Reviews of books read last month. Three novels (two of them by Australian authors), and a non-fiction book about information and communication. 1. "The Rook: A Novel" by Daniel O'Malley <http://www.amazon.com/The-Rook/dp/0316098809> A woman wakes up in a London park on a rainy night, surrounded by dead people wearing latex gloves. She's lost her memory, but soon finds the first of many letters from her pre-amnesiac self. She is Myfanwy Thomas, a high ranking official (a Rook) of the Checquy Group, a paranormal secret service agency charged. She was warned by a psychic that she would lose her memory, so she made preparations. It turns out her memory was wiped because she was close to exposing a traitor in the Checquy Group. Knowing this, she could just leave the country, take up a new identity and stay out of trouble. Instead, she decides to find out more about who she was, resume her job and go after the traitor. She rediscovers she has a frightening superpower (which explains the incident in the park), but lots of other people in the country have special abilities too. And to complicate things further, the Belgium-based Grafters, long-time adversaries of the Checquy, have resumed their centuries-old goal of invading the UK. This is a very imaginative and amusing debut novel by a Canberra- based public servant. The characters are complex and intriguing, with a well-executed plot. 2. "They're a Weird Mob" by John O'Grady (as Nino Culotta) <http://www.amazon.com/Theyre-Weird-Mob/dp/1921922184> Italian journalist Nino Culotta (not his real name) is sent on assignment to Australia to report on how Italian migrants are settling into their new lives. It's the 1950s, and he arrives in Sydney, with the intention of travelling around the country for a couple of years to write regular pieces for his newspaper back in Milan. He gets of to a rocky start, quickly discovering that the "proper" English he learnt back home is not that helpful, and he'll have to learn the Aussie lingo if he wants to fit in. He does write some articles, but he finds he likes Sydney so much that he wants to settle there himself. He gets a job as a builder's labourer, makes some new friends, and eventually gets married. I have mixed feelings about this novel. I agree it is a witty portrayal of the brand of English spoken by Australians in the 1950s. But I didn't find the central character authentically Italian. I also expected more insight into the migrant way of life, but that wasn't the point of the novel. Perhaps what grated the most was the author's insistence that the Australian way of life was perfect, so "New Australians" should forget all their old ways and just blend in. That reactionary attitude sounds simplistic and short-sighted given the rich contributions from the different waves of migrants over the past 60 years. 3. "Emmaus" by Alessandro Baricco <http://www.amazon.com/Emmaus/dp/1938073150> This is the story of a group of four teenage boys and their loss of innocence. The narrator and his friends Bobby, Luca and the Saint were brought up with very Catholic values. They were in the church band, and spent their spare time helping out at a nearby hospital for poor people. Things were going pretty well, they even had girlfriends. Except the Saint, who wants to enter the priesthood. But then they meet and become obsessed with Andre, a girl from a wealthy non-believer family. She has a carefree attitude, sleeps around and even tried to kill herself. Andre believes she and her family are cursed. A strange relationship develops between her and the boys. Unfortunately, things start going wrong for the boys, bringing drugs, death and disgrace for some of them. I enjoyed this short novel by an award-winning author and screen- writer. The characters were relatable, as they dealt with issues of faith, devotion and sin were tackled. I also found the contrasts and interactions between believers and non-believers interesting. 4. "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood" by James Gleick <http://www.amazon.com/The-Information/dp/1400096235> This books takes a sweeping look at the history of information. From the humble beginnings of transmitting messages over distances using drums through to the modern day, where Google and others constantly collect and analyse our digital activities to find out what we want before we know ourselves. Despite changes in technology, many of the same issues recur, such as how to ensure accurate and efficient transmission. The book reminds us that abbreviations like LOL and emoticons had precursors in the days of the telegraph. Information is not just encoded in our devices and communication methods. Subatomic particles and genes are information carriers. Ideas (or memes) also convey information, and some theorists believe they too are subject to the survival of the fittest. The book also looks at issues such as information overload. Overall, a generally accessible and comprehensive book, from a respected science and technology author.