Mini Book Reviews – January 2010

These short reviews date from my pre-blog era – short and sweet thoughts with ratings out of five. Feel free to ask me more about these reads!

The Story of Danny Dunn by Bryce Courtenay

I haven’t read a Bryce Courtenay book for several years (the last one was Four Fires) and was wondering if I’d ‘grown out’ of them.

The answer is no. This book reminded me what good, true Australia literature is about and I was able to relate to many things (seems not much has changed in NSW since the fifties). The story is about Danny Dunn, who lives in the working class Sydney suburb of Balmain and has it all going for him- looks, brains and brawn. Unfortunately WWII put paid to that and Danny returns home a changed man. The book is ultimately about his attempt to try to survive his demons but portrays a good Aussie yarn too.

While it skips over some parts (years go by in pages) and seems to cover a lot of topics very quickly, the ending is very powerful. I found it moving, but some it didn’t seem to tie in for me. Everything going fairly okay, then some big events and then some big ramifications- but I guess that’s life. ( )

A Short History of Caravans in the UK by Richard Hammond

Not bad. Surprisingly though, this does contain a lot of information about caravans as well as humour. Not really for the Top Gear enthusiast who likes his/her caravans blown up, but it will keep your dad entertained until he realises the book is a joke on caravanners. ( )




The Big Book of Top Gear 2010

Another hilarious edition of Top Gear- in book form. Everything you need to know about the Stig, Jeremy’s iPhone applications (I really want the POWERRRRRR! ones), James’ sat nav and the cut out Richard Hammond. Surprisingly, this also contains some possibly correct information on cars.

I took a half star off because I didn’t know who Nigel Havers was and that the book was printed in Germany (not a problem for me, but possibly for Top Gear and their famous German rivalry). ( )



Too Many Murders by Colleen McCullough

I was initially a bit worried about this book after reading the disaster that was The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet (truly terrible). However, I really enjoyed On,Off so I was prepared to give this a go. I was glad that I did. This is a murder mystery with many dizzying twists and curves set in 1960’s America. Twelve people murdered on the same day- is it a terrible coincidence or the plot of a mastermind?

I did get a little confused at times when the police were determining which murders were important or not (though with twelve murders, it’s hard to keep track at times) and the ending made me wonder why I went through it all. Interesting to see if there will be another sequel. ( )


Meltdown by Ben Elton

Light book about how the GFC affects a group of friends- a futures trader, banker, architect, politician, businessman etc. Jumps back and forth from the present to the rich times before the GFC. The ending is a bit unbelievable (so many coincidences) but it’s worth a read. I found it a little confusing when it jumps in time (maybe the past could have been in a different font) and some of the arguments about the excesses of the financial sector I found a bit boring. But hey, it’s topical and feelgood! ( )



Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Really not sure what I think about this- it’s kind of Twilight Gothic in places, in others interesting and at the start, quite boring…

It’s also kind of difficult to explain the plot without the twists- I know others have found the last third of the book odd. Well for me, I found the last 30 pages odd, kind of rushed and hinting at conclusions which seemed out of line with what the characters had been chasing all along. Maybe that’s life. But then I don’t necessarily want my books to reflect life…

The characters in this book are also awkward- Martin is a lovely, well painted character who we just don’t hear enough from, while the main characters of Valentina and Julia are kind of sketchy.

In the end, I really didn’t feel anything for the characters and their outcomes- or even if there was an outcome. ( )

By Any Means: His Brand New Adventure from Wicklow to Wollongong… by Charley Boorman

I read this book in conjunction with watching the DVD of By Any Means. I was very glad that I did because sometimes the DVD episode was a bit rushed and I was wondering, ‘How did they get there? Where’s Russ? Who’s Anne?’. The book solves all these problems.

Not high literature, but a fantastic Boys’ Own adventure travelling from Ireland to Australia- by any means except a commercial flight. Charley, Russ (both familiar faces from Long Way Down/Round and Race to Dakar) and Mungo the cameraman cross countries on tuk tuks, elephants, dolmus and everything in between. A great adventure that has inspired me to visit countries that weren’t on my list, such as Nepal and Cambodia. Although non fiction, the boys certainly had their share of calamities- from boats to knees to multiple broken cameras. Charley also talks about home sickness, travel sickness and lack of sleep, which I didn’t think came through on the DVD (very professional).

Being an Aussie, I have to make mention of the trip from Darwin to Sydney. It was very well done- not too stereotypical (except for the English boys running out of fuel in the NT) and a good representation of just how diverse Australia really is. Nice to see that the BMWs were rejected in favour of a Nissan (X5 is certainly not an off road car). It made me happy to see that someone else could enjoy my own country.

I’d love to see an extended version of the TV series, that would be great. All the boys were very likeable, good presenters and fairly easy on the eye 😉 There’s some lovely pictures in the book too. ( )

Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo by Any Means… by Charley Boorman

Another solid effort from Charley- this second By Any Means book and TV series focuses less on the travel and more about the people and culture. There’s less countries and no Russ, but the countries Charley visits are covered in much more detail. The book covers even more than the TV series and explains things in more depth. For biking fans, there are many more motorbikes this time round.

The writing is not high class literature, but the telling of Hiroshima’s Genbaku Domu had me wiping away tears- I think Charley captured the emotions you feel there beautifully. ( )








6 thoughts on “Mini Book Reviews – January 2010

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  1. I have read several of Colleen McCullough’s books and have had very different reactions to them — loved The Thorn Birds and the first book in the series she wrote about Rome (the name escapes me), but did not care at all for the Mary Bennet book.

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