Dirt Cheap, by Elisabeth Wynhausen

More than one in four Australian workers are casuals, pining for ‘perks’ like job security; one in three part-time workers want more work than they have; two thirds of young people have no choice but to enter the labour market as casuals.

When Elisabeth Wynhausen took a year’s leave from her job as a journalist to join the ranks of the minimum-wage workers, her friends and family told her she was crazy. That didn’t stop her. Soon, she was one of the casual workers, travelling in search of work and learning what it was like to work long hours for low pay and no respect.

As a journalist, Wynhausen had often written about the working poor. Now, she decided, she would join them, working alongside them and trying to live on the wage they earned. She wanted to see what it was like working menial jobs for low wages – and trying to live on earnings below the poverty line.

This is an offering which is, on the surface, entertaining. Wynhausen’s skill with words draws you into the story, almost allowing you to forget that this is not a fictional tale, but real life. She experiences boredom, injury and fatigue, along with the frustrations of having work doled out on a seemingly adhoc basis. She exposes the difficulties of living on minimum wages and on being treated as both dispensible and insignificant by bosses and employers who look to cut costs at every opportunity.

By joining the workforce in this way, Wynhausen offers a unique viewpoint of life from the shop floor in several industries – including retail, hospitality, cleaning, aged care and manufacturing.

An eye-opener.

Dirt Cheap, by Elisabeth Wynhausen
Pan Macmillan, 2005

Hell Has Harbour Views, by Richard Beasley

The problem with drinking wine from a glass that won’t empty is that by 9.30 you’re pretty pissed. That’s when you start doing things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Not sober. Like telling a group of clients that you could have handled a particular case a lot more expertly than one of the senior partners had. Like telling another client that he should stop sending work to a particular partner who is, in your opinion, a fool and instead send work to you because you, in your opinion, are not.

In another life, Hugh Walker was a lawyer with a conscience. But when he joined Rottman Maughan and Nash he indavertently sold his soul and so now, it seems, he has none.

Hugh spends his days making sure accident victims get no payouts, turning a blind eye to dubious billing practices and cheating on his girlfriends – both of them. His nights are spent in an alcoholic haze. But at least he’s earning plenty of money. He is, after all, on the way up. That’s what his bosses tell him. Hugh is no longer so sure.

Hell Has Harbour Views provides a satirical insider’s viewpoint of a big multi-national law firm, and of the goings-on within its halls. Hugh is an honest and witty first person narrator, giving an intimate and immediate perspective of events, with his own self-deprecating annotations and honesty.

Because it was recently made into a telemovie of the same name, many people who now read the book will have first seen the film, as was the case with this reviewer. Whilst I could not help imagining the characters as they were cast on television, this was not a bad thing. The telemovie was reasonably true to the book and was well-cast, with the characters in the book matching well with the actors who played them on screen.

Of course, having said that, the book is better than the film – as is so often the case with books that are made into films – with Beasley’s style making the story so much more witty, insightful and just entertaining.

A great read.

Hell Has Harbour Views, by Richard Beasley
Pan Macmillan, first published 2001, this edition 2005

The Macmillan Children's Atlas

Map reading and atlas skills are something to be encouraged in primary school aged children, but often the complexities of world atlases put them out of the reach of children’s skills. The Macmillan Children’s Atlas is child-freindly and accessible, but not so watered-down as to make it patronising or of little use.

The first thirty two pages of this sturdy hard-cover offering are devoted to atlas skills, an explanation of world weather, geography, satellite imaging and more, as well as world physical and political maps.

The rest of the atlas focusses on each of the six populated continents (the seventh, Antartica, is covered in the introductory section). Within each of these six sections, the regions of that continent are given two double page spreads, including a map, a listing of each country in that region (complete with an illustration of its flag, its current population and its capital city) and a discussion of the land use, natural features, traditions, people and history of the region.

The atlas is full of colourful illustrations, interesting facts and accessible information. It is completed with a Gazetteer (geographical index), the use of which is a key part in developing atlas skills.

This is an outstanding offering which would be an excellent home reference as an aid for school projects and for general interest. It would also be an invaluable school and library resource.

Tha Macmillan Children’s Atlas
Pan Macmillan Australia, 2004

Drip Dry, by Ilsa Evans

Being a single mother with three children is bound to make Camilla a trifle busy – but when her family has a week full of births, birthdays, engagements and weddings, things seem to be spinning out of control.

First she has to navigate a birthday party for her six year old daughter, CJ where BOTH her ex-husbands are in attendance and where the guests manage to watch a video of Camilla in the shower. Then there’s a disappearing bathroom floor and the body her son, Ben, thinks he’s discovered under the house next door – the house which, coincidentally (or not) his father has just moved into. By week’s end Camilla won’t have the energy to celebrate her fortieth birthday. That’s if anyone remembers it in the whir of her mother’s wedding.

Drip Dry is a fast-moving, funny look at a week in this slightly mad, exceedingly normal mother’s life. A sequel to Ilsa Evan’s previous book, Spin Cycle, this one easily stands alone, although it will tempt readers to go back and read the first.

Not easy to put down.

Drip Dry, by Ilsa Evans
Pan Macmillan, 2004

Tibetan Ting-Sha, by Robert Beer

The ting-sha is a simple Tibetan insturument used in Buddhist rituals. One does not have to be Buddhist, however, to feel the power of this little insturment. In Tibetan Ting-Sha noted Buddhist artist and scholar Robert Beer provides a detailed background of the history and uses of the ting-sha, including an explanation of how they are made. He then goes on to show how anyone can use the instrument to create sacred sound in music, meditation and ritual.

The small format hard cover book comes complete with a pair of ting-sha, crafted by Tibetan craftsmen, so that the reader can experience and benefit from its delightful sound. The instrument does have a very captivating and spiritual sound.

This set would be a delightful gift.

Tibetn Ting-Sha, by Robert Beer
Pan Macmillan, 2004

Weapons of Choice, by John Birmingham

It is 2021. A multinational force gathers near East Timor ready to go war against the revolutionary Caliphate. The elected government of Indonesia has been overthrown and the Caliphate has claimed control not just of that country, but of the whole region including Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and even northern Australia. The multinational force, made up ships and personnel from the US, England, Australia, Japan, Russia and Indonesia, plans to overthrow the Caliphate.

In the midst of the force, however, is a research vessel conducting top secret experiments. One of these experiments is about to change everything – for those present and for the whole world.

Suddenly the force is thrust back by the power of this experiment into the past. Back in 1942 an allied force is en route to Midway to take on the Japanese. When large unfamiliar ships suddenly appear in their midst they attack. The two forces battle furiously until the eventual realisation that they are fighting forces from the same side, albeit in vastly different conflicts. Before this realisation, however, thousands have died -from both forces.

The ensuing events are stunning. With the 1940s force severely depleted by the clash, the visitors from the future must help them. In the meantime, one of the Indonesian ships has fallen into Japanese hands. The knowledge and weaponry which has made the trip back through time should be a valuable asset in the war, but history as the time-travellers know it is rapidly being rewritten by their very presence.

Whilst the plot of this story is fascinating, the real focus is on the implications of the time travel, which gives Birmingham an opportunity to contrast society now (or in the near future, anyway) and then. Much of the conflict and discomfort between the two allied forces comes from societal differences. The futuristic force has women, blacks and even gay people as serving officers. The 1940s servicemen have to deal with being asked to embrace societal values of equality decades ahead of the time these changes would have happened. Birmingham provides an opportunity for the reader to observe the best and worst of both contemporary society and the past.

This is a big book – over 520 pages – and is full of action. What it does lack perhaps is a strong central character to bind the action together. There are several characters around which various plots and subplots revolve, but some do seem to appear and disappear. This is by no means a major pitfall, but for some readers will be a little disarming.

Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1 is a gripping read.

Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1, by John Birmingham
Pan Macmillan, 2004

The Bad Book, by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

Little Willy took a match
And set fire to the cat.
Said Little Willy as it burnt,
‘I bet the cat hates that.’

Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton are two of the best-known names in the children’s publishing industry in recent years, both individually and as a team. Whilst each new offering is greeted enthusiastically by young readers, adult critics are not always positive about what is produced. This latest collaboration, The Bad Book is no exception, with newspapers around the country running stories about reactions to the book, which have included some bookstores refusing to stock it, recommended reading lists being amended to exclude it, and parent groups up in arms.

Despite all the fuss, it must be said that this is a book for kids, not adults, and kids will love its silliness and complete irreverence. From cover to cover there are rude jokes, messy jokes and (of course) bad jokes. There are jokes about bodily functions, jokes about bad parents and loads of violence. So, while adults may have their doubts, very few kids will. They will laugh, they will share it with their friends and they will read it – probably over and over.

The Bad Book will appeal to kids. Adult purchasers – parents, teachers and librarians – will want to make their own decision about its appropriateness or otherwise for their young charges.

The Bad Book, by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton
Pan Macmillan, 2004

More

Penny McRose picked her nose
Morning, noon and night.
She picked it until her head caved in
And her family died of fright.

Cool for Cats, by Jessica Adams

I find myself making a list in my head of pros and cons for David, as if it will help me sort out this confusion, Instead, it makes things worse, This is the man who sewed the end of my jeans back together once, after I borrowe dhis bicycle and the denim got shredded in his bicycle chain. I was wearing flares – that’s how long ago that was. But it’s also the same man who had a serious conversation with me about how much house-keeping money I’d get from him once we were married. Just like dad all over again. Just like your worst nightmare, in fact.

Linda Tyler is working in a chinese restaurant, engaged to a bank clerk and living in a oring town when she sees the advertisment that changes her life. A new music magazine is looking for a writer. No experience need – just a passion for music and some youthfulness. Before she has time to draw breath, Linda is on her way to London to work for New Wave Weekly, her engagement with Dave is off and she’s living the life she didn’t dare to dream could be hers.

So why is she still obsessing about Dave and his new girlfriend? And why is she alone when everwhere she goes people are together?

Cool for Cats is a trip down memory lane to 1979, the year Margaret Thatcher was elected as England’s Prime Minister, Sid Vicious commited suicide, the Boom Tonw Rats sang about hating Mondays and wearing school uniforms outside of school bacame cool. Linda’s lessons in music journalism and in love are both funny and poignant, especiallyf or products of that era, who will share (or laugh at) her music addictions and the highs and lows of relationships.

Cool for Cats IS a cool book.

Cool for Cats, by Jessica Adams
Pan Macmillan, 2003, reprinted 2004

The A-Z of the Best Jokes in the World, by Jason Ryder Reviewed

Jason ‘Rash’ Ryder has worked in live comedy, film, television and radio for more than ten years. Now he shares his extensive knowledge of jokes in print form.

Whether you are a would-be comedian, are looking for a joke to share at the office, or could just use a smile, The A-Z of the Best Jokes in the World is likely to keep you amused and entertained for hours.

From corny one-liners, to knock-knocks and longer stories and with subject matter from innocent chicken crossing the road jokes to r-rated adult jokes, there is something for everyone.

Ryder does not waste time on niceties, so some of the language and subject matter make the book unsuitable for children and for adults who do not tolerate explicit sexual references. For most adults, however, this is a hilarious collection.

The A-Z of the Best Jokes in the World, by Jason Ryder
Pan Macmillan, 2004

Australia's Toughest Golf Holes, by Tom Hepburn and Selwyn Jacobsen

Fancy some golf on a course scattered amongst the reefs of the Whitsundays? Or perhaps among sand dunes, gullies or rocky outcrops of some of Australia’s most unusual landscapes? If you are looking for a new golfing challenge, then Australia’s Toughest Golf Holes is the guide you will need.

Filled with breathtaking photos of these remarkable holes, as well as descriptions and playing tips, this would be a great guidebook for the golf tourist.

Of course, the whole book is a combination of photo-trickery and overdone silliness, but it’s fun anyway.

Golf enthusiasts will love it.

Australia’s Toughest Golf Holes, by Tom Hepburn and Selwyn Jacobsen
Pan Macmillan, 2003