1. Book Reviews – 2019

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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

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“Elevation” by Stephen King


Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction/Science Fiction

Read: July 2019

Scott Carey, a recently divorced, hefty, middle-aged IT specialist, seems to have developed a rather unusual medical problem. He’s started to lose weight. A lot of weight. About 2 pounds a day, in fact. He hasn’t altered his eating habits, or changed his exercise routine, and despite the weight loss there is no change in his physical size. It’s like his body is no longer subject to the laws of gravity. Realising that his zero weight day is looming large, Scott decides to set things right with his Castle Rock neighbours and friends.

“Elevation” is a charming and easy to read novella, despite the completely unbelievable premise. The characters are relatable and King’s descriptions never fail to deliver. A pleasant and quick read.

“The Little Voodoo Kit” by Dr J.P. Poupette


Rating:  ****

Genre:  Gift book/humour

Read: July 2019

“The Little Voodoo Kit” by the mystical Dr J.P. Poupette, offers self-proclaimed “revenge therapy for the over-stressed”. The book includes instructions on how to make your own doll, and various creative ideas on how to use it to release your pent up frustrations. Good fun, and very cute. Use at your own peril.

“Turning the Hourglass” by M.J.Kelly

1684332680.01._SX142_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_Rating:  *****

Genre:  Science Fiction

Read:  June/July 2019

It’s been over one hundred years since the last world war. The resulting destruction of the planet, cities and infrastructure saw a dramatic decrease in the population. A special metagenics program was undertaken to create test-tube babies to ensure the continuation of the human race. And so an underclass was born.

Dr Dyrne Samson, former university professor of history, is one such metagenic (although this is well hidden from his colleagues and the few friends he has). Haunted by the death of a metagenic student, he left the university to undertake a career in a secretive government department responsible for travelling back in time to observe history in action. Dyrne struggles with his guilt concerning his student’s death and becomes obsessed with the life of the boy’s mother, an activist in the area of metagenic rights, as he looks for ways to influence the past.

Recurring themes in the story are our inability to learn from the mistakes of the past, bigotry, and social change. The characters are believable and likeable. I found them very easy to relate to, but perhaps this is because i have a friend who is very like the Dyrne character (yes, a professor, but not of history), whom I care for very much (rather like the Phoebe character in the book) so I find his Asperges characteristics understandable.

“Turning the Hourglass” by M.J.Keeley is a captivating and engaging read that will appeal to lovers of science fictions and social history alike. It is well written and easy to read, with vivid descriptions of time and place. Full marks to the editorial team; I didn’t notice a single error in the type – unusual in this day and age. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be sure to look out for future works by this author. Get this one.

I received a free copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Group, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Dead Man Dreaming: A Novel” by Uday Mukerji

45364078Rating:  *****

Genre:  Literary Fiction 

Read:  June 2019

David thought that he had it all figured it. He’d work hard throughout school, dedicated himself to his university medical studies and internship, met a lovely woman, with whom he planned to settle down and have a family, and had a chance at his dream job as a heart surgeon. But that was before he received the diagnosis: Huntington’s disease.

His father had suffered from it, and David spent much of his youth watching his dad’s physical and psychological degeneration as the result of the progressive breakdown of the nerve cells in the brain.  Despite knowing that it was a hereditary, David had actively avoided confronting the possibility that he may also have the condition. But now he knows.

Having witnessed the pain and sacrifice of his mother, David decides not to impose upon, or risk destroying the life of others. He breaks up with his girlfriend, turns down his dream job, and sets about finding a different path and way to contribute to the world. He wants to help people facing a similar future to himself.

“Dead Man Dreaming” takes the reader on David’s heart wrenching journey, as he comes to term with his diagnosis, and future options. We are there with him as he second-guesses every opportunity, set back, minor illness, and moment of forgetfulness, as he worries about how soon to expect the onset of his symptoms, and eventual death.

Mukerji’s style of writing is engaging and endearing, and the short chapters make it great for reading in short bursts (like public transport rides). This novel is well worth the read, so pick up a hard copy or e-book today. You won’t be disappointed.

I received a pre-release copy of this book in exchange for frank and fair review. Having said that, I’ve read this author’s previous release “Love, Life and Logic” and would have bought a copy of this the second it hit the shelves.

“The Best American Mystery Stories 2016” ed. Elizabeth George

0544527186.01._SX142_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_
Rating:  ***

Genre:  Mystery/Crime

Read:  June 2019

“The Best American Mystery Stories” are always are good “go to” book for holiday and public transport reading. As usual there are a good mix of stories, with some being absolutely stella, and others being so-so. A safe bet.

“The Love of the Universe” by Leanne Margaret

Rating:  *****

Genre:  Self Help/New Age

Read:  June 2019

Whether working through a specific trauma, searching for your place within the universe, or simply trying to manage daily life, this easy to read, and thoughtfully written guide is designed to help the reader navigate their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual planes to arrive at a better place.

The book exams each level of awareness (referred to as Dimensions by Margaret), and provides a series of affirmations and exercises that can be modified by the individual to suit their needs. You don’t need to be a “new age type” to get the benefit from this book. In fact there is no pressure for you to believe, be or do anything. It really is about you.

I must admit that I am the type of person that binge reads a book from cover to cover, and you can certainly do this with this offering. However, this is a book to be savoured and read through at your own leisure. It is a text you will find yourself returning to time and time again.

“The Love of the Universe” by Leanne Margaret is must for those seeking a gentle, no-pressure, mediative approach to resting the body and healing the mind. It is life-affirming and offers a reassuring hand-up. Well worth the investment.

“Bella and Chaim: The Story of Beauty and Life” by Sarah Rena Vidal

1925272656.01._SX142_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_Rating:  *****

Genre:  Biography

Read:  June 2019

“Bella and Chaim” by Sara Rena Vidal, follows the life of her parents through the horrors of the second World War. It is powerful, beautiful, joyous and deeply sad all at once, as it relates the couple’s experiences hiding out in Warsaw. This one will stay with you for the rest of your life, and is a true reminder of how small acts of kindness can make a big difference. A must read!

“German Short Stories for Beginners: 10 Short Stories to Easily learn German & Improve Your Vocabulary” By Touri Language Learning

Rating: **** 

Genre: Non-Fiction: Education

Read: May 2019

I must admit that I approached this book with a little trepidation. I am not exactly what you would describe as the best student of languages. I only managed to score pretty average passes for German when I was in school. When I started on the first story I was mortified by my limited recognition of the words and understanding of the story. But I followed the instructions, read the word list, and went through the story again. It starting making more sense by my third read through. This is not the sort of book that you read from cover to cover, and I expect that I will be dipping in and out of it over the next year.

The philosophy behind the book makes sense, and this (and the guides they have for other languages) will be a great took for any student wishing to improve their comprehension on the German language. It’s worth the investment.

I received a free copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Group, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Rage Against the Night” by  Stephen King et al

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction – Horror

Read: April/May 2019

I bought this book because I was looking for a series of short stories to read on the train on my way to work. This ticked all the boxes, and will for most horror fans. There are a great mix of short, easy to read, horror stories. Some are a bit hokey, others funny, some a little old school, some scary, and others are really moving. There is a good mix of established and emerging writers too. Well worth a look.

“Lightning Men (Dark Town Series)” by Thomas Mullen

Rating:   

Genre: Fiction – Crime/Thriller

Read: April/May 2019

“Lightning Men” is Thomas Mullen’s second book in the “Darktown Series”. It is an excellent follow up to the first book and doesn’t disappoint. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot here, but like the first book, the story uses the crime/thriller genre to highlight the social and cultural issues of Atlanta (and probably much of America) in the 1950s. It examines the experiences of people of colour, both in general society, and those pioneering folk who went into law enforcement. It really is an eye-opener, and makes me appreciated the benefits of my life and fortunate circumstances. A powerful and compelling read.

“The Spotted Dog (Corinna Chapman Mysteries)” by Kerry Greenwood

Rating:  ***1/2

Genre: Fiction – Cosy Mystery

Read: April 2019

The “Spotted Dog” follows the case of a missing dog, a former service dog and loyal companion of an ex-army officer. The pair must follow the clues to determine who would kidnap the furry friend, and why, and work out how to reunite him with his owner. I’m in two minds about “The Spotted Dog”, the seventh in Kerry Greenwood’s Corina Chapman series. I really enjoy the easy to read story, and love some of the long standing characters (the young apprentice baker, Jason, for example), but find something a little grating about Corina and her partner Daniel. Overall, it’s a solid cosy mystery, with some fun and funny moments. Chapman captures the feel of inner-city Melbourne well.

“Australian Tragic: Gripping tales from the dark side of our history” by Jack Marx

Rating:  ***1/2

Genre: Non-Fiction – History

Read: April 2019

“Australian Tragic” by Jack Marx, offers an interesting collection of short non-fiction tales, describing the many, rarely heard, and often deeply sad stories of Australian’s who have met an untimely death, or survived a series of misfortunes. Some of the stories concern famous folk, and others, average Australians. The pieces cover examples of extreme tragedy, poor luck, mental illness and general stupidity. It is well research and a very easy read. A must for anyone with an interest in the lesser known aspects of Australian cultural history.

“Bayou Busybody” by Frankie Bow

Rating:  ***1/2

Genre: Cosy Mystery

Read: April 2019

“Bayou Busybody” by Frankie Bow is the second in the Miss Fortune World series, and makes for an enjoyable read.  When a new comer to the town reports her husband missing, following a boating accident on the Bayou, Miss Mary-Alice puts her investigator hat on. A pleasant, non-taxing read.

“Jonestown: The Power and Myth of Alan Jones” by Chris Masters

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-fiction Biography

Read: March 2019

“What a little worm” to steal a quote from Black Adder. I need to state upfront that I am not a fan of Alan Jones, or anything he does, and this thoroughly researched and well written piece by Australian journalist Chris Masters, does nothing to change my mind.  Alan Jones has certainly worked hard to achieve what he has – did the background work, greased palms, wheedled his way into the right circles (and that is hard work folks) – and Masters’ biography demonstrates that. Right along with his temper tantrums, toadying, narcissism, crippling self-doubt, loneliness and dealing with his sexuality. Well worth reading if you have an interest in Jones or Australian broadcasting.

“Doggienauts” by Addie Broussard


Rating:  *****

Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Read:  March 2019

When Rami develops a superior cat detector for her science project the residents of Doggieland are overwhelmed with excitement. The president is so impressed that she offers Rani a top-secret assignment, to manage the Doggienauts’ spaceship controls on their maiden voyage to the moo. Their Mission: To reach the moon before Space Katz. The dogs complete their training and set off on their way. When they encounter interference from Space Katz, Rami must use all of her mental power to correct the error, set the voyage home on track, and save the day. Space Katz are left fuming, and start plotting their revenge.

“Doggienauts” is a fun adventure for all ages. It offers a range of strong female characters, and emphasises themes of inclusion and collaboration. There is a push for the benefits of maths and sciences too – always a good thing.

At 33 pages, it is a great length for bed time stories, and the plot is sophisticated enough to allow older readers to get into the book on their own.  The illustrations are brilliant, well drawn and show a great use of bright and appealing colours. Doggienauts will appeal to all children whether at pre-reading level or early school age. Coming soon to a store near you. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“No More Dead Kids” by Thomas Marshall

 
Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction – Young Adult

Read:  March 2019

“No More Dead Kids” reads like a journal I may have written myself when I was the same age as the main character, Alex (gender and friend group aside). Alex is in his late teens, managing his final years of high school, applying to colleges, looking for his first love and sexual experience, and happily living his life as one of the not-in-the-in-crowd kids. When he befriends the socially awkward kid in his English class, he must rise to the occasion to help him back on to a safe path. The book is easy to read and the characters are engaging. It is separated into two parts, the first being Alex’ last years at school, and the second being a pre-college road trip. The first part of the book stands alone. The second part is fun and interesting (especially for those who have read road trip classics, like “On the Road”, but really sits as a second story. Well worth a read, and I would recommend this for teenagers and young adults.

“Mary-Alice Moves in” by Frankie Bow

Rating:  ****

Genre: Cosy Mystery

Read:  March 2019

“Mary-Alice Moves in” by Frankie Bow is the first in the Miss Fortune World series and serves as an introduction to Mary-Alice and the town of Sinful. Long time widow, Mary-Alice moves to Sinful after her house is burnt down by her cad of a grandson. When she arrives she quickly discovers the intricacies of parochial politics in the small town, including the role her sister-in-law, the town mayor. After the murder of a local Baptist priest, Mary-Alice learns that life in a small town is never boring. This is a wonderful cosy mystery, is easy to read, and is relatively short, which makes it very suitable for holiday and weekend reading. Settle in with a cup of tea and plate of chocolate biscuits for this one.

“Such Sweet Sorrow” by Richard Bell

Rating:  *****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Poetry

Read:  March 2019

When Richard Bell’s wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he set about documenting his emotional journey through his free-form poetry. “Such Sweet Sorrow” takes the reader with him, through his wife’s devastating diagnosis, subsequent death, and beyond. Anyone who has lost a loved one – to cancer or otherwise – will relate to this touching and deeply moving work. “Such Sweet Sorrow” is well presented in a fifty page, chapbook format. Definitely worth the read.

“Preservation Pantry: Modern Canning from root to Top & Stem to Core” by Sarah Marshall

Rating:  *****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Cooking

Read:  March 2019

This has got to be one of the best guides to preserving fruit and vegetables that I have seen in a while. In addition to easy-to-understand descriptions for preserving and canning, there are helpful suggestions for storage, recommendations for equipment and tools required, and even recipes using your preserves. Great range of preserving ideas. I am looking forward to preparing the white wine & tomato sauce for marina as soon as my tomatoes are ripe. I suspect that this will become an often-leafed-through book in my kitchen.

“The Frizz” by Jasmine Fogwell


Rating:  ****

Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Read:  February 2019

Sometimes kids with frizzy hair just hate it, but not young Jeanie. Every morning, before school, she goes into the bathrooms and imagines all of the fun and fabulous things she can do and be, all because of her frizzy hair. At least she does, until her mother comes in and tidies it all up.

This rather sweet story is complimented by brilliant and vibrant illustrations, making it a fun picture book for kids (and parents) of all ages. A must for a frizzy haired child. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“The Sisters” by Kate Forster

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Chick Lit

Read:  February 2019

The young and gifted de Santoval triplets have been brought up in a world of fashion, money and privilege. Over the years the three have drifted apart, with Carlotta immersing herself in the horsey set, Grace in the art and auction house business, and Violetta in the party girl, reality TV life style.  When their father Leon, does the bunk with his long term mistress, and their mother Birdie is found unconscious and in a coma, the three sisters are reunited. Unaccustomed to adversity, the sisters must work together to rebuild their family business, and deal with family issues, support their ill mother, and maybe find love on the way.

The characters are a little annoying in parts, somewhat believable in others, with a few relatable traits in each.

With loads of sex, fashion, art and fun, “The Sisters” by Kate Forster is a wonderfully light read, suitable for days by the pool, weekend reading, and an escape from daily routine.  Good fun.

“Jar of Hearts” by Jennifer Hillier

Rating:  *****

Genre: Fiction: Crime

Read:  February 2019

Sometimes your first love can be a killer. A serial killer.

When the beautiful, popular and successful Geo Shaw is arrested for her involvement in the cold case murder of her best friend, her life turns upside down. She is forced to confront her involvement in the crime, and deal with her guilt surrounding the murder, and the subsequent murders committed by her ex-serial killer boyfriend. The story moves back in forth through time, between, the trial, prison, post-prison release readjustment, and teenage years when the murder was committed. The characters are believable (and in some cases relatable) with a mix of normal, shocking and endearing traits. The young Geo and her teenage friends really capture the depth of angst, self-doubt, and the need for acceptance that we experience at that age.  The story demonstrates the lengths that people will go through to support their dreams of the ideal, even when you know that they are wrong.

“Jar of Hearts” is the fifth by author, Jennifer Hillier, and the first I have read. It is a five star example of cross-genre suspense/mystery thriller and chick lit. The story has you captivated from start to finish, and leaves you wanting more. The horror of the murders, and details of Geo’s abusive relationship with the serial killer, is interspersed with her blossoming romance with a local Police Officer.  There is something for everyone here.

The short chapters make it great for reading in short bursts (like public transport rides), but I dare you to try and put it down. This page-turner is well worth the read, so pick up a hard copy or e-book today. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“The Fast 800” by Michael Mosley

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Health & Lifestyle

Read:  February 2019

A comprehensive review of the “Fast 800” health management plan. The book is well researched and referenced (list provided), includes details of the program and how to modify it for your lifestyle, and includes a handy menu planner and recipe guide at the back. Looks like a tough program to follow, but it seems to have a lot of positives.

“Baldessin/Whiteley: Parallel Visions” edited by Sasha Grishin

Rating:  *****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Arts & Culture

Read:  February 2019

Another quality publication from the NGV. This wonderful companion guide to the Baldessin/Whiteley exhibition features fabulous book plates and reproductions of the artwork, combined with concise and information narration. A must for lovers of Australian modern art.

“The Man Who Came Uptown” By George Pelecanos

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Crime/Thriller

Read:  January 2019

While serving term in the remand centre, awaiting trial, Michael Hudson discovers the joy of reading, and value of books. He is released after a key witness fails to testify, and promises himself that he will change his ways. When he is approached by a dodgy detective who asks him to participate in a crime, Michael is faced with a dilemma.

I really enjoyed the slow and even pace of this book. The characters are well-rounded and relatable (although, thankfully, not all likeable). It is not the best of Pelecanos’ work (in my opinion) but if is a good read, and not a taxing one. Worth a look, and makes for good holiday reading.

“Sh*t Towns of New Zealand” By Anonymous

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-Fiction, Humour/Gift Book

Read:  January 2019

Marvellous! I hope this is going to be a series. I can see an immediate need for “Sh*t Towns of Australia” and the USA just for starters. I was immediately drawn to this natty little gift book, when I spied the endorsements on the front cover: ‘Offensive’ and ‘Pretty Funny’. Yep this was going to be a keeper. As much as I love New Zealand, it’s incredible natural beauty, and the towns and places I have been to, I must admit that some of these descriptions ring true. Great fun and well worth a read.

 “Boys will be Boys” By Clementine Ford

Rating: *****

Genre:  Non-Fiction: Social Commentary/Gender Politics

Read:  January 2019

Despite vehement protestations from various fringe-dwelling men’s movements, “Boys Will Be Boys” by Clementine Ford, is not a man-bashing manifesto, but more an in-depth examination into how our current cultural practices and ideals of manhood and mate-ship, are failing our boys (and in turn our girls).

The book is a follow up to her amazing and powerful memoir “Fight Like a Girl”, and is written in the same easy-to-read style. It is well-researched (she doesn’t make any statement or use any statistic without thorough referencing it) and contains many frightening real world examples. The letter to her son in the final chapter of the books is particularly heart-wrenching, and a reminder that we need to nurture and support our boys as they grow into men. A must for all parents, boys, girls, men and women.

“The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster” By Sarah Krasnostein

Rating: ****

Genre:  Non-Fiction: Biography

Read:  January 2019

“The Trauma Cleaner” is a two pronged tale about the life of business woman, Sandra Pankhurst. The book describes, in sometimes gory detail, the ins and outs of trauma cleaning. This is the cleaning of properties where a natural death, murder or a crime has occurred, or where a person with a mental illness or disability, has been unable to clean and is now living in the equivalent of a garbage dump. Kranostein describes the work processes undertaken by Ms Pankhurst and her team, and the lengths she goes to, to win the trust and engagement of her clients.

The descriptions of the cleaning business work are broken up with the tales of Ms Pankhurst’s life experiences. Krasnostein describes her life from her harrowing childhood, to her difficulties coming to terms with her gender identity, work in the sex industry, drug and alcohol addiction, managing a business, chronic illness, and family relationship. It’s a tale of tragedy and triumph, failures and successes, sadness and joy. This is well worth the read.

“101 Marvellous Movies You May Have Missed” by David Stratton

Rating: ****

Genre:  Non-Fiction: Arts & Culture

Read:  January 2019

I am a huge movie fan and was surprised to find that I had only seen six of the films mentioned in this book (Agora, The Birth of a Nation, Burke & Wills, The Deep Blue Sea, Mullet, and Road to Nhill – aside from ‘Agora’ and I guess “Birth of a Nation’ I didn’t find them particularly impressive). The book is set out with one film per two pages, offering a brief synopsis, background of the production and details of the release. It’s an interesting collection and I will certainly be making an effort to look for some of these films during the year.

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Previous Years Book Reviews: Archives

2018: BOOKS REVIEWED IN 2018

2017: 2017 Book Reviews by Sarah Jackson

2016: 2016-book-reviews

2015: 2015 Book reviews download

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