go to contents of current issue Sally's reading corner

May, 1998

Go to last month's column
Go to the next month's column
Welcome to a mixed bag of my recent reading matter.

First up, there’s a list of all titles reviewed this session. I’ll add an identifying initial, so you can tell at a glance whether you’re seeing an Australian, (A) US/Canadian (US) or (C) or British (B) book. (O) will denote “Other”.

I’ll also add a rough category initial. YA = Young Adult. C = Children’s NF = Non Fiction. F = Fantasy N = Novel M = Mainstream R = Romance CR = Crime. T = Thriller. H = Historical. Of course, many books are cross-genre, so they’ll get more than one category.


Remembrance, by Jude Deveraux. (A). M/R/F/H.
Eloping with Emmy, by Liz Fielding. (B) R.
Hothouse Flowers, by Nette Hilton. (A) YA/N.
A Host Of Voices, by Doris Stokes. (B) N.
Wolf Children, the Real Feral Kids, by Sue Isle. (A) C/N
The Eye of the Soul, by Stephen Matthews. (A) N.
The Guinness Book of Fakes, Frauds and Forgeries, by Richard Newnham. (B) N.
Friends, by Tegan Odgers. (A) C.

REMEMBERANCE, by Jude Deveraux. Published by Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster), New York, 1994. 410 pp.

First up, a novel masquerading as a romance (or maybe vice versa. I haven’t decided). I borrowed this (hardback) copy from my local library, and thereby hangs a story in itself.

Many years ago, I bought a book on the history of the category romance. It was a good, long read, and it didn’t take itself too seriously. The rise of Harlequin was documented, and, since the book was a remaindered copy, some of the lines discussed had been withdrawn. What was most interesting, I think, was a section which profiled big name romance authors of the ‘80s. I was particularly interest in Jude Deveraux because she wrote historicals and actually produced scale-model costumes for her own characters. It took her hundreds of hours and I wondered how she had time to write. I never saw any of her books about, but some years later, I read a “trailer” of hers in another book. The lady had a sense of humour! Now, I like humour in my romances, so I looked her up in the library catalogue. No titles - or so I thought. I didn’t bother to pursue the matter, but then I saw Remembrance sitting on the Recent Returns shelf in the library. Aha! The author was “Deveraux” not “Devereaux” as I’d assumed. My mistake, and it goes to show that computer catalogues insist on proper spelling!

If you’re still with me, after that rambling tale, I’ll get to the book itself. What attracted me was the blurb, which made it clear that the protagonist, Hayden Lane, was a romance writer who got rather too deeply involved with her characters. Not a very original plot, perhaps, but since I sometimes write romance and get quite wound up with my characters, I was intrigued.

I read this rather long book over two days, and I hand it to the author; she can certainly spin a good story. The novel’s framework is very ambitious; Hayden Lane, who has fallen obsessively in love with Jamie, one of her own characters, is hypnotically regressed to “become” Catherine de Grey, unhappy virgin wife of Lord Tavistock. The couple are in love, but for some reason unable to consummate their marriage. Divorce and the attendant scandal is on the horizon.

After a short, period spent in the 19th Century, Catherine/Hayden is regressed again, and this time “becomes” Callie, the new-born and unwanted daughter of John Hadley, a 16th Century land-owner. Callie is born at the same moment as a boy named Talis, and the curse of his dying mother links the children for all time. Their Romeo and Juliet story has a tragic ending, and Hayden comes to realise that it is the cursed lives of Callie and Talis which has poisoned Catherine’s relationship with Tavistock and prevented Hayden herself from building a satisfactory romantic life.

This plot, taking place within double parentheses as it were, is complex and complicated. Parts are in first person, parts in third person, and the long central story of the twin souls, Callie and Talis, takes up the bulk of the book. So much time is devoted to their early childhood, that the book seems more like a mainstream historical novel than a romance. I enjoyed the style and found it a real page-turner, but in some ways I felt it would have benefited from better editing. There were two inconsistencies (ages and names) that bothered me, and I felt that the ending, where Hayden, having broken the curse and changed her destiny meets the 1990s incarnation of Jamie/Tavistock/Talis, was a bit too hurried.

I also suspect that the ruminations on writers and writing in Part 1, although interesting to me, may have been a bit self-indulgent and, in a less renowned and bankable author, would have been sharply pruned by the editorial knife.

So - there it is. An interesting, ambitious book that could and should have been even better.


I won this book in the “Spotlight” Competition on the Net. The prize, offered by author Liz Fielding, was the choice between a set of special issue stamps and her latest book. Naturally, I chose the book!

Emerald Carlisle is a bright, bubbling personality, her hero, Tom Brodie, is stalwart and good fun. The whole story is a freewheeling concoction of runaway heiress, responsible lawyer, pretend engagement, trick and counter trick as the hero and heroine try to get the better of one another.

When lawyer Brodie accidentally helps his client’s daughter Emmy to escape down a ladder, he decides the easiest way to keep her out of trouble is to take her where she wants to go. He ends up in France, but there’s the question; is Emmy leading him up the garden path?

The book is written in dual viewpoint, so the reader isn’t kept guessing about the hero’s motivation and thoughts. Poor Brodie is confused all right, but he sorts himself out in true hero fashion. If you like your romance light-hearted and sparkling rather than glitzy or downbeat, give Emmy a try.

HOTHOUSE FLOWERS, By Nette Hilton, HarperCollins, 1997.

I got this book from the library, initially for my daughter, but my son and I read it too.

Fourteen-year-old Axel is suicidal. He lives with his senile great grandmother, who needs far more care than she gets. The pair are supposedly supervised by Axel’s very selfish aunt, who wants to keep Gran’s house in the family. Putting Gran in care would mean selling this desirable property and finding somewhere for Axel to live.

Axel often thinks of jumping off the cliff. He’s in no hurry, and he seems to find comfort in the thought that when the day comes, the cliff will be there. Into this miserable existence comes Rose, a colourful and very eccentric teenager who suffers from manic depression. Rose’s parents are loving, but she refuses to take her medication and has run away from home.

During her manic period, Rose takes over Axel’s home and life, helping out with Great Gran, haphazardly keeping house and painting vast murals on the walls. At first, it seems that Rose will save Axel and Great Gran from their troubles, but it becomes apparent that Rose has troubles too. She extracts money from Auntie to feed the household, but spends most of it on paint. Her instability grows, and her manic energy spins out into a black depression.

The authorities and Auntie get suspicious, and things seem worse than ever. Finally, Axel manages to get Rose to take her medication. She is fetched by her parents, leaving behind her colourful chaos - and a savagely defaced mural. Only the black and white zebra painted especially for Axel survives.

Great Gran is taken into care and Axel sets off home - to the cliff.

The brief epilogue shows that Axel survived and can look forward, cautiously, to a better future. It seems that Rose is on track again, but the fragility of their lives and destinies is profound.

If you enjoy teen fiction where there is no happy-ever-after, but some hope, you might enjoy this one. Horrible Auntie and pathetic Great Gran are balanced by the rough assistance of a neighbour, and by the distant, anxiously loving presence of Rose’s parents.

Nette Hilton also writes thrillers for adults under a pseudonym.

A HOST OF VOICES by Doris Stokes, Macdonald and Co, 1984. From the library.

I first read Doris Stokes’ books (there are eight) about ten years ago, but a recent brush with the supernatural (research, not experience!) sent me back to have another read.

Doris was a medium of a particularly homely sort. Her “voice” comes over as a cosy, fluffy slippers and cuppa type, and I mean that nicely! All up, her books cover her life story from childhood, when she first began to talk to her “invisible friends”, to the days just before her death in the late 1980s.

I’m not at all sure about mediums and spiritualists in general, but Doris Stokes seems to have been a kindly, compassionate woman. She had no use for the conventional trappings of darkened rooms, ectoplasm or spooky music, but gave “sittings” and public performances more or less ad lib. At their worst, mediums might prey on the grieving, but at their best they offer comfort and hope. Doris’s speciality seems to have been children; she lost a baby son herself.

Her books may move you to tears if you’re susceptible, but if you enjoy home-spun philosophy and Coronation Street-type humour, they offer an interesting insight into six decades of British history - and the life story of a very unusual woman.

On a personal note; for some reason Doris reminds me of Agatha Christie; the unassuming, friendly Agatha who comes across in her two volumes of autobiography.

WOLF CHILDREN, THE REAL FERAL KIDS, by Sue Isle, Published by Omnibus Books, 1998. 91 pages.

I bought this one at my local book shop for research - and fun.

If you’re a fan of “strange story” type books, this one is a real find. So many glossy volumes just give the bare bones of a story, then leave you up in the air. For example; a book’s author may mention in passing that “two children were found living with wolves in 1815”. So? the reader asks. Where did they come from? Were they captured? Could they talk? Most of all, what happened to them? The author, however, has flitted to another topic.

Not Sue Isle. She has researched the lives and histories of a comprehensive list of “wolf children”. She gives us all those details. They’re a bit depressing, actually. Many of the children seem to have been autistic or otherwise mentally challenged, and it’s difficult to tell if they were that way because of the wolves or if they found their ways to the wolves because of their conditions. Most of the children, even when rescued, seem to have died young, probably because they would eat only raw meat which isn’t a good diet for humans. But there it is! If you - or your children - want to know the ins and outs of the real Mowglies, get hold of this book.

THE EYE OF THE SOUL, by Stephen Matthews. Published by Magpies Magazine, 1998. 221 pp.

My copy is a complimentary one, sent by the author.

Some time ago, Stephen Matthews contacted me and asked if I would talk to him about the role of imagination in my writing and in the reading lives of younger Australians today. I’m always happy to talk about books, so I agreed, and so became one of seventeen authors featured in this book.

The authors are all Australian, either by birth or by choice, all write (at least part of the time) for children or teenagers, and are all under the age of forty-five. Apart from that, they’re a mixed bunch of men and women, writing everything from fantasy to super-realism.

Interviews were all done verbally, which led to some difficulty for me. I’ve contributed to books of this general type in the past, but usually by writing answers to a questionnaire. Spoken English isn’t the same as written English, and it bothered me a bit that there wasn’t much time to consider or edit what I said. No doubt this has led to more immediacy in the content, and perhaps to a stronger sense of individual voice for the writers concerned.

Personally, I prefer to be interviewed on paper, but let me stress that that’s just for my own sense of self-preservation! Stephen Matthews did send me a transcript of the interview, but I decided to stand by what I said, even if I felt I could have put it in a more polished fashion in writing. I believe, from the tone of the other interviews, that the other authors also stood by their original comments. And let me tell you - I can’t speak for the others, but it makes me feel exposed!

Having said all this, I’ll get to the actual book. The writers all come across with strongly individual voices, and some of the opinions are very thought provoking. Matthews didn’t pull back from asking leading questions about writers’ responsibilities when writing for kids and YAs. Moral issues are covered, and so are some of the prickly questions of self-censorship and the author’s right to honest expression which is frequently at war with the expectations of readers, publishers and reviewers.

Some of the topics include “becoming a writer”, “imagination and the soul”, “how a book starts”, “books and the imagination”, and “realism”. Not every author was asked every question, but there are enough core questions to build a rounded picture of writers and writing, and the way minds and consciences work in the ‘90s.

The following authors are featured in the book; Isobelle Carmody, Brian Caswell, Ursula Dubosarsky, Anna Fienberg, Pamela Freeman, Jackie French, Sonya Hartnett, Steven Herrick, Catherine Jinks, Alison Lester, Maureen McCarthy, David Metzenthen, James Maloney, Garth Nix, Sally Odgers, Glyn Parry, Nicole Pluss.

Anyone familiar with the works of these writers would gain a lot from reading this book, and for others, it offers a useful insight and introduction to some of the writers who grew up in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s and are currently writing for kids and YAs of the ‘90s.

THE GUINNESS BOOK OF FAKES, FRAUDS AND FORGERIES 224 pp. by Richard Newnham, Published by Guinness Publishing, UK, 1991. This is another library book, borrowed for research material, but read for enjoyment as well.

“Guinness Books of.... whatevers” are usually good value. They’re usually well researched, informative, and thorough. Best of all, from my point of view, they’re often written by single authors, whose writing “tone” is allowed to come through.

This book was interesting, and I caught up on a lot of frauds and fakes. Some are famous, such as Piltdown Man and Perkin Warbeck, others much more obscure. It’s a wide-ranging subject, from impersonators, professional forgers, scientific jokes, to mysteries such as the tale of Kasper Hauser.

Since most of the cases happened some time ago, they have the virtue of being complete - or as complete as possible. Some mysteries will probably never be solved now, but there were at least a couple of cases where new scientific methods or new evidence have either extended our knowledge or reopened investigations. Since the book is a few years old, there is at least one case - that of Anastasia - which has had further developments that aren’t mentioned in the text. In this case, on the basis of the evidence available to him, Newnham seems to conclude that Anna Anderson *probably* wasn’t really Anastasia, but I believe that conclusion has now been proved through DNA testing.

A few of the more obscure cases hinged on points of law that escaped me, but I found about eighty per cent of the book quite accessible. The tone was a little more scholarly than I expected, but pictures and photographs of some of the disputed objects and people added to its interest.

FRIENDS, by Tegan Odgers, 24 pp. Published by Macmillan Education, 1998. I was given this copy by the author.

Yes, Tegan Odgers is my daughter. Yes, I’m very proud of her! And yes, I genuinely enjoyed her book. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t review it.

Now that’s out of the way!

Friends has nothing to do with the American sit-com. It is simply the story of best friends Emma and Katie and what happens to their close relationship when a new girl named Ashley comes to their school. Emma and Katie are odd-couple friends, and Emma is alarmed when she sees how much her friend and Ashley have in common.

What makes this simple story work, I believe, is that the author was only 12 when she wrote it. Therefore she could remember the traumas of Year Four and the inevitable pairing and re-pairing that goes on with children of this age, and react to it emotionally as well as analytically. Secret hideouts, pets, traditions and secrets are important to kids in mid Primary School, and friendships are built more on shared interests and personality than on parental suggestion (as with younger kids) or peer pressure (as in high school). I think Friends is a little gem!

That’s it for this month. I’ve already got a couple of titles for reviewing next month - once I get around to reading and assessing them! As usual, any comments on featured books and reviews are welcome, and, as usual, I defend my right to my opinion!
Sally Odgers

See also: previous columns
Bookmark and Share go to contents of current issue
Go to the bookroom for book news and reviews

Festivale Online Magazine
Celebrate everything!
ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
disclaimers | contact the editor | Festivale revision history
: Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia : copyright © Festivale 2000 All rights reserved
Filed: 13-May-1998 : Last tested: : Last updated: :last compiled: 31-Mar-2010
Entire site refreshed: Dec 2008-Feb 2009 | Site URL transferred: Jan 2005 (previously www.festivale.webcentral.com.au)

Entire site refreshed: Dec 2008-Feb 2009 | Site URL transferred: Jan 2005 (previously www.festivale.webcentral.com.au)

Report a bug