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Cloggie Downunder (Australia)

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Price: £12.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Clever and thought-provoking, 27 May 2015
This review is from: Lullaby (Kindle Edition)
“The first thing you learn about the mind is how delicate it is, how easily it can come apart. When we are well, the world feels solid, there are a thousand different certainties we can call upon to conjure up the self: that our memories are reliable. That our senses do not lie to us, that the world means us no harm, that we are loved, and capable of loving, that other minds share our world , that our words have meaning to them, that we can touch each other. That we exist. But the whole thing is a trick of balance and perspective, and knowing when to look away. The most surprising thing can trigger a crisis”

Lullaby is the eleventh novel by award-winning New Zealand author and playwright, Bernard Beckett. As his twin brother lies comatose following a freak accident, eighteen-year-old Rene is aware that the six-hour window of opportunity to save Theo is quickly dwindling. And two things need to happen if Theo is to be saved: Rene needs to decide if he will consent to the controversial procedure being proposed; and he needs to be found competent to make that decision. As the hospital’s psychologist makes her assessment of Rene’s competence, the series of events that led to this unusual situation are gradually revealed. And the pressure on Rene to decide does not come only from the medical team.

Beckett presents the reader with an interesting philosophical dilemma which becomes more complicated with each new twist of the plot. This original novel explores the nature of memory and examines what makes us who we are. Beckett’s personal experience with twins is apparent: “Every way you can find of praising a person is also a way of insulting anyone else who’s listening. Twins understand that”, and he gives his characters some perceptive observations: “I don’t understand that, the way awkward moments never lose their cutting edge. With something big, like your parents dying, the pain dulls with time. Somehow the simple act of living absorbs it”

Beckett’s prose is often beautiful: “It wasn’t what we said…it wasn’t the words we chose, but the shape they fell into, the rut of a thousand conversations past. A poem of anxiety, accusation and denial, and the last line always there but never uttered” and “Anger’s a tight-fitting, ugly little place to make your home. It infects everything, even travels backwards through time” and “Questions queued, jostled, foundered. Fragments of understanding jigsawed together, then dissolved” are examples. This book is promoted as Young Adult, but many older adults will enjoy it too. Clever and thought-provoking.

Hired Bride (Mills & Boon M&B)
Hired Bride (Mills & Boon M&B)
Price: £3.32

4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable romance, 26 May 2015
Hired Bride is a book by American author, Jackie Merritt, in the Fortunes of Texas series. Gwen Hutton, widowed mother of three, is just managing to keep her head above water with her little services company, Help-Mate. When Zane Fortune comes home unexpectedly as she is washing his dog, he hits upon the idea of paying her to attend a family wedding: Gwen’s very attractive, and it will keep the Fortune women off his back about settling down if they think he’s in a relationship. Gwen reluctantly agrees: she needs the extra cash, but she stipulates “no funny business”. Zane is rich and gorgeous, way out of her league; she’s not interested in an affair, anyway, and he is a confirmed bachelor. But then he kisses her.
Sexy romance is what Merritt does well, and this book, despite being a little longer than her usual romances, it an excellent example of the part of the Fortunes of Texas series, the background story continues: in this instalment, a kidnapped baby is finally returned to his parents, someone ends up in a mental ward and a hitherto unknown Fortune turns up. An enjoyable romance.

Silent Shock: The Men Behind the Thalidomide Scandal and an Australian Family's Long Road to Justice
Silent Shock: The Men Behind the Thalidomide Scandal and an Australian Family's Long Road to Justice
Price: £20.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended!, 26 May 2015
“In August 2012 Grunenthal’s chief executive Harald Stock…expressed sincere regret at the harm caused by thalidomide, and apologised for the company’s fifty-year silence. ‘We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the silent shock that your fate has caused us’”

Silent Shock is the first book by Australian journalist and lawyer, Michael Magazanik. As part of the legal team for thalidomider, Lyn Rowe’s action against parent drug manufacturer Grunenthal, and Australian distributor, Distillers, Michael Magazanik had access to a staggering amount of information about the whole thalidomide scandal. In this book, he tells several stories concurrently: the development and marketing of the drug by the German manufacturer; the marketing and distribution by licensees in other countries, in particular, the United Kingdom, USA and Australia; just how Lyn Rowe became a thalidomider (a story common to many of the victims); and the work and time involved in Lyn’s legal action for compensation.

Many potential readers will think they know the story of the thalidomide scandal: this book will have a few surprises for them, as Magazanik exposes myths and concealments on a grand scale; those who have a vaguer knowledge of events will appreciate Magazanik’s thorough account of the circumstances that led to the unnecessary maiming and death of so many. And may find themselves gasping at the lies, the cover-ups and denials revealed. Many will find it hard to resist quoting facts and whole passages to those around them, or to remark on the breath-taking arrogance, the incredible greed, the lack of ethics and total amorality of those involved in the poor testing and reckless marketing of this supposedly innocuous drug.

The (mostly unsung) heroes of the whole awful saga are many: the families and carers of thalidomiders, the whistleblowers, a certain American bureaucrat, legal teams working for thalidomiders, journalists and, of course, the thalidomiders themselves who showed great courage just getting on with their lives, not to mention persisting with legal challenges against great odds. The stringent safeguards by which researchers and marketers are now bound is something for which the world can be grateful to them. That in the present day there are still thalidomiders born in some countries will stun those who think this an issue of the past. Magazanik provides a great deal of information, but his experience as a journalist is apparent as he presents it all in easily digestible form. He includes a comprehensive index and a handy chronology of events.

While the lack of justice and compensation for thalidomiders is disappointing, and the refusal of Grunenthal to accept responsibility or pay compensation, infuriating, Magazanik ends his account on a positive note, with a quote from Wendy Rowe: “It was the drug that damaged Lyn, pure and simple. But once it happened, it was up to us to turn it into a positive or a negative. Lyn has shown us all what grace and courage and determination are and we’re better people for it. She changed our direction in life. You’d never wish what happened to Lyn on anyone. But there was no changing it. We had to dig down and find the good in it”. This book has been accurately described as a compelling read. Highly recommended!

Paperbark Shoe, The
Paperbark Shoe, The
by Goldie Goldbloom
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.51

4.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding debut., 24 May 2015
This review is from: Paperbark Shoe, The (Paperback)
“The tin roof of the Italian’s hut flashed like a semaphore at the clouds scudding over the moon, smoky white clouds, fraying at the edges, with deep purple bellies”

The Paperbark Shoe is the first novel by West Australian-born novelist and short story writer, Goldie Goldbloom. It won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Fiction in 2008, and the Literary Novel of the Year from the ForeWord Magazine (Independent Publishers) in 2011. In 1943, Italian Prisoners of War were sent out to work on West Australian farms, a welcome source of labour at a time when able-bodied men were away at war. Antonio and Gianpaolo arrive at Mr Toad’s farm on the Cemetery Road, five miles west of Wyalkatchem, dressed in their maroon-dyed uniforms.

This remote holding (“On one side of us stands the uninhabited coast, thousands of rocky miles patrolled by sharks, and on the other stands the vast, appalling desert of the great red centre, studded with the bones of animals and men that have strayed there and melted into the earth”) is home to Gin Toad, albino, prize-winning pianist, mother of three and two months pregnant; and Toadie, known for his collection of women’s corsets. Both misfits in society, together for reasons that never included love.

When Antonio flatters Gin with attention and compliments, her attention is drawn to Toadie’s shortcomings: “I can hear him now, his voice so like the croaking of a frog in a bucket, his deep sniffs punctuating each sentence”. The nature of their marriage irritates her more than ever: “He never touched me in the daytime, in the light, that man who ran his hands so tenderly over the horses, who touched his nose to their velvet muzzles and murmured to them as he gazed into their eyes. He had it in him, a capacity for love. But he hid it from me”

Goldbloom’s plot goes where expected, but with a twist. Her characters are a breed apart: many are quirky, all are in some way flawed, and while this can be endearing, the only truly appealing character in this tale is young Alfie. All the rest are selfish, some to an appalling degree. Her descriptive prose is beautiful and she certainly captures the feel of the West Australian desert and the small town attitudes of the 1940s. An outstanding debut.

Breathless! (Mills & Boon Modern Tempted)
Breathless! (Mills & Boon Modern Tempted)
by Trish Wylie
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A sweet romance, but a bit too long and repetitive, 18 May 2015
Breathless! (also titled Her Bedroom Surrender) is the first book by Irish author, Trish Wylie in the Nights Of Passion series. Plot summary: gorgeous guy with gammy leg working in gym chats up curvy chick with image problems. Rory Flanaghan is a security consultant on injury leave from a job in the Middle East; best-selling author of fad diet books, Cara Sheehan needs to tone up for a wedding at which she will have to partner her ex-boyfriend in the bridal party; Rory becomes her one-to-one trainer. There’s a powerful attraction between them, but Rory isn’t the stay-at-home type.
Wylie has her heroine (over-)analysing every thought, word and action, with the result that the novel moves incredibly slowly. Any flow in the dialogue is interrupted by this so the reader needs to look back through anything from a paragraph to a page to be reminded to what exactly the next statement relates. Most of the narrative is Cara’s; where Rory’s point of view is given, the flow is much better. And much of the action (30%+) takes place in the gym. After innumerable tease scenes, they eventually get it together on a strictly temporary basis: he has to go back to his dangerous job soon. But of course they fall in love….A sweet romance, but a bit too long and repetitive. 3.5 stars

The Rainy Season
The Rainy Season
by Myfanwy Jones
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable read, 17 May 2015
This review is from: The Rainy Season (Paperback)
“Stepping out of the plane into the tropical night is like entering a steam room with a blindfold on. The black air is hot and damp and dense as wool and for a moment I feel like I’m going to choke. But there is no turning back. I wade down the metal staircase and onto a rusty shuttle bus. The terminal ahead sparkles blue, yellow and white”

The Rainy Season is the first fiction book by Australian author, Myfanwy Jones. Despite the abrupt, unexpected and very recent end of her six-year-long relationship with Tim, Ella Morton embarks on the Vietnam trip they meticulously planned together. Tim believed that visiting significant places in that country would help Ella to cope with the sense of abandonment she had felt for most of her life. Peter Morton was for Ella “Always an absence, my father – a shadow, an outline, an echo”. He had returned from his tour of duty in Vietnam bodily intact, but suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and had disappeared from Ella’s life when she was five years old.

Once in Saigon, however, Ella finds herself ignoring her itinerary, gradually developing relationships with local people and ex-pats and eventually extending her visa to take up a job offer. Against the backdrop of the lifting of the US trade embargo, Jones expertly captures the feel of Asia: humid, languid, yet bustling. The inclusion of common phrases in Vietnamese gives the novel authenticity and Jones’ personal experience shows in her portrayal of the ex-pat perspective: “Most of the expats I’ve met here are on the run from something, are a little unhinged”

Readers may find Ella somewhat difficult to like, occasionally wanting to give her a good shake and yell at her to wake up to herself. Her behaviour disappointing at times, although she matures perceptibly in later chapters. Jones gives some of her characters words of wisdom: Buddhist nun Co Ngoc tells Ella “Every person can teach. Every person can learn” and “’Everything is always changing,’ she says, calmly. ‘Some things will be lost, some things will be gained.’”; Ella herself notes “May be we are all an itchy mix of fragile and strong”.

Jones treats the reader to some beautiful descriptive prose: “… it is like someone has sprinkled a fine coating of amphetamine over the whole city and everything has shifted into overdrive: office buildings shooting up like weeds, daily announcements of new joint ventures; laws being made and changed by the hour” and while the ending may feel to some degree inconclusive it does leave the reader with a sense of potential. This is a novel that will appeal to those who have been to Vietnam, although this is certainly not a prerequisite. A very enjoyable read.

Chasing After The Wind
Chasing After The Wind
by Dale Harcombe
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable read, 17 May 2015
This review is from: Chasing After The Wind (Paperback)
Chasing After The Wind is the first novel by Australian author, Dale Harcombe. Chelsea Seymour, noted for her lacklustre performance in year seven (except at her passion, art), lives with her dad, Paul, her younger sister, Linnie and her twin little brothers, Jay and Drew. And there’s Nan, always critical, often cranky and ruling the house with a strong will, even dictating to Paul. Her mum left when Chelsea was three: she doesn’t remember a lot about her, and questions aren’t welcome in the house.

When Chelsea learns she is to have a reading coach, she is less than enthusiastic, especially as it’s Mrs Davidson, with whom she had a recent altercation. But they when begin on a novel set during the depression, Chelsea finds herself looking forward to their sessions, and disappointed at their conclusion. Extra sessions at Mrs Davidson’s home spark a different activity, one she feels bound to keep secret.

Harcombe’s debut is a heart-warming coming-of-age novel. Her main character is well developed: Chelsea starts off as a self-centred pre-teen, but matures in a realistic manner. The ending, too, is not a Hollywood version, but a believable sequence of events. Harcombe’s depiction of the engrossment an avid reader experiences with a good tale will certainly resonate with many. A very enjoyable read. 4.5 stars.

The Diggers Rest Hotel: A Charlie Berlin mystery
The Diggers Rest Hotel: A Charlie Berlin mystery
Price: £4.35

5.0 out of 5 stars excellent historical crime fiction, 13 May 2015
The Diggers Rest Hotel is the first Charlie Berlin Mystery by Australian author, Geoffrey McGeachin. It is 1947, and ex-bomber pilot, Charlie Berlin has returned from the war bodily (if not psychologically) intact to resume his police career. DC Berlin, now 27 years old, is a bit of a loner, a misfit, still subject to blackouts, nightmares and flashbacks, a legacy of his time as a pilot and POW. His boss sends him to Wodonga to investigate a series of payroll robberies that have left local police baffled.

He learns the robberies are committed by a gang of five balaclava’d motorcycle riders toting sub-machine guns, but there is a dearth of further clues. While Rob Roberts, the young constable assigned to him, has some ideas, he is offered some valuable information by a journalist for The Argus, in town to interview Russell Drysdale. The other local police are uncooperative, and the witness accounts less than helpful. Then, the corpse of a beheaded young Chinese girl is discovered in an alley, and Berlin finds his detecting talents under extra pressure.

McGeachin gives the reader an excellent plot with a few red herrings and the odd twist or two. Charlie’s crime scene investigation is, of course, basic: the use of DNA, microscopic trace evidence, computers and mobile phones all far into the future. McGeachin expertly captures the feel of post-war country Victoria, the moods and attitudes of the people; his characters are believable and their dialogue is natural. Berlin is a character with depth and appeal, so readers will be pleased to know that he appears in at least two further books. This is excellent historical crime fiction.

Last Chance Cafe
Last Chance Cafe
by Liz Byrski
Edition: MP3 CD
Price: £11.68

5.0 out of 5 stars another excellent offering from Liz Byrski, 12 May 2015
This review is from: Last Chance Cafe (MP3 CD)
“…from childhood to our dotage is there ever a time in a woman’s life when it’s okay for her to look the age she is?”

Last Chance Café is the sixth book by Australian author, Liz Byrski. At almost seventy, Margot is sure it is too late to return to her youthful dream of becoming a writer, a dream derailed by pregnancy, marriage, children and divorce. But encountering Dot, a fierce campaigner for women’s rights and a friend from those youthful days, and getting involved in a new campaign, reignites the passion to write.

Margot’s ex-husband, Laurence temporarily escapes to Spain to avoid dealing with a major upheaval in his life; Margot’s sister, Phyllida is faced with a major change in her own life, and some shocking revelations about the husband she thought she knew; Margot’s daughters, Lexie and Emma both have their own challenges to overcome. But this extended family and their close friends manage to (eventually) pull together and accept each other’s support and love, while becoming an integral part of a worthwhile cause.

Byrski gives the reader characters of the type we encounter every day, a setting that feels familiar, natural dialogue and a realistic plot. Perhaps what Byrski writes is chic lit for the mature woman (some have cleverly coined the term “hen lit”), but she always touches on interesting and relevant issues. In this novel, as well as ageing, she touches on the sexualisation of young girls, and the power of market forces on female image. She also takes the reader back to Sydney in the fifties and sixties, the era of the Push. She even manages to include a bit of intrigue: just who is the father of the boy adopted long ago? This is another excellent offering from Liz Byrski and readers will look forward to In The Company of Strangers.

The Novel Habits of Happiness (Isabel Dalhousie Novels)
The Novel Habits of Happiness (Isabel Dalhousie Novels)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.59

5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful read, as always. A delightful read, as always., 12 May 2015
“We might believe that things did not exist because we had no evidence for their existence, but they still existed – in spite of our ignorance”

The Novel Habits of Happiness is the tenth book in the Isabel Dalhousie series by popular British author, Alexander McCall Smith. Editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, Isabel Dalhousie is a busy woman. Her young son, Charlie is now almost four, and a delightful boy developing his own character. Her niece, Cat has started a new relationship, and Isabel is apprehensive about meeting Cat’s latest fling. And the intentions of two visitors from London at the Enlightenment Institute are a source of worry for her. Isabel is asked by a good friend to help a concerned mother whose young son is speaking of a previous life. While sceptical of reincarnation, Isabel cannot ignore an appeal, and, surprisingly, finds she has Jamie’s blessing, and even his assistance.

This tenth instalment of Edinburgh’s favourite philosopher sees Isabel musing on patriotism, aphorisms, a benevolent god, the effects of prayer, meal envy, desk guilt, the titles of paintings, unwelcome thoughts, generalisations, the Loch Ness Monster and the Tooth Fairy. As always, McCall Smith includes plenty of gentle philosophy and an abundance of wisdom: “Scepticism had its place, but we should not lose sight of the possibilities that some beliefs were both necessary and beneficial, a belief in human goodness being a prime example of this…..if one ceased to believe in it then we would lose the comfort of trust”

Isabel continues to appreciate her husband: “And she liked, too, the way he was filled with music; it was there in his mind, and it came out so effortlessly when he sat at the piano or played his bassoon, or when he sang. It was as if there were wells within him, deep wells of music waiting to be drawn upon” and, after some uncharitable thoughts (That, Isabel felt, was one of the great moral challenges: how to think charitably when it was sometimes so entertaining to do otherwise), learns something surprising about Professor Lettuce from an unexpected source,

The reader is treated to some lovely descriptive passages: “This was the North Sea, cold, blue, lapping at the jagged edge of the country, a reminder of where Scotland lay in the true nature of things; a place that was mostly water and wind and high empty sky; a place where the land itself seemed to be an afterthought, a farewell gesture from Europe” is just one example. Isabel’s reflections often bring a smile to the face, and her banter with Jamie and Charlie provide some laugh-out-loud moments. A delightful read, as always.

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