The Reef, by Di Morrissey

Since witnessing her brother drowning as a child, Jennifer has been terrified of the ocean. So when her husband tells her they are going to live on an island, she is terrified. As well as her fear, though, she has other issues: being removed from her family and fiends, and having to continue her important studies from a distance.

Branch Island is home to a trendy resort, which Jennifer’s husband Blair will help to manage. It also houses a scientific research station. The two organisations do not always operate in harmony, and as Jennifer finds herself drawn to the station and its staff, she learns a lot about herself and about her marriage. As her self-confidence grows and she learns to conquer her fears, she also has to cope with watching her marriage crumble.

The Reef is a novel of self-discovery, but it also includes plenty of action, as the island shelters some secrets which are shattering to all involved. After a slow start, which lingers through Jennifer’s early life, university studies and developing relationship with Blair, the novel picks up in pace and explores the personal issues of both career versus relationship and mother/daughter relationships, as well as the wider issues of environmental responsibility and the impact of development.

There is some much explored here that at times the reader can feel a little overwhelmed and some of the plot points touched on are left unresolved, but overall this is a solid read.

The Reef, by Di Morrissey
Pan, 2005 (First published in Hardcover by Macmillan, 2004)

Bumageddon, by Andy Griffiths

Not only had Zack just arrived back on Earth after saving the world from a zombie bum invasion and rescuing his parents from Uranus, but he had also graduated from Silas Sterne’s Bum-fighting Academy. In one hand he proudly held his basic bum-fighter’s certificate, and in the other a special medal of excellence for his work in the bum-fighting simulator.
Unfortunately, however, none of the challenges Zack had faced so far – either real or simulated – had prepared him for giant-brown-blobbification.

Young readers first met Zack in The Day My My Bum Went Psycho and continued following his adventures in Zombie Bums From Uranus. Now, in the final instalment of the trilogy, Zack is back, fighting giant white bums as they attempt to take over the world. In an adventure packed with bums, smells and silly puns, there are also robots, romance, time travel and masses of brown stuff.

In this gripping conclusion Zack, his bum and his friend Eleanor tackle the dreaded white bums in a final conflict just as bizarre and funny as the earlier instalments. Of course, most adult readers won’t find these books as hilarious as primary aged children will – but they aren’t aimed at adults. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. But if you liked the first two books, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict, by Andy Griffiths
Pan, 2005

I Had a Black Dog, by Matthew Johnstone

There are many different breeds of Black Dog affecting millions of people from all walks of life. The Black Dog is an equal opportunity mongrel.

Since Winston Churchill coined the phrase Black Dog to describe his own struggle with depression, the term has been a popular metaphor for the affliction. Clinical depression affects one in four women and one in six men during their lifetime. It affected author Matthew Johnstone and inspired him to write a book about it.

This is no ordinary book. Johnstone uses a format more familiar to readers of comic books or picture books, with large, cartoon-style illustrations and limited text. However, the tone is not light, as Johnstone explores the effects of depression and the ways it can be overcome. Throughout the book depression is characterised as a black dog, who appears in every picture impacting on the male character. When Johnstone talks about depression impacting on his relationships, taking my love and burying my intimacy, the black dog is there, in the middle of the bed between the character and his wife. When the character sits at a bar, drinking, the black dog is there perched on the next stool. Even when the character brings depression under control, the black dog is still there – but kept firmly on a leash.

This book will speak to all those who have been affected by depression – either first-hand, or through knowing a sufferer. Its appeal is in it simplicity – it is a quick read, but deeply effective.

A wonderful addition to library, health service offices and, of course, home collections.

I Had a Black Dog, written and illustrated by Matthew Johnstone
Pan, 2005

Fleur-De-Lis, by Isolde Martyn

Fleur de Montbullio is, at nineteen, living a quiet but hard life in hiding in the forest. Sick of being without food, without warmth and without her family, she welcomes the chance for a change when a dying man proposes marriage. Soon she is in Paris, a place which holds many opportunities – and just as many dangers.

Now a widow with debts to pay and a business to run, Fleur must work hard to change her fortunes. First though, she must navigate a society which is far removed from that of her youth. Should her upbringing as the child of a noble be discovered, her life may be at risk. A beautiful woman on her own in Paris, she attracts much interest but none is as exciting – or as dangerous – as the interest shown by Raoul de Villaret, a deputy of the Revolution and a man who has crossed Fleur’s path before.

Fleur-De-Lis is a gripping tale of romance, revolution and historical detail. Set in a time which many readers may have studied in highschool history, it gives a far more authentic and personal glimpse of this period of French history than any history book ever could.

A fascinating read.

Fleur-De-Lis, by Isolde Martyn
Pan, 2004

Single White Email, by Jessica Adams

I must force myself to think of Dan as the Loathsome Lawyer from Leichhardt, I must. But what if he bumps into me walking out of the hairdresser’s with my new red hair, and drags me into an alley and kisses the life out of me? And says it’s all been a terrible mistake and he can’t eat, can’t sleep?
I don’t know the statistical chances of that, but they must be there somewhere. There must be a chance.

Victoria Shipworth has just had another break-up with a man who doesn’t know when he’s on to a good thing. And this one managed to break up with her at her thirtieth brithday party.

On the same day, she received a brand new computer – a birthday present from her father. So, as she tries to forget Dan and a brief fling with Liam, a guy from work, Victoria turns to the internet in her search for Mr Right.

When she strikes up an email friendship with Pierre, a single man from Paris, Victoria finds her life starting to change. But is Pierre a possible Mr Right? Is he really a man at all? And does he live in France, or somewhere a little closer to home?

An internet romance aside, Victoria’s life is getting increasingly unpredictable – her best friend has decided she’s gay, her career is out of control and she seems to have acquired a cat.

Single White E-Mail is funny, but it is also disarmingly accurate. Anyone who has ever been single will find bits of themselves in this book, and probably cringe. Victoria is a likeable character, even through her strange obsessions and her self-centredness. Her life is sad, funny and very real all at the same time.

A great read.

Single White E-Mail, by Jessica Adams
Pan, 2004 (first published, 1998)

The Wrong Door, by Bunty Avieson

When Gwennie’s husband dies, her own life seems to be ended. When an unknown woman in red comes to the funeral, Gwennie is too wrapped up in grief to pay much attention. It is only afterwards that she wonders about this woman and what relationship she had with her husband.

Clare Dalton dresses in red, a colour she knows her eldery neighbour would have loved. She rushes to his funeral, but at the big crematorium she inadvertently goes through the wrong door. It takes a while for her to realise she is at the wrong funeral. When she does she leaves, embarrassed. She forgets that she has signed the condolence book and doesn’t realise the impact her presence has had.

For Gwennie, the questions which arise in the aftermath of her husband’s death seem to be connected with the mysterious Clare Dalton. For Clare, the time after the two funerals is also tumultuous. What she doesn’t know is that Gwennie is following her. And neither Gwennie nor Clare could guess at the connection that really exists between them.

The Wrong Door is an absorbing read. From a chance encounter caused by a simple mistake springs a series of events which will change both of their lives dramatically. Whilst Clare is not even aware of Gwennie’s existence for much of the book, the reader is given hints at a possible connection between the pair that neither could predict.

High on intrigue and danger, The Wrong Door is also an interesting psychological study of the way that the actions of one set of people can have far-reaching impact on another.

A satisfying read.

The Wrong Door, by Bunty Avieson
Pan, 2004, first published by Macmillan, 2003

Take 40, by Leanne Mercer

There is no birthday more talked about, more anticipated than a woman’s fortieth. For some it is a daunting age – perhaps signalling the end of youth, and admitting to being middle aged – for others a time of great challenge as they face changes in life, career, relationships.

In Take 40 Leanne Mercer, executive producer of Good Morning Australia talks to 40 women about their experiences of turning – and being – 40. They discuss how they felt at the time and how they feel now looking back.

Amongst those who share their thoughts are radio and television personality Amanda Keller, swimmer Tracey Wickham, singer Marina Prior and Sarah, the Duchess of York. Each woman’s experiences of reaching this milestone are different, but the common thread is that turning 40 is not a signal to sit back and admit defeat, but rather a time to go for it, to move forward and do whatever it is you want to do.

Take 40 also shares tips for looking and feeling good, as well as advice on careers, dating, marriage and more. An excellent gift for a woman approaching this age, Take 40 is an inspirational and insightful read.

Take 40, by Leanne Mercer
Pan Macmillan, 2003

Burning Eddy by Scot Gardner

Some people call Daniel Fairbrother Dan. Most just call him Fairy. It’s not a name that he likes.

Daniel is searching for meaning in his life. His family life is dominated by his moody and unloving father. Away from home, he has no friends and little to be happy about.

When Daniel meets a Dutch woman, Eddy, he starts to slowly see changes in his life. Eddy is eight-six. She has a tattoo, a history and can make music with her farts. She pays Dan well for the work he does in her garden, and seems to read his mind. She offers him more than work and pay – she offers him friendship. Eddy’s friendship does not prove to be an instant fix to all of Daniel’s problems – his father’s moodiness seems to escalate, the other boys pick on him and he is haunted by memories. But Eddy shows Daniel hope. Maybe there is a point to life – and maybe, just maybe, things will get better.

Burning Eddy is a poignant story about growing up, about family and about friendship. Author Scot Gardner weaves a tale which draws the reader in, caring deeply about these characters. Along the way he continues to drop bombshells that reshape the reader’s perceptions of the characters, so that the story is an ongoing surprise.

Absorbing.

Burning Eddy, by Scot Gardner
Pan Macmillan, 2003

Daughters of Nazareth, by Patricia Hughes

For the first seven years of her life Patricia Hughes lived with her sick but loving father and her alcoholic mother. Three days before her seventh birthday her life changed forever. Her father went back to hopsital and her mother abandoned her – leaving the police to deliver her to Nazareth House, a Catholic Orphanage.

For the next eight years Patricia lived in the ophanage, cared for by seemingly loveless nuns, intermittently placed in foster care with often abusive carers. When she was fifteen she decided she’d had enough and ran away from her foster paernts to start life on her own.

Although she never stopped wondering about her parents, it wasn’t until 1997 that she began to learn more about her family. Out of the blue she received a phone call from a woman claiming to be her sister. This was just the start of a series of extraordinary discoveries about their joint and separate pasts and about the family neither woman knew they had.

Daughters of Nazareth is a moving and intirguing tale of a search for family and understanding. Patricia Hughes is inspirational in her ability to move on and to accept. Her story, although recounting events which could be seen as tragic, is overwhelmingly positive.

A moving read.

Daughters of Nazareth, by Patricia Hughes
Pan Macmillan 2002