1. Book Reviews – 2018

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Rating Scale:

  1. *****  Fantastic! You’ve gotta read this one!
  2. ****  Great. Well worth a look
  3. ***   OK. You may enjoy it.
  4. **    Not so great. Either dull, badly written, or just plain awful. Not recommended
  5. *     Unspeakably bad. Couldn’t finish it

“Heart Shaped Box” by Joe Hill


Genre:  Fiction – Horro

Read: April 2018

Review to come:

Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power by Noam Chomsky, Peter Hutchinson (Editor), Kelly Nyks (Editor), Jared P. Scott (Editor)


Genre:  Non Fiction – Social History

Read: April 2018

A though provoking and somewhat disturbing look at the state of modern society in the USA, the roles of democracy and the financial system. Many of the ten principles apply to all western societies. The book offers a simple (you may find yourself wanting more discussion on the topics) overview of the 10 principles covered in a film of the same name. The book leaves you feeling a little powerless in the face of corporate greed. Poses many questions on the “where to now?” and “what can i do?” side of the equation.

Ace of Hart (Hart of Darkness) (Volume 1) by Violeta Bagia


Genre:  Fiction – Thriller

Read: March 2018

“Ace of Hart (Hart of Darkness)” is the debut novel from Violeta Bagia. This espionage/sci fi thriller is a non-stop adventure from cover to cover. It also includes a hefty romance subplot for fans of the genre. It’s well-paced, with interesting characters and situations

Ace, our flawed heroine is a rough and tumble ex-military operative, dealing with the death of her parents, and an Iraq operation-gone wrong. Unable to fit with general society and manage interpersonal relationships, she finds herself drawn into The Agency, a place for people with mysterious talents like her own.

“Ace of Hart” is similar in some ways to the British Sci-Fi series of the late 60s “The Tomorrow People”, and “X-Men – Legion”, in that it concerns the fates of young people with special abilities, and who must learn to manage their talent and avoid exploitation by “the system”.

A great read, and I look forward to the starting the next book in the series.

“Bizarre World” by Bill Bryson


Genre:  Non-Fiction – Humour/Gift Books

Read: March 2018

Bryson has ventured away from his usual travel writings to present a compact gift book, of various anecdotes, tall tales and quirky recollections, collected over the years. Quick and enjoyable read. Good fun.

“Yorkshire Ripper: The Secret Murders” by Chris Clark and Tim Tate


Genre:  Non-Fiction – True Crime

Read: March 2018

“Yorkshire Ripper: The Secret Murders” by Chris Clark and Tim Tate, examines the motivations and modis operandi of Peter Sutcliffe (Yorkshire Ripper). It is hypothesised that he was responsible for up to 22 additional murders and 5 attacks. In the current climate of modern policing techniques, advanced forensic pathology, and high functioning IT systems, we often forget how difficult it was for police to compare notes, and evidence across jurisdictions. It is indeed probable, that some of the ideas proposed in the book, are likely to be true. An interesting examination of the man, the police investigation at the time, and victims.

“The Good Cop” by Justine Ford


Genre:  Non-Fiction – True Crime

Read: March 2018

Justine Ford. journalist and true crime writer, presents the story of Ron Iddles”The Good Cop” in a captivating and an easy to read fashion. This part biography and part true crime story provides some inside information on the though and feelings this inspiring cop, the operations of the Victorian Police force, and some interesting accounts of well known crimes. An eye-opener.

“Servo: Great Australian Service Stations” by Jim Sonter

Rating: ****

Genre:  Non-Fiction – Architecture/Nostalgia

Read: March 2018

A wonderful pictorial history of Australian Service (Petrol) stations. The photos, sorted by state, are all black and white, and are mainly from the 50s and 60s (so plenty of art deco for the fans). A great gift book for fans of architecture and nostalgia.

“Black Vinyl White Powder” by Simon Napier-Bell

Rating: ***1/2

Genre:  Non-Fiction – Music

Read: March 2018

The cover promises “The greatest ever book written about English pop…”, well it’s certainly one of the shortest I’ve every read (95 pages). I realised towards the end, that this particular book is just a slice of a much larger edition. Having said that, this insider’s guide to the UK music scene of the 50’s and 60’s (I suspect that later decades are covered in the larger book), is insightful, amusing and full of juicy gossip. An interesting and quick read.

“The Big Book of Rouges and Villains“, edited by Otto Penzler

Rating: **** 

Genre:  Fiction – Thriller

Read: February 2018

“The Big Book of Rogues and Villains” edited by Otto Penzler, is a marvellous collection of short stories from Victorian times to modern day. It’s a great collection and offers hours of enjoyment for the fans of mysteries, thrillers and good old-fashioned ‘penny dreadfuls’. I have to admit that I had read at least of these stories (in various forms) before, but it is wonderful to have them all in the one collection. My only issue is that I should have got an e-book version. The book is – as promised – big, and it is difficult to carry around and can be awkward to hold. Worth adding to your collection.

“Travel Stories and Highlights: 2017 Edition”, edited by Robert Fear

Rating: ***

Genre: Non-Fiction – Travel

Read: February 2018

“Travel Stories and Highlights: 2017 Edition”, edited by Robert Fear is a mixed bag of short stories, flash fiction and poems, all with a travel theme. Some of the pieces are wonderful, others okay, and some a little over-embellished. Overall, its an easy-to-read collection.

Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation” by Ammon Shea

Rating: ***1/2 

Genre: Non-Fiction – Reference, Language

Read: February 2018

“Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation” offers a comprehensive, and often illuminating, look at the English language. Shea exams the evolution of language, covering the use and misuse of words, phrases and grammar. I was particularly interested to note that many of the words and phrases I use, were once considered to be ‘bad english’. I will make an effort to show more patience when I hear misuses and mispronunciations in future. Having said that, I will continue to poke fun at the current president of the USA, and his insistence that he is the “very most smartest” and has the “very, very, highest genius IQ”. Word!

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

Rating: ****1/2 

Genre: Fiction – YA, Adventure

Read: February 2018

“Hollow City” by Ransom Riggs is the second novel of the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series. Fans of the first novel will not be disappointed. The story picks up with Jacob and the other peculiar children making the sea voyage to the mainland. Confused and ill-prepared they must find a way to cure Miss Peregrine, who has become trapped in her bird form. They encounter gypsies, Hollows, Wights, talking animals and other peculiars, as they travel to blitz-torn 1940s London in order to a find a solution. This is a wonderful adventure story, with plenty of plot twists and fascinating characters. Although it is written for children/young adults it has appeal to anyone with a sense of adventure. I can’t wait to start the third book.

“The Diary of a Bookseller” by Shaun Bythell

Rating: **** 

Genre: Non-Fiction – Writing, Humour

Read: January 2018

“The Diary of a Bookseller” by Shaun Bythell offers a sometimes amusing look at the ins and out of running a second hand book store, Presented in diary format, Bythell describes the challenges of managing the store, acquiring stock, dealing with staff, weird and wonderful customers, various cats (including the store cat), dealing with Amazon, and the IT dramas when using the systems for on-line book selling. From a business point of view, it is interesting (if not a little alarming) to see what his daily takings are, and to hear what other activities he engages in, in order to turn a profit. Worth a read.

“Marital Advice to my Grandson Joel: How to be a husband your wife won’t throw out of the window in the middle of the night” by Peter Davidson

Rating: ****1/2

Genre: Non-Fiction – Gift book

Read: January 2018

“Marital Advice to my Grandson Joel: How to be a husband your wife won’t throw out of the window in the middle of the night” by Peter Davidson is a delight and a treasure. The book consists of a series of anecdotes, observations and snippets of advice, to assist the unwary male in negotiating the ins and outs of marriage. Sure, some of the information imparted may be consider a little dated, or male-centric (which is the point of the piece, so relax about it), but among the often tongue-in-cheek, frequently humourous pieces are some grains of truth, well-worth observing (I’m talking specifically about the sections on flatulence, gifts, loo paper positioning and cleaning your shaving cream off the bathroom mirror!).

I see many opportunities for future books in the series, like “how to be a good father”, “dealing with teenagers” and alike. The book makes for an entertaining read, and would be a great gift book for any young man (or older man for that matter) about to get married.

“The Art of Aardman” by Aardman Animation Ltd

Rating: ****

Genre: Non-Fiction – Entertainment/Art

Read: January 2018

“The Art of Aardman” by Aardman Animation Ltd is a concise guide to the creation of animation (or claymation in case of Aardman). It offers a fascinating pictorial history of the development of characters used in various Aardman productions, including “Creature Comforts”, “Shaun the Sheep” and “Wallace and Gromit”. My only complaint is that I wanted more – more details, more pictures, more everything. I bought this book after seeing the 40 year anniversary exhibitions at ACMI in Melbourne. It is a wonderful companion piece for the exhibition. One for the fans.

“Pickled, Potted and Canned: The story of food preserving” by Sue Shepard

Rating: ****

Genre: Non-Fiction – Reference, Cooking

Read: January 2018

“Pickled, Potted and Canned: The story of food preserving” by Sue Shepard is a comprehensive review at the history of preserving food. Shepard examines a variety of techniques used in food preservation (including drying, pickling, salting and even refrigeration), describing the history of their use and applications. A must for the lovers of domestic sciences. A great reference book.

“Precious and Grace: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” by Alexander McCall Smith

Rating: ****

Genre: Cosy Mystery

Read: January 2018

“Precious and Grace” number 17 (yes, really) in the series is another charming and easy to read cosy mystery from the Pen of Alexander McCall Smith. The women from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency are on the case again. This time, Precious and Grace are searching for the former nanny of a Canadian woman, keen to rediscover her past life in Botswana. While sorting through the lies, red tape and intrigue, Precious must also deal with a potential Ponzi scheme, snakes and a stray dog. Another delightful holiday-read from McCall Smith. Always charming.


Previous Years Book Reviews: Archives

2017: 2017 Book Reviews by Sarah Jackson

2016: 2016-book-reviews

2015: 2015 Book reviews download


FICTION: Chick Lit (inc. Romance)

**** ½ “The Starlight Tide” by Sarah Key

*** ½   “A Chance This Christmas” By Joanne Rock


FICTION: Crime/Mystery

***** “Dark Town” by Thomas Mullen

***** “Right Wrong Number” by Jim Nesbitt

**** ½ “The Drowning Pool” by Ross MacDonald

**** ½ “Finders Keepers” by Stephen King

**** ½ “Murder in Mr Martha” by Janice Simpson

**** “Ask the Parrot” by Richard Stark

**** “The Dry” by Jane Harper

**** “The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe” by Alexander McCall Smith

**** “The Nakamura Letters” by Frankie Bow

**** “Mother’s Day” by Frankie Bow

**** “The Musubi Murder” by Frankie Bow

*** ½ “The Cocktail Waitress” by James M. Cain


FICTION: General/Literary Fiction

***** “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” by Horace McCoy

**** “Mr Love and Justice” by Colin MacInnes

**** PENNY: Hands I passed through…Things I saw…Stories I can tell” by Peter Davidson

** “Trumpeter Ville” By Dean Gessie


FICTION: Horror/Thriller

***** “Stephen King Goes to the Movies” by Stephen King

**** ½ “The Thing on the Doorstep and other short stories” by H.P. Lovecraft


FICTION: Science Fiction

**** ½ “Renascene” by Leigh Goodison

** ½ “Project Emergence” by Jamie Zakian


FICTION: YA/Children’s

***** “The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast” by Alan Aldridge

**** ½ “The Epiplectic Bicycle” by Edward Gorey

**** “Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them” by J.K.Rawling

**** “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

**** “Taronga” by Victor Kelleher


NON-FICTION: Art/History/Music

**** ½ “Brave New World” – NGV

**** ½ “Homage New Orleans” by Leon Morris

**** “Bedlam: London and its Mad” by Catharine Arnold

*** ½ “Australia Remembers When” by Bob Byrne

*** “The History of British and American Author-Publishers” by Anna Faktorovich


NON-FICTION: Biography/Autobiography


**** ½ “Role Model” by John Waters

**** ½ “Snowy Campbell: Australian Pioneer Investigator of the Brain” by Malcolm Macmillan

**** “Bury my heart in Bermondsey: Memoir of A Funeral Director” by Barry Albin Dyer

** ½ “Uncommon Character: Stories of Ordinary Men and Women Who Have Done the Extraordinary” by Douglas Feavel


NON-FICTION: Gardening

**** “There is no excuse for ugliness” by Clive Blazey


NON-FICTION: Humour/Gift Book

**** “A Bag of Roosters” by Michael Leunig

**** “Better Call Saul: The World According to Saul Goodman” by David Stubbs

**** “The Bumper Book of Debauchery For Girls and Boys” by Chis Grosz & James Cockington

**** “F in Spelling – The Funniest Test Paper Blunders” by Richard Benson

**** “Five Forget Mother’s Day” by Enid Blyton & Bruno Vincent

**** Make Trouble” by John Waters

**** “Man Caves” by Jasper White

**** “The Travelling Leunig” by Michael Leunig

*** ½  “Shakespeare’s Insults For the Office” by Wayne Hill & Cynthia Ottchen

*** “Your Cat’s Just Not That Into You” by Richard Smith


NON-FICTION: Self-Help/Instructional

*** ½ “The Doodle Revolution” by Sunni Brown

*** “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano



**** ½ “The Best American Travel Writing 2016” edited by Bill Bryson

**** “The Road to Little Dribbling” by Bill Bryson

*** ½ “The Best Travel Writing, Volume 11: True Stories from Around the World” by James O’Reilly et al (ed)


*** “Savage Obsessions” by Glen McNamara