The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning

It was an odd engagement present. Heirloom or not, such gifts were not usually covered in grime and dust. Pip sneezed as she started unpacking four boxes of antique French pots: copper boilers, streaked and mottled with watermarks, so when the soft morning light reflected off the pots and hit the white walls of the tiny worker’s cottage, they rippled with rainbows. Some of the pots were so large Pip had to brace herself to lift them out of the boxes. When she pulled off the lids, their blackened insides were etched and lined with age.

When she moves in to a tiny workers cottage with her fiance, Jack, Pip really doesn’t have room for the set of large copper pots her parents send as an engagement gift, but she is determined to have them on display. They bear memories of her childhood and a deeper connection Pip doesn’t completely understand. but the warmth of the copper pots might not be enough to keep Pip’s plans on track. She wants to get her PhD project finished before she and Jack get married and travel, but Jack is impatient, and wants everything to happen now.

In 1427, Artemisia, the cook at the Chateau de Boschaud also has copper pots. she is busy preparing the dishes, the settings, even the special bathing waters for the Lord and his bride. It is tough work, but it is made easier by Artemisia’s secret. this will be her last day at the chateau: soon she will be free and ready to build a new life.

The stories of Pip and Artemisia are separate, yet there are connections across the many centuries between their lives, and Artemisia’s vast knowledge of herbs cooking are not only reflected in Pip’s interests, but are even shared through treasured finds. Readers will want to trace the adventures of each, o find out whether happiness is possible for either, or for both.

The Midsummer Garden is a satisfying blend of contemporary and historical fiction, with each story compelling and well wrought, and the links between the two intriguing. Themes of happiness, of family lore, relationships and self fulfillment are explored and food lovers will enjoy the culinary detail.

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294748

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Someone yelling wakes me up. I have no idea what time it is. I jump out of bed and head for the kitchen. I almost collide with Mum, who’s also coming out of her room.
‘Go back to bed,’ she whispers.
I don’t Dad is standing in the middle of the kitchen. The fluorescent light is on and he’s in his undies. They bag a little around his arse. He’s pointing at the clock.
‘I’ve got to go to work!’ he’s yelling. ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’
‘Honey,’ Mum says, ‘you don’t need to go to work yet.’
‘Don’t lie to me!’ he roars. ‘I’m supposed to be there!’
‘Honey,’ Mum repeats soothingly. ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning. You go back to bed and it’ll be time to go in another few hours.’
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he yells. ‘What am I doing here? What is this? Who do you think you are?’

Amelia is in Year 12, trying to impress her art teacher, navigating an increasingly unpredictable home life, and trying to work out what’s going on with her friends, particularly her closest friend, Gemma. Her dad is changing, forgetful, angrier more often. Her mum has her own adjustments to make. To Amelia, it’s as though everything she has ever known is changing. And she’s not quite sure what to do. But the days pass, whether or not she wants them to. In the growing chaos and confusion, Amelia begins to work out who she is.

Everyone says Year 12 is big, but no one could have predicted Amelia’s year. It’s not just the work, or growing up. It’s like someone threw her into a tornado and all she can see is a blur. Relationships are at the heart of ‘Before You Forget’, those with family and with old friends and new. ‘Before You Forget’ becomes the song of change, of evolving, of reality. Amelia’s art practice, her struggle to communicate via canvas is a metaphor for her struggle to navigate and understand her changing world. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

Before You Forget, Julia Lawrinson
Penguin 2017
ISVN: 9780143574071

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Pretty Delicious Café by Danielle Hawkins

One Wednesday in October I spoilt a perfectly good spring evening by going to bed with a book called Run, Bobby, Run. Hugh at the deli had lent it to me that afternoon when I dropped in for twenty kilos of coffee beans, promising a gripping, fiendishly clever read, and after a solid fortnight of my late Great-Aunty Sheila’s Anne Hepple novels I thought that sounded like just the thing.
It wasn’t.

The Pretty Delicious Café’ is set in a small town on the coast in New Zealand. Lia and her friend Anna run a café that gets very busy in tourist season. Sounds idyllic. And it is. Or would be, if life hadn’t also introduced pre-wedding nerves in your business partner … who is about to marry your twin brother … and an ex-boyfriend who won’t take no for an answer … and two differently challenging parents who live (luckily) in different places … and a business that’s not yet on firm footing. Lia has it all, and then some. On the night ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ begins, she also has a prowler.

Lia is just trying to make a go of life. She has loving but eccentric family and friends around her and she’s doing her best to make a go of the café she co-owns. But it’s hard to keep your focus when an old romance is over, a new one may just have appeared, your partner is behaving strangely and you feel you are parenting your parents. ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ is full of love and laughter, drama and excitement. An entertaining peek into small town world, jam-packed with character and charm. Recommended for readers who like their stories fast-paced and with a happy ending.

The Pretty Delicious Café, Danielle Hawkins
HarperCollins 2016 ISBN: 9781460752586

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Woman Next Door, by Liz Byrski


She attempts to get a grip on her voice. ‘It just seems such a big change, such a big thing to do.’
‘It is a big thing to do, but it isn’t something that’s undoable,’ he says. ‘A year, remember, that’s what we said. See how it goes for a year. It was your idea. You said it was what you wanted.’
‘But you…you do want it too…don’t you?’
‘I do – I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise.’

For years he women of Emerald Street have lived alongside each other. Much more than simply neighbours, they have seen children grow, careers flourish and relationships change. Now, though, things are changing. Helen and her husband Dennis have moved to a modern apartment near the river, seeking something. Polly has met a man who lives overseas, and is starting a long-distance relationship. Joyce and her husband Mac, still in love, want different things – in different places. And Stella, always flamnoyant, is becoming increasingly erratic in her behaviour.

The Woman Next Door is women’s fiction at its finest. The four friends each face a variety of challenges and changes, and their friendships, too, are at times challenged. Readers journey with each woman, with shifts in perspective allowing an intimate view of the highs and lows of a year which is filled with so many life changing moments.

Byrski has a knack for creating rich female characters and for making readers not only care about them but also feel that these are very real women.

The Woman Next Door, by Liz Byrski
Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743534939

Where the Light Falls, by Gretchen Shirm

Andrew read the message through twice. His eyes skipped over the words as if by reading them quickly he could reduce their impact. But it was too late. Missing, he thought. Perhaps that meant she simply didn’t want to be found. With Kirsten, something like that seemed possible. Maybe she had decided she needed some time away from the world. And yet there was a finality to Stewart’s tone; was he hinting at something more definite?

Three years ago, Andrew left Australia for a new life in Berlin – to reinvigorate his artistic photography career, but also to finally put an end to his relationship with Kirsten, his troubled ex-girlfriend. Now he has a wonderful new relationship and a big exhibition to prepare for. But an email from a friend telling him of Kirsten’s disappearance impels him to return to Australia, seeking some answers to where she has gone. As he tries to investigate he also confronts issues in his own past.

In Melbourne he meets a damaged girl who is a perfect subject for his photography, which focuses on broken things. Working with the girl as he also works through his experiences with Kirsten and his relationship with his mother, leads him to question his motivation and his career.

Where the Light Falls is an artful novel of self-discovery and of confronting the past. Andrew has been damaged by the childhood loss of his father and its impact on his mother, and must confront these in order to move forward – with his new relationship, which his trip to Australia puts at risk, and with his career. Readers will come to care for Andrew, even as they will be frustrated at times by his actions.

A moving read.

Where the Light Falls , by Gretchen Shirm
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113650

Crashing Down, by Kate McCaffrey

She’s sitting under a tree, knees pulled up to her chest, waiting for her mum. All she can imagine is Carl and JD in the car. She cringes and tries to make the images disappear, but they won’t. She imagines Carl and JD in hospital beds. A broken neck – that doesn’t necessarily mean paralysis; she’s sure she’s heard of people who have broken their necks and totally recovered. And what’s a coma anyway – isn’t that just sleeping? Don’t people usually wake after a little while?

The end of year 12 is drawing close, and Lucy can sense change coming. It’s time to knuckle down and study hard, to make sure she does well. She has plans for after school, too. Perhaps she doesn’t need to be a serious relationship with Carl, especially when he seems to smother her – except for the night of the formal when he ignores her. Breaking up with someone can be difficult, but for Lucy, it’s very very complicated.

Crashing Down is a gripping tale of consequences, life choices and growing up the hard way. Like any seventeen year old school leaver, Lucy has hopes and dreams, but she also has some pretty hefty decisions to make, and after her boyfriend is injured in a car accident, and she realises she is pregnant, those decisions are pretty weighty.

McCaffrey doesn’t shy away from putting her characters in difficult situations, and Lucy’s situation is one which would challenge any teen – or adult. But the chain of events which follows is both plausible and thought provoking.

Suitable for older teens.

Crashing Down, by Kate McCaffrey
Fremantle Press, 2014
ISBN 9781922089854

Available from good bookstores or online.

Tigers on the Beach, by Doug MacLeod

‘Ah, but I know the funniest joke in the world. Anyone who hears you tell it will fall in love with you. But maybe you should avoid jokes so early in a relationship. You might tell the wrong one.’
‘But telling jokes is all I can do. Tell me the best one in the world.’
‘It’s very powerful. I will tell you when you are old enough not to misuse it the seductive power of the joke.’

Adam and his Grandpa have lots of things in common – not least their sense of humour. Adam loves to tell jokes, and he loves the ones Grandpa shares with him. But when Grandpa dies suddenly Adam is left wondering about the untold joke Grandpa promised to tell him one day. As he struggles with the loss of his grandfather, he is also confronted by other problems, including his parents’ troubled marriage, his pesky little brother, and accidental displays of public nudity. Te biggest problem of all is his new girlfriend Samantha, and trying to figure out how relationships work.

Tigers on the Beach is both funny and poignant, cracking along through the highs and lows of teenage Adam’s world, populated by larger than life characters often in ridiculous situations. In one scene, Adam discovers he is infested with his brother’s beetle collection and his attempts to remove them result in him mooning a cafe full of diners. Other scenes are tough, including Adam and his family’s attempts to come to terms with losing Grandpa. Macleod’s deft touch means that the whole is an uplifting, smile-inducing read.

Tigers on the Beach

Tigers on the Beach, by Doug MacLeod
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9780143568520

Available from good bookstores or online.

How to Talk to Girls, by Jonathan Toussaint

All humans communicate no matter who they are. It’s something people love to do. If you think about the reasons we talk to each other, you’ll come up with a list that includes getting information, telling each other stuff, seeking help, understanding each other, and having fun together. Good communication helps with everything you do each day – how would you get anything done with other people if you didn’t talk? This exchange of ideas is a powerful tool, and the better you know how to do it the more you will enjoy talking to others and gaining benefit from it.
Good communication can get you further than you think. It might help you to get a part-time job, to do better in school, to make close friends, and to talk to a girl. Boys are always wanting to know, ‘How do I get a girl to like me?’ The answer is (so not) a big secret: be a good communicator!

It used to be so easy when you were little. You either played with girls because they were playing a game you liked, or you ignored them if they weren’t. Simple. But as time progresses, things get a bit more complicated. Suddenly it’s like there’s a whole new set of rules and no one gave you the rule book, or that’s how it can seem. How to Talk to Girlsaims to decode some of the supposed ‘rules’ of talking to girls, or to debunk some of the myths that just seem to make things harder. Boys are different to girls, no surprise there, but the differences may not be the ones that you’ve imagined or heard rumours about. ‘How to Talk to Girls’ includes quotes from boys about the challenges they feel in talking to girls. The most important message? Learn to communicate, with honesty and integrity. The rest will happen as it will.

How to Talk to Girls is made up of short pithy chapters with plenty of photos and chapter headings to guide the reader. They can begin at the beginning and read right through, or flip through and stop where they will. The advice is low key and realistic and reassures the boy trying to talk to girls that it’s as hard for the girls as it is for them. It also is clear about the fact that not every interaction with girls or a girl is going to be a winner, and to try to retain some perspective. It’s also clear that at the basis of every relationship is friendship and if you get that right, then your chances of a successful relationship are higher. Recommended for those entering and those already teenaged. A companion book to ‘How to Talk to Boys’ by Dianne Todaro.

How to Talk to Girls

How to Talk to Girls, Jonathan Toussaint
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN:9781742371948

Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps

Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps is a book which will have you alternately laughing, crying and nodding your head in agreement. It should be read by everyone in a relationship, or who has ever been in a relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

Allan and Barbara Pease have worked together to produce a book which explores the differences between men and women and the reasons for these differences. Their explanations are based on detailed scientific research, but are presented in an entertaining and informative way. Cartoons, diagrams and one liners punctuate the text, illustrating key points with wit and simplicity.

Because it is written by a couple the findings are balanced – there are as many jibes at men as at women. Despite the humour and simplicity, the book is amazingly accurate and informative.

The Peases explore physiological and psychological differences, illustrating with examples and case studies. Differences in sensory capability, communication, sexual drive, academic ability and more are all explored, with the intention of helping us understand why these differences occur. There are also practical suggestions how men and women can cope with these differences.

Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps is an outstanding balance of information and entertainment, making it appealing to all adult readers.

Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, by Allan and Barbara Pease

Pease Training International, 1999