August 27

Big River Little Fish by Belinda Jeffrey

This book was released last year, and I have just recently got to read it. But after the massive rainfall and flooding last summer and autumn in northern Victoria, this became a far more interesting read than it would have been during the drought.

Set on the banks of the Murray River just before the record breaking 1956 flood, this is the story of a young man who is generous enough to befriend the homeless who survive on the resources provided by the river. He takes responsibility for the old, the ill, and the forgotten souls that call the Murray their home. As the flood upstream gradually approaches, he tries his best to ensure that his friends have the best chance of survival.

This is a story of a time long gone. I wonder how relevant this book would be for children today. There isn’t a breath of ‘stranger danger’ or mistrust of adults and the elderly. I suppose there would be those who say this book has no place on the reading list of any child today because it encourages them to trust others. What a horrible idea!

But I was raised in a gentler age. And personally, I enjoyed this picture of a simpler time.

August 27

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I finished this book a few weeks ago, so details might be a little sketchy. But then again, for a romance novel, who cares about details? It is all about the romance, the will he/won’t he, will she/won’t she. And I’m not going to be the one to offer a spoiler here.

Anna was all set for her senior year at her old school with her old friends, but her father insists that she attend her final year of high school at a stuffy old boarding school in France. Imagine, 17 years old and forced to live in Paris. What a hardship! But for Anna it is. She is a creature of habit and she want’s her old routines, including the almost romance that was just beginning when she left town. Inevitably she makes friends, and in her new group there is one very interesting boy. Unfortunately, he is already semi-permanently attached, or so it seems.

I found this a nice enough read. A bit of froth and bubble, but certainly not literature. However, it has made the Inky’s longlist, which means a lot of teens like it a lot. It is nice to see that a more traditional romance is popular. One without the faintest trace of a vampire or werewolf.

August 27

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Hmmm. I often have a go at publishers for false advertising. You know what I mean, a bad cover or a blurb that has nothing to do with the book. Well I first heard about this book from the author. She presented it as the latest variant of the vampire/monster genre. Surely she was joking.

Set in New Zealand, the main character, Ellie, thinks of herself as ordinary. For the most part, she is, very very ordinary. But part of her seems to be linked into a fantasy world where legends become real. She can see things she shouldn’t, and they can be scary. Including and especially her boyfriend’s mother.

I guess that my biggest complaint about this book is that it was just too ‘nice’. The blurb indicated that it would be a real horror; it wasn’t. The author indicated that monsters and other supernatural beings were on every page; they weren’t. And Ellie, well, don’t get me started. She had better toughen up if she is going to live with her ‘powers’. In this book she reminded me of those screaming companions found so often with Dr Who, brainless and frightened of every shadow.

I may be a minority here. This book got all kinds of awards. But I didn’t think it was all that brilliant. And if there is ever a sequel, well, I hope it doesn’t come to me for review.

August 27

The Land of Painted Caves by Jean Auel

I can’t believe that this series is finally over. I can actually claim to be one of those readers who loved ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ back in 1980 when it was first released. I devoured the first four books as quickly as they were printed, but when it came to book 5, I had too many other reviewing duties, so I purchased it, and let it sit on the shelf until there was time. A year later, I loaned it to a friend, and never saw it again. So imagine my surprise when I unpacked the Grand Finale! My friend has moved interstate, so it was quick, download the ebook and get started catching up the story.

In this, the final book of the series, Ayla is living with her husband’s cave and training to become a spiritual leader. As part of her training she is expected to visit a series of sacred sites, mostly painted caves. This is the story of that journey, not only the physical journey around what is now southern France, but also the spiritual journey of discovery, and the personal journey building trust and friendships. The book is primarily descriptive without much action or adventure, at least until the last 100 or so pages.

That lack of action was fine with me. Ayla is settled, starting a family, and therefore it is not appropriate for her to be out taming lions and wolves, or searching for romance. Life is supposed to settle down in middle age, and at this time in history 20 was certainly middle age. I enjoy historical fiction enough that the slow pace of this book was just fine.

But I strongly suggest that this book not be read as your introduction to Ayla’s story. Yes there is enough backstory contained in this to explain what is happening, but it would be very unfair to the magnificent character that Auel has created.

Auel has been absolutely painstaking in her research for these books. In fact she is now recognized as one of the world’s experts on this period of pre-history, the time when the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon humans were both competing for limited resources. Her expertise literally leaps off the page of this book, so be prepared to learn as you read.

It is always sad to come to the end of a favourite series.