Adult Book reviews October-November 2015 . Reviewed by Janet Croft
The more stars, the better the read!
Choosing Hope, by Kaitlin Roig-Debellis. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
It is almost three years since a lone gunman massacred twenty children and six adults at a small local school in Connecticut, USA. This is the memoir of the young teacher who was able to save the lives of an entire class of children, when she herded them all into a tiny bathroom-cum-toilet area off the classroom, and shut them in with her while gunshots rang out around the school. The story encompasses the event, but also what happened afterwards and how the teacher has chosen to continue to work as a speaker and writer to help prevent further such incidents. It is interesting reading; the content alone is not a pleasant story, but one which reminds us yet again of the words of Robbie Burns, that ‘man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn’.
Waterfront, by Duncan McNab. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99.
This story by the Australian former detective and investigative journalist. is the story of the docks of Australia, the workers and the industry, since the first days of European settlement. It tells of the formation of the waterside unions, and the opportunities that existed on the docks for all types of crime, but in particular, the smuggling of sly grog, and drugs. Australia has a very long coastline, but apart from that, a lack of security measures, corruption in the unions and some corrupt politicians have made our waterfront areas a haven for criminal activities. The first sixty pages cover the convict days of early settlement, and the story then moves on to a discussion of people like T.S Mort, and Mary
Reibey, who saw the commercial opportunities and took them.It is quite an interesting read, although a bit dry in places, but an excellent addition to the Australian History shelves.
**Commandos, by Frank Walker. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
This is a series of stories about some almost- impossible -to -achieve- missions where Anzac troops, or other Australians in later conflict zones formed all or part of a commando raid. Some of these people are well known to most Australians, such as Nancy Wake and the Dam busters. The story of five Australians who went into Ethiopia (or Abyssinia as it was then known) in WW2 as the first troops to oppose the Italian occupiers, is not well known, but is an excellent read. The raids on Singapore Harbour in which Japanese ships were sunk were not made public till after WW2. The book is a highly readable account of some Australian war heroes who were brave, resourceful and effective. Frank Walker names a lot of these people, and I felt touched that I personally know two of the families mentioned. A fine book for students of war, or prominent Australians.
**Why we Work, by Barry Schwartz. HB from Ted and Simon and Schuster. RRP $16.99
I have enjoyed all of the TED books I have read. They are short, but give succinct outlines of the issue, and the results of research into each topic. Here we learn that hours of work, and pay incentives for piece work, or otherwise, are nowhere near as important as enthusiasm and interest in the job itself and in its potential. . Another fine small thought provoking book.
Is this my Beautiful Life? A memoir by Jessica Rowe. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
Jessica Rowe is a lanky, attractive, determined and hard working journalist who is a newsreader on Australian TV. Smart and witty, she spent her pre-childbearing days achieving her work goals. Like many others of us, child rearing proved more of a challenge—it is amazing how determined and challenging a small baby can be! Jessica suffered postnatal depression, and life became an awfully dark place for her at this time. We learn of her struggles, and of her difficulty to accept that she needed to ask others for help at this time. It is an interesting read, and a struggle with which most of us mothers can sympathise, even if we have not all had such a difficult time.
**The Complete Beatles Songs, by Steven Turner. HB from Hachette. RRP $49.99
At last, the chance to read, in one book, written after years of research, a detailed account of the events and influences which led to the writing of so many now classic songs by John, Paul, George and Ringo. This is a large book, and there is a lot of information about each and every song they wrote, together with the complete lyrics. I have found the background details about the circumstances in which the Beatles found themselves, and the reason and influences on every song, to be the most fascinating part of this book- a few myths are dispelled too! It is not a book to just read though—it is a book to use as background to the songs, and to provide immense biographical detail about all of these young men who were in their time, still are, and will remain, goliaths of mid 20th century music. Reading about each song means that these songs may be more easily understood and enjoyed than previously . It is a fantastic book for music students and other fans.
Mulga’s Magical Colouring Book, by Mulga. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99
I wonder how to categorise this book! The suggestion in the book is that it is Street Art,…Colouring in is seen as a method to promote mindfulness, and to offer relief from stress and the complicated daily routines we seem to have acquired. Mulga is well known for his art works—there are often examples in well-known cafes and galleries. Now you can try your hand at colouring in some of his works. There are 80 designs in this book, ranging from poultry and animals, to abstract patterns. A bit of a warning—you need good eyesight, and excellent fine motor skills, because the detail of some of the drawings is considerable and will require skill and time. I have sharpened my colouring pencils, and have packed the book to take on our upcoming caravan trip to Tasmania……and I am looking forward to the challenge! The book is suitable for careful children of about 12 and over, to adults.
Also from Hachette, and for the same reasons and rationale as the Mulga book, is an advanced dot-to-dot book. Called the 1000 dot-to-dot Book it comes from the New Zealander, Thomas Pavitte, and is about $20 RRP .The book contains twenty portraits which have been posted to Instagram. The numbers of the designs are colour coded, and the images include Mona Lisa, Picasso, President Kennedy, for example. The back of each image is blank, so that each completed A3 portrait can be displayed on a wall as desired. Again, excellent fine motor skills will be required.
*Early One Morning, by Virginia Baily. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99, ebook, $16.99
The Germans had rounded up the Jews in Rome and were in the process of deporting them to death camps when, on an impulse, Chiara claims a young boy from the transport, saying he is her child, but without thinking of the changes such a move will make to her life. Three decades later Chiara is a single woman living in Rome when she receives a phone call from England. Maria has discovered that her biological father was Daniel, the Jewish boy whom Chiara raised. Maria wants to come to Rome to see what she can uncover about her family. This is an excellent story–at times it is difficult to follow the multiple narratives from one chapter to the next as the present and the war years alternate. In retrospect however it all fitted in, and is satisfying reading.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
This story involves a very recent widower, still in shock at the loss of his wife, and his two bewildered young sons, plus the crow, which flies in the window and promises to stay until they need him no longer. The story is described as a novella–‘part polyphonic fable, part essay on grief’-and we follow the thoughts, actions and feelings of the participants, as the crow becomes a commentator-cum comforter to the trio. I found parts of the story quite moving, but I had trouble seeing any of the story as humorous, or witty. What does emerge is how, gradually, the three surviving members of the family, came to terms with their loss, and were able to remember with love and contentment the good times they had had as a foursome. And for that maybe they had to thank Crow. Serious reading.
***The Murderer’s Daughter, by Jonathan Kellerman. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Grace Blades is a brilliant young psychologist who really understands her clients. Such empathy has probably been heightened because of her own background. She was orphaned at five as the result of a drug induced murder-suicide of her parents. Grace experienced all the problems of the child welfare system, but life improved with a kind foster carer, and ultimately a good home and education with loving adoptive parents. Kellerman is an author who knows how to make a story work. While Grace is an interesting character with lots of life experiences, her addiction to casual sexual encounters leaves her early life exposed. This is a book which you will make time to read until you finish it!
*Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
This book marks the reincarnation of James Bond, super sleuth. The author of the original stories, Ian Fleming, died in 1964, but he left some notes for another novel, and these notes have been incorporated into this book by Anthony Horowitz, well-known author of gripping stories for teenagers in the Alex Rider series. The story should satisfy previous James Bond readers—it has all the elements–car racing, evil Koreans, Russian agents, elegant living and Bond’s charm with strong women. The plot is based around an evil pan to detonate a huge bomb in a train under New York—a bombing which is timed to coincide with a failed rocket launch so the failed rocket falling can be blamed for the bombing, discredit the American space program and allow the Russian to dominate the space scene. Only Bond and his exotic helper Jeopardy Lane can prevent all this happening. Wow—how can it fail to attract readers?
A Banquet of Consequences, by Elizabeth George. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
Elizabeth George is a much-respected author of psychological suspense. This story, based in England, begins when the feminist writer Claire Abbott is poisoned after she completes a speaking appearance at Cambridge University. Barbara Havers is a detective Sergeant who is independent and unconventional in her approach to work; she is disliked by her superiors, and has to solve this case in order to avoid a transfer to the backblocks. It is a large bookand the story is complicated and crafted with many surprises. There is a large cast of characters, some of whom you will not admire. The story, and its appeal are not dependent on the sex and violence which are basic to many American thrillers. There are times when you will wish the story was shorter, but the ending tidies up a lot of issues, and reveals some surprising and rather strange links between characters.
Tennison, by Lynda La Plante. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $32.99
This author has also written the scripts for the TV series Prime Suspect, and this story is based on the early policing career of Jane Tennison. The story is set in London in the 1970s and it is interesting to read to see how life has changed: the technology used by police was simple—there were no mobile phones, and rampant sexist attitudes existed within police stations, with lots of discrimination towards women. Jane is a 22-year-old recruit. She meets a family who are planning a bank robbery, but then has difficulty with her superiors who do not believe what she tells them. The other side of the story is about the criminal family, and how their actions are dominated by the father. I found it an interesting and plausible story, with lots of reflections about the changes in technology and all aspects of life since the 70s.
*The Gilded Hour, by Sara Donati. PB from Penguin/Random House. RRP about $33
New York in the 1880s was a place of much progress in the city, in social and economic growth, but accompanied by poverty, bigotry and crime. Two cousins, Dr Anna Savard and Dr Sophie Savard are both graduates of the Women’s Medical School. Their work brings them up against the discrimination, repression and hardships experienced by many of the women with whom they work. Sara Donati, in her author’s notes, commented on how hard it was to write a novel using facts which are distasteful and off-putting to modern readers. She has succeeded however in giving us a fine story which is both informative and entertaining. It is a large book, but highly recommended.
**The Saddler Boys, by Fiona Palmer. PB from Penguin/Random House. RRP $32.99
Natalie was raised in Perth, expected to marry young and to provide heirs for her family business. All of this makes her feel overprotected and tied down by such expectations. She takes a job in a very small rural West Australian town. Fiona Palmer knows how these communities work, where the young bachelors turn up to check out the new teachers and nurses, but also, how the community atmosphere is usually strong and positive. The book is a rural romance—it is a pleasing light story with the usual range of characters, and a satisfying conclusion.
The Legal Briefs Series: Sustained, by Emma Chase. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $19.99
Sustained is described as super sexy and funny, and the cover are designed to attract fans of books like Shades of Grey. I thought I would flick a few pages before reading the book—these pages were enough for me to see that it was full of distasteful language and explicit sex scenes, so I did not bother reading further. There must be a market for such stories, but not with me.
**The Steady Running of the Hour, by Justin Go. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99
After he completed college, Tristan Campbell receives a courier delivered letter. He was asked to go from San Francisco to London, with the expenses paid by the London solicitor. Tristan was told that he might be the sole beneficiary of the considerable estate of a former WW1 soldier Ashley Walsingham. As a young soldier, Walsingham had an intense, one-week affair with Imogen Soames-Anderson, but after the war had died in an accident whilst attempting to climb Mt Everest. The will stated that if a direct descendant did not claim the estate within eighty years, the money would go to charities. The story covers the war years, and the Everest expedition. In the effort to prove he is the rightful heir; Tristan chases across Europe and Iceland, and tracks some family jewellery in America. He has only two months and scant evidence to prove his claim. It is a very well written story—part love story and part historical thriller.
**The Patterson Girls, by Rachael Johns. PB from Harlequin MIRA. RRP $29.99
The four Patterson girls are raised in a small South Australian town. They differ in looks talents and interests: one is a violinist in London, one an obstetrician in Baltimore, one is married and lives in Perth and the last, who has not been a super achiever works in a café in Melbourne. All return home to be with their father for his first Christmas as a widower. Over this period they learn of an old gypsy curse, which claimed that no member of the Patterson family would ever bear children. The story is redolent of rural Australia, portrays the strong determination of the girls each to have a family of their own. The close bond between the siters, and the recollections of their early lives spent together is pleasant and give a positive flavour to the story.
***Sometimes you have to fight dirty to get clean, by John Grisham. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
Sebastian Rudd believes that sometimes you have to fight dirty in order to get clean. He makes his living from solving cases that the big firms of detectives do not want to handle. His office had been firebombed, either by gangsters or by police; neither group liked his work. He now works out of a van with a driver who acts as his paralegal. Grisham has written many of his books with a legal theme and is undoubtedly a master of this genre. This is a high action story, as Rudd takes on corrupt police and officials. There is a strong feel good feeling for the reader too, when he wins his cases! It is always enjoyable to read a well-crafted, intriguing story which does not depend on sex and violence.
The Landing, by Susan Johnson. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
The setting for this Australian story is a hamlet on the edge of a lake, and tells of the loves and losses of Jonathan Lott. The characters are likeable, the scenes very plausible, and the conclusion unpredictable, but satisfying. The disadvantages of the story however are that it reads too much like a soap opera—it is full of small town happenings with minor aspects of life blown out of proportion to rouse interest in the characters and readers. It felt as if the author was trying too hard, and in the end nothing really did happen. OK, if it appeals.
***The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David Lagercrantz. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99
This book continues the story of Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. With Larsson’s death it was decided to continue the story with another author. I feel it has been a successful move, because this story reads well. Lagercrantz has been a successful journalist and author, and has been able to adopt a style similar to that of Larsson. As with all the earlier books in the series, the Swedish names can take a bit of remembering, and untangling! A Swedish professor has been working to develop computers which are more intelligent than humans. He is worried about what will be the consequences if he is successful. He is a self-absorbed, non-social scientist, divorced, and separated from his mentally disabled son. The story includes all the major characters form Larsson’s earlier books- Michael Blomkvist, the journalist, Lisbeth Salander- the girl with the dragon tattoo, Detective Jan Bublanski, and some of the seriously bad guys. It is all action, with a satisfying conclusion. I hope Lagercrantz can continue with the series.
*The Waiting Room, by Leah Kaminsky. PB from Vintage and Random House. RRP $32.99
Dina is a pregnant, overworked Australian doctor, who is working in Haifa Israel. She longs for Australia, where she grew up, but realizes that practically, with an Israeli husband, her life is in that country. She would love to think that her children would grow up in Australia, away from the conflicts of the Middle East. Dina’s parents were survivors of the holocaust, and Dina often feels that her late mother is giving her advice about her life and how to live it. The story develops around a variety of events from one day in the waiting room. The settings and actions of the vignettes are handled with dexterity and imagination, and the result is an interesting novel.
The Secret Son, by Jenny Ackland. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99
There are a few similarities between this book and the Waiting Room. Both are about families who moved to Australia, but now a member of one of these families, in this case young Cem Keloglu is moving back to Turkey. An Australian WW1 soldier, James Kelly, had settled in the village of Cem’s family, in Turkey when, instead of returning to Australia, he had been left behind after the Australian evacuation. The story jumps around in time and place over a century, but the descriptions and characterization are appealing, and the book is both easy to read, and interesting.
*Season of Shadow and Light, by Jenn McLeod. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99
It is not always possible to read and review books as soon as they arrive here, but this one has been worth the wait. This story is based on a part of Australia I know well, and it has added authenticity and pleasure to the reading as so much of the background to the story is so familiar. The story is heart warming, but also sad. Twin girls are separated at six weeks of age, and lead separate lives until they eventually find each other, piece together their stories and map out their future. An excellent book, and with special appeal to those who live around Sawtell and Coffs Harbour.
**The Woman who Walked in Sunshine, by Alexander McCall Smith. HB from Hachette. RRP $39.99
I wonder if I am the only reader to be a bit put off by Mma Ramotswe’s assistant, Mma Makutsi? I’m sure I’m not, but I am always delighted to see how the gentle Mma Ramotswe sorts out the issues which arise as a result of Mma Makutsi’s interventions. Here Mma Ramotswe is persuaded that she needs to take a holiday, and leaves Mma Makutsi in charge. Mma Ramotswe finds that work just appears, even though she is supposed to be having a break, and whilst she has doubts about leaving the agency to run without her, she learns that as with most things, trust and confidence in your fellows usually pays off. The story developed really well, and there is more of substance in the tale than I had expected. Excellent reading for fans of this redoubtable Botswana detective.
Asking for it, by Louise O’Neill. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99
I am including this book in the adult section, because it may serve as a cautionary tale for some parents. The publisher lists it as a children’s book, but with the caution on the back that it is “Not suitable for younger readers. Contains strong language and explicit scenes’. It is the story of a young Irish girl, Emma, who is eighteen and a happy, attractive young woman. One night at a party, Emma gets drunk, and is raped—not just by one boy. When she wakes the next morning, on the porch of her own home, she is in extreme pain, and doesn’t know why, or what happened. It is a devastating story, but one sadly, which will resonate with some teenagers and women. It is also an indictment on western society, and the social taboos and constraints of life in small towns. I will included this review in the teenage section of my blog, and then give the book to a local school for staff reading.