Adult Book reviews October-November 2015 : reviewed by Janet Croft

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.

 

Fiction

 

 

*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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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September-October 2015: New books for children and teenagers reviewed by Janet Croft.

September-October 2015: New books for children and teenagers reviewed by Janet Croft.

The more stars the better.

Non-fiction

*The Possum Magic Cookbook, compiled by Gina Inverarity and Celia Jellett, and illustrated by Julie Vivas. HB from Omnibus and Scholastic. RRP $16.99

From Cheese straws and double decker sandwiches to Anzac biscuits, lamingtons and pavlova, the recipes in this book will make lots of Australian favourites—and favourites not just for the kids.   It is however a book where adult help will be crucial—mainly because of the complexity of some of the directions. It will be a good exercise too to measure the ingredients, but again, with adult help. The book is suitable for children over three, but by themselves, young cooks will need to be experienced, and over about 7. It will make an excellent birthday or Christmas gift.

Platypus, by Sue Whiting and Mark Jackson. HB from Walker Books. RRP $27.95

The life story of the platypus is an exciting one—mainly because it is a monotreme, or egg-laying mammal. The content of the story here is in two parts, one as a story of daily life, and how the platypus behaves, the other the scientific details of why this behaviour is as it is. Perhaps it is because the platypus is largely nocturnal, but the watercolour drawings are quite dark, and lack detail. The verbals- both the descriptive story, and the technical detail are excellent as is the synopsis at the end, and the index. I feel this book is suitable for primary aged students of 6-11 years—the young ones, in company with an adult.

**Ugly, by Robert Hoge.   Young Reader’s Edition PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99

This is not a simple story. It tells how Robert, who was born with a tumour in the middle of his face, and ill-formed legs, survived many operations and learned to live with his ugliness until as an adult he is content that he is as good as he can be. The book tells of the many operations, of the problems his family had when it was time for him to start school, and how Robert’s greatest wish was to be part of a sporting team of normal people. How he achieved his goal, and his remarkable fortitude makes for uplifting reading. Suitable for upper primary readers of 9-12 years.

****The White Mouse, by David Gouldthorpe. HB from Scholastic. RRP $26.99

This is a serious look at the life and career of Nancy Wake- nicknamed “the White Mouse’- the Australian woman who became a heroine for her work with the French Resistance and British secret Service in France during WW2. There are short, but succinct and interesting outlines about episodes in her work, and the illustrations show graphically some of the events which occurred, and the places where Nancy lived and worked. This is an outstanding book. It is suitable for young readers of 8-13 years.

Ripley’s Believe it or not 2016. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

Another edition of modern wonders and extremes. The book is full of photos, mainly of people, but with some animals, in exotic locations, or with some peculiarity which marks them out as different from most people. The snippets of information about each entry explain the photos. Kids, and especially boys of 9-12 years, love these books, because there is not much reading, but mainly because the items presented are so fascinating. One guy owns 1500 pairs of Converse shoes. A town on the Mediterranean coast of France celebrates the end of winter with a lemon festival every year, and has been doing so for more than a hundred years. Each year there is a different model, made from about 160 tons of oranges and lemons. A fun read……

Fiction picture stories

**I’m a Girl, by Yasmeen Ismail. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

How refreshing to find a book about girls where the girl loves to be spontaneous, fast and strong, and prefers shorts and t-shirts to prissy dresses, and super short and sexy tops. Like the author, I detest the gender stereotyping which portrays small girls in skimpy clothes and lots of pink. The humour in this book comes because the reverse stereotyping is also present when the girl meets a boy who likes to dress up as a princess and to play with dolls. The two both share lots of interests and are each happy with how they are because after all, as it says on the front cover, ‘be yourself, there is no one better’.   A fun, gender-neutral read for 3 years and over.

Remarkably Rexy, by Craig Smith. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $25

A story about a distinctive and personable cat, named of course Rexy. We read and see how Rexy grooms himself, and how he shows off, plays to an audience, and is jealous of the showy Pamela, as well as being scared of Towser the dog. A fun read for kids of 2-5 years, and available on line to listen to, via a laser code bar at the front of the book.

***How the Sun got to Coco’s House, by Bob Graham. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95

The story is told mostly through clear and evocative drawings, about how the sun rises in the east, and then over the day gradually makes its way around the world so that every one can be touched by its beauty and benefits. It seems as if the last place on earth it visits is Coco’s house, where she and her family and friends are enjoying the snow on a sunny, but cold winter’s day. A delightful trip to enjoy for kids of 3 and over, preferably in company with an adult who can give more detail about the different places shown in the drawings.

**Newspaper Hats, by Phil Cummings, and illustrated by Owen Swan. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

There are two themes to this story—firstly Grandpa is growing old and seems to forget who Georgie is. Secondly however, Grandpa is still very skilled at making paper hats out of newspapers, and it is via this medium that Georgie is able to help him remember some past events which have been in the papers, as well as have a lot of fun with the hats. For readers of 3-6 years.

The Very Noisy Bear, by Nick Bland. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

This is Nick Bland’s fifth bear book—and it is possibly the most appealing yet as Bear’s friends help him try out lots of musical instruments to work out which is best for Bear. What was received most enthusiastically was his ability to sing—well, roar actually! Finally, when the night was still, Bear tried the violin. A fun read, and the chance to talk with kids of 2-6 years about music, and various instruments as well.

The little Possum, by P Crumble and Wendy Binks. HB from Scholastic. RRP, with CD included, from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

A brightly coloured book, with CD to listen to, about a lullaby for Possum, and presumably other kids as well. The pictures are great, but the words of the lullaby did not appeal much to me. OK for kids of 1-4 years.

***Duck, Duck Goose!, illustrated by Michaela Blassnig. PB from Hachette. RRP $24.99

A visually pleasing rhyming story about two ducks, and the other animals and items which appear from the water. The pictures are very full of detail, and will provide lots of opportunities for talking about each double page spread. A fun story to read and reread for kids of 2-4 years.

*Frankie and Finn, by Klay and Mark Lamprell and Lucinda Gifford. PB from Hachette. RRP $26.99

When Frankie and his family move house, Frankie is scared because the new house looks dark and scary. When he and his siblings start to explore however they find a really interesting pool in the garden. In the pool Finn the fish starts to feel scared because a five-headed monster with no eyes suddenly appears in his pool. The story is about how events and things seem from differing perspectives, and it is a story to read and talk about. Great pictures too. For readers of 3-6 years.

**Bob the Railway Dog, by Corinne Fenton, and illustrated by Andrew McLean. HB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP $24.95

This delightful story is based on the life of Bob, who was a small dog who lived and travelled on the trains as they spread through southern Australia in the late 19th century. The rumour persists that he also travelled to Queensland. There is a photo of Bob behind a framed glass window in Adelaide station. The illustrations reveal what the trains were like, and something of the olden-day stations. It is an interesting story, and pleasant book to read, reread and talk about. For readers of 3-7 years.

As big as you, by Sara Acton. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

The pages of this book open from bottom to top, which is an effective novelty. Claude and Finlay are elephants. Claude is huge and Finlay is tiny, but desperately wants to be as large as Claude. The story shows many ways in which size is important, but the lesson for Finlay is to wait- with time he will become larger, and in the meantime he should enjoy the delights which come with being small. For readers of 2-4 years.

The Crocodolly, by Martin McKenna. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Adelaide was good at making things, but one day while cooking she made something different—a crocodolly. Adelaide loves her new pet, but she was not allowed to have pets, so Ozzy had to be a doll. As he grew it became harder to disguise Ozzy, until, finally Ozzy was a pest for everyone in town—he broke things or frightened people. What is Adelaide to do? She has to find a suitable place for Ozzy to live. There is one excellent double page spread in this book, where the people protest, and there are some delightfully expressive verbs used….for readers of 3-6 years, preferably with an adult for the vocab.

***Piranhas don’t eat Bananas, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

This is a delightful story, in rhyme, about piranhas, and the fact that they love meat, but will not eat fruit. The illustrations and story, plus the facts about piranhas and bananas are all excellent. For readers of 2-5 years—and I think this will be a favourite for kindergarten classes at school…

Blue Whale Blues, by Peter Carnavas. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Blue Whale is miserable because it seems as if he always needs help or things to work properly. He has a bike, but one day, he realises that what he thought was a bike, was not and that you need legs to ride a bike—at last he is able to see a bit of humour in things! It is an OK story, for 2-5 year olds, but not a story which took my fancy.

Two Birds on a Wire, by Coral Vass and Heidi Cooper Smith. PB from Koala and Scholastic. RRP $14.99

A sweet story about two birds who feel they should compete with each other, until they realise it is easier and more pleasant to cooperate. A simple story, with good language, and evocative pictures.   Fun for kids of 2-4 years.

The Creatures of Dryden Gully, by Aunty Ruth Hegarty, illustrated by Sandi Harrold. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

The author is a respected elder of the Gunggari tribe. As a child she was taken from her family and lived in institutions for 22 years. In that time she became a storyteller, and here we have her story about Joey and the stranger Royal deer who intrudes on the land of the Natives and how everyone needs to be appreciated and accepted for their individuality. For 2-5 year olds.

***Stick and Stone, by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is a clever, and delightful story, told in verse about Stick, and Stone, how they start off alone, but then become mates. When Stick is stuck in the mud, Stone has to rescue him and they remain friends forever. An excellent story for 2-5 year olds. I am sure lots of children will learn the words of this story by heart, and love to reread the book.

Underneath a Cow, by Carol Ann Martin and Ben Wood. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Quite a pleasant story about how a variety of animals, many of whom would normally not get along well together, find shelter during a storm, under a very large and comforting cow. For readers of 2-4 years.

*The Witches Britches, by P Crumble and Lucinda Gifford. PB from Scholastic. RRP $$14.99

This is a humorous tale about the fancy britches, which Ethel receives on her first day at witch school;   how she looks after them, to retain their magic, and what happens to people in the community when the britches escape. Fun reading for kids of 3-6 years

**My Dad is a Giraffe, by Stephen Michael King. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Books with evocative illustrations are worth heaps when you are reading with young children. Here we have a giraffe father, but the child is human. We see how this switch has occurred, very cleverly on the last page of the book, where shadows are involved. It is a wonderful, simple story—who needs lots of words when the pictures are do delightful? Excellent reading and fun for children of 1-4 years, preferably in company with an adult.

River Riddle, by Jim Dewar and Anil Tortop. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is a retelling of the puzzle where three people cannot all fit in the boat to cross the river in one trip. If any two are left behind together, on either side, there will be a   massacre of some type….how Jack sorts out how to get the sheep, the fox and the bag of hay all to the other side without either the sheep or the hay being eaten…..that is the puzzle! Fun reading and thinking again for kids of 2-5 years.

Bamboozled, by David Legge. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

This is a special commemorative edition of this story, which was first published twenty-0ne years ago. There are lots of peculiar creatures and occurrences when the boy goes to visit his granddad. However the boy does not seem to see all the oddities, until right at the end, when he notices that granddad is wearing odd socks. The author then outlines how he thought up the idea for the story—and shows some of his sketches. This is a book which is fun for young kids of 2-5 year, but which also has merit for older children who are interested in how the ideas were generated, and brought to life.

Dear Dad, I want to be just like you, by Ed Allen and Simon Williams. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Lots of double page spreads of a parent with a child, and short letters from each child to the father—with a few jokes, but mostly the message about wanting to be like the dad. My only objection to the notes is that they are of paper, hard to remove from the envelope slits, and will be very fragile. The notes which are actually written on the pages of the book will be OK. Suitable for kids of 2-6 years.

Junior Fiction

Tashi and the Magic Carpet, PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

This is a novelisation, together with a group of word games, activities and puzzles at the end of the story; it has been released in conjunction with the TV series about Tashi. The story has been put together by someone other than the author of the Tashi books. I am a strong fan of Tashi, in his original form, (because he had a fantastic imagination!)–and there is nothing wrong with this book—the word puzzles and activities are varied, and will appeal to kids of about 6-8 years.

Zoe’s Rescue Zoo, The Cuddly Koala, by Amelia Cobb, and illustrated by Sophie Williams. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

An animal zoo story with a tiny bit of magic, because Zoe can actually talk to and understand the animals in her uncles rescue zoo! This skill means that Zoe can be very useful as a helper in the zoo, and this is the case here where she devises a means of carrying the baby koala around so that he feels safe and comfortable. Fun reading, probably mostly for girls of 6-8 years.

The Secret Rescuers, the Storm Dragon, by Paula Harrison. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

There is also a touch of magic about this story, and a similar theme where the child rescues and protects a small animal—albeit an imaginary dragon. Here Sophie is the rescuer, and the story again, is easy to read. For girls again, of 6-8 years.

**Pup Patrol, Outback Rescue, by Darrel and Sally Odgers. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

I like these books. There is always a touch of reality, mixed with some good common sense advice included with each story. There are also often tips about dog breeds- here it is about breeds such as Stamp and their ability to herd animals when trained. James, together with Stamp and Ace the two dogs, is on a trip to the bush. When they find a deserted car, they realise that the owners have left to try to save themselves, or get help—will the dogs be able to track them before they die? The common sense message here of course is that a car should never be deserted if it breaks down—it is easier to find a car on a bush road, than people on foot. Good reading for kids of 7-9 years.

Ada and Angus, Showtime, by Wendy Harmer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

Ava is on a trip around Australia with her parents and dog Angus. In this latest adventure they visit the Doolimba Show, where Ava makes some new friends. These new friends, Donna and Danny are rather naughty however, and a disaster with the competition animals, is only narrowly avoided. In the process Donna and Danny learn to apologise to Ava, and the rest of the show people. OK reading for 6-9 years—probably mainly girls, if the cover is any guide.

***Little Lunch, The Off-limits fence, by Danny Karr. PB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP $9.95

Yet another low priced novel for young readers. This easy to read book contains three short stories about some kids and what they get up to during little lunch at school, from a game of Chinese whispers to the insect hospital and what happens when the footy is kicked over the fence. The stories are fun, and the length and vocab just right for emerging readers of 6-8 years—both boys and girls. Good value.

Ella Diaries, Dreams come true, by Meredith Costain and Danielle McDonald. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

There are some interesting aspects to this book—the story is trendy, when Ella has dreams of meeting pop star Cassi Valentine—Ella’s enemy Peach Parker has a similar wish, and when the school enters a competition to win a visit from Cassi, Ella and Peach need to cooperate! Can they do it? The most interesting features of the book for me is the lay out—with lower case print, examples of charts and diagrams when Ella is trying to work out what to do, and ideas for the class meeting and the colour and emphasis given to difficult or significant words. A good planning exercise for children to learn to copy.   It is fun reading for girls of 7-9 years.

*Lily the Elf, by Anna Bradford. PBs from Walker books. RRP $7.95 each

I have two titles here, The Wishing Seed and The Elf Flute. Both stories are about Lily the Elf, and the stories are short, in large font, and with lots of simple illustrations. The vocabulary is not difficult, and the books will be great for young girls of 5-7 years, who are just learning to read. I like the fact that the illustrations do not replace the written word, so the kids need to be able to read the words, and not just guess the content from the pictures.

*Clementine Rose and the Birthday emergency, by Jacqueline Harvey. PB from Random House. RRP $12.99

I have enjoyed every single one of the Clementine Rose books. There is a feeling of reality about all of them, with just a hint of the unexpected and a few eccentric relatives about to spice up the action. Here Clementine Rose is really looking forward to her birthday, but doesn’t understand why she feels a bit peculiar in the tummy. Her party turns out rather differently from how she had planned it! For girls of 6-9 years and wholesome, interesting reading.

Pip Bartlett’s guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Steamer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Pip can talk to magical creatures, and she can also work with them, because her aunt, who is a vet, treats such creatures when they are not well. There is a potential crisis in their town when the fuzzles invade, because they can burst into flame unexpectedly. It is up to Pip and her mate Tomas to save the town and the fuzzles. I enjoyed this story more than I thought I would when I started! There is a lot more reading in it than I expected and very few illustrations. An exciting fantasy for kids of about 9-11 years.

Samurai VS Ninja, Day of the Dreadful Undead, by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers, PB from Random House. RRP $9.99

The ghosts of the ancestors have returned so they must be eliminated. Another battle between the samurai and ninja juniors. These stories do not appeal to me– but boys of 7-9 years must like them, or they would not sell.

Space Jackers, the Lost Sword by Huw Powell. PB from Bloomsbury RRP $15.99

Jake is only thirteen, but is the ruler of the secret planet Altus. He has a problem; to keep the interstellar Navy from finding his planet, because it has three valuable crystal moons. Not only is Jake’s father missing, but also Jake needs to find a way for all the independent colonies to work together to defeat this threatening navy. Although Nanoo is injured Jake and Kella and Nanoo realise that they can win the battle. It is easy reading, and a good story for boys of 9-11 years.

**The Cat with the Coloured Tale, by Gillian Mears. HB from Walker Books. RRP about $20

This is a wonderful fable about how a cat whose tail changes colour when someone needs help, guides the ice cream van and its driver Mr Hooper, where it is needed. It is a gentle story, but easy to read, with pleasant short rhymes to help the story along. The illustrations too, in muted watercolours, are gentle and agreeable. The book will make a                   great birthday or Christmas gift. Mainly for girls I suspect, and of 6-9 years.

Wesley Booth, Super Sleuth, by Adam Cece, with pictures by Michael Streich. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

An appealing story, based in a school, about a boy, Wesley who believes he is the worlds greatest sleuth, and the girl, Cassidy Strong who seems to try to thwart Wesley at every opportunity. Strange then that at the end of the book they seem to be reconciled to each other! There is a lot of reading in the book—it is suitable for upper primary aged readers (say about 9-12 years)

*****Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sachar. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99

Wow—what a story. I think I have read all of Sachar’s books—and I have found them all to be remarkable, and memorable. Here we meet Tamaya, who walks to and from school with a seventh grade boy—Marshall—every day, because she is too young to walk by herself. When Marshall is bullied by Chad, Marshall does not want Tamaya around, so one afternoon Tamaya is forced to walk through the wood by herself. The story develops into a thriller when the fuzzy mud which Tamaya notices on her way home, threatens to wreak havoc on the school, and on all the townspeople. And as Marshall and Tamaya learn to trust each other, they also determine to try to help Chad survive the dreadful fuzzy mud epidemic. Excellent reading for both boys and girls of 9-14 years.

**Helix and the Arrival, by Dean Posner. PB from Random House. RRP $15.99

This is another good read—maybe I was a bit surprised by this because the title, and cover, book looking as if they came from the Flintstone era, did not appeal, nor the comment “ it’s not easy being a caveboy.” However, ignore both the title, and the name—this is an excellent story about how Helix and his mate Ug learn to look outside the square, and supposed safety as they search for a remedy to help cure Ug’s father from a serious infection. In the process the boys discover that much of what the tribe has been told by the supposed medicine man, is rubbish, and that Speel was only interested in power. Interesting, easy to read, and as I say, surprisingly good reading for boys probably of 9-12 years.

The Big Wish, by Brandon Robshaw. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

Sam is granted one million wishes: what he does with them, and how he learns what consequences follow when you do not think through issues, is interesting reading. The story is fantasy of course, but the lessons Sam and Evan learn as the wishes are used up—are considerable. For readers of 9-12 years.

EJ12—Girl Hero, True Light, by Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

Not much need to write about this book—as soon as fans of the series see that another title is out; they will rush to buy it! This is undoubtedly the most popular series of stories for girls of 7-9 years. There is often an issue of current world concern at the heart of each plot of these books, and here it is a laboratory in the Arctic Circle which is manufacturing counterfeit notes for every world currency. Emma has to remember what happened on her first trip to the Arctic if she is to solve the mystery.

Derek Danger Dale, The Case of the Really, Really Magnetic Magnet by Michael Gerard Bauer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

This book is designed for readers slightly younger than those for whom the Eric Vale stories have been so much fun. Here Derek tries to fool the evil doctor Macevilness by applying to become one of the doctors’ helpers. The comic style illustrations are OK, but I do not like the font in which story is printed—it can be a bit confusing with some letters—e.g. ‘s’ written almost as if it is a capital letter at all times. The story is OK—and the book is suited to boys of 8-10 years.

The Bad Guys, Episode 1, by Aaron Blabey. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is almost a picture book for slightly older kids—there is very little written story—all the action is told in pictures. I’m not sure if the hero, Mr Wolf, is a wolf or an ugly dog, but the plan for Mr Wolf, Mr Piranha Mr Snake and Mr Shark, is to help break 200 dogs out of the City dog pound. How this is achieved- well, look at the book. Fun reading and looking for boys of 6-8 years.

Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-lot, by Dav Pilkey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is the twelfth book in the Captain underpants series. When the first of the series were published, they were greeted with delight by boys of 8-11 years, who loved the suggestion of toilet humour and the simple, yet engaging stories. And this book has similar appeal. The centrepiece of this story is the unpleasant PF teacher Mr Meaner, and his invention, which is to squirt all the kids at school so they all then were super attentive, because they caught Attention Superfluous Lethargy Syndrome—which is a satire on ADHD (which is defined elsewhere in the book because the heroes, Harold and George- from twenty years in the future- and Yesterday Harold and Yesterday George– all have ADHD. The time warp takes a bit to follow, but it works, and between the two sets of twins, finally the Mr Meaner is thwarted and life returns to its usual chaos. Fun reading for boys of 8-11 years.

*Scream, The Squid Slayer, And Scream, The Haunted Book, both by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99 each

These are two more titles in the series of short, thrilling and chilling stories for pre-teens about monsters who seem to appear from nowhere, and in some way terrorise individuals or, in the case of the Squid Slayer, the entire community of Axe Falls where Sarah and her mother live on the river in an old boat, which is eventually crawling all over with squid- like monsters who chase Sarah away from the boat and up to a series of caves where Sarah knows there are explosives which blow up all the monsters.   In the Haunted book Dale, who also lives in Axe Falls, is on a trip with his family when he finds an old handwritten book which begins; “Do not stop reading; my life depends on it”. For Dale it becomes life threatening when the mystery man manages to substitute himself into Dales body. How is Dale to survive, and then to recover? These are short books with plenty of thrills, and will make interesting and easy reading for reluctant readers of 9-12 years.

The Impossible Quest, Battle of the Heroes, by Kate Forsyth. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

At last, the fifth and final episode in this quest to as our indomitable quartet of Quinn, Sebastian, Elanor and Tom are able to collect the final piece of the prophecy, the sea serpent’s scale, and then return to rescue the prisoners in the crypt at Wolfhaven castle—hopefully they are still alive! This has been a long, and coherent story—predictable and repetitive on some parts, but over all a well written sage, which will be best read now in sequence, without gaps in between…for readers of 9-12 years.

*Sian, A New Australian, by D Luckett. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

In this story we read of Sian, who is the unloved and mistreated thirteenth child of a widower. When her older sister marries, Sian goes to live with them, only to discover, very soon that the couple has booked a passage on a boat to Australia and Sian is to go with them. The time is the start of the twentieth century. Soon after their arrival in Sydney, Ellis goes to Darwin after work, and when Olive dies in childbirth, Sian is sent to Darwin to be with him. We read of Sian’s life in the new town of Darwin, her friendship with Mae, the Chinese Australian and of life at school. This is an easy to read, informative, but interesting novel about life in Darwin in the early days of its settlement. For readers, probably mainly girls of 9-12 years.

Three hundred minutes of Danger, by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is a book of short stories, all of which involve danger in some form—from that of a driverless runaway train, to a killer virus, to a terrifying flight in a small plane which crashes in Russia—lots of drama, short stories, and heaps of action. The stories are excellent reading, and will appeal to boys and girls of 10-13 years.

Teenage reading

My Australian Story, Vietnam, by Deborah Challinor. PB from Scholastic. RRP $$16.99

This story about the war in Vietnam in the late 1960s and 1970s is told through the eyes of two Newcastle boys, Davey, and his older brother Tom. Tom is called up in the conscription ballot, and is sent to Vietnam. He writes letters home, while Davey competes in surfing competitions in Newcastle. The story is also about Pete, Davey’s mate, who is knocked off his bike, and doesn’t survive the infection he picks up in hospital. When Tom is injured in Vietnam and repatriated, Davey surfs, and wins, for Tom’s sake. It is quite a good story, and the details about the war are faithfully and carefully outlined. For readers of 12 and over

The Truth about Peacock Blue, by Rosanne Hawke. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

This is quite a complicated story, and raises many of the issues which face girls in Pakistan. The best example of course is Malala, and there are shades of her story in this book, although here it is more the issue that Aster has been raised a Christian, and the problems she faces are those caused by conservative or tribal so-called Muslims, who accuse Aster of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. There are women in Pakistan who are in jail for this crime and still face the death penalty. This is a serious book, based on an actual case. The book is not pleasant reading, but it is an important topic, and I recommend the book to readers of 14 and over.

*****The Boy with Two lives, by Abbas Kazerooni. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

This book, and its predecessor On Two Feet and Wings, are, with the story of Parvana, the most touching and powerful books about children who are abused in some way, or forced to become refugees that I have read. In this book, we read of Abbas’s life once he makes it to England. His supposed guardian, Mehdi, is a cruel and changeable man. He does not want to be bothered with Abbas, so sends him to a boarding school, but then requires Abbas to work like a slave during the school holidays to repay Mehdi. Abbas is an honest, hard working and intelligent boy, who makes some really good friends. Because he works so hard at school, he is successful. When he earns a scholarship a prestigious secondary school his home life takes a big step backwards, and he ends up homeless. I found this part of the story very sad as Abbas, determined to keep faith with his now dead mother, continues to battle to remain successful and independent. Finally, at the end of the book, he asks for help from another family relative, and this is a really positive move for him. This is a brilliant read for 12- years and over. I guarantee the story will haunt all readers for some time. Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn….still.. (Quote is from Robbie Burns….).

*Five Kingdoms, Crystals Keepers, by Brandon Mull. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99

Cole is still trapped in the world where he found himself by chance in the first book of this series when he followed his friends across the barriers.   Now we are in book 3, and Cole persists in his search for his friends in the Outskirts. These books have been written to stand alone each from the others, but I still feel that I like to read them as they come. There are two more books planned for the series, and I expect that all will turn out well, as Cole has to survive two more kingdoms. In this one, all the magic has gone awry, and is unpredictable, so there are serious problems for Cole to stay on top of events as they unfold. Good reading for 13 and over.

*Stray, by Rachael Craw. PB from Walker Books. RRP $19.95

This is another story where the preceding volume has stayed with me, because it was such an innovative and well planned fantasy. It is a tight, beautifully constructed story from a skilled and imaginative author.   Because Evie is a shield, she is at risk from the Affinity Project, who hunt her because they want to remove her individuality and take control of her body and mind because her DNA is so different from every body else. Evie decides to flee, and does. It is not a happy story, because Aiden, her brother dies, and eventually Affinity catches up with Evie, but….with help from Jamie and Kitty, who have followed her, Evie escapes, so now we wait for the next instalment, which I am told will be called Shield. For readers of 14 and over.

All my secrets, by Sophie McKenzie. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $17.99

Evie Brown was happy with herself and her family until she learned that she is to be the recipient of a massive inheritance, on her eighteenth birthday, from her natural mother—a mother about whom Evie knew nothing, and a fact her family had always hidden from her. Evie is devastated, and immediately repudiates her adoptive mother, rejects her father’s clumsy efforts to make amends and begins to search for information about her natural mother. She meets her uncle Gavin, and feels that he cares for her, but becomes so obsessed by the search for info about her mother that Gavin, and her parents feel that she should attend a special course for children with difficult issues to resolve at a school called Lightsea. What happens at the school is all Evie centred, and Evie is traumatised further before events are resolved and the dastardly plot to kill her is uncovered. Whom should she trust? And which boy should she love? I found the story too Evie centred, and the fuss and time spent on whether she should fall in love with Kit or Josh, far too overdone. The interest palled as the story continued with little variation to the plot. For readers of 13-15 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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July 2015 —New books for children and teenagers- Reviewer: Janet Croft

July 2015 —New books for children and teenagers- Reviewer: Janet Croft

The more stars, the better!

Picture Books

Rory the Dinosaur, Me and My Dad, by Liz Climo. PB from Hachette Children’s’ Books. RRP $12.99

This is quite an amusing story, as Rory is determined to go for a walk by himself without his father. Rory finds some unusual places to go, a river to cross by himself, and shelter to find when it rains. Young readers of 3-5 years will enjoy discovering where Rory’s dad is hiding, and in fact is helping Rory, while all the time Rory thinks he is managing so well by himself.

Something’s Amiss at the Zoo, by Jen Breach and Douglas Holgate. PB from Lothian Children’s books and Hachette. RRP $14.99

There are two zookeepers in this story, who appear to have been very badly trained for their job, as they mix up animals, and do not recognize other species. It takes just one bright kid, whose name we do not learn, to put things right. It is a cartoon style layout, and a novel approach to what probably should be classified as non-fiction. For readers of 4-7 years.

Pig the Fibber, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Pig is actually a pug dog but he has one unpleasant habit—he always lies to blame others for mischief he himself has created and in particular, Trevor the dachshund. Pig is punished when he thinks up one particularly unpleasant prank, but he does learn his lesson. A tale with a moral for readers of 3-5 years.

Messy Jellyfish, by Ruth Galloway. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is a story with a message about learning to consider others, and to compromise to keep everyone happy. Seahorse is unhappy when there is a noisy party, and he swims away to be by himself. Jellyfish realises that she has been unkind and inconsiderate, and the friends resolve their differences. For readers of 2-5 years, possibly best for those with younger siblings!

I wanna be a great big Dinosaur, by Heath McKenzie. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

When the small boy wants to be a large dinosaur, the dinosaur obligingly shows him how to stomp, roar and eat large quantities of meat, but the boy begins to realise that there are other good things in life, like reading, variety with meals, and videos. The dinosaur learns about these things too, and the pair agree that maybe ‘tis a good idea to be both boy and dinosaur. For   2-5 year olds, and a bit to think about in the story.

***Ten Little Dinosaurs, by Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty. HB from Orchard Books and Hachette. RRP about $16

This is a bright and enjoyable story about how each of the ten little dinosaurs who go for a walk while their mum is asleep, in turn meets his doom when another larger dinosaur appears and proves to have an unpleasant skill. The verse is fun, the content fun and the colourful pictures will keep children of 2-6 years amused and interested in the various kinds of dinosaurs. Good value.

*Snow Day, by Sam Usher. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Sam is keen to enjoy the snow from the moment he wakes. Grandad is a bit slow off the mark, and it takes a while for them to reach the park. Grandad sees that Sam was correct and that they are the last to arrive—but they still manage to have a lot of fun in the snow. The illustrations are delightful, especially the blank areas of snow, where no one has yet trodden! I could understand Sam’s impatience, and I am sure that kids of 3-6 years will all enjoy and connect with this story, and Sam’s impatience. It is a delightful story.

Silly Squid, by Janeen Brian and Cheryll Johns. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This book is a collection of verse about various creatures which live along the seashore. We learn facts about each creature as well as about the environments in which each lives. The verses have been carefully planned, and flow well. For readers of 3-6 years.

**The Cow Tripped over the Moon by Tony Wilson and Laura Wood. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

I enjoyed this story. Cow is large, and the moon is a long way away. How many attempts will it take before cow is able actually to jump over the moon? She keeps falling over something at each attempt. The verse is delightful—light, but flows well, and I think that this book will be a favourite of children from 3-6 years. They will also learn some interesting words, and what each means as the story is read to them time and again. Excellent book.

Possum Magic. Actions. By Mem Fox with Julie Vivas. A Board book from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

A sturdy book of large simple pictures of animals with present participles—jumping, climbing, running, hiding, and swimming– used to describe the action of each page. To read with very young children of less than a year old to 2 or 3.

Junior Books—mostly fiction.

*Cyclone Fever, by Sally Morgan and Beth Norling. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

The books in Scholastic’s Mates, Great Australian Yarns series have been popular with young readers, even those of 8-10 years who have found reading more difficult than some others. Sally Morgan is very aware of the needs of young indigenous readers as well, and both the story and illustrations reflect this. I do like it when uncommon words are presented in a different font, so they can either be read easily, or talked about. The story here is about Danny, who needs to help his grandmother prepare for a cyclone. Danny wonders about the fuss, but his gran knows what to do, and her care and preparation pay off.

Keeper of the Crystals, Eve and the Unicorn, by Jess Black. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

When Eve goes to stay with her grandmother, she and the boy next door, Oscar sneak into the attic to play. When they find a small crystal, they are transported into another world, where all is not well with the animals, or the environment. Quite an interesting fantasy, and with large, clear font. Mainly for girls of 7-9 years.

Storm Rescue, by Darrel and Sally Odgers. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is another in the Pup Patrol series. I have found that all kids of 7-9 years enjoy the realistic flavour stories; here, in north Queensland, there is a cyclone on the horizon, and Stamp the wonder dog and his friends James and Ace are together for a local festival. When Ace and her young friend Imogen go missing as the cyclone approaches, it is up to Stamp of course, to track the missing pair. A good read.

Lights out, EJ Spy School by Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.99

Another very simple story about the trainee young spy, EJ12. Here, Emma has to learn not to be afraid of the dark. OK for very young girls of 6-8 years.

Jurassic Farts, a Spotters Guide, Board book, with noises, from Scholastic RRP $19.99

It is difficult to categorise this book. The format is that for the very young, with sturdy board pages, and a battery-powered cluster of noises—yes, supposed farts– to associate with each dinosaur in the book. There is also some information about each prehistoric monster. Most of this information is presented in tiny font. I find it difficult to believe that the sound effects are authentic, but the sounds will certainly appeal to boys of 8-10 years.

**Weirdo 4, Super Weird. By Anh Do. PB from Scholastic, RRP $14.99

I am a strong fan of these books for young readers of 6-9 years. The action is based on the supposed life and family of Weir Do and his dog FiDo. Weir has to prepare for Pet day at School and needs Grandad and others to help. The illustrations are great, and the story flows beautifully. It is a gentle, yet amusing story and highly recommended for emerging readers.

The Royal Wedding Crashers, by Clementine Beauvais with Becka Moor. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $12.99

Anna and Holly want to take an outer space holiday so together with their mate Prince Pepino, they decide to earn some money. When they take a job with a strange woman called Mademoiselle Malypense, they soon are aware that the proposed wedding may not eventuate in its supposed form. (French speakers, note the delightful play on words in the name Malypense). It is an OK story, with plenty of illustrations and probably with most appeal to girls of 7-9 years.

*****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.

Scream 1, The Human Flytrap by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

Josh has just moved to Axe Falls. Their new house is a dilapidated ruin, and weird events soon start to spook Josh, and make him wonder what life holds for him. He meets Lily and Yvette, and together they try to work out why Dale’s Venus flytrap experiment goes so wrong.   There is a battery-operated scream built into the cover of this book. What a delightful thing to experiment with in a quiet school library! For readers of 8-12 years, both boys and girls.

Scream 2, Spider Army, by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

This is a loose sequel to the first book in the series. Axe Falls is a strange place, and the local school doesn’t seem too healthy at the moment. There has been an infestation of spider bites, and Yvette is puzzled as to the origin of the spiders, and the intent of those who have imported them. Are the spiders real? Is Yvette deluded? Don’t read this story if you are afraid of spiders! The story is fanciful, but quite good fun as Yvette and Josh try to work out what is happening. For readers of 9-12 years.

Ella Diaries, I love ( Heart) Pets. By Meredith Costain. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

Ella is inspired by a careers day at school to set up a pet walking business with her friend Zoe. What happens is a bit out of the ordinary, especially when their only pet to mind is a lizard. But there is plenty of other action in the neighbourhood. Fun reading for girls of 7-9 years.

*Tom Gates #8. Yes! No ( Maybe), by L Pichon. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

These stories about daily life for Tom Gates are very simple to read. There is huge variation in the fonts and size of print used, and each page is interspersed with drawings and comments. The effect is to make each double page much more than just a reading experience. The reader becomes part of Tom’s life, and experiences all the action through his eyes. . The content is positive and natural, and the complexity of the total experience appeals hugely to boys of 7-9 years, especially those who do not like to read a dense story.

Daisy the Festival Fairy, by Daisy Meadows. PB from Hachette. RRP about $14.99

Rachel and her friend Kristy are the only humans who know that Jack Frost has a band of rogues working with him to ruin the local Rainbow Days Festival. When the two girls meet Daisy the Festival Fairy she helps them find several magical tools, including the Good times Glowstick, and between them all, they are able to thwart Jack Frost and the goblins. Fanciful, but pleasant and easy to read for girls of 6-8 years.

Uncle Gobb and The Dread Shed, by Michael Rosen. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $21.99

Uncle Gobb comes to stay—no one likes him, but it quickly becomes apparent that where Uncle Gobb is, weird events also occur. Uncle Gobb points out that he is a very important personage, and that if anyone does not do as he instructs, he will put them in the Dread shed. The Dread Shed was an ancient invention and threat, and such sheds as a form of punishment for disrespectful children. This is a very British book- and the humour is British. Malcolm, Cracker Snapper and the family soon realise that the threat of the Dread Shed from Uncle Gobb should be an empty threat as they become used to living with him in the house. I like the comment from the author at the end that ‘there is nothing sensible in this book!” In fact, I did like the way in which a bit of old English, with extra ‘e’ at the end of words, and the use of ‘thou’ is introduced. Fun reading for kids, probably mostly boys of 8-11 years if it appeals.

Verity Sparks and the Scarlet Hand by Susan Green. PB from Walker Books. RRP about $20

This story begins in Melbourne, but most of the action occurs in and around Castlemaine, Victoria in 1880. Verity goes on holiday there with her father and her friends, mainly with the intention of allowing Papa to meet up with some of his old friends, whom he has not seen for many years. Once in Castlemaine strange events begin to occur and Helen and Drusilla are kidnapped. It is up to Verity to work out if the Red Gauntlet is real, and how to find and rescue the two ladies. A fanciful story, good for capable readers—mostly girls of 8-12 years if it appeals.

Tombquest, 2   Amulet Keepers, by Michael Northrop. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is quite an involved story, and suitable for capable readers, both boys and girls of say 9-12 years. Alex and Ren need to find and stop the Death Walker before he becomes too powerful. The story began in Egypt, in the ancient tombs, but now has spread to London. Because this is going to be a continuing saga, there are many threads to the story, and each progresses the story a tad, but at the end, we know that there will be more to come. Such sagas do not appeal to me, but they do have merit it if a young reader finds the story to their liking.

The Impossible Quest, The Drowned Kingdom, by Kate Forsyth. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is the second last in the series where Quinn, Sebastian, Elanor and Tom continue on their quest to solve all the puzzles of Blackmoor Bog, and the evil creatures they find along the route they must follow at this stage, I am keen to know what the truth is that will be revealed, after the foursome has ticked all the boxes for the quest. For readers of 9-12 years, but you must start the series at Book 1, otherwise it will not make much sense.

My Brother is a Superhero, by David Solomons. PB from Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

Luke and Zac are brothers, and are very close to each other. One day, while in their tree house, Zack tells Luke that he thinks he has suddenly developed superpowers. Luke thinks this is all to do with puberty, but then realises that the superpowers arrived while he, Luke went for a wee…..and so follow their adventures to save not one, but several worlds. An innocent and wholesome story, with appeal to boys of 8-11 years.

*88 Lime Street, The Way In, by Denise Kirby. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

When the family arrive at their new home, they discover that there is part of the house which they cannot enter. As well, Ellen witnesses some weird events in the garden, as well as in the house. With her brother Ben and older Sister Biinnie, Ellen resolves to work out what is going on. The children find themselves in an extraordinary time warp adventures, with other children who have also lived in the house at various times. This is book 1 of what is to be a series. It is interesting and       at times amusing reading for 9-13 year olds.

Teenagers.

***The Almost King, by Lucy Saxon. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

This has been one of the more enjoyable books for teenagers this month. Ileks, who is then referred to as Aleks in the story, is the youngest of four boys. He realises that he needs to get away from his family, so decides to ride his horse, Quicksilver to the capital and enrol in the military. He is taken for a sucker, deprived of his money and tortured. After only four days he seizes an opportunity to escape, and in the effort, raids the office of his chief tormentor to try to take his own records with him. Instead he finds a journal which contains material from the Captain Hunter, (see the first book of this series, Take back the Skies), a journal which the unpleasant Shulga should not have had. Aleks is lucky in the north, finds an interesting job, and the challenge to learn to fly a skyship. He also falls in love. This is really good reading for both boys and girls of 13-15 years and I think there will be a sequel.

*****Freedom Ride, by Sue Lawson. PB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95

This is the other really excellent teenage read for this month. It is the fictionalisation of a journey to broadcast the many injustices meted out to aborigines in Australia, and particularly in rural areas in the mid 1960s. Robbie lives in Walgaree, (which seems to me to be a deliberate melding of the names of Walgett and Moree) when Robbie finds a part time job at the local caravan park, and then finds himself working beside Mickey who is a thoroughly decent kid—just black-skinned—Robbie becomes aware of the evils and injustices in his town, and family but learns to think for himself. At times some of the action is brutal, but I found it a brilliant, evocative and gripping novel.

Poppy in the Field, by Mary Hooper. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

This is the sequel to Poppy, which I reviewed last year. Poppy was a housemaid in the country house of a wealthy British family at the outbreak of WW1. She became a nursing aide, and looked after convalescent injured soldiers. In this book she learns of the marriage of the young man of the family, whom she had thought to be in love with her, and decides that it is time for a change, so she applies, and is accepted for nursing duties in France. She continues to enjoy her work, and also enjoys the change of scene, plus the new people including American nurses and a young British doctor whom she meets. A thoroughly readable book, probably for girls of 13-15 years.

*Bomber, by Paul Dowswell. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

This author has written numerous stories about aspects of life in WW2, from a British point of view. Here Harry, a young American has signed up as a gunner to fly with a US group of airman, who, with their plane, are attached to a British squadron. Harry soon learns that war is no fun and when he and his crew are eventually shot down, Harry has to learn to follow instructions to the letter as he makes his way through occupied France to Spain, and back to Britain. It is an interesting story, well told, and easy to read. For boys of 12-15 years.

Thirst, by Lizzie Wilcock. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Karanda Hooke has been rejected by five foster homes. On her way to the sixth, as she, a young boy named Solomon, and a driver Paul, make their way down through central Australia, Karanda riles Paul about his choice of music for the car, behaves really badly and irresponsibly and there is a crash. Karanda thinks she is OK, and that she can take the opportunity to lose her identity and start a new life. The only problem is the eight-year-old Solomon, who clings like a limpet to her, and in the process saves her life. How the two get along, and survive makes for interesting reading—a bit drawn out at times, but given the terrain, and the task to save themselves, it all hangs together well. In the process both Karanda and Solomon learn lots about themselves and each other. For mature readers of 12-15 years—it reminded me a little of Lilith Norma’s book “Climb a Lonely Hill.

*Me Being Me is exactly the same as you being you, by Todd Hasak-Lowy. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP about $20

The ingenuity of authors is often amazing. Here we have a novel about Darren a teenage boy who learns that his father is gay. Finding it hard to believe, Darren then ups and off to find his older brother Nate who is at college in another state. When I began to read this book, I found it easy to put it down to do something else, because the entire story is told in the form of lists. But—I kept picking up the book to read a few more lists! It is a bulky book but often not much content on each page, and the further I went, the more I became hooked in the story, and needed to know how Darren made out. Interesting reading for boys of about 14 and older.

A Song for Ella Grey, by David Almond. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99

This story mirrors the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice for contemporary readers. Ella is immediately bewitched by the beautiful Orpheus when he arrives on the scene via a whirlwind. Clare is forced to be a spectator only as she sees her friend totally besotted by Orpheus, unable to function at school, or in normal life, and totally confident that Orpheus will take her to be with him forever, which he does, leaving Clare bereft but knowing that there was nothing she could do to change history.   For girls of 13-15 years, if it appeals.

The Potion diaries, by Amy Alward. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP about $16

This is Book 1 of what is to be a series about Samantha and her talent to mix potions, which she is set to use as she becomes a competitor in the Wilde Hunt—a quest to find and save the princess of the kingdom, who has been poisoned by her own love potion. A story with appeal to girls of about 12-15 years who like fantasy love stories.

Zarkora: the Fyrelit Tragedy, by Nicolas and Alison Lochel. PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99

This is the first volume of a four part series about the adventures of two young brothers, Neleik and Ervine Fyrelti, who, having witnessed the kidnapping of their young sister Skye five years after the death of their parents, set out to discover what has happened to Skye and where she is. This is a very dense story, with small font, and lots on each page. The idea behind the story is reminiscent of other fantasies, such as the Mapmaker’s Apprentice and the Eragon series— but the setting is fully developed and the characters are engaging. It is totally readable, and yes, the second in the series will be released in November.

Thirteen Days of Midnight, by Leo Hunt. PB from Hachette. RRP $15.99

Phew, this is an action packed paranormal thriller! Luke is sixteen years old, and has just inherited a lot of money from his weird and estranged father. But- the legacy comes with a catch—the father was a necromancer, who lived and worked with ghosts, and there are now eight ghosts who, following the death of Dr Horatio Manchett, are now no longer enslaved, but who want to make Luke, who is now in theory their master, suffer for the deeds of his late father. Luke is protective of his mother, who is also a tad weird, but Ham, his dog proves a comfort and aid as Luke seeks to combat all the evils that the ghosts throw at him over the thirteen days- or rather nights, after he learns of his inheritance and has to rid the world of the Ghosts.   It is exciting and tense reading and, given the nature of the theme, doesn’t have to be realistic! It does say on the cover that the book should appeal to fans of Skulduggery Pleasant, and I agree.   For boys mostly, and of 13-16 years.

Fearless, by Marianne Curley. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

The subtitle of this is ‘Love will conquer all Evil,’ and it is the third and final novel in the Avena Trilogy. The trilogy is the story of Ebony, and Nathaneal. Ebony had been kept hidden on Earth for sixteen years, and was totally unaware that she was an angel, and beloved of Nathaneal. I have read all the books, and it is a story which has stayed with me, mostly because of the way in which the author has created such a plausible and complete world and developed the character so that it seems as if they are alive in our world! The multiple narrative, with voices form Ebony, Nathaneal and Jordan develops the tension of the story well, as they all seek to defeat the evil of Luca.   And Ebony, or Ebrielle as she really is still only sixteen. How can she and Nathaneal possibly restrain their passion till she is eighteen? For fans of the previous two books, mainly girls of 13-16 I suspect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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July 2015: New adult book releases, reviewed by Janet Croft

July 2015: New adult books reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the reading…..

Non-fiction

*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.

Fiction:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2015, May-June: New books for children and teenagers reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the reading!

Picture Books.

Although some of these books have historical backgrounds, I have not categorised any as non-fiction or fiction.

*My Name is Lizzie Flynn, by Claire Saxby and Lizzy Newcomb. HB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP about $24

This is the story of the women who came to Van Dieman’s Land from England, as convicts in 1841. The story line is simple and much of the content is told through the pictures. It was decided to have the women sew an unbacked quilt, while on the ship—both to learn new skills, and to keep idle minds occupied. Eventually the ship arrived, the quilt was completed, then lost for many years, but is now in the National Gallery in Canberra. An interesting book, and plausible story about the life on a convict ship. For 3-8 years.

Meet Banjo Paterson, by Kristen Weidenbach, and illustrated by Gulliver Hancock. HB from Random House.   RRP $24.99

This is a very simple biography of the life of Banjo Paterson. Two of his best-loved poems, the Man from Snowy River, and Waltzing Matilda are mentioned, with some details about their background. It’s good reading, and would be a good introduction for children of 4-8 years, to the rest of Paterson’s poetry.

I don’t like Koala, by Sean Ferrell and illustrated by Charles Santoso. HB from Koala and Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Adam does not like Koala at bedtime, because he is scared of Koala’s dreadful, scary eyes, which keep staring at him. Adam tries to lose Koala, but then—Adam gets a fright and decides that maybe Koala is not so scary after all. For young readers of 2-4 years.

Dear Mum, I love you, by Ed Allen and Simon Williams. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

This is a delightful book, with bright, large pictures, and with each double spread is included a letter, in an envelope from the animal babies shown, to their mothers, about the love of the child for the mum. It’s a sweet story, and I think will be popular with kids of 3-8 years, and encourage talking, with adults about the now- almost- lost -art of letter writing.

Teacup, by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This is a more serious picture book. It tells of how a young boy has to leave his home, and flee from strife. He carried nothing to his small boat but a book, a bottle, a blanket and a teacup, which contained some earth from his home. He travels over calm seas, and through storms. At one point he realises that his teacup dirt has sprouted a small plant, and he tends this lovingly. The story end on a positive note, and we are hopeful that he finds somewhere to call home as he grows up. If I have a gripe about this book, it is that the font used is fine, and pale, and sometimes hard to read over the pictures. Suitable especially as a discussion book for readers of 4-8 years.

Action Kid Movie, by Daniel Hashimoto, and Mandy Richardville. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $19.99

This story is inspired by James, the son of Daniel. The book originated in some of James’ heroic exploits, made using animation and digital manipulation and uploaded on You Tube. I have not looked at these, but many have received more than a million hits. The book is nothing special, but may appeal to young You Tube viewers of the clips. Suitable for 3-5 year olds.

Junior Fiction titles.

I have lots of simple paperback chapter books here this month, suitable for 5-8 year olds. In brief:

Flying High, by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. From Scholastic. RRP $9.99

Written with indigenous children in mind, it tells how a young child takes a flight, and then learns to shape animals out of wire, with her grandmother.

Frankie Fox, Operation Boy Band, by Yvette Poshlogian. From Hachette. RRP $12.99

Young Griffin agent Frankie Fox discovers, in Scotland, that a really popular boy band is actually working with the dreaded Alliance to brainwash kids. Frankie has to do her job, but hopes it will not cause her friends too much pain.

In the Samurai vs Ninja series from Nick Falk and Tony Flowers, two titles from Penguin and Random house (The Race for the Shogun’s Treasure, and the Battle for the Golden Egg) at about $10 each.  

I found the illustrations the best part of these books—they make sense of the stories and I was not distracted by all the Japanese names!

Ella and Olivia, Spelling Superstar, by Yvette Poshlogian. From Scholastic. RRP $7.99

My suggestion is that books about spelling competitions should only be read by good spellers. Anyone else will feel inadequate.

*Ten, by Shamini Flint. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

This is not a superficial story, because it raises the issues of gender expectations for girls, and in an Asian environment, it raises issues of dysfunctional family life, and of cultural differences for children who are not fully one race or another. Maya is ten, and lives to play soccer. She has to battle to get to play soccer at all,but when she wins a trip to Wembley in England, her plans to reconcile her parents do not go to plan. For more capable readers of 8-10 years, probably mainly girls.

Clementine Rose and the Movie Magic, by Jacqueline Harvey. PB from Random House. RRP about $13.

This is a fun read, about a movie shoot which goes terribly wrong when two strangers turn up and seem to want to wreck the promotional video that is being shot about Clementine Rose’s house, and family B and B enterprise, Penberthy House. Suitable for 8-11 year olds.

Anyone but Ivy Pocket, by Caleb Crisp. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99

Once again a fanciful story, but fun to read. Ivy Pocket is penniless, knows nothing about her family, and has just been dumped in Paris by her former employer. When Ivy is summoned to the bedside of an old and sick duchess, and asked to take the Clock Diamond to England, and present it to Matilda Butterworth on her twelfth birthday, because Matilda is to inherit the diamond. Ivy takes the diamond, but soon comes to wonder why she was chosen, why she has so much trouble as she tries to carry out her task, and most of all to wonder who she herself really is. For girls of 8-12 years.

In the Silver Shoes series, by Samantha-Ellen Bound, there are two new titles. Dance Till You Drop and Breaking Pointe. PBs from Random House. RRP $14.99 each

These stories show the highlights of the life of a young dancer, but they also show the problems and heartbreak which can occur, and the dilemmas which have to be resolved. I like the way in which it is shown that there has to be a happy medium with regard to any sport or passion. Paige has to decide what she really wants to achieve from her dancing—in Breaking Pointe it is Riley who has to choose with which of her three favourite activities she will persist. There are also some very interesting technical pages at the back of these books- details about steps and positions, which any young dancer will find interesting and helpful. For dancers of 8-12 years.

Middle School, Rafe’s Aussie Adventure, by James Patterson and Martin Chatterton. PB from Random House. RRP $15.99

Rafe Khatchadorian arrives in Australia from the US after he wins an art competition. He starts school on the east coast, but is terrified of snakes, sharks and drop bears. He and his dad are staying with the local mayor, but this makes life difficult for Rafe because the two boys in the family are bullies and give Rafe a really hard time. He starts to spend time with the Outsiders to get away from the twins, and in the process begins to learn a fair bit about film making. It is an OK read—a reliable reviewer—other than me!—says this is the series to be seen reading…..fine if you are a boy of 9-12 years! The author began to write books for kids when he discovered that his own son was in fact a very reluctant reader…..and as always, any book which encourages a child to read and enjoy reading is excellent.

The Case of the Exploding Brains, by Rachel Hamilton. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $9.99

Noelle Hawkins cannot escape mysteries—they just follow her around. I found the story too complicated, and with two many false leads to try to use the clues to beat Noelle to the solution. Not a happy one for her family, as her father ends up in gaol, and she is not sure whether her mother wants to stay married to him because of all the strife he has been in. For readers of 9-12 years, if it appeals.

**A King in Hiding, by Fahim, with Sophie le Galliennec and Xavier Permentier. Translated from the French by Barbara Mellor. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

Over the past few years I have read several stories about children who have been forced to leave their land of birth, and travel as refugees to try to settle in a new country. Most of these stories remain imprinted in my brain, and this one is no exception as Fahim, aged eight, and who was now a superb young chess player in his homeland of Bangla Desh, was forced to flee to Europe, with his father, after it became clear that Fahim had become a kidnapping target because of his prowess in Bangla Desh, and in India with chess. Fahim’s father had been a fireman, but in Europe, they found it impossible to obtain residency or a visa so that Mr Nura could work in Hungary, so they moved to France. Most of the story is about the time in France, and how Fahim’s skill with his game increased or declined depending on his mental state when he and his father were refused asylum, several times, and a visa. This is a superb, easy to read story, and would be an excellent related text for the themes of change and discovery for senior school students. It is also suitable for readers of 12-15 years, although parts of the story are desperately sad. Once more, as Robert Burns said three hundred years ago, ‘Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.”

Kerenza, by R Hawke. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

This story is of a family which emigrates form England to Australia in the early days of settlement. There is just so much which is different from Cornwall, and it seems as if Kerenza and her mother are the two who find everything really difficult. I found it an OK read, but the 12 year old to whom I lent the book found it tedious. Just because a book is based on fact does not make it an appealing read.

The Palamino Pony Runs Free, by Olivia Tuffin. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

This is a really enjoyable read about horses, and the joys of riding for girls of about 8-12 years. Georgia and her pony Lily, meet Will and his horse, and have a rather difficult getting to know you stage before they all settle down and work to take part in the horse of the year competition. The story flows well, even if it is rather predictable perhaps, but it is easy to read and horse-mad girls will enjoy it.

*Phyllis Wong and the Waking of the Wizard, by Geoffrey McSkimming. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

This is the third in a series about Phyllis Wong, but it is the first that I have read. It took me a while to get into the story, and I almost did not continue the book, because it seemed so wacky at the start. The search is to find the timeless, and greatest wizard of all, Merlin, or as he is called in this story, Myrddin and Phyllis and her great-grandfather, WW (or Wallace Wong) team up to travel through time, find Myrddin and manage to escape the clutches, and in fact capture the unpleasant Sturdy. It will take readers who are enthusiastic about a long and fanciful story to complete this book, but it does have a satisfactory conclusion….for capable readers of 10-12 years.

Teenage:

***One True Thing, by Nicole Hayes. PB from Random House. RRP $19.99

Frankie is 16, and her mother- Rowena- became premier of Victoria almost a year ago. Now it is election time, and Rowena is hoping to become Victoria’s first elected female premier. There is family life to consider, in particular Frankie’s band, and also the health and well being of her younger, and seriously asthmatic brother Luke, as the family juggles family times, and electioneering— which is made unpleasant by the dirt digging, and nastiness from at least one shock jock, Seamus Hale. This is an engrossing, real life read about a lifestyle which has little to recommend it – i.e. politics, and the nasty ways in which elements of the media try to drag out dirt about everyone, but in particular about female politicians rather than males.   The story flows well, it is graphic and intense at times, but the secret which Rowena has not wanted to tell her children is revealed, and every one survives. And the election goes well, and there is optimism about how Colin Leith will fit into the family in the future. For readers of 13 and older.

*The Pause, by John Larkin. PB from Random House. RRP $19.99

This is a powerful novel which arose from the author’s experience of severe depression, and the emotional weight on him which he felt would never leave him. I am going to quote Larkin here: “ My reason for writing this book was to try to get it into the hands of anyone who might be vulnerable. To show them that life does get better. That we need to pause. I wanted this to be a book about hope and the beauty of relationships.” Thus we read about the experiences of Declan as he is depressed, and ponders suicide under the wheels of a train. There are dual scenarios presented in the book— all relate to moments preceding the arrival of the train —and these times vary from 11 years previously to nine years after. There are also bits of non-space….. It is a very serious story, and memorable in its starkness, and of the need by Declan to feel needed and wanted in order to want to pause, and survive. For mature readers of 15 to adult.

*I’ll give you the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. PB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95

This is a dramatic, and compelling sharing of the lives of twins, Jude and Noah—of the three years or so of their lives from the ages of 13 to 16, and of all the events they shared together, and those separate, particularly after the death of their mother, and the difficult times after they split. Both twins love boys, and the story is not only about their family life, and their closeness when young, but also of their growing up, and the different strands to their love lives. It really is a roller coaster, and al of us who remember our teenage years, and the extremes of emotions which we experienced and grew through, will identify with these twins. If I have a gripe about the book it is that the print is so small. Superb teenage reading, and of course it comes from Walker Books whose books are almost always top reading.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

I cannot pretend to enjoy paranormal teenage novels, with stereotyped male and female characters. One of my students who had read books 1 and 2 of this the Raven Boys series has read this book for me, and says there are a few too many deaths, and it becomes a bit gruesome in places, but that the story hangs together well, and that she admired Blue Sargent as a character. She also has enjoyed the authors’ previous books. For girls of 14 years and older as it appeals.

***The Girl at Midnight, by Melissa Grey. PB from Hachette. RRP about $20

I was a bit sceptical about tackling this book because it seemed a tad too paranormal, but I was mistaken, and it is a really good read. Echo is a runaway pickpocket, who was semi-adopted by The Ala and her Avicen brethren many years ago. The Avicen live under the streets of New York City, and at times Echo makes the transit underground from her comfortable home in a magically hidden room at the metropolitan public library. Echo crosses between the two worlds, and makes a living by pickpocketing, and selling on the black markets. Now, war threatens the Avicen, war against the Drakharen, that has been anticipated for centuries. Echo finds herself torn between the two, with boyfriends in both camps, but her allegiance is firmly with the Avicen, until she realises how much she enjoys the company of Caius. What is this Firebird that she is told to seek, and for which everyone else seems to be looking as well? There is other plots too- in particular that of the complex relationship between Caius and his twin Tanith. What is Echo’s connection, and why is it that she is to be the seeker? Why is she called Echo?   This has been the most intriguing and easy to read teenage novel this month. For readers of 13-15 years, most probably girls.

***Stay with Me, by Maureen McCarthy. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $22.99

Maureen McCarthy is an Australian author, mostly, to date of teenage fiction. She has a large and appreciative audience for her novels—often with a social theme. Here, Tess was not a studious and ambitious student like her sister. When Tess was invited to Byron Bay for a holiday, she stayed, found a job, then entered a violent and abusive relationship, and had a baby.   She abandoned contact with her family but then tried to plan how to escape from Jed, particularly since he has been cruel to Nellie, their daughter. Jed is on drugs and has threatened to kill Tess. A chance meeting in the library with a young couple allows her to succeed with her escape. I suspect that this story will stay in my mind as long as McCarthy’s earlier book The Convent has!   Whilst it is a gripping novel, it is also a sobering story about abusive relationships, how often they occur in our society, and how difficult it can be to escape them. The book is suitable for both older teenagers, say 16 and over, and adults. (I will publish this review in the adult section as well).

**Theodore Boone, by John Grisham. PB from Hodder and Stoughton, and Hachette. RRP $29.99

Theo is a fourteen-year-old boy, son of very busy small city lawyers. He has a better relationship with his paternal uncle Ike, than with his parents. On a school trip to Washington, Theo recognises one of America’s ten most wanted criminals. Theo talks to Ike, and they report the sighting to the FBI. There is a one hundred thousand dollar reward for the capture of this crim. The story involves Theo, with Ike helping to identify, and to find a reluctant witness so the crim can be convicted. John Grisham has written some 27 novels—this is for a new generation of readers, possibly mid-late teenagers.

****Finding Audrey, by Sophie Kinsella. PB from Random House. RRP $29.99

I have just finished reading this book in one sitting. … is was a pity about other jobs! This is a superb, lifelike, imaginative and gripping story. Audrey is a teenager who is recovering from a social anxiety disorder, following some seriously negative experiences at her last school. Now she is at home, in a dark den, wearing sunglasses, and having no direct contact with anyone other than her family, and therapist. And the family is seriously inept in handling each other. Mother has stopped work to help Audrey, but now is hung up over Frank and his compulsion to play a serious computer game, in the hope that he might win six million dollars. Dad is well meaning, but under Mum’s thumb, and young Felix is Felix, and ignorant of all the dramas around him. Once Audrey brings herself to interact via texts, with Franks’ friend Linus though, life starts to improve, until finally Audrey is well on her way back to the real world. This is an easy story to read; in spite of all the trauma, the dramas are tastefully handled, and the reader is aware that Audrey is coming out of her dark shell. At times it seemed as if Linus was the therapist! Excellent reading for 13-16 year olds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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May-June, 2015: New adult books reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the reading…..

Non-fiction

The Book of the People, how to read the Bible, by A.N. Wilson. PB from Atlantic and Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

This book gives the author’s opinion about how the Bible ought to be read. Whilst it meanders through his experiences with the Bible, and with authors who have sought to discover the ‘historical’ Christ through various sources in the Bible and other literature, it is also the story of his continuing association with a woman, now dead, called “L’ who seems to have shared many ideas with this author. It was obviously a platonic relationship about beliefs which both held dear, and which they explored together. Wilson believes that each generation must read the Bible, and make contact with it as is appropriate for the times in which we live. He decries the fundamentalists who insist that the original setting and ideas of the Bible stories must be upheld in their original form; he believes that for all of us, we must read and interpret the stories of the Bible in terms which connect with our current experience. The book is discursive, but quite readable.

*Money, Master of the Game, by Tony Robards. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99

Many books are written about how to become wealthy. Robards gives what appear to be the seven steps to financial freedom. It is a complicated book; the depth of detail provided is possibly more than what somebody who is starting to build up their capital could use. There is one section where he invites seven of the super wealthy and successful (in financial terms anyway) of the world. Such advice must be sound, but it is not necessarily applicable to everybody. I could not get interested enough to read it all–the detail about superannuation laws for example is only appropriate for the US. Despite my lack of enthusiasm, there are a lot of good ideas in the book.

***Follow your Gut. The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes. By Rob Knight, with Brendan Buhler. HB from TED and Simon and Schuster. RRP $16.99

The microbes which exist in and on your body weigh about one and a half kilos. They have ten times more DNA than the rest of the body, and integrate in many, many ways with our lives. This is a book that probably raises more questions than it answers. The research being carried out, and also yet to be done about the inter-relationships cover health, obesity, diabetes, possibly autism, asthma and many digestive issues. It is a complicated topic that the author covers in a manner which made me think about the over use of antibiotics to treat disease, not only in humans but also in livestock. It is one of the most interesting and readable, thought provoking small books I have ever read.

Daily Greens, Four day Cleanse, by Shauna Martin. HB from Murdoch books, RRP $24.99

I read this book yesterday, and now need to decide whether I will cleanse, and see what benefits I obtain from it. The preparation involves a week of healthy green smoothies, followed by four days of green drinks. All the recipes look quite appealing, with not too much kale, and pleasant flavourings like ginger and lemon. The author began her move to green juice drinks after she and her sister both underwent radical surgery for breast cancer, almost at the same time, when in their early thirties. Martin is convinced that her robust good health now is the result of a massive switch in her diet, and to the continued programme of green juices with which she starts her day, and also uses for many other meals. I admit to feeling a bit confused about why some of these green vegetable fans suggest that green juice is the way to go, while others decry the use of juice, saying that it is the fibre in the smoothies which does all the good…

This is a very attractively presented book—lavishly set out, with coloured photos of each and every smoothie, and juice concoction, and easy to follow instructions for all the recipes. The ingredients too, are easily obtained in my large NSW town, so I expect they would be available anywhere. For those who feel they will benefit from a greener diet…

**From India with Love, by Latika Bourke. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99

Latika Bourke was one of three children adopted by an Australian family from India as a baby. She also had five biological brothers and sisters. Growing up in this large, loving family in rural Australia made her very Australian, although her Indian features made it apparent that she had been adopted. As Latika grew up she always resented the questions about where she really came from. It was after she completed a degree in media studies at CSU Bathurst, and had spent time in Britain that she and her partner decided to travel to India and find the orphanage that had cared for her as a new baby. This is a book which encompasses many issues. Latika’s trips to India made her realise how fortunate she had been in the lottery of life and how caring the nuns had been. Although she acknowledges that not all adoptions work, she is happy to identify herself as Australian. It is an easy to read, interesting and heart-warming story. In fact it is a pleasure to read. Suitable for teenagers, and adults of course.

***Stuffocation, Living More with Less, by James Wallman. PB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $29.99

This would have to be one of the most engaging, and inspiring books of the year so far. As its title suggests, we in the Western world are suffocating in our own stuff. We have so much stuff many of us don’t have room for it in our homes, and hire space to store it all! This is certainly a book which champions the way forward with less clutter, which will then lead to a more serene, cost-efficient lifestyle. We have all seen the shows on TV which have presented houses where there is so much stuff that the people cannot even exist there comfort ably.   Non-western cultures do not suffer the same problems. Our western lives seem to have been imbued with a ‘mantra’ which says ‘more is better and more successful’. but the social experiments outlined in this book prove clearly that we do not need 80% of what we have. Time to have a severe attack of the ‘de-clutter bug!’

*Granta, 131 the Magazine of New Writing, edited by Sigrid Rausling. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99

Among others, this collection has contributions from Janine di Giovanni from Baghdad, Charles Glass on the life of an Armenian family in a village near Aleppo, Syria, following the jihadist occupation, Edward Luttwak on the middle managers of the CIA, Binyavanga Wainnaina on a gay village in Ghana, and what happens with a man in the village goes to prison for homosexual crimes. There are also chapters of new fiction from China Mieville and Mark Slouka and some poetry.   One of the themes behind the choice of inclusions is to raise awareness of contested ideas around the world. A lot of the writing requires the reader to move out of any comfort zone, and to confront the mess other humans are making of life for countless thousands, mostly in African and middle eastern countries. This will be a great book to give to HSC students, to help them learn about writing styles, tone, themes, and the art of understatement so that the reader must fill in gaps via imagination. At the end there is a visual presentation of the analysis of a short story—quite fascinating, and certainly useful for some senior students. Excellent reading for all actual and budding authors, plus students of current affairs.

***Musings from the Inner Duck, by Michael Leunig. PB from Penguin. RRP $24.99

Michael has not changed his approach and outlook on life, society, and our foibles and failing. Here our inadequacies are revealed again and again through his gently whimsical cartoons. He has been described as a visual poet and I feel this is an apt description as he introduces issues like the merits of a carbon tax and the use of a GPS, here called the global positioning sausage—and of course all through the eyes of Mr curly. This is a gem of a book for relaxed musing. The humour, and unspoken comment on the way in which we are asked to buy rubbishy items which we don’t need is delightfully revealed on the page where “A Man goes shopping in a Department store”! For all ages from about 13 up.

*****Gittins, by Ross Gittins. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32,99

It is not often that you read a book where, whilst reading, you continually think about who, other than yourself, would enjoy the book. This is one of those rare occasions. Ross Gittins sees himself as an economic journalist with a job which provides information and interest to his readers. He quotes Lord Northcliffe, who defines news as ‘something, someone, somewhere doesn’t want published’. During his forty years of work for the Sydney morning Herald, Gittins has been close to and knowledgeable about what happens in government, both with people and policies. His thoughts on the style by which news is broken on TV; the future of newspapers in the digital age; his ideas on characteristics and abilities to look for when hiring staff; his thoughts on writing styles which will hold peoples’ attention, and some lessons on English gramma and punctuation are all reasons why a wide range of people and backgrounds will, and probably should, read this book. I have enjoyed it immensely and have great respect for the thoughtfulness and integrity of the writer.

Very Good Lives, by J.K Rowling. HB from Hachette. RRP about $15

Subtitled, ‘The fringe benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination”, this is the text of a speech given at commencement to students at Harvard in 2008. It presents Rowlings’ ideas about how we can and should embrace failure, and how we can use our imagination to benefit others. It is an intensely personal story; with lots of examples from Rowling’s background in her post graduate years before the dramatic change in her fortunes following the release and immediate success of the Harry Potter books. All the proceeds from this small, but very readable book go to various charities, some at Harvard, and the rest in Britain.

**Modern Australian Usage, A Practical Guide for Writers and Editors, by Nicholas Hudson.(3rd Ed) PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $35

This is another book for my bookshelves. As a tutor I am faced almost daily with children—mostly the teenage ones—who have not heard of ‘irony’, or ‘sarcasm’ or a raft of other technical terms used by students of English. Teachers do a wonderful job with analogies, onomatopoeia, and quite a few other terms, but there are so many for senior students to learn and apply to their analysis, that they really need a book like this which is arranged alphabetically, at hand to check the meaning, and to read the examples of usage provided. It is a comprehensive guide. There are lots of comparisons between Australian (usually based on British) and American usage, and most of the examples are easily understood by most secondary aged students. For example, to say that teenagers use ‘bad’ and ‘sick’ to suggest ‘good’ in an ironical way is very easy for the kids to understand. Some of the articles are quite long, and make for good reading just for interest—including some which present how changes in sexist language have made problems for other languages, such as French.   It’s an erudite and interesting guide for all those involved with writing, and for those who teach or edit.

***The Internet is not the Answer, by Andrew Keen. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99 ( and as Ebook)

This provides a negative, and quite chilling assessment of the value to mankind of the proliferation of Internet use. Keen asserts that the only people to benefit from the web are the small group of “young, privileged, white, male, and Silicon-Valley multi-millionaires.” Why the negativity? The internet has changed everything, from the face to face of meetings and social occasions, to our reading habits, and correspondence with family, to business, banking, cars, navigation—education, on-line shopping, use of taxis or Uber, and of course crime. Such a rapid transformation of western society, and, progressively the rest of the world as well, have all been transformed in only about 25 years and huge areas of collateral damage are emerging, in ways which were never predicted by the earliest web users. In particular, individual privacy has suffered. While the first 200 pages of the book outlines the developments of the past 25 years, Keen then presents in his final chapter a five part plan for the next twenty five years to rethink the web, empower government authority, protect and restore privacy, and consider how we want the web to be a tool which protects, rather than sacrifices humanity and turns us into press button brains. He believes that the most important single factor is to regrow the use and appreciation of human brain memory, and history.   It is a complex book—the more one works with the internet, and business, the easier it will be to follow and understand, but the message is really clear—if we wish to protect humanity, we MUST reinvent the web.

Buy me the Sky, by Xinran. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

China’s one child policy is recognised as a very effective way to control their huge population. One estimate has said that it reduced potential births for the next thirty years. Xinran was born in China but now lives in England, and only has one child. She became interested in the long-term effects of such a radical policy. Chinese families had relied on multiple children to look after the elderly and be a backup for childhood deaths. What Xinran found was that most of the single children became very precious, and the entire focus of the parents. Many grew up unable to look after themselves, relate to other people and resentful of their parents for treating them as pets, not children. There are lots of stories from situations in Britain and New Zealand for example, about young Chinese who have been handicapped in their adult life because of their limited childhood experiences. It makes very interesting reading. Social engineering, like every thing else can have lots of unexpected results.

****I gave a Gonski, by David Gonski. PB from Penguin. RRP $32.99

This is a book of selected speeches. Gonski became a household name when he was asked to report to the Australian government on school funding—private, public and secular. Initially, he trained as a lawyer, then moved into merchant banking and now is chairman of two of Australia’s biggest companies. He has also worked for various charities, and is chancellor of UNSW. Gonski had often been asked to write about his life. Instead he has assembled this condensed series of speeches. The range of subjects is considerable, and the speeches contain much of what I call wisdom. From gender diversity on company boards, to the role of a chairman, and of company directors, to the topic of doing business in Asia and philanthropy the range is considerable. There is even a chapter about how it feels to turn sixty! Initially I had thought it might be a book for those who aspire to become a company director, but there is a lot about life in general as well. It is a book which I thoroughly enjoyed, and will remember with enthusiasm.

 

Fiction.

**Toxic, by Jaime Doward. PB from Murdoch Books. RRP $29.99

This is a big story about espionage. The CIA had established a bank so it could have a clearer understanding of the money which floats around the world’s terror organisations. Is the bank bankrupt, and out of control, or controlled by the terrorists? Kate Pendragon is a runner, a financial analyst seconded to British MI5. She has picked up that something huge is about to happen. Both the massive Saudi funds and the CIA Higgs Bank were beginning to take positions to be in the right place when a catastrophe occurs. What will be the trigger to set it off? This is the debut novel for Jaime Doward—it has a British background and is an excellent, fast moving story. A very good read.

A Place called Winter, by Patrick Gale. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

Harry Cane came from a privileged background. He did not need to work to live, married well and was devoted to their young daughter. He became entangled in a scandalous affair which meant he had to abandon his family and life style, and emigrate to Canada to try to establish himself in a society totally alien from his past. It is a well-written story, loosely based on a real life family mystery. Harry begins to farm, and to form relationships with the brother and sister who are now his next-door neighbours. At times the story is brutal, at others though it is tender and intimate, and there is a surprising ending which makes one marvel at the ways in which some people live and love.

***The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

Jean Perdu lives what would seem to many to be an idyllic life. He is a bookseller who has the rare ability, referred to as being a ‘literary apothecary’ to recommend to various readers, books which suit them well. This is particularly so with readers with troubled souls. Perdu has worked for twenty years from a large restored barge moored on the Seine. The love of Perdus’ life fled Paris, but left behind for him a letter that he was not to read for twenty years. When he eventually did read the letter, he realised that he should have read it earlier, but immediately set off on the barge, along the canals of France, with two cats, and as companion, Max Jordan, whose only book had been a best seller, but who then suffered severe writer’s block to try to find his past lover. This is a book of fascinating personalities, and a voyage of love and hope. It is great to read a book which leaves you feeling happy!

The Love song of Miss Queenie Hennesey, by Rachel Joyce. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

The author has called this book a companion to her earlier novel “the Unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry”, which I read, loved and reviewed several years ago. Queenie Hennesey was the person who was the destination of Harold Fry ‘s pilgrimage. He walked the length of Great Britain, only to find her on the brink of death and unable to communicate with him. Here we read the reminiscences of Queenie, as she narrates them. Queenie believed that she dictated her thoughts to a nun at the excellent hospice where she then lived. In reality, the nun reports that Queenie just records nonsense, and her words are unintelligible.. The thoughts and reminiscences make perfect sense to Queenie; they were about her friendship, unspoken love and memories of her time with Harold, when he would drive her to work, and she would be the passenger. The book fills out the story of Harold Fry in a very satisfying, although somewhat sad manner.

Tiddas, by Anita Heiss. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP about $30

This is the tale of five young women from Wagga Wagga, who all move to live in Brisbane. The girls pass through typical 21st century social dilemmas, career and work vs. motherhood, playing the field with men; then, as wives, sometimes post divorce trying to re-establish themselves, and deal with the possibility of alcoholism. The story doesn’t really go anywhere. Each young woman is presented with a series of issues, and they all survive. I suppose that it is an achievement that you all live their lives according to preferred measures of happiness. There are no noticeable stand out characters, which is probably why the story does not give much of a buzz. OK, if it appeals.

*Pleasantville, by Attica Locke. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

Pleasantville is a high class black neighbourhood of Houston, Texas. It is 1996, and the mayoral election approaches and America is thinking ahead to the presidential election that gave America George Bush. All elections are hard fought, and dirty tricks can be used. Jay Porter has been a very successful lawyer in the area, winning some significant cases for local people. He would like to wind down his work load, but is roped into the defence of Neal Hawthorn, grandson of Alex Hawthorn who is the clear favourite to become Houston’s first black mayor. Jay is convinced that Neal Hawthorn has been made a scapegoat for the murder of three young girls. It is a well written, intriguing drama, albeit with a lot of time spent in the court room.

***The Beachside Guest, by Vanessa Greene. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

This is a delightful pleasant read about three women who, as teenagers, spend an idyllic holiday on the Greek island of Paros. They stay in a windmill guesthouse, and all take fond memories of their time there back with them to England. When the Windmill guesthouse comes up for sale, two of the three decide to return to Paros, and ‘do it up’ They renew past relationships and make new ones, and it is this time which is the meat of the story. The engaging romances and girly independence was fun, and they certainly took me with them to Paros.

Goodbye Sweetheart, by Marion Halligan. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

William is a successful lawyer who has a heart attack and dies while swimming. He was in his third marriage, with one child from each wife. The book tells the story from each wife, and also from the perspective of the children. There is also a current mistress, who feels she should be included. The result of all these narratives was that the story was too fragmented, and I found it difficult to remain interested.

McKellan’s run, by Nicole Hurley-Moore. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

When Violet married, she made an error of judgment which affected her whole life—she married the wrong McKellan brother. This is a long running love story, which runs a predictable line. It must appeal to somebody, but it was not me.

The Cellar, by Minette Walters. HB from Random House. RRP$29.99

Muna had been collected from an orphanage, although Mr and Mrs Songoli had forged papers which stated that she was their niece. Muna was brought up as a slave, kept in a cellar, and nothing in her life was good. She had no education, was unable to speak English, raped by Mr Songoli, treated badly by the two sons and hidden away by Mrs Songoli. The only reason to persist with this story-because it is both brutal and bitter– is to discover the revenge that Muna was able to extract from the family. She is much smarter that they thought, but possibly just as evil as the rest of her adoptive family. A chilling story, but quite plausible.

The A-Z of you and Me, by James Hannah. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

Ivo is in a hospice—middle aged and mixed up in his thinking. Sheila is his nurse, and suggests that Ivo play an alphabet game to pass the time, and maybe sort out his head at the same time. The result is a readable series of recollections—quite lively, and easy to read and they reveal Ivo to have been a person who has loved deeply. Not all memories are happy however, and Ivo doe not want to see Mal.   OK, if it appeals.

Leap, by Myfanwy Jones. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $26.99

This is the story of Joe, and how his life took a dramatic, persistent downwards spiral after his school time sweetheart died, hours after they had had a row at a friends party, and Joe had left. I did not enjoy the story, because it seemed inevitable that the title would come into play.

Ghost Flight, by Bear Grylls. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

This is the first novel by the well known TV adventure man, and star of “Man vs Wild” and “The Island”. Jaeger has not been a happy man since the abduction and death of his wife and son. He is persuaded to join an expedition to the Amazon, hopefully to find a mysterious WW2 war plane, supposed to have been carrying a secret cargo which was of importance to the whole Western world, and maybe to contain clues to the murderers of his family. Jaeger joins a team of ex elite commando style adventurers, and the team included the lovely but sinister Russian Irena Narov. The mystery harks back to Nazi Germany, and it is imperative that Jaeger reaches the wreck first.   This story will appeal to teenage boys, as well as to adults. Grylls would benefit from some lessons about how to use complex sentences to provide variety in a narrative. As it is the story makes tedious reading.

***Stay with Me, by Maureen McCarthy. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $22.99

Maureen McCarthy is an Australian author, mostly, to date of teenage fiction. She has a large and appreciative audience for her novels—often with a social theme. Tess was not a studious and ambitious student like her sister. When Tess was invited to Byron Bay for a holiday, she stayed, found a job, then entered a violent and abusive relationship, and had a baby.   At this time she had abandoned contact with her family but then needed to plan how to escape from Jed, particularly since he has been cruel to Nellie, their daughter. Jed is on drugs and has threatened to kill Tess. A chance meeting in the library with a young couple allows her to succeed with her escape. I suspect that this story will stay in my mind as long as McCarthy’s earlier book The Convent has!   Whilst it is a gripping novel, it is also a sobering story about abusive relationships; how often they occur in our society, and how difficult it can be to escape them. The book is suitable for both older teenagers, say 16 and over, and adults. (I will publish this review in the adult section as well).

Where they found her, by Kimberley McCreight. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99

Freelance journalist Molly Sanderson is called to cover the story of a dead baby found on a creek bank near the university at Ridgedale. Everybody is concerned that Molly is exposing herself to too many memories about her own lost baby. It is a complicated story which gradually bring more and more former secrets into the open—the characters have more in common than anyone imagined. I have reached the stage where I try to avoid any book with the work ‘dark’ in the blurbs. “Dark’ seems to be a good indication that the plot is about more unpleasantness than pleasure.

**Theodore Boone, by John Grisham. PB from Hodder and Stoughton, and Hachette. RRP $29.99

Theo is a fourteen-year-old boy, son of very busy small city lawyers. He has a better relationship with his paternal uncle Ike, than with his parents. On a school trip to Washington, Theo recognises one of America’s ten most wanted criminals. Theo talks to Ike, and they report the sighting to the FBI. There is a one hundred thousand dollar reward for the capture of this crim. The story involves Theo, with Ike helping to identify, and to find a reluctant witness so the crim can be convicted. John Grisham has written some 27 novels—this is for a new generation of readers, possibly mid-late teenagers.

The Trivia Man, by Deborah O’Brien. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

Kevin Dwyer lives for trivia competitions. He is a fifty-year-old accountant whose only friend is his eight-year-old nephew who is also too focused on facts to fit in with his peers. It is a book about personalities—the trivia team ranges from a domineering doctor to a shy teacher of Latin, Maggie. Maggie has spent most of her life loving the wrong man– three times married Josh. Nowhere in the book is any syndrome named—maybe it should be one of the quiz questions. I enjoyed reading the story. It is quite appealing and really shows that we are all different, and that everybody fits somewhere.

Prey, by James Carol. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

Jefferson Winter once worked for the FBI as a profiler. His father had been abusive, and eventually was executed as a serial killer. While Jefferson is having a quiet meal in a New York eatery, a woman stabs and kills the cook. Jefferson feels that she killed in order to gain his attention, and linked the murder to one that had been solved six years previously. Winter and this woman play a complex game—they are both extremely intelligent, but adversaries, not friends. Serial killing and profiling are a common theme in American murder mystery novels. James Carol writes a good story and he shows clearly how small details can reveal good clues. Prey is a good example of the genre—it is not crude, and there are not too many bodies or unpleasant people.

**Gun Control, by Peter Corris. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

Cliff Harvey has featured in many of Corris’s forty plus published novels. It is a pleasure to read intriguing Australian crime fiction, rather than American. Cliff is getting older and wiser; he is a private investigator with good contacts. He has been hired by a business man to find out what happened to cause the death, by shooting of his son, a death which has been listed as a suicide. This is a fast-moving world of crooked cops, bad bikies and dysfunctional families. It is a really good read.

Solitude Creek, by Jeffrey Deaver. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

Catherine Dance works for the California Bureau of Investigation as a sleuth. Antioch March like to set up a situation where people panic in an enclosed area, with the threat of fire and not be able to escape. March feels successful when people are crushed and killed. This is a complicated story and a lot seems to happen at once. Dance is a widow, with two children and two serious admirers who both want to marry her. Her teenage son has fallen into bad company, her boss has lost faith in her and is trying to demote her. I would have to say that I prefer Deavers’ stories where Lincoln Rhyme is the investigator but this is an OK story.

Missing you, by Kylie Kaden. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

Any story which involves a high needs child will involve emotions, and frustrations, and the possible breakdown of relationships. This is no exception. When Ryan and Aisha marry, Ryan was hesitant about having children. When Eli was born, and was high needs, the marriage disintegrated, and Aisha ended up walking out, leaving Eli with Aisha’s elderly father Patrick. The story is told as a multiple narrative, but hangs together well, although I admit to surprise at the ending of the story, when everything turns out better than I had anticipated.

***Northern Heat, by Helene Young. PB from Penguin. RRP $32.99

Two families had been torn apart by tragedy. Dr Kirsty Dark had married an older man, who had a strong urge to control lives around him. She moved to Cooktown with her teenage daughter to start again. Conor had been working for a major finance company when he realised the company was corrupt. As a whistleblower he was a target for the Russian criminal who killed his wife and daughter. He moved to Cooktown under a new name, living on a sailing boat, and coaching children at the YMCA. The story is romantic suspense, with descriptions of life in abusive families. The characters are strongly drawn, there is suspense and lives are in danger. This is a fine story, but it is a book to read in one sitting, so be prepared.

The Mountain Story, by Lori Lansens. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99

The mountain had always attracted Wolf Truly. As a teenager he spend a lot of time on the mountain, but this came to a tragic end when his friend Ralph injured himself badly in a drug fuelled accident. Wolf had decided to kill himself on the cable car, however on the way up he offers to guide three women to his favourite lake. They all end up lost and trapped in very bad weather for four days. It is a test of all their characters as they face wild animals, exposure and their own natures. It was OK, but not a story which inspired.

Down Outback Roads, by Alissa Callen. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

This author’s first novel Beneath Outback Skies was impressive. It presented life in a small NSW town with the authenticity you only find when someone has lived in such a place. In this novel, the rural background and small town is the same, but the characters are different. Kree and Ewan both have devils and tragedies in their past to overcome—emotional baggage and the financial woes of a tough time in the bush at the moment do not help. It is light reading, but the characterization is strong, and it all seems plausible.

I Take You, by Eliza Kennedy. PB from Random House. RRP $32.99

Phew—this is quite a salacious read. Lily Wilder is a lawyer, with a dream job and friends who adore her. For better or worse, Lily is engaged to Will, an archaeologist. Are the pair well matched? As the wedding approaches, Lily questions more and more whether marriage is the right step for her. Her relationship with Will is hot and steamy, but monogamy? Is that what either of them wants, and can they make it work? Lots of this book seemed repetitive, and I wearied about the indecisiveness, but have no doubt that others will enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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