September-October 2015: New adult books reviewed by Janet Croft

September-October 2015: New adult books reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the reading…..

Non-fiction

It is a bit unusual for me to review cookbooks, but here are three….

*Lindt Excellence, Dark, the best ever recipes. Padded HB from Jacqui Small and Larousse and released by Murdoch Books. RRP about $18

When I opened the mail to find this small book included, I thought it was a block of Lindt chocolate! It is a deliberate ploy on the part of the sponsors, because it is really a small book of classy recipes for all sorts of chocolate goodies. I decided the best way to review it was to make one of the recipes, so chose the chocolate macaroon recipe in which the macaroons are made, then joined in pairs with a rich ganache, or filling, of chocolate and cream. I had all of the ingredients, (which are simple to obtain), the directions were easy to follow and the results delectable, and moorish. There was one instruction—to mix the icing sugar with the ground almonds and put on baking paper in the oven for 5-10 minutes; this move seemed to serve little purpose, but otherwise all was straightforward and simple. A great book to buy for keen home chefs, and chocolate lovers.

Meatballs, by Matteo Bruno. HB from Murdoch Books. RRP $35

This is a selection of 60 recipes for all types of meatballs—from vegetarian recipes which use tofu, beans, mushrooms and quinoa, to pork, lobster and all meats-and there are some extraordinary recipes. There are also some sauces and garnish recipes at the back, to accompany the main course. Again, I decided to try one—the honey glazed chicken. The result was fine, and very pleasant to eat, but for me there were too many minor ingredients, and I could not source ‘Japanese style breadcrumbs’. Storing the balls in the fridge for them to firm up, and cooking them was also fiddly. It would have to be a special occasion for me to bother with all of this—I felt that it is a recipe, and probably book, for those who do lots of cooking—probably better suited to a restaurant although the recipes contain some great ideas for home cooks too.

**Sugar Free Cooking, by Sue Quinn. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99

This is one of four in a series called “Healthy Eating series” from Hachette. It has a range of interesting recipes form breakfast to snacks, all with the goal of replacing sugar with either wholegrains or fruit—with the acknowledgement that dried fruit does contain sugar— but also has the fibre with it. Quite a few of the recipes require fruit, or dried fruit to be blitzed in a processor. I particularly like the double page guide on simple ways to bypass sugar which comes at the front of the book and the list of fruits with less than 10 g sugar per hundred grams. Overall it is a very useful small book.

Forged from Silver Dollar. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99

This is a saga of a family, and their survival in Communist China in the middle years of the twentieth century. Silver Dollar was the first of four generations of strong women—she was sold into a loveless marriage at the age of 13. The hardships endured by Silver Dollar and her descendants—poverty, persecution and imprisonment for example- only made the family stronger in the long run—the author now lives in Australia after her mother never gave up hope of a better life for herself and her children. Each generation of women showed immense strength of character to persevere and survive for so long under such a thankless and unforgiving regime.

What My Daughters Taught Me, by Joseph Wakim. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

This book was probably cathartic to write for the author, who had endured the illness and death of his wife, when his three daughters were still very young. He then raised his three girls by himself, and this is the story of their years together. It is possible that his experiences may offer some comfort and help to others who find themselves in a situation similar to his. I found some of the reflections overly sentimental, and drawn out, but admire the stamina and openness of the author as he discusses his life as a sole parent.

**The Shearers, by Evan McHugh. PB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $32.99

Evan McHugh has written about ten books based on areas of Australian social history, and in particular, outback rural areas and people. From the earliest days of sheep in Australia, the workforce associated with sheep has been a strong Australian industry. The shearers were originally itinerate workers, who shore with blade or hand clippers. The book is all about the character, the gun (best in shed) shearers as the industry developed and the gear moved to machine shearing. There were several long workers’ strikes as the shearers sought to improve their working conditions. Both the Labour Party and the National Party developed at this time, and partly as a means to resolve these strikes. It is an excellent book which will have greatest appeal to readers in rural areas.

Lasseter’s Gold, by Warren Brown. PB from Hachette. RRP $35

One of the great unsolved mysteries in the history of gold mining in Australia is the location of the reef of gold as thick as plums in a pudding, as described by Harold Bell Lasseter, a fifty year old prospector who claimed to have almost lost his life in the process, as he travelled around the Northern Territory, Western Australian border—some of Australia’s most inhospitable country. Thirty years later, Lasseter assembled a very mixed team of characters to finance, and search to find the reef again. The book tells of the failed expedition, the hardships and the inconsistencies of Lasseter’s character. The difficulties become uninteresting but the book leaves you doubting Lasseter, and the existence of any such reef. It was interesting reading, and doubtless many would be modern- day prospectors are still searching.

*When We were Young and Foolish. By Greg Sheridan. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

Journalists seem to be aware of the most interesting people and events of any particular era. Greg Sheridan went to university and was friends with Tony Abbott. He worked at the Bulletin magazine with Bob Carr and Malcolm Turnbull and spent time in China when Kevin Rudd was working for the embassy there. Raised a catholic, he talks about how such an upbringing has affected his outlook on life and events. I always find this style of book interesting and enjoyable; it is easy to read, is contemporary and a bit voyeuristic for us plebs; includes a bit of scandal, and also helps to jog the memory about events in the not too distant past.

The Sex Myth, by Rachel Hills. PB from Penguin   RRp $32.99

This would be an interesting– if somewhat confronting book for some—book to discuss at some of the local book clubs around Australia. The subtitle is ‘the gap between our fantasies and reality”. The author became aware as a young woman that it was important to understand sex, sexual habits myths and opinions in order to follow and survive in modern society and to feel empowered as an individual. Hills interviewed more than 200 people about a wide range of issues and seeks to have readers understand that what the individual feels and wants is valid, in spite of differences from other people. There is an interesting list of topics for discussion at the end of the book—this would also be a helpful book for upper high school PDHPE classes.

*Just your Average Muslim, by Zia Chaudry. PB from Faber and Allen and Unwin. RRP $21.99

This is part autobiography, part commentary. Chaudry is a British born and educated barrister of Pakistani stock. We learn of his early life in east Lancashire, of his schooling, of how, in his family and clan, while Islam was accepted as their religion, it was not openly practised or considered significant to daily life when he was young. We learn of how for Zia, his faith came alive in his later teenage years, and that he has continue to be a thoughtful and liberal Islamic thinker who is now strongly involved with interfaith dialogue in Britain, and continues to be a moderate and progressive thinker who maintains that interpretation of the Koran must fit with the realities of modern living. I found the book easy to read, and interesting.

Adventures in Human Being, by Gavin Francis. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

The author is a doctor, and has produced a thoughtful and insightful book about our bodies. He uses anonymous examples from his practice–and his knowledge of anatomy and philosophy and psychology — to illustrate firstly how wonderful are our bodies, and secondly, how our mind and emotional well-being can influence our state of health. It is a brilliant, easy to read book, and suitable for other medicos as well as for the interested layman.

****Neurotribes, by Steve Silberman. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $35

The subtitle for this book is “The legacy of autism and how to think smarter about people who think differently”. I found the book fascinating from beginning to end. There has been much conjecture and discussion over the past fifteen or so years about whether ‘autism’ is occurring more frequently in the population, and if so, then why. Silverman probes the first documented stories of people with autistic behaviours, and what happened to them. He outlines the work of Hans Asperger, and his ‘little professors’, and later ties Asperger’s long forgotten work in with that of a more recent British researcher Lorna Wing. He also presents a detailed but scathing and distressing analysis of what happened to anyone who deviated from so- called normal in fascist Germany before and during World War 2. In the process he also outlines the lengths to which one Leo Kanner in the USA managed to suppress for almost half a century, worthwhile and credible findings about children and adults who presented with behaviours which were considered outside the normal range. Once autism was included in the American DSM, the proliferation of diagnoses was rapid, and it has only been since then that some serious efforts, such as those of Lorna Wing, have been made to show that many of the so-called autistic behaviours are found in people around the world, and that in reality, without these people with touches, or more than touches of genius, most modern technologies might not exist. Thus the author discusses a spectrum, and a range of behaviours, which he terms neurodiversity, and states that we need to learn to accommodate most of these behaviours as human, and normal whilst offering assistance to those whom, for some reason, need to learn to express themselves in a way which is meaningful for the rest of us as well as themselves.

Modern romance, by Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg. HB from Penguin. RRP $39.99

The author evidently is a stand up comedian, but here he discussed various aspects of modern romance, via interviews he had with lots of volunteers from all degrees of the sexual spectrum. He is interested to see how technology, and in particular, text messages, Internet dating, and social media have influenced the concept of romance in our time. I had not expected the book to have such a serious approach, but found some of it quite interesting. The book is written in a discursive and conversationalist tone, which makes it easier to read. I found myself skipping over some items where the nature of the relationships had no appeal for me, but other segments were interesting. I cannot think however, of a wide audience for the book—maybe more for those who work in relationship counselling and guidance.

Fiction

**You don’t have to live like this, by Benjamin Markovits. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

Detroit had been a city of three million people, which was ruined by the global financial crisis of 2008-9. A large percentage of the city was abandoned, fewer than one million people remained and there were few jobs or prospects. A few wealthy Americans decided to buy up large tracts of the city, in a modern pioneering experiment. Greg Mariner was ex-Yale and Oxford. He was drifting somewhat in life when he was approached to be part of the experiment to resurrect and restart parts of Detroit. It is an interesting book about how American society evolves, with relationships between newcomers and the existing population, blacks and white and the fact-accepted in the city- that you need a gun if you are going to live there. It is quite a sophisticated novel about people, based in recent history, and I enjoyed reading it.

***The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

In early years of American settlement and expansion, travelling showmen and women went all over the country, and stayed for a few days in each town they reached. They married within the travelling families and taught the next generation their tricks and skills. The head of each troupe kept his records in a book, which showed the births, deaths and marriages, financial records and notes about good and bad times. Simon Watson is a librarian who receives one of these books from an unknown antiquarian bookseller. This novel slowly unravels the connections between the families over generations. It is a fascinating book, which makes you want to have your fortune told by an old crone in a caravan. Top reading.

The Taming of the Queen, by Philippa Gregory. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $32.99

Historical novels offer an interesting snapshot of another era—but often leave you feeling that life is much better today than previously! Kateryn Parr was a thirty-year-old widow of an arranged marriage, with two children, who was in an affair with Thomas Seymour, member of the aristocracy, womaniser, and head of the king’s navy. Henry V111 has had five wives to date, and a history of either divorcing or beheading them. By the time he orders Kateryn to marry him he is diseased with syphilis, grossly fat and convinced he is God’s representative for England. He was an appalling man. Kateryn educates herself in French and Latin, and wishes to translate church services and prayers into English because Latin is not understood by the average person and the Catholic Church is both corrupt and has been renounced by Henry. The book is not easy to read, but it is interesting, especially the comments about the relationship between churches and state.

***Palace of Tears, by Julian Leatherdale. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

The blurb on the cover of this book was ‘with twists upon twists this….story withholds its mysteries to the very end’. Yes, it does. The story, set in a grand hotel on a precipice of the Blue Mountains behind Sydney is well written; it depicts beautiful imagery from Australia’s high country. The characters too are realistic and rounded. Adam Fox, an egotistical hotelier, believes in his dreams that he will bring style and elegance to the Blue Mountains through the creation of the hotel, which locals however call ”Foxes Folly’. There is plenty of drama, disaster, death and destruction as the story of the present, and past generations unfolds. A gripping read and I loved it.

Leonora, by Elena Poniatowska. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $$27.99

This review has taken a long time, because the book was not easy to read, nor enjoyable. It is a complicated story based on events and people in the art world, in Paris, Spain and later in Mexico. Most of the events occurred around the time of the Second World War, but I lost the plot.

Private Sydney, by James Patterson and Kathryn fox. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

***Craig Gisto runs Private Sydney, a well-resourced and active investigation agency with strong police connections. Eric Moss is the CEO of a high profile research company which works for the government. Eric is a very private man who operates in an old fashioned manner, with handshake deals and very close relationships with his staff. When Eric resigns by email – something nobody expected – he disappears with even contacting his daughter who works with him. This is an Australian based story of intrigue, explosions, murders and a kidnapping. Gisto could be in trouble if he can’t solve the cases. It is another easy to read and gripping story from a world-renowned author.

**The Heart goes Last, by Margaret Atwood. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP about $32.99

Stan and Charmaine are barely surviving. It is hard to find work; they live in their car and are considering their final options, which are crime and prostitution. They apply to join a social experiment, called “Consilience”, which is a sort of 1984s closed community where they spend one month working with house provided. The other month is spent in prison, which is seen as giving up their freedom. They share their house with another couple, turn about, and the two couple not meant to meet or interact. It is an imaginative story, erotic at times, and I found it a bit frightening to see how such an experiment can become corrupted. The author is a most accomplished writer, and her books always have unexpected twists. Nevertheless it was entertaining reading as you can never work out where the story is going, or how it will finish.

***Harry Mac, by Russell Eldridge. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

This is another of the ‘read it, love it or your money back books’. This has been a very successful marketing ploy, because I have not found one of the books so labelled that I have not enjoyed. The story is seen through Tom’s eyes, in the era of apartheid in South Africa. Tom hears his father Harry Mac telling someone part of a plot to assassinate the country’s leader, and so to Tom’s mind, his family is on the verge of upheaval. His father, who is the editor of a local newspaper which makes political comments against the government, is Tom’s idol. This a kid living life on a knife’s edge, as unpleasant events have begun to occur in their neighbourhood. Tom has both physical and emotional problems, and as all events are seen from his point of view we see life as confused and at times naïve. Tom has one great comfort in his life—his next-door neighbour and best friend Millie– as adults seem too complicated. Highly recommended for a fascinating, yet at times confronting read.

The Sniper and the Wolf, by Scott McEwen, with Thomas Koloniar. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99

This is a very up to date military thriller where SEAL team sniper Gil Shannon teams up with an unusual ally, Russian agent Dragunov, to stop the Chechen rebels, led by Russia’s equivalent to Bin Laden. The Chechen- Dokka Umarov- plans to bomb the oil pipelines which run from the Caspian Sea through Georgia to Turkey. Bombing this very important pipeline would throw the world’s oil supply into chaos. It is all action and the geography rangers from the Caucasus, to Moscow, Cuba, Mexico and the USA. The story is well written, if you like all this action. The body count must average one dead per page.

****The Secret Years, by Barbara Hannay. PB from Penguin. RRP $32.99

Lucy Hunter is a soldier who has served a term in Afghanistan, and has come home to Townsville to see her beloved grandfather and her restless and unsettled mother. High on Lucy’s list is to reconnect with her boyfriend. The characters and action cover three generations, two wars and two countries. Lucy’s family has been a bit of a mystery—her grandfather never talks about his active role in WW2, but there are medals and photos of a beautiful girl when Lucy finds a box of memorabilia. Ro is Lucy’s mum; she was forced by her widowed father to go and live with the English branch of the family—she hated it and never spoke of a scandal which occurred. The story is Australian romance at its best—realistic and well written, with an ending in the final few pages, which will leave you happy.

Signs for Lost children, by Sarah Moss. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99

Tom Cavendish is an engineer who works for a company which builds lighthouses. Only a few weeks after he is married, he is sent to Japan for six months. His wife is a doctor, one of the few women so to qualify in the 1880s. She is interested in mental health, why people are declared insane and whether they can be cured. Because of the long separation for the couple, their lives while apart are told as alternating narratives. Each worries about how their lives will come back together. It is an interesting story about both the lives of the characters and their historical era.

Hush Little Bird, by Nicole Trope. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

This is quite an unusual story which takes a while to unfold. The two women, Birdy and Rose are in prison for serious crimes, committed in what turn out to have been mitigating circumstances. Rose had a high profile marriage to a TV star, while Birdy was a young girl who lived next door. Her mother could not cope with her and used to send her next door to Rose and Simon. It is a story of what can happen to young helpless girls and is a compelling story as you come to understand what has occurred and makes you aware and sensitive to the devastation and hidden heartbreak caused by the criminal paedophilic behaviours of previously esteemed and notable TV and other celebrities.

Career Game, by Louise Mensch. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

A story of two women Topaz Rossi and Rowena Krebs. Both have made it to the top in their professions of music and journalism, and have both married successful and handsome men. The stories of their lives involve glitz, glamour and sex scandals and while this may appeal to some, it was just not my scene.

***Kingdom of the Strong, by Tony Kavanaugh. PB from Hachette. RRP   $29.99

Darian Richards was the head of Victoria’s homicide Squad, with a record second to none. He burnt out, and retired, with the wish to avoid any more policing for the rest of his life. The police commissioner has tracked him down to clear up a very old case; a young girl had been tricked into importing a package of cocaine form South America. She became involved with an evil teacher, a property developer and four young police and was on the edge of real trouble. Isobel Vine is murdered in strange circumstances, which just could have been suicide. One of the young policemen has now risen up the ranks and is in line to become the next commissioner. Darian Richards comes up with an unexpected solution; it is another excellent Australian based read.

****The Melody lingers on, by Mary Higgins Clark. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $32.99

Parker Bennett is a disgraced New York fund manager who made five billion dollars disappear before he either drowned or disappeared himself. The FBI, the small investors who had their lives ruined, all want him and the money found. All are convinced his wife and son were involved with the disappearance. Lane Harmon is a young widower whose job is to supervise a modest redecorating of the apartment of Parker Bennett’s mother. This is a pleasantly written story about truth or innocence; the ending is fast moving, and in some ways predictable. It is always a pleasure to read another superb story from this talented author.

*In my house, by Alex Hourston. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

Maggie is single, and estranged from her daughters and ex-husband. She lives quietly in London and her friends are the people she has met while out walking her dog. She has work, and enjoys this quiet unstressed life. When she returns to Gatwick, after a walking holiday, she is approached by a young Albanian refugee, Anja. While there is some doubt whether this young and pregnant girl is involved in some sex slave scheme, Maggie is happy to provide Anja with some house cleaning work, both for herself and with some of her friends. Maggie and Anja become closer—Maggie needs some company and Anja needs help, but is reluctant to become too close. It is an unusual story about the relationships between ordinary people—not exciting, but does show the moral choices people need to make to stay true to themselves. Good reading.

The Silent Hours, by Cesca Major. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

This is a complex story that is mostly set in wartime France. The three main characters all lived in the small village near Limoges where the Nazis killed 640 men, women and children and it is a novel based on this event. Adeline’s version is told after the event when she is living in a convent in the 1950s, is mute, and is one of the few survivors of the massacre. Tristan is a nine-year-old boy whose family are refugees from Paris. I found the book difficult to follow as each chapter moved to a difference narrative. It is yet another war based story, but I did not find it enjoyable or sufficiently interesting to persist.

 

 

 

 

 

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