Adult Book Reviews May 2016. Reviewed by Janet Croft
The more stars, the better the read!
Non-fiction*The End of Alchemy, by Mervyn King. PB from Little Brown and Hachette. RRP about $45
Mervyn King joined the Bank of England in 1991 as Chief economist and its governor from 2003 till 2013. This period included the Global Financial Crisis, the worst period the industrialized world ahs experienced. In this book he covers the reasons for the crisis, the events and details of the relationships among world economies. He also discusses what really needs to happen to prevent another crisis. Probably the keenest readers of the book will be economists but there is a lot of knowledge and understanding of events which will also appeal to interested members of the public. I think the main thing I learned was that a problem for any one nation will now impact many other countries—that economic management is now a worldwide issue. A lot of the book was hard going for me, but I enjoyed the breadth of ideas presented and discussed although I had trouble with the complexity of Chinese savings habits, and how they relate to America’s belief that America is the superior nation.
*****Shakespeare and Me, ed. by Susannah Carson. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $21.99
The four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare is an appropriate time for the release of a book such as this anthology of articles about the impact Shakespeare has had on those who have presented his dramas—either as actors or directors, and producers. In the foreword to the book Harold Bloom, an American Professor of Humanities and English at Yale, comments that we can never know the motives behind Shakespeare works, but we learn about ourselves in these plays, as well as about Shakespeare’s world. There has been discussion recently on the occasion of the anniversary about the continued relevance of the bard to our modern life. In this book there are forty articles from people who have lived, worked and breathed aspects of Shakespeare in their professional lives. It is a wonderful collection. I used the index to uncover attitudes to Julius Caesar, and the links I found have enriched my knowledge and understanding of the play, its characters, and its relevance to attitudes to war, peace, ethics and democracy. This is a book which MUST be in all secondary school libraries to provide enrichment for students and teachers alike. This is my top book of the month!
**A Sunburnt Childhood, by Toni Tapp Coutts. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This is the story of an atypical upbringing of a large family of Australian children. Toni Tapp Coutts and her nine brothers and sisters were raised on Killarney Station in the Northern Territory, a very large and isolated cattle station. Life in the early years there sounds like the pioneering days of the 1800s. Her stepfather bought Killarney in the 1960s, but there was no homestead, no electricity, running water or phone. Over the years whilst the buildings and facilities gradually improved, the children continued to live what we might call an unfettered life with their friends from the Aboriginal families who worked on the station, as stockmen and house help, together with often alcoholic white workmen who wanted to be away from the world. In between roaming at will, camping either in the house, or out in the bush or in the camps of the local families, the children did school by correspondence for years, and learned to be capable at stock work as well. The author reminiscences with pleasure about the happy childhood they all had, and the story is excellent reading for an accurate picture of life in outback northern Australia over 50 years ago.
Street of Eternal Happiness, by Rob Schultz. PB from Hachette. RRP $35
Rob Schultz is an American journalist who has spent years in China, and speaks the language. His book is a look at how the people in his old street in Shanghai live, and how their lives have been changed by the huge developments in Chinese politics over the past fifty or so years. The peasants in old China often lived a terrible life, if not because of wars, then from droughts, floods or pestilence. Chairman Mao changed China but in the process he also killed some thirty million people. This book gives some insights on modern China and how people have coped with their lives—is China now still really communist or have they moved to a capitalist society? At times the story of the people in the street is enlightening, at times it is sad, but it is also a look at their hopes for their future. Interesting reading.
**A Cabinet of Philosophical curiosities, by Roy Sorensen. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99
This collection of puzzles, oddities riddles and dilemmas ranges from delightful small stories to some heavy philosophical ideas and comments. It is a book to enjoy in short bursts—I needed two bookmarks as the answers are at the back of the book. If you enjoy collecting odd trivia and riddles, then this book is a pleasure. Probably one third of the book was incomprehensible to me because the philosophical ideas were beyond my ken, but the rest has been a delight and has had me pondering answers and solutions for hours at a time. It will be a good book to leave on a bedside table for guests…..
**Rosetta, by Alexandra Joel. PB from Penguin Random House. RRP $34.99
The subtitle of this book is “ A Scandalous True Story”. Rosetta was a young Jewish girl from a sheltered background in Melbourne. Her first arranged marriage was not a success, despite the birth of a daughter. Rosetta was beautiful, headstrong and looking for more out of life. She found this in Zend the Magnificent, a half-Chinese magician and seducer of wealthy women. Zend was uncanny in his ability to tell people what they wanted to hear about themselves. When the world began to catch up with Zend in Sydney and Melbourne, the couple moved to London and befriended –and exploited- many wealthy and titled people there. The story is categorized as biography—Alexandra Joel is a great granddaughter of Rosetta although her grandmother, who was abandoned as a child, never saw her mother again. A lot of Rosetta’s life was scandalous but she lived it to the hilt, and died a wealthy woman. The story makes interesting and at times amusing reading about a lifestyle which would not appeal to many of us.
Shtum, by Jem Lester. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Jonah is a profoundly autistic ten-year-old boy, who has ever spoken, remains incontinent and requires 24-hour care. When his parents agree to separate so that there may be some chance that Jonah will then become eligible for a live in residential placement, Jonah and his father Ben move in with Ben’s father as a temporary measure. This book has been compared with that about another autistic child, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the nighttime.” I have read both books, but to me there is little similarity between them because this book centres more on Ben and his problems than on Jonah. I did not find any humour in the story. Life with an autistic child is never easy, but to persevere with this recital of all the woes and few successes was also not easy.
The Photographer’s Wife, by Suzanne Joinson. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $27.99
Eleven-year-old Prudence is sent out to Jerusalem to stay with her father in the period between the two world wars. 1920 was an unstable time—the British and Germans were playing political games, Jerusalem was the usual mix of Jews, Arabs and Armenians, and all were spying on each other. Years later, in 1937, after Prudence had married and was living in England, her organized life was again interrupted by people and events from her 1920’s life. It is a story of the intrigues of that era with a lot of emotion, and many betrayals. I had difficulty tying all the bits of the story together.
**The Lovers’ Guide to Rome, by Mark Lamprell. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
This is a light-hearted story of three couples—quite separate each from the others, but all have travelled to Rome for their personal satisfaction in some way. Meg and Alex have raised their family and are beginning to drift apart. What will spark them up? Alice is a young American artist who has come to Italy hoping to become content with her reliable and safe boyfriend. Constance and Lizzie are two formidable English ladies—sisters-in law– who are in Rome to scatter Henry’s ashes. The only connection between the three couples is the hotel where they all stay, and the novel switches from one narrative to another. I found it easy and pleasurable to switch between the stories, and the result is an amusing novel which presents many of the attractions so Rome in a novel and appealing manner.
*The Steel Kiss, by Jeffrey Deaver. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Lincoln Rhyme is a paraplegic forensic detective; this is Deaver’s thirteenth thriller in which Amelia Sachs and the best of the New York Police Department work with Lincoln Rhyme to sort out what is happening. People have been dying because of apparent malfunctions of public equipment such as escalators. The action is viewed from several perspectives. There appear to be connections between the deaths and the murderer Vincent is determined to extract revenge: he likes to watch his accidents happen and his targets die. As always the plot is ambitious and complicated, there is heaps of action and a surprising ending. I find Jeffrey Deaver the most appealing and readable of the American thriller writers.
**No Mortal thing by Geoffrey Seymour. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
The Mafia or Ndrangheta families need to place their proceeds of crime into legitimate businesses, so send Marcantonio to Germany. He is the smart but vicious grandson of one of the families and he is to learn the placement aspect of the business. He is unable to resist a simple episode of extortion and a vicious assault. Jago was brought up tough in London, and is a smart young banker who is also sent to Germany for training. Jago witnesses the assault by Marcantonio, but when he receives no support from the local police he determines to take some action himself. The story is about the relentless power of the crime families and how one person can sometimes achieve more effective results against them than the unresponsive police. It is a very good story from another master storyteller, with lots of action and details about known activities of the mafia.
***The Secret Heiress, by Luke Devenish. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99
Set in Australia in colonial times, this dramatic tale has more twists in the tale than a screw. The plot begins to unfold on the day Ida Garfield is to start work at Summersby House, ostensibly as a housemaid, but possibly more because Ida is incurably curious; in fact the mistress of the house is found dead the morning that Ida is to commence work. The story involves the housemaids and servants from a country estate as well as twins and the wealthy friends and fiancé of the late mistress. The final revelation is surprising, but heartwarming and brings the story to a highly satisfying conclusion. A great read!
The Darling Songbirds, by Rachael Herron. PB from Bantam and Penguin/Random House. RRP $32.99
After the musical group the Darling Songbirds broke up unexpectedly following their father’s sudden death, Adele Darling returns to the sleepy village of Darling Bay where her late uncle Hugh owned and ran the family pub—the pub has now been bequeathed to Adele and her two sisters. What Adele finds is a wreck of a business, and a very disappointed barman who had believed that he would inherit the hotel. Is it possible that such a run down hotel can bring the sisters back together again, and more, to make a living for themselves? It’s a readable novel, with an authentic feel to the story, both in the relationships and how they function, in the thread of musical performance and the nomadic lives led by many musicians.
The Travelers, by Chris Pavone. PB from Allen and Unwin.. RRP $29.99
The Travelers is a thriller where the action roams the globe. Will Rhodes works for Travelers as a journalist and is researching at a resort in Argentina when he realizes that he has been targeted and trapped in the proverbial honey pot. He is put into a very dubious position, and has to lie to his wife about his life and finances. The action spreads further as Rhodes finds himself involved with a large company whose records are incomplete and is faced with intrigue as well as betrayal. It is a complicated story, and although I enjoyed reading the story I still felt confused about the roles of the characters. Maybe this was the author’s intent.
Ruins, by Rajith Savanadasa. PB from Hachette. RRP $27.99
This story tells of life in the so-called New Sri Lanka, after the end of the civil war early this century. Most of his characters are young adults who are seeking to make new lives for themselves. Sadly I did not find the story easy to read. I enjoyed an extended visit to Sri Lanka a few years ago, and love the people, but the complexity of this plot and the large number of characters with names I found unusual and hard to remember, plus so many narratives, sometimes blending with others, and at other times not, had me confused.There are also lots of other Sri Lankan words used in the context of the story. For those to whom it appeals.