December 22

Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones

Think carefully…Have you finished your Christmas shopping? Wasn’t Cousin Jim absolutely caught by that fantasy miniseries on HBO, Showcase or whatever? You already have wrapped the huge box set of the books for him. Trust me, you need to lay your hands on this elegant publication before you consider your shopping complete.

All over the world fantasy fans have been following the story of the Starks and many others on TV. Those with time have probably bought the books, or put the series on their Christmas list intending to read them over the holidays. Unfortunately, this morning I walked past the box set wistfully thinking that someday I will have time to read them.

Anyway, for fans of the series that want to know more about the story and how it was developed for television, this book is a must have. If you happened to pick up the series in season 2, this is even more important for filling in the backstory. It is a complete who’s who, and what happens where for a series of books that, like many fantasy series, has a very complex world with many different cultures and languages. Keeping it all straight can be tricky.

Besides, the production values for this book are absolutely superb. Once this form of publishing was referred to as a ‘coffee table book’ but who has a coffee table anymore? This is a book that visitors will be tempted to flick through while you make the coffee.

Every now and then a review book arrives that demands to be given shelf space on my own bookshelves. This is one!

October 4

The Sookie Stackhouse Companion

Did I get a surprise when this book arrived for review. I will admit to reading the whole of the Sookie Stackhouse series of books, and I have even been known to complain about the number and variety of supes found therein, but really a companion. This is nothing more than a greedy publisher grabbing for money while Harris writes the next installment.

I really have no idea about the intended audience for this book, unless it is only for the diehard fans. There are cookbooks full of Louisiana recipes, so 30 pages of Bon Temps recipes is only decoration. The supposed ‘Sookie Interview’ is simply silly. How can anyone interview a fictional character. And who cares about Bill and Eric’s correspondence. The novella contained in this companion is irrelevant to the regular storyline, like many of the Sookie short stories. And if it is like any of the other stories, it will appear in another collection for Christmas. As far as the summaries of the books, why not read them instead. It’s not like they are out of print. Each one will only take a couple of hours.

There may be some justification for the guide. Sometimes when there is a year between books it does take a couple of chapters before the minor characters sort themselves out in your mind. But then again, does it really matter? And the map? I actually think it detracts from the story. In my mind Sookie’s house is out of town by a mile or two, not literally around the corner from Tara’s Togs.

Sorry but at $33 this is a waste of your money, unless you are a diehard fan who absolutely must have the whole collection on the shelf.

January 13

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future

9780733626418Michael J. Fox as an author? I had heard that his autobiography was pretty good, but how much of that was ghost written. But this little book arrived last June for review, and I just added it to the mountain. Then last week its turn came.

And it is really hard to summarise this. It resembles what used to be called a commencement address. You know, advice to young people as they begin their adult lives. This one is all about education, or rather why an education is not necessary as long as one is willing to learn from experience. Nice words, but not very easy.

December 13

Lolli’s Apple by Tomas Fleishmann

lollis_apple_FRONT-COVER-ONFrom the cover and the blurb, it is very obvious that this is a true story about a Holocaust survivor. And I can hear your cry – Enough already, we have enough stories about the dreadful conditions and the courage that it took to survive. But the survivors are not going to be with us much longer, and their stories need to be heard.

Tomas was only a baby when the war began. His childhood until the age of 6 was spent in luxury as part of the landed gentry in Hungary. But in 1944 his family decided that they needed to go into hiding. Most of his family decided to hide within their local village, but with a 6 year old, Tomas parents decided to try to hide in the city. They didn’t last long and very soon they were on a train for Poland, Teresenstadt. There they survived for over a year. It is absolutely incredible that Lolli, Tomas’s mother, not only survived with her son, but she was pregnant when captured, carried to term and the infant also survived.

The story is told in short little anecdotes, as though Tomas, now an old man, wrote down different events as he remembered them, and then someone elso put them into a logical order. Each event only lasts for a couple paragraphs, probably less than this review, but together they build a picture of an incredible woman and her very special son.

This is a true story of horrific events, but told simply and well within the understanding of even young teens. I can’t say it was an entertaining read, but I when I finished it, I was very glad I had spent the time.

October 3

Creature abc by Andrew Zukerman

c9780733624247I rarely get the opportunity to review children’s books for Buzz, but I snatched at this one as soon as it was unpacked. Everything about it said, read me, now!

This book is exactly what you expect it to be, the letters of the alphabet illustrated using animals. One word on each page, and the associated letter. You have all seen the sort of thing on Sesame Street.

But this book has some wonderful illustrations. Andrew Zukerman is an excellent animal photographer. His photos demand attention. At first I assumed that the illustrations were drawn in a photorealistic style, but upon closer inspection, this level of detail could only come from the animal itself.

But a picture book is more than the illustrations. The text is placed carefully to suit each photo and the whole effect is to demand reading.

Thinking about Christmas presents for a youngster? This would jump to the top of my list.

September 19

War Child: a boy soldier’s story by Emmanuel Jal

9781408700051

Many of you will know a lot more about Jal than I. As you might expect, I tend to spend a lot of time with my head in a book rather than keeping up to date with pop culture and its icons. Those of you who know of the rap-artist Emmanuel Jal will be keen to read this personal biography. I strongly suggest that even if you have never heard of the man, this story has a message to all.

Jal began life in a small village in Sudan. As the civil war moved closer, his family joined the thousands of refugees looking for a safe haven. But there was no safety, no haven. Instead he was recruited to the Sudanese Liberation Army at age 9. The story of his experiences in the army, after his rescue and even his passion for music makes riveting reading.

This is the story of a remarkable human being. His story will bring a tear to your eye and hope to your soul.

January 19

Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir

Dafur – does anybody know where that is? Sure it has been in the news occasionally, or some charity asking for money for the starving children of Africa, but do you really know where it is. What about Sudan? What do you know about the governmental structure and ruling party? Certainly as I started reading this book I was very ignorant.

Halima Bashir grew up in Dafur. She was a very happy and intelligent girl from a moderately wealthy family. The family was financially able to send her to a boarding school and enable her to break the cycle of poverty that entrapped many of her childhood friends. In fact, Halima did so well at school that she became the first non-Arab woman doctor. However, as she left the simple village life, she quickly discovered that in Sudan there was one rule for the Islamic Arabs and one rule for the Islamic Africans, and the rules greatly favoured the Arabs.

Once Halima qualified as a doctor, her real troubles began. Long before her training was complete, she was sent to work as the only doctor in a small African village. Medical supplies were rudimentary, but with sensitivity, caring and clear thinking, Halima made a real difference. That is until the day the Janjaweed attacked the girls school in town. Every single female in the school was raped, teachers, adolescents and even the little girls. Many died. Later Halima was asked about the injuries by a UN representative, and she answered honestly. By that action, she made herself a target.

What follows is horrific. But the story also includes people of generosity and good will who help Halima survive, and escape to England. And then Halima encounters the Immigration controls!

This is a powerful story. And sadly every word of it is true. 

January 17

My Father’s Roses by Nancy Kohner

How many times have you heard someone say, ‘I’m going to write a book someday.’ Many even have an idea, or a fascinating life story to tell. Nancy Kohner researched this book throughout most of her lifetime, but only put pen to paper after she was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. This book is all we will ever hear from her.

This is the story of three generations of Jews living and working in Podersam, Czechoslovakia. When Heinrich and Valerie marry in 1896 this is all part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Together they raise three children, send one son off to World War I to fight for the Kaiser, see all their eldest son and daughter married, the birth of their first grandchild and the rise of the Nazis. It is made very clear at the beginning of the book that the two sons escaped to England and Ireland, but the fate of the remainder of the family is revealed in context.

This book is very special because Kohner had nearly a century of letters to use as source material. This family wrote to each other regularly and kept all the letters, Even when the boys escaped to England, boxes of letters came with them. Nancy had to have them translated and much of the writing in this book is directly taken from these letters. This gives a wonderfully strong voice to Heinrich and Valerie, people that the author never met.

This book could easily have focused on Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust, and as such been lost in the huge volume of literature about those times. Instead the focus is very clearly on the family, their concern for Franz who is fighting on the Russian front in WWI, the fact that as the war continues there is nothing for them to sell in their shop, the joy of their garden. World War II is handled nearly as gently, but it is more traumatic because Heinrich and Valerie have to leave their home and business of 40 years to begin life anew, with both of them well over 60. When the Nazis arrive in Prague, the story becomes very sad. Valerie’s last letters are heartrending.

I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual book. An important story was told with love and respect. History was revealed through the eyes of the people who lived through it, not a historian’s analysis. 

July 12

Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan

Rarely do I get asked to review information books. I read so much fiction, as I am sure you have noticed by now, that occasionally it is nice to absorb some factual information.

This is very simply a fun book that examines how the brain works and the changes that happen in the brain during adolescence. There is a huge amount of hard information here, but the presentation is such that the reader learns painlessly, and usually laughing as they go. The author is from the UK, so much of her statistical information is based on US or UK populations, but there is enough truth to the stories that any Australian teenager will certainly recognize themselves and friends as they go.

Highly recommended.

July 10

Bad Moon Rising by Julie Radford

Often I am asked if I like every book I read. I seem to find something positive to say about everything. This book is certainly the exception. There is nothing good about this rubbish.

This is essentially a bad science textbook loosely strung together with a ludicrous story about Columbus’ discovery of America. There is no attempt to make the story flow, that might get in the way of the science lectures. The plot. if there is any, is ludicrous. Imagine a common seaman lecturing Columbus about tides.

As a science teacher I found this book offensive.