Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

nullThis 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.

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Review: Spoils by Brian Van Reet

9781910702970I 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, Redeployment and 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.

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Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

9781473621435Becky 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.

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Review: Passchendaele: Requiem for Doomed Youth by Paul Ham

9781864711448Paul 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.

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Review: Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil by Melina Marchetta

9780670079100I 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..

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Review: The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jack Serong

9781925355215Jock 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.

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Review: The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

9780007313273On 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!

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Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

9780708898376An 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.

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Review: Revolver by Duane Swierczynski

9781444754247I’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.

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Review: The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

9780733632280I 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.

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Review: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

9780571321759I’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.

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Review: The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell

9781509837441Whitney 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.

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Review: Black Teeth by Zane Lovitt

The Midnight Promise announced9781925355147 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.

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Review: The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller

9781925106954Norwegian 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.

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Review: The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

9780752897912I 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.

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Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

9781473618701 (2)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.

Buy the book here…

Review: Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker

9780571325825 (1)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.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

T9780571258130his 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.

Buy the book here…

Review: Youngblood by Matt Gallagher

9781501105746I have had this book on my radar for a while despite the book not being published until February next year. Matt Gallagher was one of the editors and contributors to an impressive collection of war stories, Fire And Forget, which featured a number of top writers including David Abrams and National Book Award winner Phil Klay. At the time of reading it I knew each writer in that collection was somebody worth looking out for and I have yet to be proven wrong. So the moment I heard Matt Gallagher had a forthcoming novel I was on the lookout for it.

The United States has been at war for over a decade. And like previous conflicts out of the tragedy and horror there has been some incredible books written and published. Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds and Phil Klay’s Redeployment have been outstanding achievements in fiction and will be classics for generations to come. Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, David Abrams’ Fobbit and Michael Pitre’s Fives And Twenty-Fives have each added to this list of powerful, satirical and insightful works of literature examining war in the 21st century. And now there is Matt Gallagher’s Youngblood to add to this list.

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.

Buy the book here…

Review: Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist by Sunil Yapa

9781408707401This 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.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

9780571316298This 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.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

9780544315495John 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.

Buy the book here…

Review: Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty

9781781254554Sean 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.

Buy the book here

Review: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

9781781090480I 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.

Buy the book here…

Christmas shopping list

 

Queues, dodgy carols, aching legs, confusion over what size feet my nephew has. Not for me, this Christmas. This year I’m avoiding the festive-season shopping chaos and buying everyone a book and a pig (or maybe an orangutan). Here’s what my Christmas list looks like.

For my Teen Son: Legacy by Tim Cahill

LegacyBlurb: The story of one of the most admired Australian sportsmen,  international football star Tim Cahill. With his trademark honesty and directness, Tim reflects on what it takes to make it to the top – the sacrifices, the physical cost, the mental stamina, the uncompromising self-belief and self-determination, the ruthlessness, but also the decency, the integrity, and the generosity. An autobiography that is more than a record of the goals and the games, Tim Cahill’s story is a universal reminder of the importance of making your moment count.

For my other Teen Son: Rich and Rare, edited by Paul Collins

Rich & RareBlurb: A collection of stories and artwork from Australia’s best loved writers and illustrators.  With pieces by Shaun Tan, Leigh Hobbs, James Roy, Justin D’Ath, Kirsty Murray, Simon Higgins, Gary Crew, Scot Gardner, there’s something for everyone.

For my Hubbie: A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James

A brief history of seven killingsBlurb: A Brief History of Seven Killings chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – slum kids, one-night stands, drug lords, girlfriends, gunmen, journalists, and even the CIA. Gripping and inventive, ambitious and mesmerising, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the most remarkable and extraordinary novels of the twenty-first century.

For my Dad: Napoleon’s Last Island by Tom Keneally

Napoleon's Last IslandBlurb: Betsy Balcombe as a young woman lived with her family on St Helena. They befriended, served and were ruined by their relationship with Napoleon. To redeem the family’s fortunes William Balcombe, Betsy’s father, betrays Napoleon and accepts a job as the colonial treasurer of NSW, but William never recovers from the ups and downs of association with Napoleon. Tom Keneally, with his gift for bringing historical stories to life, shares this remarkable friendship and the beginning of an Australian dynasty.

For my Mum: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

The Secret ChordBlurb: A unique and vivid novel that retells the story of King David’s extraordinary rise to power and fall from grace. With stunning originality, acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks offers us a compelling portrait of a morally complex hero from this strange age – part legend, part history. Full of drama and richly drawn detail, The Secret Chord is a vivid story of faith, family, desire and power that brings David magnificently alive.

For my God-daughter: The Red Queen, by Isobelle Carmody

The Red QueenBlurb: The time has come at last for Elspeth Gordie to leave the Land on her quest to find and stop the computermachine Sentinel from unleashing the deadly Balance of Terror arsenal. But before she can embark on her quest, she must find a lost key; and although she has long prepared for this day, nothing is as she imagined. This is the final, dramatic volume in series of books that undoubtedly shines as one of the most fantastic, and fantastical, tapestries ever woven.

For my Nephew: Two Wolves, by Tristan Banks

Two WolvesBlurb: One afternoon, police officers show up at Ben Silver’s front door. Minutes after they leave, his parents arrive home. Ben and his little sister Olive are bundled into the car and told they’re going on a holiday. But are they? It doesn’t take long for Ben to realise that his parents are in trouble. Ben’s always dreamt of becoming a detective – his dad even calls him ‘Cop’. Now Ben gathers evidence and tries to uncover what his parents have done. The problem is, if he figures it out, what does he do? Tell someone? Or keep the secret and live life on the run?

For my Niece: The Call of the Wild – Choose Your Own Ever After, by Julie Fison (a very good read, even if I do say so myself)

The Call of the Wild - Choose Your Own Ever AfterBlurb: Phoebe Wright and her besties, Annabel and Kimmi have been invited to the coolest party of the year! But when Phoebe realises it’s on the same night as her Wild Club’s movie-night fundraiser, she’s totally torn about what to do. In this pick-a-path story, the reader gets to decide how the story goes.

Save the OrangutansFor everyone: Pigs and Goats by World Vision or Orangutans by Save the Orangutan.

Merry Christmas!

Julie xx

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

9781472151377I 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.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

9781474603072 (1)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.

Buy the book here…

Review: The House By The Lake by Thomas Harding

9780434023233This 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.

Buy the book here…

Would You Like To Win A $2000+ Book Pack This Christmas?

We’ve got a MASSIVE sack full of books worth over $2000 to give away to one lucky customer!

And we’re not talking about a pile of slow-moving titles; we’re talking 40+ new release, best-selling titles, including books by Ian Rankin, Geraldine Brooks, Donna Hay, Jo Nesbo, Tom Keneally, Shaun Tan, Bill Bryson, Peter FitzSimons, Adam Spencer, Robert Harris, Kate Atkinson and Don Winslow.

Imagine landing this fantastic sack of books in time for Christmas!

How do I enter?  It’s easy!

1. Order a book from Boomerang Books between now and 5pm AEST on Friday 18 December 2015.

2. At the checkout, enter and activate the promotional code santassack (or any of the other qualifying promotional codes that we publicise between now and Christmas).

3. Using the promotional code on your order will give you an entry in the Santa’s Sack draw PLUS you’ll get free shipping on your order (a saving of $6.95).  The more orders you place, the more entries you get in the draw!

PS. We’ll also throw in a soccer ball and a signed Tim Cahill shirt 🙂

VISIT BOOMERANG BOOKS RIGHT NOW TO ENTER THE DRAW…

Terms and conditions here… 

 

Get Free Shipping on the Boomerang Books Christmas Catalogue

Looking for great Christmas gifts to buy for your loved ones? Books make fantastic gifts at Christmas time! And to make your job easier, we’ve released our annual Christmas Catalogue.

If you order from our Christmas Catalogue before midnight on Sunday 15 November, you’ll get FREE shipping on your order when you use the promotional code xmascat at the checkout.

PLUS, by using the promo code, you’ll also go into the draw to win a huge book pack in our Santa’s Sack competition (which will be announced later this week!).

Follow the links below to order your books from Boomerang Books today:

 

  
   

  

   

  
   

  
   

  


 

Review: Slade House by David Mitchell

Time is,
Time was,
Time is not

11221460_889655257754156_5258152833153975201_nWhat a bonus it is to have a new David Mitchell book only a year after the incredible The Bone Clocks. David Mitchell started this story on twitter but became obsessed with the story he had started and needed to see it through. The result is a ghost story in the hands and imagination of David Mitchell with is scary, compelling and amazing.

Some authors when they right shorter fiction can dilute themselves but with David Mitchell it is the opposite. Instead everything you love about David Mitchell is distilled into a story you will have to try very hard not to read in one go. Regardless of this book being a third of the length of The Bone Clocks or Cloud Atlas all the elements that make a David Mitchell novel something outstanding are all here. The four parts of the novel each have four distinct narrators and styles. Each part is set nine years apart and David Mitchell captures each different time as only he can. And despite there only being 233 pages David Mitchell’s imagination still soars.

Slade House is both a classic ghost story and a reinterpretation for the 21st century. Firmly set within the David Mitchell universe fans will love spotting all the different connections and there is even a hint of where David Mitchell will go next. If you haven’t read him before this is the perfect starter. All the wondrous flavours and tastes are here to relish and enjoy. I promise you you will be addicted in no time.

Buy the book here…

The Book Brief: The Very Best New Release Books in October

 

Each month we bring you the best new release books in our Book Brief.

Get FREE shipping when you use the promo code bookbrief at checkout


Fiction Books

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

This is a story about war, murder, sex, romance, betrayal and incest. King David is a man we think we know something about but we know very little. History, legend and myth converge around the David and Goliath story. Although little is known about him Geraldine Brook’s fiction brings the man and his times to life, so much so we begin to think it is all true. A very human account of a complex man. Chris

Golden Age by Jane Smiley

The third novel in the dazzling Last Hundred Years Trilogy from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. 1987. A visit from a long-lost relative brings the Langdons together again on the family farm; a place almost unrecognisable from the remote Iowan farmland Walter and Rosanna once owned. Whilst a few have stayed, most have spread wide across the US, but all are facing social, economic and political challenges unlike anything their ancestors encountered. After a hundred years of personal change and US history, filled with words unsaid and moments lost, Golden Age brings to a magnificent conclusion the century-long portrait of one unforgettable family.

Dictator by Robert Harris

There was a time when Cicero held Caesar’s life in the palm of his hand. But now Caesar is the dominant figure and Cicero’s life is in ruins. Riveting and tumultuous, Dictator encompasses some of the most epic events in human history yet is also an intimate portrait of a brilliant, flawed, frequently fearful yet ultimately brave man – a hero for his time and for ours. This is an unforgettable tour de force from a master storyteller.

The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray

This is a comic masterpiece about love, art, greed and the banking crisis, from the author of Skippy Dies.  What links the Investment Bank of Torabundo, (yes, hots with an s, don’t ask), an art heist, a novel called For the Love of a Clown, a four-year-old boy named after TV detective Remington Steele, a lonely French banker, a tiny Pacific island, and a pest control business run by an ex-KGB man? You guessed it…

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of economic and social collapse. When they see an advertisement for the Positron Project in the town of Consilience – a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own – they sign up immediately. A sinister, wickedly funny novel about a near-future in which the lawful are locked up and the lawless roam free, The Heart Goes Last is Margaret Atwood at her heart-stopping best.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

Brings together for the first time the first three official prequel novellas to A Song of Ice and Fire, set in an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living memory. Featuring more than 160 illustrations by Gary Gianni, one of the finest fantasy artists of our time, this beautiful volume will transport readers to the world of the Seven Kingdoms in an age of bygone chivalry.

Non Fiction Books

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

Over twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his home. The hilarious book he wrote about that journey, Notes from a Small Island, became one of the most loved books of recent decades, and was voted in a BBC poll as the book that best represents Britain. Now, for his first travel book in fifteen years, Bryson sets out again, on a long-awaited, brand-new journey around the UK.

Fascinating Footnotes From History by Giles Milton

Did you know that Hitler took cocaine? That Stalin robbed a bank? That Charlie Chaplin’s corpse was filched and held to ransom? Giles Milton is a master of historical narrative: in his characteristically engaging prose, Fascinating Footnotes From History details one hundred of the quirkiest historical nuggets; eye-stretching stories that read like fiction but are one hundred per cent fact.

Paris In Style by Janelle McCulloch

Having written three bestselling books about Paris, journalist, author and photographer Janelle McCulloch thought she knew most of the best places in which to stay, wander and explore. But the more time she spent in Paris, the more she realised how much there was still to discover. Paris in Style reveals this city’s most surprising and fascinating fashion, design and style destinations. It is the ultimate insider’s guide for travellers seeking style, creative inspiration and unforgettable experiences.

The White Road by Edmund De Waal

Acclaimed writer and potter Edmund de Waal sets out on a quest – a journey that begins in the dusty city of Jingdezhen in China and travels on to Venice, Versailles, Dublin, Dresden, the Appalachian Mountains of South Carolina and the hills of Cornwall to tell the history of porcelain.

The Lost Tudor Princess by Alison Weir

This is the biography of an extraordinary life that spanned five Tudor reigns, a life packed with intrigue, drama and tragedy. A brave survivor, she was instrumental in securing the Stuart succession to the throne of England for her grandson. Her story deserves to be better known.

Australia’s Second Chance by George Megalogenis

Our second chance is now; will we use it or lose it? Crunching numbers and weaving history into a riveting, rollicking tale, George Megalogenis brilliantly chronicles the waves of immigration from the First Fleet onwards and uses his unique abilities in decoding economics and demography to advance this new insight into our history, and our future.

Food For Family by Guillaume Brahimi

Celebrated French – Australian chef Guillaume Brahimi visits some of Australia’s most charming and stylish homes, creating delicious menus inspired by the people and place, and discovering what makes a house a home. This is big-hearted, full-flavoured food, perfect for sharing with those you love.

Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden by Janet Hawley

For more than twenty years Wendy Whiteley has worked to create a public garden at the foot of her harbourside home in Sydney’s Lavender Bay. This is the extraordinary story of how a determined, passionate and deeply creative woman has slowly transformed an overgrown wasteland into a beautiful sanctuary for everyone to enjoy – and in the process, transformed herself.

When It’s Right To Be Wrong by Russel Howcroft

Whether he’s selling beer, health insurance or the army, former adman Russel believes in the power of the idea, and that creativity is needed to make good things happen. Whether it’s about business or everyday life, Russel knows sometimes you simply have go against the tide.

More Letters of Note by Shaun Usher

More Letters of Note is another rich and inspiring collection, which reminds us that much of what matters in our lives finds its way into our letters. These letters deliver the same mix of the heartfelt, the historically significant, the tragic, the comic and the unexpected.

Pacific by Simon Winchester

Travelling the circumference of the truly gigantic Pacific, Simon Winchester tells the story of the world’s largest body of water, and – in matters economic, political and military – the ocean of the future. Navigating the newly evolving patterns of commerce and trade, the world’s most violent weather and the fascinating histories, problems and potentials of the many Pacific states, Simon Winchester’s thrilling journey is a grand depiction of the future ocean.

Childrens’ Picture Books

Counting Lions by Virginia McKenna

This is a simply stunning picture book that you will want for yourself as much as for the kids. Illustrated with exquisitely detailed charcoal drawings of endangered animals, this book works as both a basic counting book, an introduction to ecology and as a view into the lives and habits of the 10 animals listed. For art lovers, animal lovers and the whole family. Ian

Deep In The Woods by Christopher Corr

A retelling of the Russian folk tale Teremok. A little mouse finds the perfect little house in the woods, then comes along rabbit and mouse asks him to live in the little house. Then owl and many more animals until bear climbs on the roof and the little house crashes to the ground. Can he put everything right? The most amazing colour and illustrations. Jan

Paris: Up, Up and Away by Helen Druvert

The Eiffel Tower is bored – wouldn’t it be nice to fly away. So it decides to take off for the day and watch the city work and play. A magical crafted book to delight young and older readers. A great gift for children and adults. Jan

Books for First Readers

Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig by Clara Dulliamy

A beautifully illustrated collection of four stories about the friendship between Mango, a little girl, and Bambang, an Asian Tapir. Mango Allsorts is good at all sorts of things. Bambang is definitely not a pig but lost in a big city. When they meet a friendship begins filled with adventure and lots of banana pancakes. The perfect read for those just becoming confident at reading alone. Jan

Books for Young Readers

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

From the author of the Percy Jackson novels comes a new series and we are all very excited. This time Riordan breathes new life into the Norse myths. Magnus Chase, a 16 year old homeless boy discovers on his 16th birthday that he is the son of a Norse god, there for a demigod and of course he has to save the world! Full of exciting action scenes and plenty of laughs this new series is sure to be a big hit! Ian  

Grandpa’s Great Escape by David Walliams

Hoorah !! A new novel form David Walliams, get ready to laugh till your jaw hurts. Jake’s grandfather eats funny food, wears his slippers to the supermarket and can’t always remember Jake’s name but he always ready to take to the skies in his spitfire and save the day. A story full of heart, adventure and the bond between a boy and his beloved grandfather. And did I mention it is really, really funny? Ian

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

In this magnificent reimagining of the form he originated, two stand-alone stories-the first in nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, the second in prose-create a beguiling narrative puzzle. A gripping adventure and an intriguing invitation to decipher how the two narratives connect, “The Marvels” is a loving tribute to the power of story from an artist at the vanguard of creative innovation.

Books for Young Adults

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On follows the triumphs and heartaches of Simon and Baz from Fangirl. Simon just wants to enjoy his last year at Watford School of Magicks but lifes dramas get in the way. Ghosts, vampires and evil things are trying to shut Simon down. With love, mystery and melodrama this is another fabulous read from Rainbow Rowell. Jan

 

 

Review: Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks

9780091936846Sebastian Faulks’ new novel is quite simply superb. Tackling themes he has explored before Faulks delivers an original novel that is haunting, beautiful and profound that will resonate all the way through you.

Dr Robert Hendricks is a veteran of the Second World War who lost his father in the First. These two wars have not only shaped his life but also his thinking as a psychiatrist. He is contacted by an aging French doctor, who served with his Father in the First World War, as a possible literary executor of his estate. Hendricks travels to an island of the south of France to meet with the man who also has information about his father whom he never met. A meeting which finds Robert delving into his own memories of war as he confronts his father’s experience of his.

Faulks’ writing as always is sublime. The scenes of Robert’s war recollections in Tunisia and Anzio are some of the best war writing since Birdsong and his explorations of the human mind and what we call madness reminiscent of Human Traces. The heart of the story is about the madness of the 20th Century and how our memories are shaped in order to survive what we experience. And how love, loss, madness and grief are each inextricably entwined and influence our lives.

Heartfelt and heartbreaking, insightful and inventive this is Sebastian Faulks at his best.

Buy the book here…

Review: Some Luck by Jane Smiley

9781447275602I missed this book last year and picked it up after a customer raved about how this and it’s sequel were among the best books they had ever read. And after finishing this she may well be right!

This is the first book in The Last Hundred Years trilogy. Book two, Early Warning, is already out and book three, Golden Age, is being published in October and I am going to resist as much as I possible can not to jump straight into book two, even though I absolutely want to.

The book begins in 1920 in Iowa and tells the story of The Langdons. Walter has recently returned home from the First World War. He and his new wife, Rosanna, have settled on a remote farm to start their life and their family. We get to know The Langdons through their ups and downs on the farm and the birth of their children. We follow each new Langdon as they make their way in the world and witness how each member of the family deal with history’s big moments; The Depression, World War Two and the beginnings of The Cold War in the 1950s. There are triumphs, there are tragedies, lives are changed and lives stay the same.

Jane Smiley’s writing is fantastic. She eases you into the family she has created and before you know it you are completely sucked into the story. You will fall in love with each character in a different way and share in the highs and lows of their lives. The big historical events, that are so familiar to us, effect each character in a different way, some small and some big. In telling the story from different perspectives she subtly fleshes out the context of each event showing both its importance and significance as well as its unimportance and insignificance. A rare thing to be able to pull off and pull off well.

I had not read Jane Smiley before and I cannot wait to get into the rest of this magnificent trilogy.

Buy the book here…

Review: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

9780062351555I am a huge fan of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series so when I saw he had a new book coming out I had to read it.

On the surface this appears to be a cyber-thriller about hacking. But in the hands of Chuck Wendig it goes somewhere quite different. The book opens and we are introduced to five different hackers; an activist, a professional troller, an old-school hacker, a money skimmer and an amateur hacker completely out of his depth. They have all come to the Government’s attention in their various ways, for various crimes, and each of them is rounded up and offered a deal: come and work for the Government for a year or spend the next ten years in jail. They each take the deal.

But working for the Government doesn’t mean they all become cyber-spies instead they are whisked off to a secret camp with other hackers who are all put to the test to see what they can and can’t do. No one knows which agency they are working for; the NSA? The CIA? Or something more secretive. But as they do their testing (and some of their own digging) they start to uncover a secret project called Typhon. But the more they dig, the more they unearth and once Project Typhon is exposed it might already be too late.

Wendig weaves together a fantastic hacker thriller that halfway through takes a massive  and very clever twist. Utilizing all our existing technology Wendig creates a truly scary scenario that is also wickedly entertaining. If you loved Max Barry’s Lexicon or are a fan of Duane Swierczynski Zer0es is a great place to discover the brilliance that is Chuck Wendig. And I can’t wait to read his Star Wars novel later in the year!

Buy the book here…

Review: The End of All Things by John Scalzi

9781447290490John Scalzi returns to the Old Man’s War universe for his next fantastic installment. Following on from The Human Division, which was told over thirteen episodes, this time Scalzi tells his story over four novellas and once again demonstrates his total mastery in whatever form or perspective he chooses to tell his stories.

Have firming established his universe over four previous novels Scalzi has relished the chance to explore its complexities over the last two books through the world of high stakes, interstellar diplomacy. Things were not looking good for the human species at the end of The Human Division. Earth had split away from the Colonial Union which has drastic consequences for the Colonial Union’s defensive and colonizing capabilities. The Conclave, a coalition of alien species whose aim it is to bring peace and stability to the universe, has intentionally or unintentionally found itself as a wedge between Earth and The Colonial Union as each party scramble to form new allegiances. Enter a new shadow group whose intentions are to bring everything crashing down.

Scalzi tells the story from the point of view of a high ranking Conclave diplomat, a Colonial Union platoon lieutenant, a Colonial Union diplomat (Harry Wilson) and a brain in a box (yes you read that correctly). The brilliance of John Scalzi is that each story works perfectly well on it’s own but together slowly draws out the plot to bring so-called equilibrium to the universe.

I loved returning to this universe so much. John Scalzi is a dead set genius and I can’t wait for there to be more from this series wherever and whenever that may be.

Buy the book here…

The Book Brief: The Very Best New Release Books in September

Each month we bring you the best new release books in our Book Brief.

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Fiction Books

Sweet Caress by William Boyd

The new William Boyd is simply sublime. Sweet Caress tells the story of photographer Amory Clay and her tumultuous life over the course of a tumultuous century. William Boyd is a master storyteller and takes this gift to new and different heights with the character of Amory Clay. Sweet Caress is a wonderful novel you won’t want to say goodbye to. Jon

Where My Heart Used To Beat by Sebastian Faulks

Dr Robert Hendricks is a veteran of the Second World War who lost his father in the First. These two wars have not only shaped his life but also his thinking as a psychiatrist. He is contacted by an aging French doctor, who served with his Father, as a possible literary executor of his estate. Hendricks travels to an island of the south of France to meet with the man who also has information about his father whom he never met. A meeting which finds Robert delving into his own memories of war as he confronts his father’s experience of his. Jon

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

Two words sum up this amazing novel, power and idealism. Power and idealism in relationships, business, politics. Pip Tyler is trying to find out who she is and who she wants to be. She takes us from Oakland to Germany and Boliva in this quest. A novel like Corrections that will have you thinking about what is right and what is wrong. Pip is a character you will grow to love. Chris

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

A darkly comic romp that blends a sense of humour, a sense the absurd and a sense of the surreal in a way that would make even Wes Anderson envious. Thoughtful, clever, playful and inventive Patrick deWitt captures you from the opening pages and sucks you into this surreal, absurdist world of small wars, Barons, Dukes & Counts and very large holes. If you loved The Sisters Brothers this is going to blow your mind. A wonderful, thrillingly original novel from an author whose work is like no other. Jon

Make Me by Lee Child

There is no doubting Lee Child’s ability to craft a page-turner thriller. He is a grandmaster at his craft, and his legion of fans will undoubtedly enjoy his latest. Make Me is packed with all the essential Reacher elements. He arrives in the small town of Mother’s Rest – and is immediately catapulted into the mystery behind a private detective’s disapearance, and faces up against some of his most brutal opposition yet!  Simon

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

This is a tour-de-force excursion into good, evil, and the labyrinth of human motivations. Emma Viskic has created a brilliant protagonist in the profoundly-deaf, and irrepressibly obstinate Caleb Zelic, and has produced one of the year’s best crime novels. This debut is stripped-down and raw, and packs one helluva punch. Simon

Noonday by Pat Barker

London is burning and Londoners are burning too. Dust, dirt, gas, total disruption and destruction are the images Pat Barker depicts and the endless cups of tea. She brings all this into focus with language by fictionalising the lives of three war time artists. Just as she did with poets in her Regeneration trilogy. The artists see the results of the bombing first hand as stretcher bearers and ambulance drivers. But how to paint it? The truth or what the Ministry wants? Is the truth too much? Is it best to paint what is beautiful? Chris

The Crossing by Andrew Miller

A young woman falls from a boat that she is repairing. Unfortunately there is no guard rail and they are not at sea. Maybe she was affected by the fumes of the pitch. The other person on the boat, Tim, rescues her and eventually marries her. She is unusual woman self contained and maybe not made for marriage. When sadness enters their lives she sails away. A truly mesmerising novel about differences and how we cope weith them.  Chris

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily

A family with many others is being taken away from the city of Rome during the war for being Jewish. A mother with three children hands over her young son to a passing Italian woman, Chiara. What a moment and so the story grows.The boy is loved but he is another casualty of war and never really recovers. A heartbreaking, wonderful read. There must be many stories like these where people made agonising choices. Chris

We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

As a single parent, Letty does everything for her two children apart from raise them. Being a mother terrifies her so she always lets the grandparents take that role. However when they leave she just has to get on with it. In her previous book the Language of Flowers Diffenbaugh used flowers to define her characters this time it is feathers. Chris

Non Fiction Books

The Man With The Golden Type Writer by Fergus Fleming

Before the world-famous films came the world-famous novels. This books tells the story of the man who wrote them and how he created spy fiction’s most compelling hero. Ian Fleming  wrote constantly, to his wife, publisher, editors, fans, friends and critics, charting 007’s progress with correspondence that ranged from badgering Jonathan Cape about his quota of free copies — a coin was tossed; Fleming lost – to apologising for having mistaken a certain brand of perfume and for equipping Bond with the wrong kind of gun. His letters also reflect his friendships with contemporaries such as Raymond Chandler, Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham.

The Edible City by Indira Naidoo

Join Indira as she visits some of Australia’s most innovative and memorable kitchen gardens. Indira also offers gardening tips and practical advice on beekeeping, worm farming, composting and setting up your own community garden, as well as 40 of her delicious recipes.

Flesh Wounds by Richard Glover

Part poignant family memoir, part rollicking venture into a 1970s Australia, this is a book for anyone who’s wondered if their family is the oddest one on the planet. The answer: ‘No’. There is always something stranger out there.

A Banquet of Consequences by Satyajit Das

This is a lively exploration by financial expert Satyajit Das on why, following the global credit crunch, the world is entering a period of prolonged economic stagnation, and what that means for all of us. Satyajit Das is perhaps the only finance writer who can simultaneously make you outraged and chuckle as you read, and the experience is a delight.

Falafel For Breakfast by Michael Rantissi & Kristy Frawley

Israeli-born chef Michael Rantissi and his partner and ‘balaboosta’ Aussie girl Kristy Frawley drill down to what we all love about the ingredients and flavours of the Middle East – grains and greens, generosity, pungency, sweetness, sharing. This is food that brings everyone to the table, and won’t let them leave.

Nopi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi

This includes over 120 of the most popular dishes from Yotam’s innovative Soho-based restaurant Nopi. It’s written with long-time collaborator and Nopi head chef Ramael Scully, who brings his distinctive Asian twist to the Ottolenghi kitchen. This is a collection of recipes which will inspire, challenge and delight.

Atmosphere of Hope by Tim Flannery

Ten years after his internationally bestselling The Weather Makers, acclaimed scientist and author Tim Flannery argues that Earth’s climate system is approaching a crisis. Catastrophe is not inevitable, but time is fast running out. In the lead-up to the United Nations Climate Change Summit to be held in Paris in December, Atmosphere of Hope provides both a snapshot of the trouble we are in and an up-to-the-minute analysis of some of the new possibilities for mitigating climate change that are emerging now.

Deep South by Paul Theroux

For the past fifty years, Paul Theroux has travelled to the far corners of the earth – to China, India, Africa, the Pacific Islands, South America, Russia, and elsewhere – and brought them to life in his cool, exacting prose. In Deep South he turns his gaze to a region much closer to his home. Travelling through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas he writes of the stunning landscapes he discovers – the deserts, the mountains, the Mississippi – and above all, the lives of the people he meets.

Childrens’ Picture Books

The Day The Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt

Following on from the phenomenally brilliant The Day The Crayons Quit comes the sequel. The crayons are back…and they are still not happy. This time around Duncan has to deal with the lost and forgotten crayons. The broken, chewed and melted crayons. And they are all, quite rightly, even more upset! Once again Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers have produced a picture book that is an absolute joy to read out loud and share again and again (we still haven’t worn out the first book!). Oliver Jeffers’ wonderful illustrations are typically vibrant, absurd and brilliantly funny. This is another truly timeless picture book for the whole family to enjoy over and over again! Jon, Ian & Jan

Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey

Meet Brian, the world’s only Piranha. Brian has a particular fondness for banana. What do you think his chances are of persuading his family to follow suit? Yet another hysterical new book for the author of Pig the Pug. Ian

What The Ladybird Heard Next by Julia Donaldson

Just as sparkly and full of Donaldson trademark rhymes is this charming sequel to the much beloved tale.  Those crafty robbers Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len are out of jail and ready to cause havoc with a new BIGGER plan. Can our ladybird heroine save the day? Oh cause she can! Ian

Books for First Readers

The Cat With The Coloured Tail by Gillian Mears

Mr Hooper and The Cat with the Coloured Tail travel through the countryside in their icecream van making delicious moon-creams and playing their favourite game looking for heart shapes. However, something is wrong with Cat. When they travel into the forest they realise the heart of the world is in danger. A beautiful reminder of the kindness and hope within us. Jan

The Phantom Bully by Jeffrey Brown

Our ever struggling hero Roan is back in third instalment of this increasingly popular series. It is his last year of Jedi School and he NEEDS to do well but with substitute teachers, bracers and vegan food and his own personal bully to contend with can he do it? And stay clear of the dark side? Of course he can! The great cartoons just add to the fun. Ian    

Books for Young Readers

How To Fight A Dragon’s Fury by Cressida Cowell

This the twelfth, final and possibly most exciting volume in the How to Train Your Dragon Series.  Alvin the Terrible is about to be crowned king, and his reign of terror is about to unleashed seeing the destruction of all dragons. Can Hiccup defeat his enemy, prove that he is the rightful king and end the dragon rebellion? Is this doomsday for Hiccup and the dragons or the start of something new? Ian

Books for Young Adults

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Van Voc Phan is and Australian girl who faces high expectations from her Vietnamese parents. As a scholarship student she studies hard at school and deals with the self-centred students by keeping a low profile. When she gets the attention of Billy Gardiner, the boy in school she always day dreams about, her life is thrown into centre stage. Using Jane Eyre as her guide she navigates her way through. Jan

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Against the backdrop of an epic conflict between beings known as the Immortals and some ‘indie’ kids at school, Patrick Ness’ latest focuses on the issues afflicting Mikey and his gang of pals in the lead-up to prom and the beginning of their college lives. They lives in a world that has been touched by zombies, soul-eating ghosts, and basically every menace that has permeated the YA genre in recent years. Mikey, though, has never been involved in these encounters – he’s just lived his life on the fringes and dealt with obligatory teenage angst that accompanies the end of high school. With Ness’s trademark wit and efficacy, The Rest of Us Just Live Here shows we’re all heroes. But not all of us get the limelight – and not all of us want it! Simon & Chris

 

Review: Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

9781847088697Patrick deWitt’s follow up to the brilliant The Sisters Brothers is just as described by the publisher on my advanced reading copy, “incredible”. Continuing on with the subversiveness that made The Sisters Brothers such a magnificent and unique take on The Western, deWitt turns his hand to another genre to create a darkly comic romp that blends a sense of humour, a sense of the absurd and a sense of the surreal in a way that would make even Wes Anderson envious.

Lucy Minor is bored and unmotivated. There is nothing for him in the town of Bury where he has grown up and lived his entire life. After the sudden death of his father Lucy takes the position of assistant to the majordomo of Castle Von Aux. Upon arrival by train Lucy discovers that all is not as it seems. The castle is almost run down. Its former staff of twenty is now two (three with Lucy). Its Baroness has  run off and its Baron has possibly gone mad. As Lucy settles into to his new daily tasks he begins to explore the castle and its nearby village where he discovers amongst its inhabitants thieves, soldiers, murderers, love and a very large hole (in that order). And when all these come together (combined with heartbreak) Lucy finds he is no longer bored and has all the motivation in the world.

This was an absolute pleasure to read. Thoughtful, clever, playful and inventive Patrick deWitt captures you from the opening pages and sucks you into this surreal, absurdist world of small wars, Barons, Dukes & Counts and very large holes. If you loved The Sisters Brothers this is going to blow your mind. A wonderful, thrillingly original novel from an author whose work is like no other.

Buy the book here…

Review: Sweet Caress by William Boyd

9781408867983The new William Boyd is simply sublime. Sweet Caress tells the story of photographer Amory Clay and her tumultuous life over the course of a tumultuous century. Interspersed with photos from key periods in Amory Clay’s life Boyd will have you almost convinced that his novel’s protagonist and narrator is real and existed.

Amory Clay is born in 1908. Her childhood is defined by her father; his absences during the First World War and his return as a changed man. Amory is drawn to her Uncle Greville, a society photographer, and her passion for photography is born. This passion takes her to the seamy streets of 1920s Berlin, the blackshirt marches of London in the 1930s and to the battlefields of Western Europe and Vietnam. It takes her around the globe and back again as Amory follows her passion and desire in pursuit of life and all its experiences. Experiences she longs to capture.

Although this novel follows a character over the course of a century, something William Boyd has done so well before, this novel is also something very different from William Boyd. The way he captures his narrator; her voice, her thoughts as a young girl through to an older woman is captivating. The use of photographs amongst the text is at first disconcerting and feels like Boyd is taking an unnecessary shortcut. But as the story progresses and as you get to know Amory more you crave each new photo and study the nuisances of each picture. Boyd apparently collected the photos from junk shops and estate sales and they fit perfectly within the context of the novel whenever they appear. And will have you believing in a character unlike any other novel before.

William Boyd is a master storyteller and takes this gift to new and different heights with the character of Amory Clay. Sweet Caress is a wonderful novel you won’t want to say goodbye to.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Day The Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt illus. Oliver Jeffers

9780008124434Following on from the phenomenally brilliant The Day The Crayons Quit comes the sequel. The crayons are back…and they are still not happy. This time around Duncan has to deal with the lost and forgotten crayons. The broken, chewed and melted crayons. And they are all, quite rightly, even more upset!

These are the crayons who have been lost behind the couch, taken by the dog or in some cases deliberately runaway. There’s crayons who aren’t happy with the name of their colour so they decided to change their name, (you go Esteban!) and there’s crayons who can’t remember what colour they are anymore (it’s been that long!). There’s some new colours to meet and a couple of our old favourites (who may or may not have finally sorted out who is the real colour of the sun).

Once again Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers have produced a picture book that is an absolute joy to read out loud and share again and again (we still haven’t worn out the first book!). Oliver Jeffers’ wonderful illustrations are typically vibrant, absurd and brilliantly funny. And as with the first book each colour gives the reader the chance to read in a different voice for each colour, well at least that’s what I do anyway. This is another truly timeless picture book for the whole family to enjoy over and over again!

Buy the book here…