasing flights of fancy.
This house is Not for Sale, by E.C. Osondu. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This story is set in Africa, in Nigeria, and is a very African story, with lots of twists– and often it was hard to find links. I did not find the story coherent.
*When the Doves Disappeared, by Sofi Oksanen, PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99
Estonia has had an unhappy and disrupted history. For long periods the country was under the control of either the Nazis or communist Russia. The Germany Army threw out the Russians in the early 1940s, but towards the end of the war, the communists regained control. It was difficult to remain as a freedom fighter for Estonia. This is the story of people who had to decide their priorities for the future, and to fight for them. It was not an easy book to read but it does leave the reader with greater knowledge of the history of a country which we found to be a delight to visit.
The Festival of Insignificance, by Milan Kundera. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
This is seen by some reviewers as a very clever and significant story, in that it presents some serious ideas in a very unserious way. I certainly found the unserious, but the rest of it, with the conversations between the various characters did not grab me in any way whatever.
God help the Child, by Toni Morrison. HB from Random House. RRP $29.99
This was not an easy book to read. Set in Africa, it portrays the life of several women-Bridewell. Sweetness, Lulu and Raim. Throughout, there is the desire to be good, to be wholesome, and for the children, there has been some happiness. There is also Booker, and at the end of the story, it is Booker, and Bride who hold the hope that for the next generation, perhaps there will be none of the childhood abuse, domestic violence, racism, or anorexia which have persisted through several generations, and as a consequence, surfaced in different forms for each generation.
Relativity, by Antonia Hayes. PB from Penguin. RRP $32.99
Ethan is an exceptionally talented twelve year old, obsessed with physics and astronomy. Eventually he is considered to be a savant (commonly regarded as being on the autistic spectrum). Life has been difficult, with his father accused and convicted of harming his son by shaking him. Father spent time in prison, and then was prevented from family contact. Ethan can understand and feel physics, but finds fitting into the social life of school very difficult. His only friend is a vivacious young girl who has epilepsy. It is interesting to follow how children think, the gifts they inherit from parents and the mistakes made in families. At times the story is uplifting, but the ending is sad.