1. Book Reviews – 2017

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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 recommend
  5. *         Unspeakably bad. Couldn’t finish it

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

Fiction: General Fiction

Read: June 2017

My rating: ****

Review:

“PENNY: Hands I passed through…Things I saw…Stories I can tell” by Peter Davidson traces the life and times of a newly minted one cent piece. The book consists of a series of self-contained vinaigrettes that follow the coin’s journey across American and through the hands of the rich, poor, famous, criminal, smart and stupid. “PENNY” reminds me a little of a film I saw in the nineties called “Twenty Bucks” which followed a day in the life of a twenty dollar bill. An entertaining read, very suitable for holiday reading.

“Mother’s Day” by Frankie Bow

Fiction: Cosy Mystery

Read: May 2017

My rating: ****

Mahina State is on the scrounge again. In order to curry favour with a wealthy benefactor, Professor Molly Barda has been assigned the unenviable task of providing private tutoring, for a less than average student. While dealing with her all-day morning sickness, the pregnant Professor manages unwanted advice from her mother, friends and relatives, all the while uncovering the sordid family history of her charge. Very entertaining and easy to read. The novella length makes it good for those who read on public transport or in short bursts. I have read one other book in this series and am keen to read the rest. I received this book for free in return for an honest review.

“Ask the Parrot” by Richard Stark

Fiction: Crime (hard boiled)

Read: May 2017

My rating: ****

Review: A twist on the standard thriller in that the protagonist is an anti-hero. Parker, a professional thief and career criminal, in on the lam following a failed bank heist. Stuck in an isolated rural community, Parker is taken in by a local recluse, in exchange for his help in robbing the local racetrack. Everything goes pear-shaped and Parker needs to rely on his criminal expertise to get a handle on the situation. An entertaining read, with punchy, short chapters good for those with little reading time on their hands.  This is number 23 in the series written by Richard Stark/Donald Westlake.

“The Drowning Pool” by Ross MacDonald

Fiction: Crime (hard boiled)

Read: May 2017

My rating: ****1/2

Four and a half stars – I’m the first to admit that I’m a bag fan of crime fiction (both hard boiled and cozy), so it was no surprise that I loved “The Drowning Pool”. This is Ross Macdonald’s second book in the Lew Archer series. Former cop, now PI, Lew Archer is hired to track down the writer of a blackmail letter. Things get mucky when what seems to be a simple case turns in to a murder investigation involving salacious affairs, family drama, theatre, and the oil industry. Wonderful prose, snappy dialogue and all you could want from a hard-boiled, LA noir, crime fiction.

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

Non Fiction: Travel

Read: May 2017

My rating: ***1/2

Having read a number of compilations of travel related short stories over the years, I must admit that these offerings are certainly among those with the highest standard of writing. The stories cover a range of adventures, in a range of countries. An interesting read, but I’ve read books with more amusing, interesting and exciting tales.

“Savage Obsessions” by Glen McNamara

Non Fiction: True Crime

Read: April 2017

My rating: ***

Honest and somewhat alarming true crime thriller about the goings on in Kings Cross (Sydney Australia) during the era of corrupt cops and gangland crime. A sad look at a disturbing time in the history of the Cross. Easy to read.

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

Non Fiction: Autobiography

Read: April 2017

My rating: ****

A fascinating behind the scenes look into the operations of the funeral industry, combined with a history of London’s Bermondsey district. Albin-Dyer manages to be both light-hearted and dignified in his explanations of the ins and outs of the business. He covers the heart-felt, sad, amusing and in some cases downright bizarre incidents in a relatable manner. An interesting read.

“Role Model” by John Waters

Non Fiction: Autobiography

Read: April 2017

My rating: ****1/2

Through “Role Models”, John Waters, describes his loves, hates, interests and fears, through his experiences with close friends, acquaintances, places, heroes and role models. I love John Water’s style of writing. You feel like you’re reading personal correspondence from a close friend – a kooky friend, whom you worry about terribly and are always pleased to hear that they got through the weekend safely. Not for everyone – there are some frank and fearless descriptions here. In fact, his life reminds me of exactly how conservative I really am (and not the crazy bohemian I imagine myself to be).

“There is no excuse for ugliness” by Clive Blazey

Non Fiction: Gardening

Read: April 2017

My rating: ****

An excellent guide to planting a perfect garden to guarantee a good mix of colour and texture for all seasons. Targeted to Australian and New Zealand climates. The book provides advice on exactly what varieties of plants are suitable for each climate zone, for each season. This was a very interesting read and highlighted my personal gardening failing, which is that I plant for Spring and not for Summer. Highly recommended.

“The Road to Little Dribbling” by Bill Bryson

Non Fiction:Travel

Read: April 2017

My rating: ****

A very entertaining follow-up to “Notes From a Small Island”. Having become a citizen of the UK, Bryson decides once more to explore the small island on foot. The book offers many handy insights into travelling around the UK, issues with transport, and the changing natures of cities. I absolutely adore Bryson’s curmudgeonly attitude to everything from grammar and punctuation errors, to TripAdvisor (I hear you!) and what appears to be the ever-expanding prevalence of general ignorance. An entertaining and rewarding reading.

“Mr Love and Justice” by Colin MacInnes

6ddbdffb76a9871596a574a6b41434f414f4141Fiction: Literary Fiction

Read: March 2017

My rating: ****

“Mr Love and Justice” is the final volume of MacInnes’ London series set in the post-war re-build of the late 50’s- early 60’s. The story focuses on the worlds of Mr Frankie Love, an unemployed seaman who’s been roped into the world of pouncing, and Mr Edward Justice, a recently promoted Police officer, who’s struggling with his obligations to the force and to his girlfriend, daughter of a criminal. “Mr Love and Justice” resides in the blurry line between between law and the sex industry, falling into the shaded grey area of London life. An enjoyable read, but I don’t feel that it has the ‘punch’ of the other two books in the series.

“Project Emergence” by Jamie Zakian

Fiction: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Adventure

Read: March 2017

My rating: **1/2

“Project Emergence” by Jamie Zakian has promise. It’s easy to read story with potential for the Young Adult market. It has some plot twists but over all the story is a little clunky and really could do with a good edit. The ending was a little disappointing. It’s okay.

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

1408803011-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Fiction: Children/Adventure

Read: March 2017

My rating: ****

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay” by J.K.Rowling is a charming and engaging adventure story that will appeal to children and adults alike. The story is set in the 20’s/30s in New York city, where Newt Scamander, zoologist and researcher of magical creatures, makes a brief stop over to return one of his charges. When his suitcase is accidentally switched with that of a Non-Mag (Muggle) some of his beasts escapes and the adventures begin. Wonderful fun!
Although I’m not fond of reading scripts/screenplays, I didn’t find that the the format detracted from the enjoyment of the story.

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

9537951Fiction: Literary Fiction

Read: March 2017

My rating: *****

I must admit that despite this being a classic I had neither read the book or seen the movie before now. “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” by Horace McCoy is the deeply moving story of Robert and Gloria, and their brief shared life experience as a marathon dance couple. Desperate to break into the movies – Gloria as an actor, Robert as a director/produce – the couple team up and participate in a dance marathon to be seen, to access free food and accommodation, and hopefully attain corporate sponsorship. The book offers a look into the seedier side of 1930s Hollywood, sleep deprivation, exploitation and mental illness. A challenging read and an outstanding classic!.

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

1622454421-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Non-Fiction: Biography, Christian (not advertised as such)

Read: March 2017

My rating: **1/2

“Uncommon Character: Stories of Ordinary men and Women Who Have Done the Extraordinary” by Douglas Feavel, is promoted as a book of 26 inspiring stories of various men and women who have overcome adversity to create positive outcomes for themselves and others. And a third of the book is just this. The other two thirds consists of bible stories and Christian writing. I do not personally object if individuals wish to attribute the successes, personal strength and hard work of others to the deity/supernatural being/ magical force of their choice, but I don’t want to hear about it. I’m sure that it this book will do well if it is marketing to a Fundamentalist Christian audience. Its not for me.

I received this eBook through Library Thing’s Early reviewer program.

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

41gwmxpob0l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Non-Fiction: Biography, Science and Medicine

Read: February 2017

My rating: ****1/2

A wonderful collection of short stories describing various aspects of the writers world travels. So many good ones that it’s hard to pick a favourite – although the one about smuggling cigarettes in the Ukraine is particularly memorable. A must for lovers of travel and travel writing.

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

0142180033-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Fiction: Horror, Supernatural

Read: February 2017

My rating: ****1/2

Brilliantly written and often super scary collection of some of H.P.Lovecraft’s best work. This collection includes “The Dunwich Horror” and my favourite Lovecraft short story “The Music of Erik Zahnn” (Apologies for the spelling there). A must for lovers of horror and the occult.

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

b10000000477bNon-Fiction: Biography, Science and Medicine

Read: February 2017

My rating: ****1/2

“Snowy Campbell: Australian Pioneer Investigator of the Brain” by Malcolm Macmillan” is well-researched, well written and a pleasure to read. Alfred Walter (Snowy) Campbell was instrumental in the establishment of the neurosciences in Australia. He completed medical training in Edinburgh before working in asylums in Prague and the UK. His initial research focused on the minute structures of the human brain. He then returned to Australia and begun his clinical practice and study of the cerebellum. In addition to his work with servicemen suffering from neurological conditions from Gallipoli, he served as a Specialist Witness in the New South Wales courts system, and investigated Murray Valley Encephalitis.

\Macmillan punctuates the descriptions of Snowy’s remarkable scientific research career with amusing anecdotes about his early life, his sporting prowess, student life, and later, his married life. The book provides, in part, a history of Australian life, and the history of brain research in Australia.The book is available from Australian Scholarly Publishing: Email enquiry@scholarly.info Malcolm Macmillan is a Professorial Fellow, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne

“Right Wrong Number” by Jim Nesbitt

51ree2wdt1l-_01_sr300300_Fiction: Hard-Boiled, Detective

Read: February 2017

My rating: *****

Ed Earl Burch is back. Having sorted out his legal SNAFU following the Carla Sue/Bonafacio debacle, Burch is bogged down in debt, bland casework, and hot sex with unreliable women. He spends his spare time drinking whisky in the local dive bar, doing the “shouda, coulda, wouda” karaoke with the other bar flies, hoping for more, but accepting less. His unhappy equilibrium is shattered when former lover and scam artist Mrs Savannah Crowe, lures him into a dangerous job with promises of a big cash payout. Her husband has been murdered. At least it looks that way. And every shady business partner he shafted along the way is chasing Mrs Crowe for their cash. Will Burch solve the case without being arrested or killed? Will he manage to get the girl this time? And more importantly, will he get paid.

A great example of a modern, hard-boiled detective story “Right Wrong Number” will appeal to lovers of the genre and Ed Earl fans alike. The book is replete with punchy dialogue, seedy characters, gratuitous sex and violence and all the good stuff we love to read. Another wonderful offering from Jim Nesbitt, author of “The Last Second Chance”.

“The Doodle Revolution” by Sunni Brown

1591847036-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Non Fiction: Self help, Professional development, Learning

Read: January 2017

My rating: ***1/2

A fun guide to the benefits of doodling while you work, and how this helps you to think through problems, issues and keep you on track. The book includes practical examples for individuals and teams. Could be a useful tool for those responsible for staff training days.

“Homage New Orleans” by Leon Morris

0646938061-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Non Fiction: Music, Photo journal

Read: January 2017

My rating: ****1/2

Beautiful photo journal of the musical history of New Orleans. Fabulous photography and a smattering of words about the history of New Orleans pre and post Katrina, and a guide to the city’s favourite musical artists, classified by musical genre. A wonderful addition to any music lover’s coffee table.

“Finders Keepers” by Stephen King

82f336c507c579d5967356b6e51434f414f4141Fiction: Crime/Thriller

Read: January 2017

My rating: ****1/2

I must admit to being a big fan of King’s cross-over crime fiction. I really enjoyed both “Mr Mercedes” and “End of Watch” (yes I read them out of order) and equally loved “Finders Keepers”. The story starts with the theft of money and manuscripts and murder of well-renoun author John Rothstein, by a sociopath bent on revenge for the “normalisation” of his favourite literary character. Morris (murderer) buries the loot and manuscript notebooks before being arrested for another crime. During his incarnation, young Peter Straub (now residing in Morris’ former residence) comes across the bounty. All seems to be going smoothly until Morris is released from jail and begins a search for the missing manuscripts. I really enjoyed the story and characters. My only complaint is that the last chapters seemed to rush to the climax. A great series and I hope that King writes more like this.

“Australia Remembers When” by Bob Byrne

aust-remembers-when
Non-Fiction: Reference/Popular Culture

Read: January 2017

My rating: ***1/2

“Australia Remembers When” is an easy to read book with some great pictures of Australian icons. The writing is pretty ordinary, and it is almost set out like an aide to memoire with the reader constantly being asked what they recall. There are some factual errors (The Big Pineapple is not and never has been in Gympie – it is In Woombye/Nambour). An interesting enough read worth getting for the pictures alone.

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

the-handsom-mans-coverRating: ****

Fiction: Mystery/Detective

Read: January 2017

“The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe” is book 15 in the “No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series.  In this offering Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective, has been engaged to help a woman allegedly suffering from amnesia to uncover her identity. Meanwhile, her trusted assistant and business partner, Mma Makutsi tries her hand in the restaurant business, only to discover that it isn’t as simple as a planning process. Another wonderful holiday read – it doesn’t ask much of the reader and doesn’t disappoint. A simple story, lovely characters and easy to read. As charming and delightful as the rest of the series.

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

better-call-saul-coverRating: ****

Fiction: Humour

Read: January 2017

One for the fans of “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad”. This pocket-sized, hard-cover book features great photos, advertisements and factoids about Saul and his legal firm. Entertaining and light hearted.

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Previous Years Book Reviews: Archives

2016: 2016-book-reviews

2015: 2015 Book reviews download

Books reviewed in 2016:

Fiction – Mystery/Adventure/Crime

  1. ***** “End of Watch” by Stephen King
  2. ***** “The Last Second Chance” by Jim Nesbitt
  3. ***** “The Dandelion Clock” by Sarah Key
  4. ***** “Dead Down East” by Carl Schmidt
  5. ****1/2 “The Cursed Canoe” by Frankie Bow
  6. **** “The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine” by Alexander McCall Smith
  7. ***1/2 “Bogman” by R. I. Oulfsen

 

Fiction – Chick Lit/Romance

  1. ****1/2 “Hollywood Lights” by Katie Rose Guest Pryal
  2. ****1/2 “Chasing Chaos” by Katie Rose Guest Pryal
  3. **** “Dangerous Obsessions” by Bob van Laerhoven
  4. ***1/2 “The Judgment” by D.J.Niko

Fiction – Sci Fi/Horror/Fantasy

  1. ***** “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” by Jack Finney
  2. ****1/2 “The Signalman – A Ghost Story” by Charles Dickens
  3. ****1/2 “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” by J.K.Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne
  4. **** “The Eye of the Sibyl and other classic stories” by Philip K. Dick
  5. **** “Bizarre of Bad Dreams” by Stephen King
  6. **** “Jen Air” by J Coutelier
  7. **** “Sol of the Coliseum” By Adam Gaylord
  8. **** “Rarity from the Hollow” by Robert Eggleton
  9. **** “Ignite” by Danielle Rogman
  10. ***1/2 “Wild Card Run” by Sara Stamey
  11. ***1/2 “Speculative Story Bites” By Sarena Ulibarri (Ed)
  12. ***1/2 “Fall of the Cities – Putting Down roots” by Vance Huxley
  13. ***1/2 “Elemental Kingdoms: Darkness Descends” by Peter Arvo & Lauren Arvo
  14. *** “The Shattered Stars – Breach of Contract” by Vance Huxley

Fiction – Literary Fiction/Other/Comedy

  1. ***** “Love, Life and Logic” by Uday Mukerji
  2. **** “The Resurrection of Frédéric Debreu” by Alex Marsh
  3. **** “Random Word Stories: Volume 1” by Eli Goldfarb
  4. ***1/2 “Fractured Angel” by Ken Williams

Fiction – Children

  1. ***** “Minkie Monster Saves Christmas” by Ceri Clark
  2. **** “An Unlikely Friendship” by Jasmine Fogwell

Non-Fiction – Memoirs/Biographies

  1. ***** “No Problem Mr Walt” by Walt Hackman
  2. **** “A Street Cat Named Bob” by James Bowen

Non-Fiction – True Crime

  1. **** “All Fall Down” by Matthew Condon
  2. *** “Anita Cobby The Crime That Shocked The Nation” By Alan J. Whiticker
  3. *** “Derek Percy: Australian Psycho” by Alan Whiticker

Non-Fiction – Reference

  1. ***** “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King
  2. **** “Courtyard Kitchen” by Natalie Boog
  3. ****1/2 “Essential Horror Movies: Matinee Monsters to Cult Classics” by Michael Mallory
  4. ****1/2 “Hidden Histories – Herbs” by Kim Hurst
  5. ****1/2 “The Greatest Books You’ll Never Read: Unpublished masterpieces by the world’s greatest writers” by Professor Bernard Richards
  6. ****1/2 “Theory Of Irony: How Jesus Led to Moon Golf” by Erik Von Norden
  7. ****1/2 “Seven Flowers and How They Shaped Our World” by Jennifer Potter
  8. **** “1001 TV Series you must watch before you die” by Paul Condon and Steve Moffat
  9. **** “Trumped – Beyond Politically Correct ” by Peter Davidson
  10. **** “The Wisdom of Bees” by Erik Berrevoets
  11. **** “Australia’s best Garden Guides: Climbers and Creepers” by Allen Gilbert
  12. ***1/2 “John Hughes: A Life in Film” by Kirk Honeycutt
  13. *** “Whistler’s Mother” by NGV Press

Non-Fiction – Self Help/Instructional/Reference

  1. ****1/2 “The Vintage Tea Party Book” by Angel Adoree
  2. **** “Return to Your Senses: Save yourself before technology kills you” by Ronald D Eastman II
  3. **** “The Two Week wait Challenge” by Lindsay Fischer
  4. **** “Anyone can get an A+: How to Beat Procrastination, Reduce Stress and Improve Your Grades” by Geetanjali Mukherjee
  5. **** “fearLESS: How to Conquer Your Fear, Stop Playing Small, and Start Living an Extraordinary Life You Love” by Nathalie Thompson

Non-Fiction – Travel Guides/Reference

  1. ***** “Top 10 Prague” (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide) by Theodore Schwinke
  2. ***** “Top 10 Berlin” (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide) by DK
  3. **** “Los Angeles: A Portrait of a City” by Jim Heimann
  4. ***1/2 “Vienna: Architecture & Art” by Tobias Kunz
  5. ***1/2 Marco Polo Spiral Guide – Perfect Days in Prague
  6. ***1/2 “New Zealand North Island” by Darroch Donald
  7. *** “Berlin” by CitiX