1. Book Reviews 2021

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Rating Scale:

*****  Fantastic! You’ve gotta read this one!

****  Great. Well worth a look

***   OK. You may enjoy it.

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“Parabellum” by Greg Hickey

Rating:   

Genre: Fiction: Science Fiction

Read:  June

TBA

“Stasiland” by Anna Funder

Rating:   *****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Social History

Read:  June

Australian Author, Anna Funder, explores the stories of those who lived in East Berlin (and beyond) under the Communist rule and how the falling of the Berlin Wall impacted on their lives. She offers up a fascinating collection of individual’s stories of life, love and persecution by the Stasi, and recollections of those who were part of the ‘machine’. It is an interesting examination of the recent past history of one of Europe’s most dynamic and cosmopolitan cities.

“Joe Cinque’s Consolation” by Helen Garner

Rating:   *****

Genre: Non-Fiction: True Crime

Read:  June

In 1987 Joe Cinque was murdered by his fiancé Anu Singh. The tale of the murder itself is stranger than fiction, with Singh enlisting the support of friends and colleagues through dinner parties to celebrate her intended suicide and to acquire the heroin and Rohypnol used to end Mr Cinque’s life. Garner’s coverage of the impact of the murder and subsequent trials on the Cinque and Singh family is both precise and factual but delivered with an empathetic and compassionate hand. Garner was clearly deeply affected by the murder and the trial and this is reflected in her writing. A measured, human and very relatable examination of an awful event.

“Who Killed John Lennon” by Lesley-Ann Jones

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Music/History

Read: May

It’s been over twenty years since the news of the death of rock music legend, John Lennon, hit the media. Since that time the music scene has been replete with rumours, facts and suspicions concerning this icon’s life and death.

Lennon was a fabulous songwriter, poet and an integral part of The Beatles. For those not in the know, Lennon was the co-leader of the group, songwriter and rhythm guitarist. He was a shining star in life and an eternal rock legend in death. However, some of the facts about his life and death are still unclear. Lennon himself was notorious for changing stories about his past and embellishing memories of events. Who Killed John Lennon? The lives loves and deaths of the greatest Rockstar by Lesley -Ann Jones attempts to right the wrongs and set the record straight once and for all.

Lesley-Ann Jones credentials as an author on the subject of the music industry are unquestionable. Jones has a long history as a journalist and is a renowned author of novels and music biographies. Her works include Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography of Freddie MercuryHero: David Bowie, and Ride a White Swan: The Lives & Deaths of Marc Bolan.

The content  of Who Killed John Lennon is well research and includes interviews with friends and associates of Lennon, historical records, and industry insights. Many previously incorrectly stated facts and outright falsehoods are addressed and amended. This book covers the good, the bad and the ugly of Lennon’s psyche.

In addition to the story of his life and death, the book includes a comprehensive timeline, song listing, chapter notes, reference list and suggestions for further reading. The is a tasteful selection of photos spanning Lennon’s life, add to the depth of material included in this book.

As a fan of The Beatles and the history of modern music, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its insights into the music scene of the sixties and seventies. It is a compelling and fascinating book and is a hefty read, being jam-packed with facts from start to finish. I recommend taking your time to read through this one. It is a must for fans of musical biographies, of Lennon and of The Beatles.

I received a free copy of this book from Farrago in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“How to Write One Song” by Jeff Tweedy

Rating:  **** 

Genre: Non-Fiction: Art/Music

Read:  May

“How to Write One Song” by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy describes the creative process involved in getting that song from your head and onto the page. There are no tricks or gimmicks, it’s all about hard work, dedication and allowing your creative process to flow. Okay, getting a hit song does depend at least in part on individual talent and a touch of luck, but anyone can put a song on the page if they allow their creative self to come forward. Entertaining and easy to read.

Love Objects” by Emily Maguire

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Women’s Contemporary Fiction

Read:  May

Forty-five-year-old Nic seems to be on top of it all. She is living in her inherited family home (much to the chagrin of her estranged sister), has a stable job in a local supermarket which she has held for over thirty years and appears happily resigned to a single life. But things are not quite as they seem. Her thin veneer of calm hides a multitude of sins. Her family history is a mix of lies, too-soon deaths and criminal endeavours. She clings desperately to her relationships with niece Lena and keeps herself happy by saving ‘love objects’. She is a hoarder. When she has a fall in her house, as a result of the piles of rubbish and tat, everything unravels as her secret life is made public.

But Nic is not the only one whose personal life has been put out there for all to see. Lena, a twenty-year-old university student has struggled to get into university. She scored a scholarship to cover her course fees and student through sheer grit and determination and by reworking her school grades through the TAFE system. She has no cash, some great friends and is struggling to maintain her GPA. When she falls for a handsome jock, she is lured into having sex with him in another student’s room. Within days of the event, a secret video of the encounter is splashed all over the internet. Lena stops attending Uni, quits her job, and ploughs her energies into cleaning out Nic’s place so that she can return home from the hospital.

Will, Lena’s bother, the final character in the trio, is not long out of prison. He stuck in Mackay, recently retrenched, and his personal relationship is in tatters. He moves to Sydney to help Lena with Nic, and hopefully find a way to rebuild his life and restore his shattered dreams.

“Love Objects” is a story about fractured family relationships, mental illness and trying to find one’s place in a world when you don’t really seem to fit. It is challenging and beautiful all at once. The characters are endearing, and each offer relatable characteristics and situations in at least some parts of their individual stories.

The story unfolds using third-person narration, with the point of view switching between Nic, Lena and Will. The plot flows smoothly, seamlessly interweaving between the character’s stories. The chapters are well set out and easy to read for those who read on the go. My only criticism is that the story resolves a little too quickly and a bit too neatly, considering the depth of the family issues and psychological trauma covered in the stories.

Emily Maguire has written three non-fiction books and six other novels, including “An Isolated Incident”.

“Fifty-Two Short Stories” by Anton Chekov

Rating:  ****

Genre: Fiction: Literary Fiction

Read:  April

One for the fans. A mixed bag of beautifully written prose. A good place to start if you are interest in Chekov.

“The Vulture” by Gill Scott-Heron

Rating: ****

Genre: Fiction: Literary Fiction

Read:  April

Compelling reading and a great expose on life in New York in the late 60s/early 70s. The story concerns the murder of a low-level criminal and examines the individual, the crime and society in general from the point of view of various locals. the is This was written by Gil Scott-Heron when he was 19 and is an amazing first novel. The story really draws you in with its great characters and vivid description. The colloquial language can be a little hard to follow at times but hang in there. It’s worth it.

“Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart

Rating: *****  

Genre: Fiction: Literary Fiction

Read:  April

“Shuggie Bain” is a remarkable book and an amazing debut novel by Douglas Stuart. This gritty, alarming and often depressing tale examines the early life of Hugh (Shuggie) Bain and his siblings as they deal with an alcoholic mother and living in the housing projects in Thatcher’s Glasgow.

The Grandest Bookshop in the World” by Amelia Mellor

Rating:  *****   

Genre: Fiction: Junior Fiction

Read:  March/April

When I was a child I loved the Coles Funny Picture Books (I still have them), so I was thrilled to come across “The Grandest Bookshop in the World” by Amelia Mellor. 

Pearl and Vally Cole have discovered that their father has risked losing the arcade to a mysterious gentlemen in an effort to bring their dead sister, Ruby, back to life, The children make a pact with the stranger in order to reverse their father’s error and regain control of the arcade. They must solve a series of seven mysteries or else they lose their memories and the arcade forever. 

This fictionalised story of the history of the Coles Book Arcade is a delight for all readers, young and old. It’s full of magic and whimsy.

“Word Perfect: Curious Coinages and Etymological First Aid For Every Day of The Year” by Susie Dent

Rating:   *****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Language

Read:  March

“Word Perfect” is a highly entertaining, word-a-day book, by the lexicological master, Susie Dent. Dent describes the origin and meaning of various words and phrases – some in common use, others not. One for lovers of language.

“Death in Daylesford” by Kerry Greenwood

Rating:   ****

Genre: Fiction: Cosy Mystery

Read:  March

Phryne Fisher and her faithful companion Dot are back and on holidays in Daylesford. In addition to enjoying the local environment, crafts and shopping they stumble across a series of mysteries involving missing women and the murders of young men. Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, Hugh, Tinker, Ruth and Jane are left to investigate the mysterious death of a young girl whose body is found in the Yarra River. An entertaining, light and fun read.

“The Stone in My Pocket” by Matthew Keeley

Rating:   ***** 

Genre: Fiction: Young Adult

Read:  March (Revised from 2020)

Nathan Love knows that he’s different. He’s different from his school mates, his family and his friends – if you can call them friends; they feel more like acquaintances to him. Something’s wrong at home, but his parents won’t talk to him about it, and his school grades are going nowhere at a time when he should be gearing up for his university applications. To top it all off, he is sure that there is a ghost in the house. He feels like an outsider, certain that everyone sees him as an unlovable weirdo. 
One morning, while walking through his small home village to catch the bus to school, he spies a ‘help wanted’ sign in the window of the local book store. On a whim, he applies and gets the job. The shop owner, Iris, becomes a force in his life. In addition, to the book shop, she runs a local psychic circle and meditation group. Having sensed a psychic leaning in Nathan, she invites him to join to group. Nathan latches on to his new friendship circle, doing his darndest to fit in. He’s psychic, that’s the reason why he is different. Or is it?
Nathan is a wonderfully flawed character, who manages to simultaneously infuriate and endear himself to you, with his believable flaws, self-doubt, anxiety disorder and innate kindness. It is hard not to become a part of his voyage of self-discovery. 
Keeley’s descriptions of the small Scottish village, with its winding streets, gothic church and grimy canal are pinpoint accurate. You can feel the crisp cold air, struggle with the dank lighting and walk the dark, lonely streets with Nathan, as he ruminates on the events of his life. 
The plot builds smoothly, with little twists and turns along the way. The chapters are set in short grabs, making them easy to read and hard to put down.
“The Stone in my Pocket” is the second full novel by the author. The first “Turning the Hourglass” is a gripping science fiction novel, also worth a look at. 
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and loved pretty much everything about it. It is aimed at young adults but is easily accessible for any person, young or old, who has ever felt that they didn’t quite fit in.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace” by Kate Forster

Rating:  ****  

Genre: Fiction: Romance

Read:  February

Tressa, a small-time artist, has set up a simple life for herself in the small town of Port Lowdy. She wants nothing more than to paint without pressure, take photos for the local newspaper and avoid her overbearing mother. She is certainly not looking for love. At least, not until Dan, the angriest man in Ireland comes to work at the paper. 

“Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace” is a lovely and light story about the lives and loves of the long term residents and curious newcomers in a small seaside town. The characters are endearing (even the mother in her own way) and the story is charming and simple. It is an uncomplicated delight to read. 

“The Definitive Guide to Screen Writing” by Syd Field

Rating: *****    

Genre: Non-Fiction: Writing

Read:  February

This has got to be the best book covering the craft of writing (any writing, not just screenplays) that I’ve ever read. It’s honest, easy to follow and provides comprehensive explanations and diagrams covering ever aspect of screen writing. I recommend “The Definitive Guide to Screen Writing” by Syd Field for any current and prospective script writer. Food for thought and a staple reference book. 

“Berlin: The story of a city” by Barney White-Spunner

Rating: ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: History

Read:  February

A comprehensive and thoroughly research piece of work covering the history of Berlin from its inception to the present day. White-Spunner accurately describes the development of this amazing city covering architecture, economics, politics, religion and the arts. He includes vivid descriptions of key events and the influences and contributions (for better or worse) of key historical figures. A must-read for lovers of Berlin, history and urban development. 

“Consolation” by Garry Disher

Rating:    ****

Genre: Fiction: Crime, Rural Noir

Read: February

“Consolation” by Gary Disher is the third book in the Paul Hirschhausen, rural noir series. It’s been 18 months since Constable Hirschhausen (Hirsch) was posted in Tiverton and he is getting to know the locals and has set a regular routine. Things become remarkably busy in the small town. Hirsch is trying to identify a ‘snowdropper’ who is pinching mature women’s undergarments in the dead of night, manage a child welfare case and locate a couple of roof repair scammers. And this is before issues with the EPA send a couple of gun-totting locals on the run, a curious embezzlement case involving a prominent local businessman and a series of murders. Hirsch has all of this to deal with, along with interference from head office, and a personal stalker. This is a fast-paced, action-packed story, full of vibrant characters and colourful descriptions.

“The No Recipe Cookbook” by Samantha Pillay

Rating:  ****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Health/Food

Read:  January

As stated in the title “The No Recipe Cookbook” by Dr Samantha is not an ordinary cookbook. There are recipe suggestions but this isn’t the standard lists-of-ingredients-and-methods offering. The book examines the benefits of cooking and features some useful and basic information about meal planning, kitchen equipment and safety advice (the book is worth getting just for this). The recipe ideas are simple and use easily accessible ingredients. The “how-to” instructions for the recipes are incredibly detailed and guide the new cook through each stage with care and support. 

“The No Recipe Cookbook” is easy to read and would make a great starting point for those who are not accustomed to preparing their own food. It would make a useful gift for students and young people leaving home for the first time. The book is available through Amazon and other major retailers. 

“Meet America’s Presidents” by Scott Peters

Rating:  *****

Genre: Non-Fiction: Children/History

Read:  January

A very cute and entertaining look at the American president from George Washington to Donald Trump. “Meet America’s Presidents” by Scott Peters offers a snappy and concise overview of each president. It includes basic biographical information, the dates of their time in office, what they are best known for, quirky facts, and a famous quote,  Less than charming activities are dealt with diplomatically, allowing the astute child to seek more information if required. Well worth the read, and I hope that the author will update this when new presidents come to office.

“The World of Adam Dunne” by Tobor Eichmann

Rating:   ****

Genre: Fiction: Young Adult/Mystery

Read:  January

Adam Dunne is the new kid in town. This is hard enough for a young boy, but he has the added complication of being a little odd. Having recently suffered from a traumatic accident, Adam suffers from amnesia and terrible headaches. If this wasn’t bad enough he is haunted by frightening dreams of a dark man in a torn jacket. When the dark figure starts appearing during the day, Adam must take action to find out who this person is.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and found the character of Adam pleasant and easy to relate to. The plot flows smoothly and draws the reader into the action. The book is Novella length, with easy to digest chapters. The book is suitable for readers from Middle-grade and beyond. 4 stars for the story, 3.5 stars for the writing.

“Factory 19” by Dennis Glover  

Rating: ****1/2    

Genre: Fiction: Literary Fiction

Read:  January

When political speechwriter Dr Paul Richey suffers a very public nervous breakdown and develops an “allergy” to the modern world he thinks his life is over. He moves to Hobart, which since the closure of the only economically viable business, the “Gallery of the Future/GOFA” has become a technological dead zone. But then out of the blue, eccentric billionaire and former GOFA owner Dundas Faussett returns to town to set up a new project. 

Welcome Factory 19, where every day is 1948. Dundas establishes an old-fashioned post-war factory, replete with typing pools, tea ladies, mechanical workshops, and traditional shipping. There’s a job for everybody and a purpose-built 1948 style town. Dundas creates what he considers to be the ideal society, with 1940s everything, but with some elements of modern thinking (gender equality for example). What could go wrong?

Readers familiar with recent Australian politics and social history will recognise some of the characters in this very entertaining and highly amusing satire. 

The story is set in the near future and is narrated by Paul, who describes the development of Factory 19, and the lives of all within.  The book is easy to read, entertaining, and often funny. There are many moments where you almost wish that you were living with them back in 1948…but then again…

“Pig City: From the Saints to Savage Garden” by Andrew Stafford

Rating: ****   

Genre: Non-Fiction: Music and Culture

Read:  January

A comprehensive examination of the development of the Brisbane (Australia) music scene through the 70s, 80s, and early 90s – a period of censorship, political turmoil, and police corruption. I was a teen during the mid-80s and remember some of the bands and events described. I was particularly interested to read about the activities during the 70s, when I, as a young child, was unaware of the reality of cultural life. The book brings back many memories of good and bad times. It is well researched and works hard to present a fact-based view of the activities of the time.

“Little Grey Cells: The Quotable Poirot” by Agatha Christie

Rating:   **** 

Genre: Non-Fiction: Gift Book

Read:  January

A natty little gift book full of fun, frivolous and astute quotes from the sometimes vain, sometimes annoying, but always right, Hercule Poirot. A must for fans.

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PREVIOUS YEAR’S BOOK REVIEWS

2020: Sarah’s 2020 Book Review List

2019: 2019 Book Reviews 

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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