‘Why is it the big things you dread the most turn out to be no big deal and the ones you don’t worry about blow up in your face?’
Life is looking prett‘Why is it the big things you dread the most turn out to be no big deal and the ones you don’t worry about blow up in your face?’
Life is looking pretty good for family law attorney Jamie Quinn in Hollywood, Florida. Her father may get his visa soon, her boyfriend Kip is wonderful and business is growing. What could possibly go wrong? Well, first Kip is heading to Australia for three months to save the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat. And then Jamie agrees to take a high-profile divorce case. After all, she is the twenty-seventh lawyer Nan Glasser has called, and someone has to help, right? Besides, this could be a perfect opportunity for Jamie to make some money while working with her friend Grace Anderson. But Nan’s husband Marvin doesn’t want a divorce, and he has plenty of powerful connections on his side. And Jamie manages to upset Grace as well.
At the same time, Jamie is looking into a plane crash which killed her neighbour Sandy’s twin sister. As a consequence of the accident, Sandy and her husband Mike are now looking after their niece Katie. You’d think it would be straightforward enough to find out who owned the plane. But it’s complicated, even with Duke Broussard’s investigative skills.
So, why is Marvin Glasser resisting divorce? Who really owns the plane that Sandy’s twin sister and her husband died in? And what does Katie know? While she’s trying to find out the answers to these questions (and more) Jamie is trying to restore her friendship with Grace, stay in touch with Kip and figure out who is trying to destroy her reputation and why. But it’s not just her reputation at stake.
There are a few twists and turns in the story and some laugh out loud moments. And the conclusion? Well, it works for me.
This is the fourth of Ms Venkataraman’s novels to feature Jamie Quinn, and I’ve enjoyed all of them. While they are best read in order because of the character development and backstory, the cases in each story stand alone.
Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this novel for review purposes.
‘No sensible person would claim that all new knowledge has, and will, come from the practice of science as we know it today.’
Professor Peter Doherty s ‘No sensible person would claim that all new knowledge has, and will, come from the practice of science as we know it today.’
Professor Peter Doherty shared the 1996 Nobel Prize for Medicine with Rolf M. Zinkernagel for discovering the role of T cells in the immune system. He is still involved in research, dividing his time between the University of Melbourne and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
‘The Knowledge Wars’ is Professor Doherty’s fifth book. It is aimed at encouraging citizens (who are mostly not trained scientists) to become informed about important issues and to be in a position to evaluate the facts. Those issues include childhood vaccination and anthropogenic climate change, both extremely topical in Australia (and elsewhere) at present.
Take anthropogenic climate change. On the one hand, we are told that we need to change our behaviour. On the other hand we are told that any such behavioural change will impact (negatively) on our quality of life. How can we (non-scientist citizens) decide what the facts are? Who is credible? How much change is acceptable? The debate (if it can be called that) has both polarised elements of society and resulted in little effective change. If people can’t agree that there is a problem, let alone define what it is, then they are unlikely to be able to agree on how to address it. Either way, the world as we know it will change.
In relation to childhood vaccination, again very topical in Australia at present, I find it difficult to believe that anyone who has firsthand (or close family) experience of poliomyelitis or whooping cough can argue against vaccination except in very few cases on medical grounds. But people do. Is the answer compulsory vaccination (totally removing the element of choice unless there are medical grounds), or are there more effective ways of making the case for vaccination? Regardless of the choice made, people need to be able to understand the consequences (actual, possible and potential) of the choices they make.
While I really enjoyed reading this book, it is the appendices that held my attention. There are four of them: ‘Checking out a scientist’, ‘Reading the science literature’, Open access and the economics of publishing’ and ‘Peer review’. These appendices provide some good practical advice for those of us who’d like help identifying and assessing knowledge.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.
‘The ageing of the Baby Boomers represents one of Australia’s most challenging demographic shifts ever.’
Over the past century, the average Australian’‘The ageing of the Baby Boomers represents one of Australia’s most challenging demographic shifts ever.’
Over the past century, the average Australian’s life expectancy has increased by twenty-five years. Where one hundred years ago many of us would have died in our mid-fifties, many of us will now live until our early eighties. What does this mean, both for us as individuals and for Australia? Those of us who are Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) should be particularly interested in these questions. Why? To start with there are a lot of us and if many of us are going to live longer, then a number of different areas of social policy will need to be (re)considered.
‘No generation in history has attracted more analysis than the Baby Boomers, and for good reason –they have profoundly changed society over the course of their lives.’
As Mark Butler reminds us, many of the Baby Boomers have relatively insignificant amounts of superannuation. How will income needs be met for what is likely to be up to thirty years (or even longer) of retirement? And, for those who want (or need) to continue paid employment, how is age-related employment discrimination to be addressed? Housing is another issue: some Baby Boomers will enter retirement with a mortgage on their family home, some will be renters, and others will want to look at other housing options. And no, retirement villages are not for everyone.
Perhaps the biggest issue for many is (or will be) health. The older we get, the more medical issues we tend to have. Which raises issues like who will provide the aged-care that may be required? Will there be enough aged-care workers, enough doctors, enough places for those who require supported living?
Baby Boomers are not passive in all of this. As Mr Butler points out, there are a number of different organizations which cater for older Australians, and which lobby for senior-related issues. It isn’t just about what society needs to do for the ageing. It’s also about recognising that many of the ageing contribute to contribute to society in a number of different ways, and enabling them to do so.
I found this book thought-provoking. While I was less swayed by some of Mr Butler’s political observations, I’m hoping to live long enough to see how Australian governments deal with the challenges. One thing is for sure, ageing Australians are a significant (and growing) demographic. We are also increasingly opinionated and politically aware but we are by no means homogeneous.
Mark Butler has been the Labor member for Port Adelaide since 2007, and was the Minister for Ageing in the Gillard government. In this book, while Mr Butler identifies a number of issues to be considered, he presents a much more positive perspective on the impacts of ageing than some I have read.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.
‘Life in the Middle Ages was not simple, nor primitive, and neither is it easy to explain.’
I’ve read a lot of fiction set in the middle ages, and a re‘Life in the Middle Ages was not simple, nor primitive, and neither is it easy to explain.’
I’ve read a lot of fiction set in the middle ages, and a reasonable amount of medieval English history. While I have some understanding of the period, there are huge gaps in my knowledge. Some of those gaps have now been filled, thanks to this book by Dr Gillian Polack, a historian, and Dr Katrin Kania, an archaeologist, which addresses life in medieval England between 1050 and 1300.
‘This guide is a room with many doors.’
Only some? Yes, because this book is an introduction, supported by a comprehensive forty page section entitled ‘Reading More About The Middle Ages’. The information provided in each section invites the interested reader to learn more by exploring the recommended reading suggested. Interested in religion during the Middle Ages? Dr Polack and Dr Kania have provided an overview of Christianity and Judaism in England during this period. This will be enough information for some readers, but if you want more, turn to ‘Reading More About The Middle Ages’.
How is the book organised? The seventeen numbered chapters address a range of topics including: the people, their life phases, government, religion, the military, craft, leisure activities, the medieval economy and travel. For me, the most interesting section was on the economy. I enjoyed each section, learning many new things. My favourite fact? Learning that the curfew, a bell rung in towns to remind people to cover their fires at night, took its name from the couvre-feu, a pottery cover with air vents that went on the fire. Above all, I have a new appreciation of the complexity of medieval life, and a better understanding of certain aspects of it.
If you have an interest in Medieval England, if you read (or write) fiction set in this period, this is a book well worth reading.
‘You need a friend all the time, not just when you have a story to tell.’
Fay, who may well be a stereotype with whom some will identify, is a bored pu‘You need a friend all the time, not just when you have a story to tell.’
Fay, who may well be a stereotype with whom some will identify, is a bored public servant in Canberra. Fay is also a dreamer. Dreams can be a wonderful way to escape from those stereotypical (and other) aspects of real life that are dull and boring. Fay escapes into her dream world whenever she can: it’s a comfortable place, and her imagined friends seem friendly and welcoming. Much nicer than the real world.
In Fay’s dream world, partly described and defined by folk songs, things start to go mysteriously wrong. But does the dreamer control the dreaming? And can real life and dream life be kept separate? Surely death is too harsh a punishment, even for imaginary Morris dancers? But are they imaginary? Fay’s worlds (both real and imagined) seem to out of control, and Fay herself is becoming ill. What’s really happening here? Can Fay take control over and responsibility for her own life?
‘She saw her current problem as an inner problem.’
While I enjoyed the way Ms Polack constructed Fay’s dream world (all those traditional songs) for much of the book, Fay herself annoys me greatly. Fay is too passive, too self-focussed, and it takes her too long to take responsibility for the consequences of her actions (and inactions). There are other characters, especially Belle, whom I find more appealing.
Leaving aside Fay, I enjoyed the layers of this story, the increasing sense that the barriers between real and imaginary worlds were mutable and permeable, rather than fixed and impenetrable. To Fay (just in case you are reading this): just remember that not all dreams can be controlled, and that there is good and bad in all worlds. There is also an art to effective living.
In a world without bees, food production is a challenge. Eighty percent of plant life and food has been wiped out, toget‘What is real and what isn’t?’
In a world without bees, food production is a challenge. Eighty percent of plant life and food has been wiped out, together with the bees. The elite live in the Bubble, there’s a think tank – and troops – at the Barracks, and the Farm, where people struggle to produce food, and survive. In this world, controlled by the totalitarian corporation Hexagon. There’s also a virtual reality world, called Nirvana, where some can escape for a while – if they can afford the cost.
Larissa Kenders lives in the Barracks. Since the reported death of her husband, Andrew, the only relief she can find through her escapes into Nirvana. Although she can choose to explore any world, she prefers Earth. It’s where Andrew is. Her contract allows her fifteen minutes a week in Nirvana, when her boss books her in for two hours, she’s overjoyed. And when she meets Andrew in this virtual world, she is convinced that he is not dead.
Larissa, or Kenders as she prefers to be called, is in danger. What is real, and what isn’t? And what really happened to Andrew?
This is the first novel in what will be a three part series. I suspect that I’ll appreciate a lot of the scene setting and character establishment in subsequent novels. While I liked aspects of this novel, I didn’t really warm to Kenders and that has muted my enjoyment of the whole. Still, I intend to read subsequent novels because I want to know what will happen. An interesting variation on the YA dystopian theme.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this novel.
Mia Dennett, an art teacher, is 25 years old when she mysteriously disappears. While her mother Eve i‘Mrs Dennett, Mia didn’t show up for work today.’
Mia Dennett, an art teacher, is 25 years old when she mysteriously disappears. While her mother Eve is worried, her father James is not. James, a judge, believes that Mia is just selfishly doing her own thing and wants to avoid any bad publicity. But Eve is sure that Mia wouldn’t just abandon her job.
The police are called in, and Detective Gabe Hoffman is assigned the case. He establishes that Mia had entered a bar to meet with her occasional boyfriend. But when he didn’t turn up, she left with a stranger.
While we learn, fairly quickly, who the stranger is - his name is Colin Thatcher - and why he has Mia, his change of plans is harder to unravel. Who wanted Mia kidnapped and why? How did Colin get involved? Why do Eve and James react so differently to Mia’s disappearance? And how will Gabe Hoffman find Mia?
The story moves between the key characters and unfolds in short, taut chapters. The time frame swaps between before and after the kidnapping. As the story moves between before and after, we know that Mia is found alive and that she has no memory of events. Finding out what has happened and why kept me turning the pages. Some aspects didn’t surprise me, but just when I thought I had it all figured out, there was a final twist which I had not anticipated. An engrossing read.
In what he describes as a personal journey built around puzzling questions, and intriguing personalities and events,‘What is the legacy of Byzantium?’
In what he describes as a personal journey built around puzzling questions, and intriguing personalities and events, Jonathan Harris has looked at Byzantium’s long history. Most importantly, Mr Harris wanted to investigate why Byzantium lasted for as long as it did given the upheavals and invasions that threatened its existence and why, when it did end, it disappeared so completely. These are intriguing questions: Byzantium lasted for more than a millennium, in the location where East and West joined and during the period of transition between the classical and modern worlds. As a city and an empire, it was complex and full of contrasts.
Mr Harris has organised his book chronologically, with each chapter focussed on an event, a family, a person or a place. This presentation enables the reader to see events, and some of the key individuals, within a broader contextual setting. It makes it easier too, for me, an interested reader who is not an historian, to appreciate the development of Byzantium. It is also easier to understand how paganism combined with Orthodox Christianity (at least in part) rather than being totally supplanted by it. In some ways, Byzantium combined the best aspects of two classical worlds: Roman power, and classical Greek learning. And as the world expanded, Byzantium was well placed geographically for diplomacy and trade, to absorb new knowledge and to influence others.
Different emperors had different ways of defending Byzantium against invasion, of maintaining trade, and of building magnificent monuments. Some were far more successful than others. Byzantium survived because of its strength, and because it was willing to absorb (rather than resist) both people and ideas from outside. Over time, great strengths can become weaknesses: walls that once kept out invaders become weakened and provide points of entry.
I found this book interesting, and I’m keen to read some of the material Mr Harris has identified in his ‘Further Reading’ section. By describing a broad history and posing some interesting questions, this book sets the scene for a more detailed look at different aspects of Byzantium history and culture. If you are interested in the history of the Middle East, specifically of the role of Byzantium, you may also enjoy reading this book. I feel that I’ve only just scratched the surface.
‘Thus if Byzantium has one outstanding legacy it is not perhaps Orthodox Christianity or its preservation of classical Greek literature. Rather it is the lesson that the strength of a society lies in its ability to adapt and incorporate outsiders in even the most adverse circumstances.’
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press, London for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.
Spanning the period from 1045 to 1087, Mr Holloway’s novel deals with a turbulent period in English history. In 1043 King Edward the Co‘Such is fate.’
Spanning the period from 1045 to 1087, Mr Holloway’s novel deals with a turbulent period in English history. In 1043 King Edward the Confessor, supported by Godwin, the powerful Earl of Wessex succeeded King Harthacnut. When Edward died in 1066, without an obvious heir, many believed that the Earl of Wessex – Godwin’s son, Harold Godwinson – was the most able person to succeed him. They hoped that Harold would bring stability to the kingdom. But King Harald Sigurdsson of Norway (Harold Hardrada) had different ideas, as did William, Duke of Normandy.
There may not have been any obvious successors, but there were a number of claimants. There are many different factions at court, and with Norway and Normandy also plotting to rule England, there’s plenty of intrigue. Who would prevail, and why? The Godwin family are central to this novel and although they are powerful, they have plenty of enemies. Mr Holloway’s novel provides a fascinating look at this period in history.
Those who know their English history will know the outcome of the battles of 1066. The history can’t be changed, but in reading this novel I found myself wondering ‘What if?’ more than once. In battles won more by chance than strategy, it is tempting to imagine a different outcome.
I enjoyed reading this novel. For me, Mr Holloway’s strength was in bringing the times to life. This novel invited me to consider – in more depth – the characters involved and to consider their motivations. If you are interested in historical fiction set in the 11th century, especially in the period around 1066, then you may enjoy this novel. I did.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author for review purposes.
Early in the 1800s, 92 chess pieces (and a buckle) were discovered on a beach in Scotland. The chess pieces, made of elaborately wor‘Who carved them?’
Early in the 1800s, 92 chess pieces (and a buckle) were discovered on a beach in Scotland. The chess pieces, made of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales’ teeth, include seated kings and queens, bishops, mounted knights and rooks. The pawns are simple octagons. There are almost four complete chess sets, missing only one knight, four rooks and forty-four pawns. They are known as the Lewis Chessmen, and are probably the best known chess pieces in the world. Ron Weasley’s chess set in the movie of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is based on the Lewis Chessmen. Eleven pieces are owned by the National Museums of Scotland and the remaining eighty-two are in the British Museum.
Where did they come from? When were they made, and by whom?
In this book, Nancy Marie Brown explores these questions by connecting modern archaeology with medieval Icelandic sagas, by looking at Viking voyages, trade, art history and the history of board games. Ms Brown presents a history of period, from 793 to 1066, when Vikings dominated the North Atlantic, and Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, the Orkney Islands and Greenland, the Hebrides and Newfoundland were connected by sea roads. Ms Brown writes of the economic drive behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s. And she writes of the talented Margret the Adroit, one of four artisans who worked for Bishop Pall of Skalholt in Iceland.
While there is no absolute proof that Margret the Adroit carved the Lewis Chessmen, Ms Brown makes a convincing case for the possibility. Iceland was a primary source of walrus ivory, and, in the 11th and 12th centuries produced a feast of indigenous literature. While reading medieval Icelandic sagas, Ms Brown found frequent references to chess, to gifts of chessmen and to chess matches. While some argue that the Lewis Chessmen were made in Norway (or territory that was Norwegian during the 12th century), Ms Brown believes they were made in Iceland.
I enjoyed this book, with its history and possibility. I’d not heard of Margret the Adroit before reading this book, and whether or not she carved the Lewis Chessmen, she was a skilled artisan known for her ecclesiastical carvings. While we can’t know for certain that the Lewis Chessmen were made in Iceland, Ms Brown’s research enables her to conclude that chessmen were definitely being made in Iceland at the same time. If you are interested in the history of chess, of Iceland and in the Lewis Chessmen, you may well enjoy this book as much as I did.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.
‘If it is adventure you seek, come along with me.’
Welcome to ‘Honor and Entropy’, a complex, sprawling odyssey covering a number of lives and adventur‘If it is adventure you seek, come along with me.’
Welcome to ‘Honor and Entropy’, a complex, sprawling odyssey covering a number of lives and adventures. The novel is presented as a manuscript found by J.E Rainey: Arthur Spevak’s manuscript which has been left forgotten in a trunk, abandoned. It’s presented as a lost tale, a journey for readers to undertake:
‘I am simply a messenger.’
The two major characters are Telly (short for Aristotle) Brensen and his friend Art Spevak. Telly and his mother Penny live in Washington State where Telly has grown up believing that his father Ulysses S. Brensen died during World War II mission in the Pacific Theatre. Telly and Art became lifelong friends after Art and his parents move to Washington State.
While the story starts with Ulysses Brensen in 1945, it is Telly’s search for him that is at the centre of the story. And, along the journey there are contrasts between the lives of Art and Telly, with similar experiences delivering vastly different outcomes for each of them. No, I don’t want to spoil the story by including detail of Art’s and Telly’s lives. There is a lot of detail to absorb, much of it important and by the end of the novel it makes its own form of perfect sense.
As an adult, Telly learns that there were survivors from the plane crash his father was in. One of those survivors was a Japanese prisoner of war, Major Shimano. With Art’s help, Telly meets Major Shimano. As a result Telly travels to Borneo where his father’s plane crashed. What happens to Telly in Borneo? What does he discover about his father? What about his mother Penny, and his girlfriend? And Art? Most of these questions are answered towards the end of the novel, if you have patience and persist.
It took me a while to be swept up into this novel and there were times when I found the sheer length of it quite daunting. But the language held my attention and, ultimately, I wanted to know how it would end. Could it have been shorter? Definitely. But odysseys are not usually about the quickest, most direct route.
Note: The author provided me with a copy of this book for review purposes.
In a story that has now encompassed five books and over five centuries, Adam Boatwright is still alive and still restorin‘The next step in evolution.’
In a story that has now encompassed five books and over five centuries, Adam Boatwright is still alive and still restoring wildlife and vegetation on earth after a disastrous meteor impact. But his longevity is not totally secret, and Adam fears that others may have stumbled on a way to achieve longevity for far less noble purposes.
It’s a complex mission trying to restore life on earth: who decides (and how) which species should be restored, and which should be left extinct? What about bats, or sharks, or Siberian tigers? Should malaria-bearing mosquitoes be restored? For what purpose? And is it possible to prevent humans repeating their earlier mistakes?
While Adam Boatwright faces similar issues in this novel to those he has faced in earlier novels, the story continues to develop. There needs to be some balance in the world, and some redress for mankind’s earlier damage. Perhaps the reintroduction of some long extinct species might achieve this. And, as the human population grows there’s tension between those who want zero population growth, and those who would ban birth control.
This is an interesting series. While it isn’t necessary to read the books in order, it is preferable to read them all to make sense of the world Adam occupies and the challenges he and the other humans face. For me, the strongest part of this series is neither the people nor the relationships but how they face the challenges that would face any survivors left on earth after such a global catastrophe. There are many issues to be considered, and recovery can only proceed slowly.
Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this book for review purposes.
So far there are 11 books (each containing 3 stories) in the Oliver and Jumpy series by Werner Stejskal. Oliver is a black tomcat who is‘All Aboard!’
So far there are 11 books (each containing 3 stories) in the Oliver and Jumpy series by Werner Stejskal. Oliver is a black tomcat who is rather full of himself and Jumpy is a female kangaroo. They are good friends, and have had many adventures together. Sometimes Jumpy’s son, Joey is part of the adventure as well. This book, which is book 8 of the series, contains the following stories:
In Story 22: The Incredible Train Journey, Oliver, Jumpy and Joey go on a train journey which takes them to places where trains do not usually travel: it’s an exciting magical adventure.
In Story 23: Hiccup, Oliver has the hiccups. What do you do when you have the hiccups? Well, Oliver visits the Hiccup bird (an adventure in itself). He has to disguise himself as a baby Hiccup bird: will this work? And how will Oliver return home afterwards?
In Story 24: Fishing, Oliver takes Joey fishing to try out Joey’s new fishing rod. Will they catch any fish?
These are delightful whimsical stories, beautifully illustrated. Just perfect to read with small children. My Kindle doesn’t do justice to the illustrations (although they look beautiful on both computer and telephone). I know times have changed, but I really prefer print versions of story books for young children.
Note: The author drew my attention to his Oliver and Jumpy story series, and I downloaded a copy of this book for free.
‘The sun was shrinking. It was the twelfth day of October, and the outbreak of plague that had blighted London over this uneasy summer was receding in‘The sun was shrinking. It was the twelfth day of October, and the outbreak of plague that had blighted London over this uneasy summer was receding into memory.’
Martin Marbeck is an ‘intelligencer’, a government spy for Lord Cecil who has seen service under Queen Elizabeth I and continues to serve her successor, King James I. Religious differences between Catholic and Protestants continue to divide the nation. Marbeck is ordered to keep watch on Thomas Percy, a well-known Papist who is cousin to the Earl of Northumberland. Marbeck hears rumours of a threat against the King, but has no specific information. His spymaster seems unconcerned, but Marbeck doesn’t think that the threat can be so readily dismissed. In the meantime, Marbeck himself is more than a little distracted by the elegant Charlotte de Baume.
But Marbeck is persistent, and comments by a captured priest combined with observations shared by a former colleague give him some clue as to the form the threat might take. Does he have time to stop it? Marbeck himself is in danger as he tries to uncover the truth. Who is behind the plot, and how do they hope to achieve their objectives?
‘Parliament prorogued … The opening to take place on the fifth of November, a Tuesday…’
I really enjoyed this novel. It’s the first of the Marbeck series (it’s the fourth book published) I’ve read and I’ll be looking to read the first three. Although I know the history of this period (and the Gunpowder Plot) fairly well, I liked the way Mr Pilkington has incorporated Marbeck into the story without material change to the events. But will Marbeck survive, or are his days as an intelligencer over?
‘Who has the most to gain from letting the drama play itself out until the last moment?
My thanks to NetGalley and Severn House Publishers for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.