I have been a fan of Laura Lippman for ages and have read every book she has written and I can say without a doubt that this is the best novel she has ever written. This book was getting incredible industry buzz in the six months before publication. Those who were lucky enough to have read it early were raving and I must admit to a lot of impatience waiting to get my copy. But it was worth the wait as Sunburn is one of those rare gems where the book is even better than the hype surrounding it.
The “buzz” genre of the past few years has been known as “domestic noir”. Gone Girl, Girl on the Train to name but a few. There has been a myriad of copycats, never of course as good as the original blockbusters. But “domestic noir” is not a new genre. Noir has been around for decades and the best noir has always had a domestic setting. All that has been reinvented in the last few years is the added “domestic” marketing tagline and “girl”, never “woman” in the title. Born out of The Depression in the 1930s and lead by the likes of James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett these stories have captured both readers and movie audiences ever since and it is probably no surprise the genre is having a revival in the ten years since the GFC.
Laura Lippman is no stranger to noir. Her writing career started with the brilliant Tess Monaghan PI series and the noir tradition is constant through her even better stand alone novels. But with her new book she dials the classic noir up to 11. She isn’t reinventing noir or even modernising noir. In Sunburn she shows how good noir can be and in doing so has written the undoubted thriller of the year.
Sunburn has all the elements of classic noir: a woman on the run from her husband, a rugged PI on her trail, an insurance scam, blackmail and of course murder. Lippman sets this classic concoction in the small town of Belleville where the two protagonists of the story meet and fall for each other hard. But they both have their secrets. Secrets others know. Secrets others might use against them. Secrets they have to protect. As the lies and distrust start to chip away at their new found love it can only lead to one thing: trouble.
While Laura Lippman has all the classic elements of great noir it is her characters that make this book so outstanding. Polly and Adam are so well drawn you are immediately on both their sides and are left second guessing each of them when they start to mistrust one another. The small town setting is also wonderfully evocative as well as equally claustrophobic and the sense of place Lippman creates not only adds to the drama but also stokes it. Inspired by James M. Cain the only thing that could have made this novel more noir would have been chicken and waffles on the town bar’s menu.
Nobody writes suspense thrillers like Laura Lippman and this is the best book she has ever written.
The Martian was one of the funnest and funniest reading experiences I have ever had. So there was a little trepidation when I picked up his next novel. It had been pitched as a crime novel set on the moon which left me not really knowing what to expect. Would this book be as funny? Would there be the same level of scientific explanation? Would I be completely hooked again? The answer is yes, yes and YES.
Right from the opening sentence I was in. The smart-ass, slightly sarcastic tone that permeated through TheMartian was there from the get go. And as with Mark Watney in TheMartian I fell quickly and easily into step with Jazz Bashara, the heroine of this new novel. Once again Andy Weir puts the SCIENCE into Science Fiction. Brilliantly creating the first city on the moon: Artemis, population 2000. As with The Martian Weir talks you through the science of how and why Artemis exists making everything sound plausible and authentic to this scientific layman’s ears. Andy Weir then adds the economics of how and why Artemis exists and that is where Jazz fits in.
Jazz Bashara has grown up on The Moon and has no desire to return to Earth. Most residents of Artemis are there to serve its economy; the tourist trade of the rich and wealthy or the construction and smelting trade. But Jazz has found her own niche: smuggling. There are a number of contraband items on The Moon and Jazz is the person that can get them for you. When she is offered the score of a lifetime she jumps at the opportunity only realising too late that this time she may have gotten herself in way over her head.
I couldn’t get enough of this book. I was completely fascinated by the way the city on the moon operated and all its various residences and was constantly laughing out loud at the same. The story rolicks along at a cracking pace and will have you literally have you holding your breath towards the end. This is everything that made The Martian so brilliant and then some. I can’t wait to see where Andy Weir is going to take me next!
Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, was incredible. The moment I saw she had a new book coming out I had to read it. I didn’t care what it was about I just had to read it and her follow up second novel doesn’t disappoint. In fact it is easily one of the best books I have read so far this year.
Set in the planned community of Shaker Heights Celeste Ng’s novel hooks you from it’s opening pages as The Richardson’s family home goes up in flames. Everyone suspects that the youngest Richardson, the black sheep of the family, has set the fire but as we retrace the last 12 months in and around the Richardson family home we learn it was only a matter of time before a spark caused a blaze.
It all started with the arrival of struggling artist Mia and her daughter Pearl. As they settle into the Shaker Heights community their lives slowly become enmeshed with The Richardsons. Firstly as tenants of The Richardsons then through Pearl as she befriends The Richardson children who she attends high school with and then as Mia works for the family. When an adoption case makes headlines in the small community everyone is forced to chooses sides and secrets from the past flare up threatening to explode.
This is one of the most addictive and engrossing books you will read this year. I already miss all the characters in the book and feel like a family I just got to know has up and left leaving a void. If you are yet to discover Celeste Ng add her to your reading list immediately!
Chris Womersley’s latest novel sucks you in from the opening passages. Set in 1600s France this is a gothic masterpiece firmly based in the historical realm but will have you believing in magic, witchcraft and maybe even the devil himself.
It is 1673 and The Plague grips the countryside. Charlotte Picot has lost three of her children to fever and her husband has also just passed away. She decides to flee her small French village with her remaining son Nicholas and set off across the countryside to seek refuge in a larger town. They are attacked upon the road and Nicholas is taken by slavers and Charlotte is left for dead. Desperate to save her son Charlotte is makes a deal with a woman claiming to be a witch to summon forth help in her time of need.
Meanwhile a man is freed from the prison galleys having served a brutal seven year sentence. He is desperate to return to Paris and retrieve a buried fortune but he cannot recover his treasure alone. His path will cross with Charlotte’s and they will both find more than they bargained for in the dark and uncanny underbelly of 17th century Paris
While on the surface setting a book in 17th century France seems to be a far removal from Chris’s previous work there has always been a gothic undertone to his novels. At one point in Bereft I was almost convinced the main character was possibly a ghost and Womersley uses similar devices to keep you off balance about where reality ends and magic actually begins.
Rooted in historical fact this is a novel that entrances you, bewitches you and keeps you thoroughly enthralled.
This a taut political thriller than isn’t ground down by the halls of parliament but instead plays itself out on the high seas as three people’s lives intersect as a storm bears down upon them, both literally and figuratively.
Isi Natoli is the skipper of a surf safari business that takes Australian tourists out to the reefs and islands off the Indonesian coastline. As her business partner makes a desperate trip home to Australia in search of more funds she heads out with a group looking for adventures and the perfect wave.
Roya is a young Afghani girl who along with her pregnant mother has been forced to flee her home after her father and brother disappeared. They have made their way to Indonesia and are about to embark on the next dangerous leg of their journey.
Cassius Calvert is an ex-Olympian turned Federal politician who is the Minister for Border Integrity (formerly Immigration). With an election taking place in seven days Cassius has just announced a major new policy shift in the way Australia polices its borders. A new policy which will shift responsibility away from the Government and the Navy and onto a privately contracted security firm.
These three stories are inextricably woven together with devastating consequences and in doing so creates a thriller unlike anything you have read before. What makes this book so good is that it is a political thriller that doesn’t define its politics. Cassius’s political party is never named, he could be Liberal or Labor. The attitudes of the Australian tourists who get caught up in Roya’s journey are also vague and indefinite. They all have differing views but it is their apathy more that anything that comes to the fore until they are each forced to face the reality of the situation they are confronted with and the ramifications their decisions and attitudes have.
Jock Serong’s third novel takes his writing to whole a new level moving him from the ranks of Australian crime writers to watch to writer’s you have got to read now.
I can still remember the first time I read Don Winslow. I had been given a copy of The Power of the Dogas a birthday present with the caveat “wait until you read this”. I was instantly blown away. My first thought was “who is this guy”. After devouring the book I got my hands on everything of his I could read (Warning: there is another Don Winslow who writes erotica, not the same author). I read into how he wrote The Power of the Dog and how close to the truth his novel was and how dangerous his research became. But on top of all this meticulous research was a novel that was entertaining, tragically infused and told with a style unlike anything I had read before. Winslow returned to the same heights with The Cartel but he has outdone himself with his new novel The Force.
Denny Malone is a hero cop in the NYPD. He is the self-declared King of Manhattan North. He heads a task force that fights gun and drug violence directly on the frontlines. Malone works in a world of violence and corruption and he does whatever it takes to defend his patch of New York City. But 18 years of bending the rules has taken its strain and many of those rules have snapped. In fact there’s not many rules Malone hasn’t broken now and he’s about to cross the one rule he never dreamed he’d cross. But Malone doesn’t have a choice. He’s burned all his choices long ago.
Winslow wrote two epics of the War on Drugs and has now written the first true epic cop novel. As always Winslow doesn’t mince the truth. We are not manipulated into liking Denny Malone or thinking that he’s really a good guy underneath. Both Malone and the reader know the good cop inside Malone died a long time ago. But what Winslow demonstrates is the different levels of bad guy, at all levels and on the both sides of the law. Everyone has a price to get what they want and everyone is paying a price in the hope they get paid for another. And the more they pay the more desperate they are to get paid, until there can only be one conclusion.
Don Winslow has written an explosive epic that doesn’t slow down one millisecond from it’s opening prologue through to the very last page. A story equally as shocking in the corruption it shows as the lengths people go to preserve it. A crime classic from an absolute master of the genre.
This amazing book took me completely by surprise. When I read that it was about a second American Civil war my immediate first thought was Trump. My second thought was another dystopian novel but Omar El Akkad’s novel defied all my expectations and is a strong contender for one of the books of 2017.
What makes this novel so profound is Omar El Akkad’s ability to tell a deeply personal story about a huge, cataclysmic event at the same time as weaving a story that is relevant to our society today despite being set in a future 75 years from now. El Akkad’s novel works on so many different levels and has so many different layers that as a reader you get completely lost in the time and history the novel creates.
The novel’s second American Civil War breaks out when the US Federal Government bans the use of fossil fuels. Southern States rebel against the North and war quickly follows. America, North and South, then unleashes its political, economic and military war machine against itself. Drones, biological warfare, political indoctrination, enhanced interrogation, rendition which inevitably leads to terrorism, suicide bombings and other extreme acts of desperation as the war escalates and then ebbs and flows between atrocities.
The story focuses upon the Chestnut family, following them over the course of twenty years. They are from Louisiana, living on the banks of the Mississippi ‘Sea’. When the war reaches them they are forced to flee to a refugee camp. Despite the war being construed as North vs South, Blue vs Ref the Chestnut family begin to learn it is more nuanced than just two sides. And the children of the Chestnut family, who a growing up in this war, a forced to pick a side. A choice that will have irreconcilable consequences.
What makes this novel so powerful is how recognizable events and their reactions are. From drones haunting clear blue skies to the idealistic being recruited to blow themselves up in crowded squares. From how quickly each side dehumanizes the other to the extremes each side goes to in the name of ‘the right’ and ‘the just’. The heart of the story is Sarat Chestnut who will break your heart as hard as hers is broken. There are echoes of Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games but the context is much closer to home. This is a novel of sublime scope and passionate precision. It is a warning and a requiem. This is one of the best books you will read this year.
The Boy on the Bridge is more a prequel than a sequel, set ten years before the events of The Girl With All The Gifts and ten years after what has become known as “The Breakdown”. The story centers upon a scientific mission which is headed north into Scotland to explore what has happened to the rest of Britain following the collapse of London, England and the rest of the world.
A band of four soldiers, four scientists and an incredibly intelligent teenage boy have set out in a converted tank/mobile laboratory called the Rosalind Franklin. Their mission is to explore the countryside and take samples of the infection that has all but wiped out humanity to discover any anomalies in the hope of finding a possible cure. But what they find is contingent on what they have brought with them. And the cure they are hoping to find might not be for the disease they were looking to cure.
All the elements I loved about the first book are here again in spades. Carey has set everything firming in a scientific universe. There is nothing supernatural about the zombies, or hungries as they are known, that are taking over the world. This means there is hope that there is something scientific in which to combat the disease. Carey also cleverly constructs this novel so new readers and old fans can enjoy it alike. Carey provides just enough information for those who read The Girl With All The Gifts and all its twists while keeping surprises for those who want to start here first.
Carey also meticulously builds the tension on a number of fronts. Firstly the claustrophobic nature of life inside Rosie, as she affectionately is known. To this he adds numerous secrets members of Rosie’s crew are keeping from one another and even themselves. This gets ratcheted up through the discovery of some unknown hostiles that has massive ramifications for their mission. A mission which then has to try and get home.
I couldn’t get enough of this book and literally want to turn around and read The Girl With All The Gifts again. (If only you could see the movie in Australia!) I never expected a sequel the first time around and definitely not one this good. I will even go out on a limb and declare this book even better than the first one! Which I didn’t think was remotely possible. Forget The Walking Dead, M.R. Carey’s series is streets ahead on every level.
I have read a lot of novels set during the Iraq War and this one is pretty special. Brian Van Reet, another alumni of the the seminal collection Fire & Forget, has written a novel of the Iraq War told from both sides; from a US soldier’s perspective and a jihadist insurgent drawn to Iraq from Afghanistan. In doing so he has written a part thriller in the vein of I Am Pilgrim, but also a part dissection of the last 16 years of conflict worthy of comparison with the other great novels of this war, Redeploymentand The Yellow Birds.
Nineteen year old Specialist Cassandra Wigheard has been in Iraq for only five weeks but it is everything she ever wanted. In five weeks her unit has gone from invading force to occupying force but the war is about to make another dramatic and dynamic shift. We then follow Abu Al-Hool, an Egyptian who became a jihadist fighting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. He has waged jihad across the world, including Chechnya, and following the 9/11 attacks is preparing for a new war in Afghanistan against America. After America also invades Iraq his brotherhood decide to relocate their operations to this new field of war and under new leadership they are planning a new kind of Jihad as they begin an insurgency in Iraq.
These two characters literally intersect each other at a checkpoint and a firefight sees Cassandra and her crew taken prisoner. The race is now on to recover Cassandra and her crew but they can’t be found. The battle for the hearts and minds of the local population is quickly crushed as every door possible is knocked down in the frantic hunt for the missing soldiers. Meanwhile Cassandra is held captive by a group which has waged terror for over twenty years and is about to take their brand of terror to a level that hasn’t been seen before.
But not everyone is on the same page, on both sides. Brian Van Reet expertly puts you in the shoes of soldier and jihadist alike. Showing their motivations and reluctance, their frailty and their unmitigated determination to follow their chosen paths through. In doing so he has written a novel that is impossible to put down and will have you reexamining your thoughts on the war. Which is of course what all great war novels should do.
Becky Chambers blew me away with her amazing debut The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It was science fiction at is best and was longlisted for literary as well as science fiction awards, and rightly so. So when her follow-up fell into my hands I was giddy with excitement and anticipation. Could it match the emotional resonance of the first book? Especially as it is a “stand-alone sequel” meaning the crew I fell in love with in the first book wouldn’t feature? The answer is YES and then some!
Sidra was an Artificial Intelligence on aboard a spaceship who has been transferred to a human “kit” body and must now learn to navigate the sentient world. She must keep her existence secret as it is highly illegal to transfer an AI and she will be shut down and her system wiped if she is discovered. Helping her navigate through this new life is Pepper, a highly skilled technician who can fix and rebuild almost any machine. Pepper has a vested interested in helping Sidra adjust to her new life in part due to her upbringing. Both Sidra and Pepper are searching for their place in this crazy universe and together they might just find it.
Becky Chambers once again sucks you into the world and universe of her two main characters. She alternates Sidra’s story with that of Pepper’s upbringing. We get the ups and downs of Sidra discovering her new life, her new capabilities and new limitations. And we learn about Pepper; who she is, where she came from and why she cares so deeply about what happens to Sidra. We live through both characters joys and heartbreaks, new experiences and frustrations. And I guarantee you will shed at least one tear by the end.
Once again Becky Chambers builds a world full of alien species, futuristic technology and space travel but truly amazes you with her characters and emotional resonance. A science fiction novel that isn’t battles and adventures but a wonderful exploration of humanity and belonging.
Paul Ham reaffirms his status as one of the best current Australian historians writing today, taking his astute eye to the devastating battle of Passchendaele. This is not a history book solely about Australia’s involvement in the Flanders campaign of 1917. This is an all-encompassing look at the events and the situation that led to the battle and the wholesale slaughter of over half a million men. Ham combs through the histories and memoirs of those involved on both sides and all ranks, wading through the lies and falsehoods, myths and legends, excuses and justifications that have festered over the decades to put together a picture of a battle that somehow exceeded the horrors of The Somme and Verdun only a year before.
Paul Ham primarily explores how a toxic relationship between Prime Minister Lloyd George and Field Marshall Douglas Haig allowed an offensive to go ahead whose only true goal was absolute attrition. He shows how the lessons learned during the butchery of The Somme about tactics (tactics that could preserve men’s lives and actually gain ground; the creeping barrage, bite and hold) were not employed due to the weather and in some cases battles went ahead with no artillery support at all. Ham demonstrates that the immense casualties on both sides were not some catastrophe or blunder of leadership but planned for, expected and deemed necessary and shows how those in a position to stop the carnage did nothing, putting personal grievances ahead of the lives of over 500,000 men.
This is a book not only for all Australians to read but New Zealanders, Britons, French and Germans as well. Paul Ham puts this battle and consequently The First World War in its context of the time, not some revisionist context in light of subsequent events and conflicts. This a cutting, insightful and moving look at one of the bloodiest and most futile battles of the First World War.
I have to confess to some reticence in picking this book up. I hadn’t read Melina Marchetta in years (since Saving Francesca in fact) and even though Looking For Alibrandi was one of the best books I had to read at school I had some reluctance picking up her first novel for adults. But after Kate started reading and RAVING about it it was next on my pile and I was instantly hooked. This isn’t just a good thriller, this is a top class thriller easily equal to the great stuff Michael Robotham writes.
The novel opens with a bang and doesn’t look back. DCI Bashir ‘Bish’ Ortley’s life is slowly falling apart. He still grieves for the son he lost in a drowning accident. His marriage, already on rocky ground, didn’t survive the tragedy and his relationship with his teenage daughter Bee is on tenterhooks. He’s been hitting the bottle to get through each day but that has resulted in his suspension from The Met on disciplinary grounds. Everything is put to the test though when a bomb goes off on a tourist bus in Northern France.
His daughter is on the bus and Bish immediately races to the scene. He soon becomes the liaison between other frantic parents, the French police and British officials. Bish is relieved to discover that his daughter is unharmed but that cannot be said for others onboard the bus. When he discovers that also on the bus is the daughter of a bombing suspect he locked up thirteen years ago his, and others’, suspicions are raised. When she disappears soon afterwards those suspicions seemed confirmed by her actions. Bish has his doubts though and his search for the missing girl not only reopens old wounds but may also reopen an old case.
Marchetta unfolds this thriller with the skill of a veteran crime writer. I especially like the way she explores the role social media plays not just on people’s quick judgements of guilt but also in reconstructing the timeline of the events leading up to the bombing. Marchetta puts this up against the role of the traditional media in the earlier case showing how the media’s rush to judgment, both old and new, then and now, haven’t changed that much and that guilt and innocence are blurred and lost very easily with devastating consequences.
I could not put this book down and I hope it is not the last we are going to see of DCI Bish Ortley, a fantastic new character to add the crime genre by a writer we knew from growing up was something special who can no-show off that skill to a whole new audience both here and around the world..
Jock Serong has written a clever and unique Australian crime novel weaving together the folklore of cricket, both the backyard variety and the international, into a classic piece of noir. The novel is told from the point of view of Darren Keefe, the younger brother of former Australian Cricket captain Wally Keefe. Darren’s life is literally flashing before his eyes as he lies gagged and bound in the boot of a car on his way to what he expects is his certain execution.
Darren recounts his childhood growing up with Wally; their epic battles in the backyard and their rise through Australia’s cricket ranks. Wally is a stoic, stubborn opening batsmen who accumulates his runs without ever giving the opposition a sniff of getting him out. While Darren is the more brash, younger brother, taking risks and entertaining the crowd. These traits are reflected in each brother off the field. Wally, the more responsible and sensible, is quickly elevated to the Test team and then it’s captaincy while settling down to start a family. Darren, meanwhile, is the larrikin everyone loves to watch and wants to know who flits from scandal to controversy on and off the field. All the while moving closer to his possibly imminent end inside the boot of a car.
This is one of the funnest crime novels I’ve read in years and is definitely the cricket/crime novel I never knew I wanted to read. This is going to be THE book for summer. Perfect for reading in front of the cricket itself.
On the surface this looks like a book about horse racing and the Kentucky derby but don’t let the cover or blurb fool you. The is an epic American novel on the scale of Philipp Meyer’s The Son. It is a story of family, money and race and the everlasting consequences each leaves upon subsequent generations. It is a story about dreams and obsessions, love and revenge and a thoroughbred filly called Hellsmouth.
Central to the novel is the story of the Forge family. One of the wealthiest families in Kentucky that goes back to the time of slavery and has not changed much since it’s abolition. We meet Henry Forge as a young boy. His father is trying to teach him about the Forge fortune and the Forge world view, built upon crops and people. But Henry dreams about horses and becomes fascinated by horse breeding and the pursuit of perfection that is tested upon the racetracks of the nation. A dream that clashes with his father’s vision of the future. But Henry pursues his dream regardless, turning his father’s farm and property upside down upon his inheritance. But his pursuit of perfection is not so easily won. Twenty years on, and with his daughter now a part of the new family business, he is yet to produce a horse of note. That is until Hellsmouth, a horse that seems destined to win it all.
C.E. Morgan weaves into this tale to story of Allmon Shaughnessy. A young African-American man who has grown up in Cincinnati. He has grown up without his white father who is long gone and his mother battles with illness they cannot afford to properly treat. It is not long before Allmon is in trouble with the law. After spending time in prison, Allmon, now a grown man, is determined to turn his life around. His world is about to come crashing into the world of the Forges as he is hired as the new groom for Hellsmouth. When he and Henry’s daughter embark upon an illicit love affair the consequences are beyond devastating or tragedy. Henry Forge’s past and future collide with monumental and shocking ramifications.
This is an immense novel of family, history, class and greed by a writer of tremendous talent. Morgan’s use of language is a wonder to behold on its own but the way she builds the story up and the wraps layers around it is also quite amazing. This is a novel that will totally absorb you before dropping you on the seat of your pants in utter shock and awe with an ending you will never forget. If you loved Philipp Meyer’s The Son this is your next epic read!
An absolute tour de force. A novel, unfortunately, that could not be more timely by a writer who doesn’t flinch at any stage.
There is often arguments when it comes to historical fiction about accuracy. How much leeway should story get over truth? For me historical fiction is not primarily about recounting historical events but is about conveying historical events through story so that as a reader you empathise and get a richer understanding and viewpoint that nonfiction is often constrained against providing. This is what Colson Whitehead does as he takes the folklore of the Underground Railroad, the network of safe houses and pathways that helped slaves in the 1800s escape north, and imagines it as a real working railway.
Colson Whitehead tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Cora has grown up in a brutal and unforgiving world. The only world she has ever known. Her mother ran off years before and is the only slave known to have successfully escaped the farm on which Cora is enslaved. When Cora is approached to escape she at first refuses but after a series of, even more brutal than usual, beatings she decides it is time to run. Whitehead details Cora’s journey as she escapes via a real underground railroad. A railroad that takes her slowly north where Cora experiences new worlds, some better than others, but all shrouded by racism and violence. Sometimes overtly, other times more hidden.
Cora’s journey unfolds like an odyssey as Cora explores each new destination she arrives in with monsters and horrors hidden in various forms. Whitehead uses Cora’s journey to explore all the different manifestations slavery takes on in society. From the basic and ruthless slavery of people as property or beasts of burden to more subtle and sinister forms of racism and enslavement. Colson Whitehead’s writing is unflinching and uncompromising letting the brutality and reality of Cora’s world through. At times painful to read and at others more hopeful but never shying away from the awful truth.
Colson Whitehead has written a novel of true power. A novel more important than ever, that will stay inside you long after you put it down. A true must read.
I’m a massive fan of Duane Swierczynski. His novels are usually almost out-of-control roller coaster rides where you have no idea where the story is headed next. While sometime his plots seem a little far fetched he always grounds them in a reality that makes you believe. With his new novel he has written a historical crime novel spread over three generations. He dials down the usual craziness but at the same time dials up the authenticness that always grounds his work and in doing so produces his best novel to date.
Revolver is told over three generations with each chapter alternating between each generation. The first story is set in 1965 where two cops are gunned down in a bar. In subsequent chapters we flash back twelve months to meet these two cops. See how they became partners and follow the events that led up to their tragic deaths.
The second timeline is 1995 and we follow Homicide detective Jim Walczak. Jim’s father Stan was one of the cops killed in 1965 and his death has shaped Jim’s career. Jim has just caught a high profile murder but is distracted from the case. The man he believes shot his father has just been released from prison, sent away for a different crime, and Jim is going to get a confession out of him one or another and possibly his own version of justice.
The third timeline is 2015. Jim’s daughter Audrey is studying (and failing) forensic science and sees her grandfather’s unsolved murder as her ticket to graduation but the more she digs into the old case the more family secrets she begins to unearth and the man everyone thought was the shooter maybe completely different but it also maybe too late.
Swierczynski unfolds each story brilliantly and they could easily be their own stand alone stories. But as each story comes to its’ conclusion the tension is built tenfold each with a twist with huge ramifications for the next. This is an absolute masterclass in crime fiction by a writer I already knew was top shelf but who will now proved it to a lot more crime readers.
I don’t read short story collections and I certainly never read biographies or memoirs. Maxine has now blown me away writing both. She has been described as “a powerful new voice in Australian literature”. I’d like to make a few adjustments to that quote. Maxine Beneba Clarke is the powerful voice of Australian literature. Reading Foreign Soil was like being introduced to a raw power. Like most short story collections there were stories that burst out of the book and others that slowly simmered but in every story Maxine’s power as a writer was apparent and you came away from the collection knowing that when she turned her attention to one subject, one narrative for a whole book, it was going to be something to behold. And that is exactly what she had done with The Hate Race turning her attention on herself and her childhood growing up in Western Sydney.
Maxine recounts the story of her parent’s emigration to Australia from England in the early days after The White Australia policy was dismantled by The Whitlam Government of the 1970s. She tells her story growing up in Western Sydney as one of the few families of colour and the systemic, casual, overt and unrelenting racism she had to deal with from kindergarten through to high school; from teachers, parents and classmates alike. She shows how that affected her, how that changed her, how that made her who she is and how it unmade who she is. At times it is painful to read and at other times infuriating. Anger that is tempered by your own shame when you remember similar incidents from your own childhood growing up where you looked the other way, did or said nothing or maybe even contributed in one way or another through your own ignorance of what was going on around you and the pain it was causing. Maxine recounts all this with humour, humility and honesty.
For anyone who thinks Australia isn’t a racist country, read this book. For anyone who thinks casual racism isn’t hurtful, read this book. For anyone who thinks Australia has changed a lot in the last 30 years, read this book. For anyone that has ignored a racist comment because they haven’t wanted to get involved, read this book. For anyone who wants to know what Australia is really like, read this book.
There are books that are often described as important. It is a phrase that can get thrown about a bit too much and it’s true meaning gets lost or is diminished. But every now and then a book comes along that makes you sit up. A book that quite literally takes your breath away. Sucks it out of you and it is not until you stop reading that you truly notice what the book has done. A book that opens your eyes to something you knew was there but have failed to really acknowledge. A book that confronts you with its honesty and raw emotion. A book you wish everybody around you would read so that they too can have the same realization. A book like that is important. Maxine Beneba Clarke has written a very important book. An extraordinary book. A truly remarkable and powerful book. A book I hope as many people as possible will read.
I’ve reached the point now with Laura Lippman novels where I don’t even read the blurb anymore, I just know I’m going to love them no matter what. I vaguely knew this new book was about an attorney so I had it pegged as a possible legal thriller but of course with Laura Lippman it is way more than that. In fact at times the crime/mystery central to the story isn’t even apparent but you don’t care because Lippman builds such rich characters and story that you are already simply engrossed.
Lippman’s latest novel focuses on one family. Lu Brant, is the newly elected State Attorney for Howard County, Maryland; following in the footsteps of her father, despite everyone always assuming it would be her brother, AJ, that would take this path. She is determined to make her own name in the job and takes on the first case her office receives with gusto,despite it not being one that will be in the headlines. But as she prepares for a relatively straight-forward trial Lu’s family’s past begins weighing on her mind, with startling revelations.
As always Lippman builds the story perfectly, seamlessly blending together Lu’s story in the present with her memories growing up. You almost get so lost in Lu’s backstory that you forget about the impending trial of the present, so rich is the narrative Lippman weaves. There is a strong Harper Lee essence as Lu recounts the story of her and her brother growing up with their State Attorney father. But every family has its secrets and the true heart of this story is how we bury those secrets in our memories and how it only takes one strand to be pulled loose for the narrative of our own life to be turned upside down.
This is Laura Lippman once again at her absolute best; able to lose you so easily in the narrative but also keep you guessing all the way to the surprising end.
Whitney Terrell delivers one of the most original war novels in recent years and the most moving war novel I’ve read since Kevin Power’s The Yellow Birds.
In many ways this novel is a classic war story. A platoon that comes together during training, forges a bond, only for it to all fall apart under the pressures of war and combat. However it is the way in which Whitney Terrell tells this story that changes your perceptions and reinvents this war story by flipping everything on its head.
Firstly the good lieutenant of the title is a woman, making it the first war novel I know of with a female protagonist. Terrell doesn’t play the female lead as a novelty, instead he uses Lieutenant Emma Fowler to flesh out different aspects of war, combat, the military and being a leader in the most extreme, as well as the most banal, of situations. Terrell uses Fowler to explore what it means to be a good leader; the pressures, the expectations, the politics, and how no matter how good your intentions a good result is often unobtainable or just a matter of perception.
Secondly Terrell tells the entire story backwards. Rather than building the bonds of a platoon and then ripping those bonds apart Terrell begins with the bonds in tatters and goes backwards to show how those bonds were built and where the strengths, and weaknesses, in those bonds were forged and reinforced.
The novel opens with an operation going wrong, badly wrong. Lieutenant Fowler is leading a mission to recover the body of a member of her platoon who went missing on a previous operation days before. An Iraqi civilian has been killed and her platoon subsequently ripped to pieces in an ambush. Terrell then jumps back to show what happened to Fowler’s missing platoon member and then back again to detail the events that lead up to him going missing. The story continues going backwards showing all the elements, relationships, choices and uncertainties that lead, in one way or another, to the catastrophe at the opening of the novel. By the end of the novel the tragedy of its beginning is even more apparent than if the story was told in the traditional chronology. What has been lost more painful and how it has been lost more devastating.
This is another outstanding piece of fiction to join the canon of outstanding writing that has emerged from the tragedies of war over the last 15 years.
The Midnight Promise announced Zane Lovitt as a great new talent in Australian crime fiction. His new novel is even more incredible. Lovitt takes a wicked sense of humour and clever plotting to once again brilliantly subvert the crime genre.
The novel opens with a piece of classic noir. A man opens his door to an insurance salesman. He wants to take out life insurance because he is planning revenge and he doesn’t expect to survive from taking it out. By the end of the first chapter the subversion is already apparent and you know you are in a very different kind of crime novel.
Lovitt adds another piece to this revenge story and another character. Jason Ginaff is a bit of a social outcast. He spends his days vetting people online for companies, finding people’s darkest secrets online and showing them to their current, future or former employer. Jason often works under an alias, primarily because he is much more confident when he is trying to be someone else and it helps him remain private. When he has to be himself things tend fall to apart. So when he finally tracks down the man he thinks is his biological father, does he meet him first as Jason or as somebody else?
Lovitt quickly has these two seemingly disconnected stories weaved inextricably together. Lovitt plays off the conventions of the crime genre fantastically which makes for some darkly comic moments as well as plenty of surprises which will have you flicking back chapters discovering other bits you may have missed the first time around. The ending is mind-blowing and I am still trying to get my head around it, which I love.
Move over Peter Temple, your heir apparent has arrived and is breaking all the rules of crime fiction with a talent and skill that is unique, daring and quite simply a pleasure to behold on the page.
Norwegian By Night was one of my books of the year when it was published in 2012 and we loved it so much in the shop it was our bestselling book of that year (it even outsold Fifty Shades that year!). It was a literary thriller like no other that had a deep emotional resonance. In many ways it was a book that is almost impossible to follow up but Derek Miller has done just that in his timely new novel.
Before publishing Norwegian By Night Derek Miller worked in international affairs for over twenty years. In his new novel he calls upon his wealth of knowledge and experience to give us another emotionally moving thriller that looks at Iraq and the mess The West has made in the Middle East in the last twenty five years (and more). Miller makes what many say is too complex to understand and puts it in a context that is clear, precise and telling without ever being simple. He shows us the beginning of the mess that was made with the first Gulf War in 1991, the consequences this had for the second Gulf War in 2003 and shows how each war and our reaction in the West to both has ultimately led to the rise of ISIL and ISIS and how our continued attitude to the region is fuelling the problem.
The novel opens in 1991. The Gulf War is over and Kuwait has been liberated. US Army soldier Arwood Hobbes is stationed at Checkpoint Zulu, 240 kilometres from the Kuwaiti border where he meets British journalist Thomas Benton. They are both about to observe close hand the massacre of a Shia village by Saddam Hussein’s forces. Helpless to intervene they are forced to witness the death of a young girl wearing a green dress. Twenty-two years later Arwood contacts Benton. He has just seen a video of a girl in a green dress in a mortar attack on the Syrian/Kurdish/Iraqi border. He is convinced it is that same girl and that she is still alive and that this time they both must save her to right the wrong of the past that has had a deep impact upon both their lives.
Like Norwegian By Night, another writer could have taken this story in a variety of directions and delivered a completely different kind of novel but Miller cuts through the rhetoric and the cynicism and gets to the heart of what is happening in our world at the moment. A heart that, while it is full of conflict, is also full of hope. Miller manages to convey all this to the reader in a page-turner that is both funny and sad, intelligent and full of hope. This is a must read from a writer of extreme talent and compassion.
I absolutely loved The Passage. It totally blew me away it is depth of storytelling, its scope, its characterization, its structure. You name it, I loved it. I’ve read the book three times now and loved every bit of it each time. But I have to admit to being slightly disappointed with the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve. I don’t know if it was the weight of expectation or the troublesome curse of book two but it just didn’t reach the same heights for me. I even gave it a second reading before this book and while I enjoyed it much more than the first time around there were still parts that didn’t resonate with me and seemed to grate against the previous book. But Justin Cronin returns to form in the exciting conclusion.
The final book opens with the virals, who all but wiped out humanity, seemingly gone. Life is slowly returning to normal, slowly at first, as the surviving population hesitantly emerges from behind their walls and lights. But, as we know, all is not as it seems. The Twelve maybe all but gone but there is another. There is Zero. As the terrifying truth slowly approaches our heroes must band together one last time to save the world once and for all.
I loved how Cronin structured this final book. After reintroducing us to our favourite characters he goes back to tell the story of Tim Fanning, a novel almost in itself. Unlike the back story told at the beginning of The Twelve, this gels more evenly with the mythology Cronin has created and sets up the final epic showdown perfectly (but not before a few more twists are thrown in). The way Cronin slowly builds the approaching dread and terror is brilliant and reminded me why I loved The Passage so much.
This is the final installment this epic trilogy deserves and ensures this trilogy goes down as one of the best of its genre.
This is a truly wonderful novel that captures the outbreak of the Second World War in London which will hook you from the opening line: “War was declared at 11:15 and Mary North signed up at noon”. We follow Mary North, who from the war’s outset, is determined to use this tumultuous time to change the status quo. Mary is from a well to do family and rather than rest on her family name she wants to get involved in the war effort. She signs up immediately with dreams of becoming a spy or being involved in the newly forming war machine. Instead she is assigned as a school teacher and sent off to prepare the school children of London for evacuation. Mary takes this all in her stride and is even more determined to throw herself wholeheartedly into her new vocation.
Through Mary we meet Tom whose job it is to organise the schooling of those not evacuated. We also meet Tom’s roommate Alistair, an art restorer at the Tate, who also signs up immediately and is sent to France. Through Tom and Alistair we explore another side of the war; the guilt of those who stay behind and the transformation of those from civilian to soldier. After surviving the disaster at Dunkirk Alistair is transferred to Malta, where like those in London, he must survive the endless siege from the air of the Germans.
Cleave expertly captures the early days of the war with everybody disbelieving it can possibly be as bad as the government is trying to prepare them for. When the blitz does begin, much to everyone’s shock and sincere disappointment, he skillfully portrays the change of mood and stiff upper lip attitude employed by Londoners to get by. He contrasts all this with Alistair’s experience of the war showing that despite the contrasts between the Homefront and the frontlines there are also many similarities. Survival and sanity the key ones in both. As the war progresses Cleave conveys the steadfastness of this demeanour, both in London and in Malta, despite everything that happens to the contrary.
This is a truly amazing novel that left me shattered at many different moments. I haven’t read such an original take on the Second World War like this since Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, and those were both streets ahead of any other novel of the last ten to fifteen years. Cleave captures the spirit of a people so subtly and honestly and how that spirit is harnessed in order to survive. The sense of humour in the book is pitch perfect; dark, sardonic, self-deprecating, infused with camaraderie. At the same time Cleave also shows the darker side of human behaviour.
There are not enough superlatives to describe how brilliant this novel is.
I have read a lot of war fiction, especially the new wave that has been coming through in the last few years about Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a genre that, when done well, is visceral, shocking and gives you insight into experiences that are almost unimaginable. But it is also a genre that can easily slip into cliche, lessening its impact. Harry Parker takes a unique and unusual approach to his novel about war and in doing so sheds the burden of any cliche and gives the reader a whole new perspective of both sides of modern war and its repercussions.
Tom Barnes is a captain in the British Army in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. It is his job to lead a platoon on patrols and liaise with the local population as they deal with insurgents whose aim is to throw the foreign army out of their country. We follow Barnes as he tries to navigate through this world of IEDs and reprisals, where the mission and its outcomes are never clear. We also follow two local boys as one is drawn more and more into the insurgency and the two different paths they take which can’t help but intersect again. We also follow Barnes after he is wounded and his long and exhausting rehabilitation process to not only deal with his injuries but the civilian world he has returned to.
What sets this novel apart is the perspective Parker chooses to tell the story from. The novel is told from the point of view of 45 different objects. From a pair of army boots to a child’s bicycle, a bag of fertilizer to an IV drip. Parker uses these different objects to tell his three stories from every different angle and experience. This could easily go wrong or not last the length of a novel but Parker pulls it off partly due to how he structures the novel.
The story is not told in chronological order. Barnes’ story is mixed together. We start with him being wounded and move on to his recovery but this is mixed together with the beginning of his journey into war. The two boys’ story is also set on a different chronological line that is interwoven with Barnes’ timeline at different points in the novel. This may all sound like it gets confusing, which for a novel about war is not necessarily a bad thing, but Parker keeps everything together through the different perspectives. One of the devices he uses for this is to refer to Captain Tom Barnes only as his serial number, BA5799, before he is wounded. This has the added affect of making Barnes seem like just another instrument of war just like his boots, weapon, dog tags and helmet. After he is wounded, he is no longer a piece of army equipment and must become a person again.
Harry Parker has etched his name alongside the likes of Kevin Powers and Phil Klay in showing us the consequences of recent wars that don’t seem able to ever end. A powerful novel that not only gives you a new perspective on war but multiple perspectives.
This is a book I almost missed this year. I had an early review copy but it just sat in my TBR pile well after the book had been released. I don’t know why I kept passing it over but I am so glad I finally got around to picking it up. Sarah Hall is a superb writer and I am confused as to why this book has so far been overlooked for this year’s major literary prizes.
Rachel Caine is an expert on wolves. For the past ten years she has been working in Idaho studying wolf populations on the reservations. Keeping as far from home and her upbringing as she can manage. She is also distant from her colleagues, forging as little close relationships as possible. However she is drawn home by an ambitious plan to reintroduce the grey wolf to Britain. The plan is not without controversy, opposed by the local population.
The idea is driven by the Earl of Annerdale who has the political and financial capital to make the plan a reality. Rachel accepts the Earl’s offer to manage the project and returns home. Her mother has recently passed away and when Rachel finds herself pregnant she grasps the opportunity to not only restart her professional life but also her personal life. While she sets about smoothing over the locals concerns and arranging for the introduction of two wolves into a preserve that has been set aside she also sets about restoring her relationship with her estranged brother and preparing for the arrival of a new addition to her own new family.
Sarah Hall’s writing is absolutely captivating. Her descriptions of the wolves and their behaviour is cleverly set against and matched with Rachel’s experience of pregnancy and motherhood. Added to the backdrop of the story is Scotland’s quest for independence and the politics and conflict wrought by Britain’s class system and history of land ownership.
A deeply fascinating, evocative and personal story, this is one of the books of the year.
There’s been a bit in the news lately about how Amazon have finally entered the Australian book market and are selling Australian titles for the first time. Not only have they done this in an underhanded manner using a third party to fulfill their book orders but they have also done it in a way to minimize their tax bill in this country.
They haven’t made this move because they love Australian authors and stories. This is just another piece in Amazon’s strategy to have a monopoly on all books sales around the world.
Here at Boomerang Books we love Australian authors and stories. It is the reason why we went into business in the first place. We have always had a distinct focus and emphasis on Australian books, Australian authors and Australian publishers. We also love Australian independent bookshops, in fact we’re owned by one making us Australia’s online independent bookstore!
We truly care about the Australian Book Industry and we don’t want to see Amazon gut the industry from the inside out and become like the UK book market where books must either appease the giant supermarket chains or one retailer’s internet algorithm. What a boring, stale literary culture that would be for Australia.
Show your support for Australian books and when you want to buy a book by an Australian writer make sure you buy it from an Australian bookstore! We’ll make it even easier for you by offering you great discounts on Australian books and free postage if you use the promo code OzBooks.
Youngblood is very different from the above mentioned novels mainly because it is about a very different Iraq War. The narrator of the book is Lieutenant Jack Porter, who is leading a platoon of men in the last stages of the war. America is nearing the end of its involvement in Iraq with the new Iraqi Army being trained to takeover. Porter’s war is mainly dealing with the internal power struggles of the town surrounding his outpost, paying off local men and appeasing those whose lives have been affected by the ongoing violence in their country. It is his job to keep a lid on the fragile peace that has been eked out by those who have come before him, including his older brother.
Porter’s war is as dreary as the hot desert weather until he is assigned Sergeant Chambers, a veteran of a different time in Iraq who brings a new attitude to Jack’s platoon. He also brings with him his past reputation in the town they are stationed. Jack is determined to be rid of his new Sergeant and begins his own investigation into Chambers and his past in their area of operations. A past that swirls with rumours of civilian killings and an AWOL American soldier. A past that threatens to reignite the violence and reprisals that had appeared to be almost over.
Porter is determined to do one good thing in the war while at the same time making sure he can get all his men home and at times he is not sure he can do either. Porter must grapple with the complexities of a war that has not been clear for a very long time. Which is made less clear by the coming of an arbitrary end point that is meaningless to those who are involved and those who are caught in the middle.
Matt Gallagher expertly weaves together an intricate mystery and a tragic love story with the everlasting contradictions and hypocrisy of modern warfare. Compelling and insightful this is another great work of fiction about the Iraq War.
This fantastic novel bursts out of the blocks and doesn’t let go until you have finished. Sunil Yapa announces himself not just as a writer to watch but a writer to read right now. This is a powerful story, not just of protest, but finding your place in the world even after you discover what the world really is.
The backdrop to the novel is the World Trade Organization protests and subsequent riots in Seattle in 1999. The story follows a cast of characters over the course of a day; a homeless teenager, the chief of police, a Sri Lankan trade delegate, a protest organiser and two of the police on the frontlines. Each character’s story is entwined in a way with another and this changes throughout the day. Yapa keeps all these stories in perfect balance even as events spiral out of control, expertly capturing the mood and atmosphere of each vantage point he unfurls.
This is a coming of age novel not of a teen into adulthood (which is part of the story) but also adults into a new millennium and of nations into a new century. Yapa captures both the broken system but also the unrelenting tide of change that is hovering on the horizon. Change that is inevitable but not without a fight both from within the system as well as from without and how the lines between the two are not as clear as we think.
Sunil Yapa has written an incredible debut that will stop and make you think while you are swept along in the maelstrom and passion that is life.
This book is described as Edna O’Brien’s masterpiece on the cover, which is a complete understatement.
Set in the small Irish country town of Cloonoila the opening of the novel focuses on a new arrival to the town. A man claiming to be a healer has recently arrived and is causing a stir. The book flits between various townspeople and their different reactions and interactions with this new arrival. The small town is intrigued by the new figure and the medicines and healing philosophy he has brought with him. None more so that Fidelma who becomes infatuated with the man. When the man’s past finally catches up with him it has devastating consequences on all those who have come in contact with him. Especially Fidelma.
Edna O’Brien’s class as a writer shines through every word. The opening stories of the novel are reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge in the way their chronology and connection is at first not easily determined. The innocence of the townspeople leaches through to the reader and when the grim reality of who the stranger is revealed the repercussions are all the more shocking. The second half of the novel changes tack ever so skillfully and focuses on Fidelma and the fallout she must try to live with and live through.
This is a novel of love and evil; fairy tale and stark reality. It is confronting and challenging yet intensely readable and thoughtful. This is writing truly at its best, full of confidence and subtly that not only sucks you in as a reader but sets you up brilliantly for some expertly done changes of pace and tone. The perfect start to my 2016 reading.
John Vaillant’s debut novel follows in the steps of two exceptional non fiction books. The Tiger still resonates with me. Not only was he able to recreate the events of a series of tiger attacks in south-eastern Russia with suspense and fear permeating off the page but he also weaved together a history of the region and all the myths that surround tigers in various cultures. Vaillant takes the same skills to his first foray into fiction and the result is remarkable.
The best way I can sum this book up is to say it is a cross between The Kite Runner and The Tiger’s Wife. Vaillant tells a story that is both suspenseful and deeply moving. The clock is literally ticking but at the same time we get a rich tapestry of characters, cultures and issues that resonate throughout the world today.
The novel is told from Hector’s point of view. Hector is trapped inside an empty water tanker somewhere in the American desert. He and his fellow passengers have been abandoned by the coyotes who have smuggled them across the border from Mexico. Their water and supplies are slowly running out. Hector’s only hope is his friend Cesar’s mobile phone and the only American contact he can find on it.
As the battery dwindles Hector recounts to the unknown “AnniMac” his story of growing up in Oaxaca, a state in south-west Mexico. Hector reflects on his father and grandfather’s stories and how the region and Mexico as a whole has changed over the generations. Through these stories we get a portrait of a people’s hopes and dreams, their myths and legends and the importance of their land. We also begin to see their desperation for something better in the face of western exploitation than has become less visible but even more critical to their way of life.
John Vaillant has written a brilliant novel that will grip you to the final words of the epilogue. Like The Kite Runnerthis a beautiful portrait of a father and son that shines a light on a country that we normally read about for all the wrong reasons. And like The Tiger’s Wife it demonstrates the power of story in culture and memory. All told from the claustrophobic inside of a water tanker, stuck in the heat of the desert, in pitch darkness with power, water, food and time running out.
Sean Duffy returns in the eagerly anticipated fifth book in the Sean Duffy “trilogy”.
The year is 1987 and The Troubles are far from abating, especially around Sean Duffy who, with his knack for attracting trouble, is starting to show his weariness for its relentlessness. He still meticulously checks under his car each morning for bombs and still can’t maintain a relationship for any length of time. But when he gets a case that doesn’t add up he is still like a dog with bone; unable and unwilling to give it up.
When the body of Lily Bigelow is found inside Carrickfergus Castle it looks like an apparent suicide. No one else could have had access to the castle and there is no evidence of foul play. Sean Duffy is ready to sign off on the case but there are a few loose threads gnawing at him. As he starts to pick a way at them he soon uncovers something far more sinister in play. Something those above him don’t want him to uncover which makes it all the more difficult to prove. And he if can prove it will he be able to deliver justice?
McKinty paces this book brilliantly. Duffy’s malaise is perfectly instilled into the early plotting and when he gets a sniff of the larger picture the whole atmosphere of the novel shifts. Duffy’s need to see justice applied drives the last quarter of the novel and I am a little bit worried that Adrian McKinty may have found the perfect way to sign off on the series. I really hope not. Sean Duffy is an incredible addition to the crime fiction canon and still has not captured the audience this amazing series deserves. All the elements that make great crime fiction are here in spades; clever plots, political commentary, a true outsider as our hero and of course the perfect balance of humour and grim reality. If you haven’t read this series yet get your hands onThe Cold, Cold Ground immediately, especially if you are a crime fan of any persuasion. And if you have already discovered this wonderful series you are in for another sublime addition to the genre.
I must admit to slight reservations before reading this book. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was one of my favourite books of 2013, narrowly missing out on being my book of the year (I had to do a re-read of my top two to split them). What had me hesitant was that his follow up book was short stories. I am not completely adverse to short stories but they are not my favourite form of writing. I can also be quite cynical and I was a bit suspicious about following up a spectacular debut novel with a collection of short stories. Boy, was I wrong!!!!
Anthony Marra has written a worthy follow up to A Constellation of Vital Phenomena that will once again make you laugh, make you learn and break your heart. Through interconnected stories Marra takes us from Leningrad in 1937 through to St Petersburg in the modern day exploring life in the Soviet Union and modern day Russia. Full of dark humour Marra explores life under a totalitarian regime and the impact as that regime slowly disappears. He shows how people etch out their part in it and learn to survive, or not. At it’s heart it is a story about family and how no matter how hard others try and erase it, it is always there, enduring.
Each story told is self-contained and is writing of the highest order. There is no way to pick a favourite story, they all stand out. We begin with a Soviet censor in 1937 whose job it is to erase the pictures of those who have been denounced by Stalin’s purges. We then follow the granddaughter of a famous ballet dancer, who was denounced, erased by the censor and sent to an Arctic mining town. As the Soviet Union collapses, and capitalism comes to the new Russia, the ballet dancer’s granddaughter is given the opportunity to escape the exiled existence her family has been sentenced to, but at a cost. We meet a Russian soldier conscripted to Chechnya and later taken prisoner. We meet an art museum curator in Grozny trying to rebuild after two wars. And we meet a father and son in St Petersburg, each of whom are looking for answers for questions they can’t or won’t ask. Anthony Marra ties all these lives together in a beautiful and poignant way with writing that grabs you from the opening page all the way through to the ending, breaking your heart numerous times along the way.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena announced Anthony Marra as an exceptional talent to watch. His new book book confirms it. This is a writer you are not only going to hear a lot about right now but for many, many years to come.
What another great year of reading! The great books didn’t seem to stop this year. My favourite read of the year was nearly tipped out by a trilogy and my big discovery of the year was Ben Aaronovitch and the Peter Grant series. So here it is my top 5 reads of 2015 (plus 5 more).
This is an outstanding novel that deserves all the accolades and then some. It is so witty and cutting in it’s dissection of America’s attitude to the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it the American War). It is not just an anti-war novel but it is THE anti-Vietnam War novel bringing a perspective to the war, the conflict and it’s aftermath, that has been purposely ignored all these years.
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I almost completely missed this book! If it wasn’t for the Karl Marlantes quote on the back cover I would never have picked it up and what a tragedy that would have been. This is an outstanding novel that deserves all the accolades and then some. It is so witty and cutting in it’s dissection of America’s attitude to the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it the American War). It is not just an anti-war novel but it is THE anti-Vietnam War novel bringing a perspective to the war, the conflict and it’s aftermath, that has been purposely ignored all these years.
The novel is told in the form of a confession by a North Vietnamese spy. He recounts his life growing up in Vietnam, the bastard son of a French father and Vietnamese mother. His time at an American university and his recruitment as a communist sleeper agent in South Vietnam. The story opens with the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the chaos of the American evacuation. Our narrator flees with countless other refugees to America where he bides his time in the land of his enemy. But far from his homeland, where the war seems to now be over, he begins to doubt his commitment to the cause and what the cause is that he is supposedly fighting for.
Viet Thanh Nguyen injects the story with a truly wicked sense of humour that reminds me a lot of The Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka. His complete deconstruction of American Vietnam War films is utterly brilliant and you will never watch Apocalypse Now the same way again. He also expertly captures the confusion, the cynicism, the betrayals and the outright hypocrisy which has framed the Vietnam War over the last forty years. The heart of the novel though is the dichotomy that is the entire Vietnam War. The actual divided country of North and South that continued after reunification, the polarity of what actually happened in the war versus America’s portrayal of it and the two minds of our narrator as his mind is slowly torn in two over loyalty, love and freindship.
Like All Quiet On The Western Front this is a novel that cannot and should not be ignored. If you have read any literature, fiction or non-fiction, on the Vietnam War this needs to be on your shelf and in your hands as soon as humanly possible.
This is an incredible read. Mesmerizing, hypnotic, addictive it captures you from its opening lines and doesn’t let go long after you have put the book down.
The book tells the story of Sophie Stark, a reclusive film director. Her life is told from the point of view of those closest to her, recounting the key moments in her life and infused with their experience of her and their feelings for her. Sophie’s life is told in individual vignettes, almost reminiscent of The Virgin Suicides. Adding to this the films of Sophie Stark have a distinct Sofia Coppola quality to them; dreamlike, lonely, deeply emotional. Sophie Stark has a different way of looking at the world. One that has always put her on the outside, especially growing up. She has always struggled to express herself until she discovers film in college and makes a short documentary about a fellow student (who she is obsessed with) which launches her career.
Sophie’s films break boundaries and conventions and win plaudits and admirers of her work. Sophie not only has an eye for film but also a way to bring out the best in the actors and often non-actors she works with. Sophie herself, as well as her films, have a way of getting people to find things in themselves. But she does this at a cost to her relationships and the relationships around her which only serves to keep her on the outside.
Just like the novel’s narrators you are drawn into the enthralling world of Sophie Stark; her influence, her attention, her loneliness and the power she has to wield these to get what she wants. At times inspiring, at other times tragic this is a truly exceptional piece of fiction.
This is essentially a comedy set in a Dublin investment bank post-Global Financial Crisis. While there doesn’t seem to be much to laugh about the financial crisis in Europe Paul Murray has written a witty and insightful novel that will have you in stitches. At the same time he blurs the lines between the reader and the writer with a meta storyline that doesn’t just have everything come full circle upon itself but creates an almost helix that keeps going even after you finish the book! http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Mark-and-the-Void/Paul-Murray/book_9780241146668.htm
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This is history writing at it’s finest. Taking a small microcosm to tell the story of a country over the last 100 years.
On a trip to Berlin in 2013 author Thomas Harding visited the summer lake house his great-grandfather built. Upon discovering the house in disrepair and scheduled for demolition Harding began researching the history of the house and it’s occupants. Harding traces back the story of the small village and the estate that the house is built in and then tells the story of each occupant.
Following the First World War a young doctor builds the house as a weekend and summer escape from Berlin. Following the Nazis’ rise to power in the 1930s they are forced to give up the house and flee to England. The house changes hands again following the Second World War as Berlin and Germany is carved up by the victorious Allies. The building of the Berlin Wall literally cuts the house off from the lake. And after the wall comes down and Germany is reunited the true owner of the house is hotly disputed until Harding pays his visit in 2013.
Telling the story of Germany through this one house gives a new and deeply personal perspective of what has happened in Germany in the last 100 years. From the turmoil of the Weimar Republic to the rise of Nazism to The Stasi and the end of the Cold War this book shows how history affected the people living through like no other book on the subject.
This is a marvelous piece of non fiction and I am reliably informed the author’s previous book Hanns and Rudolf is even more outstanding. I can’t wait to read it too.
This is history writing at it’s finest. Taking a small microcosm to tell the story of a country over the last 100 years. On a trip to Berlin in 2013 author Thomas Harding visited the summer lake house his great-grandfather built. Upon discovering the house in disrepair and scheduled for demolition Harding began researching the history of the house and it’s occupants. Harding traces back the story of the small village and the estate that the house is built in and then tells the story of each occupant. http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/House-by-the-Lake/Thomas-Harding/book_9780434023233.htm
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