SHORT & SWEET REVIEWS/MENTIONS 2012 #1

short and sweet

Sometimes my “to-read” shelf is laden with books waiting to be reviewed and it is just not possible to review them all fully. I review out of a love of reading, not for profit, and I fit reading in around a busy life as a wife, mum, part-time employee and freelance writer, so sometimes other things in life have to come first. Books tagged “short and sweet” are those I elect not to fully review, generally due to lack of time, being unable to finish or give a good review, or because it was unsolicited.

SUNSCREEN AND LIPSTICK
Authors: Various, with introduction by Liz Byrski
Fremantle Press RRP $19.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Among the hustle-bustle of Christmas and the end-of-year wind down, a short story is sometimes all a reader can fit in to their spare moments (and handbags). Sunscreen and Lipstick is a small collection of short stories from Fremantle Press and some of Australia’s best-loved writers.

From the mad excitement of first love to the grief of losing a parent, this book is all about women – mums, daughters, wives and girlfriends. The collection includes stories by Joan London, Natasha Lester, Elizabeth Jolley and T.A.G. Hungerford – the stories are diverse yet share the common thread of peeking into women’s lives. Sometimes these “peeks” will awaken a sense of recognition – “I know what that feels like”, as in ‘Sleep’ by Adriana Ellis; other times, they stir a sense of empathy. I particularly like Deborah Robertson’s ‘Living Arrangements’ – a woman who doesn’t ‘fit’ with bureaucracy and paperwork.

Thought-provoking and insightful, Sunscreen and Lipstick is an enjoyable read. I’ve been reading it in my lunch breaks – the bite-sized stories are just enough to get through in that time without having to stop right in the middle of a chapter.

Available from good bookstores and Fremantle Press. This copy was courtesy of Fremantle Press.


 STORMDANCER

Author: Jay Kristoff
TOR RRP $29.99

Stormdancer (The Lotus War, #1)Got a hankering for some Japanese Steampunk? Why not try Stormdancer? It’s the first in the upcoming The Lotus War series and since its release in September (2012) it’s had YA fantasy lovers in a frenzy. Some love it – some hate it (check out the discussion on Goodreads and you’ll see what I mean). Initially I was intrigued by the premise, the words “Japanese Steampunk” and the eye-catching cover. Beyond that, I just couldn’t get into it (I tried several times). Fantasy is not a genre I lean towards, so it was always going to be a hard sell for me. However, I recognise that many out there love fantasy books, so here is a synopsis – check it out for yourselves.

Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shogun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him, no matter how hopeless the task.

But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.

Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she’s determined to do something about it.

Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu plan to make the Shogun pay for his crimes – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?

So why couldn’t I get into Stormdancer? Was it the subject matter? I don’t really know … but, I have so many books to review, that if a book fails to hook me early, I have to put it aside and get on with reading others.  I may come back to it next year as part of the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge.

Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.


WHISKY CHARLIE FOXTROT

Author: Annabel Smith
Fremantle Press RRP $24.99

Whisky and Charlie are identical twins. But everything about them is poles apart. It’s got so bad that Charlie can’t even bear to talk to his brother anymore – until a freak accident steals Whisky from his family, and Charlie has to face the fact he may never speak to his brother again.

A tale of brotherly love and sibling rivalry, this book has had some great early reviews (I just couldn’t fit this one in). Here’s one comment: ‘Smith captures perfectly the nuanced relationship and the competitiveness between the two young men … The novel’s structure works extremely well, and should make it a favourite with book clubs.’ Bookseller+Publisher.
Available from good bookstores and Fremantle Press. This copy was courtesy of Fremantle Press.


 

WILDERNESS 
Author: Lance Weller
Bloomsbury Circus

Thirty years ago, Abel Truman found himself on the wrong side in the Battle of the Wilderness, one of the bloodiest clashes of the American Civil War. Its aftermath took him to the edge of the continent, the rugged coast of Washington State, where he has made his home in a driftwood shack with his beloved dog, waiting for the scars of war to heal.

Now an old and ailing man, Abel must make one heroic final journey over the snowbound Olympic Mountains. It’s a quest he has little hope of completing but must still undertake to settle matters of the heart that predate even the horrors of the war. But as Abel sets out, violence follows him in the shape of the memories of those he has lost, and the savagery he took part in and witnessed, as well as two men who are darkly tenacious in their pursuit.

Hypatia is a slave whose freedom comes at a terrible price, and who finds herself walking unwittingly into the hellish heart of the Wilderness. Ellen is a white woman, married to a black man at a time that is as dangerous as it is unforgiving. And Jane is a young Chinese girl, who is newly, cruelly orphaned, and clinging on to life. Abel’s tortured and ultimately redemptive path leads him to each of them as he encounters compassion amid brutality and tenderness within loss.

Available from good bookstores. Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia.



TRIBURBIA
Author: Karl Taro Greenfield
Atlantic Books RRP $27.99

With an unflinching eye, Triburbia explores Tribeca, Manhattan, a neighbourhood synonymous with western affluence, in which an artists’ community has been overrun by the faux-bohemian haunts of those made staggeringly wealthy by the world of finance.

Thrown together by circumstance, a group of fathers – a sound engineer, a sculptor, a film producer, a writer, a career criminal – meet each morning at a local cafe after the school run.

The chapters are arranged as snippets of individual stories that fuse into one, giving a portrait of a community in transition.

I tried to get into this book, but I just couldn’t. I could not relate to any of the characters and I didn’t really like them. There’s a sense of detachment that kept me from immersing myself in the story, and ultimately, being able to finish it.


THE BLOOD SPILT

Author: Asa Larsson
Penguin Books RRP $19.99


Midsummer in Sweden, the sun never sets and the only darkness lies in the recesses of the human mind. For a priest – Matilda Nilsson – has been brutally killed and lawyer Rebecka Martinsson, who thought she’d done with Kiruna the little town of her birth, is dragged back there to stop a killing spree.

Yet the shadows that surrounded Mildred – the hurt and healing, sin and sexuality, lethal sacrifice – will come to engulf those like Rebecka who seek the truth.

This one didn’t grab me straight away; some perseverance was needed and perhaps reading the first in the series to give context. I found the tense changes frustrating. A complex read, more about the characters than the action.


THE PERFUME LOVER

Author: Denyse Beaulieu
Collins RRP $29.99

What if the most beautiful night in your life was inspired by a fragrance? What if it could be recreated and relived over and over again at the opening of a bottle…

When perfume writer Denyse Beaulieu meets the revered and mysterious master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, she shares with him a story of a sensual night spent in Seville under an orange tree in full blossom in the arms of a beautiful young man which stirs the perfumer′s imagination and together they create a scent that captures the essence of that night. This is the story of that perfume.

It’s an interesting story, but it was a dry read that for me did not linger.


THE VISITOR
Author: Karen McDermott
Balboa Press RRP $14.99

“From all negative situations is the potential for a positive outcome” – Karen McDermott.

Sometimes things happen to test us, as five women find in The Visitor. Each one is at a crossroads in life; each one is given a gem by “the Visitor” and the chance to pass a test. If they pass, they will receive the true gift and their lives will forever be altered. What the Visitor does not expect is that his task, to help the women pass the test, will also change his life forever.

What is the gift? How will the women react to this gift? And who is the Visitor? Author Karen McDermott wrote this book after coming to an understanding about a miscarriage she’d experienced about two years earlier. Although her pain had never left, she suddenly realised that she needed to feel this pain and sadness; her loss was like a visitor that heralded something amazing.

McDermott’s strong desire to help people to see negative, painful experiences from another perspective – to bring a message of hope – is clear in The Visitor. McDermott has tackled a sensitive subject in a unique way that is bound to bring some readers to tears. The book will speak to those who are seeking answers – more so of the spiritual kind – to their experiences of miscarriage.


THE INNOCENT

Author: Taylor Stevens
Bantam Australia $32.95

Eight years ago, a man walked five-year-old Hannah out the front doors of her school and spirited her over the Mexican border, taking her into the world of a cult known as The Chosen.
Now, after years of searching, childhood survivors of the group have found the girl in Argentina. But getting her out is a whole new challenge.

For the rescue they need someone who is brilliant, fearless and utterly ruthless. Vanessa Michael Munroe. Because the only way to get Hannah out is for Munroe to go in … The Innocent is the sequel to the international bestseller The Informationist, which introduced the extraordinary, take-no-prisoners heroine Vanessa Munroe.


SLAVE OF SONDELLE
Author: Bevan McGuiness
Harper Voyager RRP $22.99

A fabulous epic of deadly assassins, desperate journeys and the desire for vengeance …Slave has been owned by Sondelle, and kept prisoner, since he was a child. Finally escaping through the catacombs, Slave is almost killed by a revenant warrior spirit. He gains his freedom only by swearing fealty to this dangerous creature.

When he is left alone, Slave heads for Ileki′s home city to make amends and seek help. Also heading for the same city are a number of other desperate runaways …

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Harper Collins Australia.


DAYLIGHT SAVING

Author: Edward Hogan
Walker Paperbacks RRP $16.95

When Daniel Lever is dragged to Leisure World Holiday Complex for some “time away” with his depressed dad, his expectations are low. Daniel is overweight, he hates sport, and his father has brought along his beloved tomato plant.

But soon Daniel spots a girl swimming in the fake lake. Lexi is elegant and smart, but very mysterious. Why are her bruises getting worse each time she and Daniel meet? And is her watch really ticking backwards? A dark figure stalks the pair, and as British summer time approaches, Daniel has to act quickly. Their souls depend on it.

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Walker Books Australia.


KIMBERLEY STORIES

Edited by Sandy Toussaint

Fremantle Press RRP $24.95

There are a thousand ways to connect to country.Kimberley  is one of them. Once known, never forgotten, the Kimberley gets under your skin.

Kimberley Stories tunes readers into one of Australia’s most intriguing and exotic regions via the work of talented authors and artists. Interweaving fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, lyrics and artworks, the book is a must-have for anyone travelling north in mind, body or spirit.

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Fremantle Press.