For a debut this book is just astonishing

9781847081391Book Review – The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

After reading The Luminaries there was no way I wasn’t going to go back and read Eleanor Catton’s first novel. Book covers are often filled with blurbs (some more than others) and there is often a lot of hyperbole flying around. However after reading this book there are no exaggerations with the blurbs on the front and back of The Rehearsal.

For a debut this book is just astonishing. This is a book that challenges you as a reader and Catton has taken a number of risks. Risks I think many accomplished authors would be hesitant to take. And risks that pay off in spades.

Central to the novel is a sex scandal at a high school between a male music teacher and a female student. But it is the way Catton tells this story which will truly amaze you. The story is not told in a linear fashion. Catton jumps around a number of different perspectives as well as different points in time. While this can be confusing and requires a bit more concentration it has a profound effect on the story. Like any scandal, especially one in a school, the story is spread my many different people, in many different ways and the truth of what really happened gets blurred, discarded and picked up by others. Catton demonstrates this by exploring the story in the way she does.

The two main perspectives of the book alternate between girls’ lessons with a saxophone teacher and a first year student at a local drama college. The student characters of the novel are all in a state of rehearsal. Recital rehearsal, drama rehearsal, life rehearsal. But Catton shows a number of other rehearsals that continue to go one. The other clever device she uses is never to name the adults of the novel. The teacher involved in the sex scandal is named but the other teachers are always referred to by their teaching subjects never by name. This contributes to the sense of rehearsal, the roles of teachers are interchangeable, a part to be played.

Eleanor Catton is a writer like no other. She has the courage and skill to not only challenge you as a reader but also intrigue you and compel you to read more. Like with The Luminaries Catton doesn’t give you all the answers at the end of the book. It is up to you to digest what you have read, absorb it and make up your own mind which only some of the great books and authors ever pull off. And Eleanor Catton must surely be counted as a great writer even though her career is only really beginning.

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Ann Patchett has been my big discovery this year

9781408844540Book Review – This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett has been my big discovery this year. For some reason I had never read her before but after her championing of independent bookselling and her blurbs popping up on a number of books I also loved I finally picked up one of her books and fell in love.

Her latest book is a collection of her non fiction writing. But this isn’t ‘a best’ of collection. The stories, articles, speeches and essays collected here are put together in a way that forms the story of Ann’s life. We get a unique insight into her life and career as a writer as well as her family, her childhood, her hometown, her friendships and her marriages.

Each piece is written with Ann’s unique honesty and clarity. I especially loved her insights into how she became a writer and her writing process. The title piece is quite simply beautiful and is a must read for anyone who doesn’t understand why marriage and marriage equality is important. I am flicking through the book now trying to choose my other favourite pieces and I really can’t separate them. And putting them together as a whole is really something special.

I am not a reader of biographies, autobiographies or memoirs but the way this book has been put together I think makes this book a much more intimate and honest portrait of a writer; her art, her craft and her life all mixed together. And I’ve already got her other non fiction book Truth And Beauty in my pile ready to go.

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A Couple of Pages Podcast – Episode 1

Podcast Logo

Episode 1

Listen Now:

November 28, 2013

0.00 Intro Music – Hello It’s Me by Todd Rundgren https://play.spotify.com/track/1nLqjrYXdtiol3Bo5PazCI

0.12 Hello and Welcome

0.57 Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (  buy the book here  )

5:25 Dream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin (  buy the book here )

5:42 Emily’s blog Inside a Black Apple http://www.theblackapple.typepad.com/

8:06 World War Z by Max Brooks Audio book ( buy the audio here )

11:15 Goodbye

11:38 Outro Music – Bookends Theme by Simon & Garfunkel https://play.spotify.com/track/1KlhKuOx6BPhw0K4tf5ZNu

Review – Carry A Big Stick by Tim Ferguson

9780733629358I am from the generation that laughed at and were shocked by Doug Anthony All Stars on the ABC television program, The Big Gig. They became such a part of the Australian landscape.

Jump forward to 2010 and I leapt at the chance to do a narrative comedy workshop with Tim Ferguson, the ‘tall, pretty one’ of the DAAS trio. He wasn’t what I expected. Perhaps I had foolishly been expecting him to be his DAAS persona in real life? The workshop was brilliant stuff. But it was obvious that something was physically up with Tim. It was later that year that the came out on national television, telling the world that he had Multiple Sclerosis. I thought “good on you, mate, take that bastard bull by the horns.”

Ferguson’s autobiography came out not long ago and I just grabbed myself a copy. It is great stuff. We get to see how the Tim Ferguson that we think we know, came to be. Then there’s the wonderful chance encounter that lead to DAAS. We get to see just how incredibly wild DAAS could really be. It is almost a case of ‘name a place and they’ve played there, metaphorically pissing on the audience.’

On some things, Ferguson doesn’t pull his punches. With others he treads much more carefully, with integrity.

Just as DAAS were a huge part of his life, so too has the continuing development of MS. He denies being brave, instead treating MS as an obstacle rather than something to be feared.

I read the entire book in one afternoon. It is that engaging. It was made all the more poignant for me by episodes of ‘oh I remember that’ or ‘wow, I didn’t know that.’

My original impression of Tim Ferguson after spending an intensive workshop with him was ‘this is a good bloke with a lot to share that’s worth listening to.’ This autobiography has merely reinforced that view.

With the ‘holiday season’ fast approaching, go and grab a copy to spend some quality time with Comrade Tim. Then aspiring comedy writers should head off an grab a copy of his The Cheeky Monkey as well.

Ross Hamilton is an author and occasional stand-up comedian, sometimes found hanging out at wordsbyross.com

Buy the book here…

 

Robert Harris is the master of the historical thriller.

9780091944568Review – An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Robert Harris is the master of the historical thriller. Whether it is a well-known parts of history like the destruction of Pompeii or Cicero in Ancient Rome or even an alternate re-imagining like Hitler’s 70th birthday celebrations Robert Harris always manages to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Part of his brilliance is his ability to distill historical events into the form of a modern-day thriller. Imperium read like a legal thriller while the follow-up Lustrum was an intense political thriller. An Officer and a Spy borrows on both these structures as well as incorporating the cat and mouse games of the spy thriller as Harris takes on The Dreyfus Affair.

I must admit my ignorance to having no knowledge of The Dreyfus Affair before reading the book so I did get to enjoy this historical retelling blind, so to speak. However this is the author who made Pompeii thrilling even though we all know how that story ends.

What I loved the best about this book is how Harris tells the story. The book is narrated by Major (soon to be Colonel) Georges Picquart. We pick up the story at Captain Alfred Dreyfus’s military degradation (his official denouncement as a traitor and parade in front of his fellow soldiers). Picquart has been monitoring Dreyfus’s closed trial and reporting back to the Minister for War. For this work he is rewarded with promotion and takes charge of France’s intelligence bureau.

It is here however that he uncovers that not all was as it appeared with the Dreyfus case. When Picquart uncovers another possible spy in the French Army his investigation leads him to conclude that Dreyfus may have been innocent. Despite warnings to drop the case Picquart is determined to uncover the truth but with those involved in positions of power and influence Picquart is soon facing the same fate of Dreyfus.

History can often be dry and difficult to relate to in the modern world. Robert Harris is able not only to bring to life the events of over a century ago but also the tension, intrigue and misplaced loyalties that made The Dreyfus Affair one of history’s most notorious cases.

Buy the book here…

The Book and TV Show are equally brilliant

9780143123170 9780143036425Book Review – The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

TV Review – Longmire

I was given the first season of Longmire to watch earlier this year by a friend who I am always swapping crime books with. We are more often that not on the same page when it comes to crime fiction (he gave me The Power of the Dog for my birthday 8 years ago). Having just finished season 4 of Justified I wasn’t sure if I was ready for another western-esque crime show but was prepared to give it a go.

It took me a few episodes to get into the show. It was a crime-of-the-week structure which I’d long ago moved away from when it comes to television (once you’ve Wire-ed you can’t go back). However without realizing it the show and its characters had reeled me in.

Set in Wyoming the show follows Sheriff Walt Longmire (played by Aussie actor Robert Taylor). Longmire runs a small police force consisting of three deputies, one of whom is going to run against him at the next election. Walt deals with small and large crimes and the small town politics is made more complex by the nearby Indian Reservation whom he has no jurisdiction but a lot of dealings with.

By the end of the first season I was addicted to the show and am now well into the second season. Each episode is really well plotted and the interactions between the characters is what makes the show. Branch the ambitious young deputy is equally frustrating yet charming and you understand where he is coming from. Longmire is perfectly understated and Vic (played by BSG’s Katee Sackoff) steals the whole show.

So like any true bookworm (and because of constant urging by my friend who lent me the series in the first place) I decided to check out the books. And of course, the first book anyway, is equally brilliant. Of course there are differences between the TV show and the book but the they are both so well written that you don’t mind (Vic is tall and blonde in the TV series, in the book she is short and dark-haired but their personalities are bang on). Longmire is less understated in the book mainly because the book allows us to see him in his off guarded moments and get inside his head. On the outside he is still understated but there’s a lot more going on inside. And he is a lot funnier (as we all are in our heads).

What makes the book though is the relationship between Longmire and his best friend Henry Standing Bear (played by Lou Diamond Phillips in the TV series). In the book we get to know much more about Henry than in the TV series where he hasn’t quite been fully realized yet. And whereas the relationship between Vic and Longmire steals the TV show, the relationship between Henry and Longmire is the heart and soul of the book.

Also interestingly the first book in the series is the one of the later episodes in Season One. This made it a lot easier to love both the TV show and the book because both mediums introduce and develop the characters differently. Plus the mystery is slightly changed so one doesn’t spoil the other!

I can’t wait to get stuck into the other books especially as season two is almost done and there won’t be anymore episodes for a year. I highly recommend the TV series if you can track it down (it screened on GEM, is available on iTunes and has just been released on DVD) and the books are just as good if not better!

Buy the book here…

All the elements that make James Bond a classic are here

9780224097482Review – Solo by William Boyd

I have never read an Ian Fleming James Bond novel. I am a fan of the films but never felt the need to read the original books. I did read Sebastian Faulks’s James Bond novel Devil May Care but only because it was Sebastian Faulks and I employed the same reasoning with William Boyd’s James Bond novel.

I am a huge William Boyd fan and he is perfectly suited to write a classic Bond novel. Set in the late 60s this is James Bond minus the gadgets. Boyd has set his Bond firmly in Fleming’s universe using an obituary of James Bond from You Only Live Twice as his template. But he has also brought his own skill and knowledge to bare on this classic character.

William Boyd is not unfamiliar with Ian Fleming using his as a background character in Any Human Heart. He is also no stranger to the nuances and minutiae of the spy genre. Boyd is also very familiar with Africa and brings all that to bare with his James Bond story. His Bond is also a little older than we are used to and is very much in the Sean Connery mold (although Boyd has said he’d like Daniel Day-Lewis to play his Bond).

All the elements that make James Bond a classic are here; the bravado, the suaveness, the women and the villains. Boyd has fun playing within and outside the conventions we all know so well while also bring a freshness to the story and the characters. If you’re an Ian Fleming Bond fan I imagine you are in for a treat. If you’re a William Boyd fan don’t turn your nose up at a Bond novel, you will love this too.

PS
An added bonus is the audio of Solo is read by Dominic West aka McNulty from The Wire. William Boyd + James Bond + Dominic West = Perfect!

Buy the book here…

Buy the audio book here…

If you are a Neil Gaiman fan, give this one a go

9781409128052Review – Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

I loved Diane Setterfield’s debut novel The Thirteenth Tale, a cross between Kate Morton and The Shadow in the Wind. I had no idea what to expect from her next book but a ghost story was not on my list of possibilities. Not that his is a ‘ghost’ story. Yes there is a tad of the supernatural but more in the subtle, mythological way Neil Gaiman does so well.

As a boy William Bellman kills a rook with a stone. Years later William has built a successful life. Business is good but tragedy snatches away his family. Bellman makes a strange pact with a mysterious man in black and all seems to be right again but some things can never be forgotten or forgiven.

Setterfield intersperses the text with myths, legends and facts about rooks; black birds often mistaken as ravens or crows which only adds to the mystery. Bellman isn’t haunted or stalked by the mysterious Mr Black. In fact it is the opposite. Bellman’s problem is he doesn’t remember. As each tragedy in his life gets more personal he throws himself more into his work. Distracting himself. Making himself forget. Until he almost forgets about life at all. The only thing that can help him remember is Death itself. But death is not only the cause of Bellman’s tragic moments in life it is also part of his business success and his wealth is built upon it.

Diane Setterfield reaffirms her immense gift as a classic storyteller and while I think labelling this a ghost story is a bit misleading  it might also lead a few more people to discover how good this author is. If you are a Neil Gaiman fan, give this one a go.

Buy the book here…

Packed full of the humour and adventure we’ve come to expect from this fantastic series

9781444913989Review – How To Betray a Dragon’s Hero by Cressida Cowell

Having read the first ten books in this series with my daughter over the past three years I was tragically left out when it came to book eleven. In the year between book ten and eleven my daughter’s reading meant she no longer needed to be read aloud and she devoured this book on her own without me (very proud!). Having invested in the first ten books there was no way I was going to miss out so read this book all on my own.

This is the second last book in the series and we are definitely coming to the pointy end of the story. It is now a race between Hiccup and Alvin The Treacherous to get to the island of Tomorrow with the Lost Things (that Hiccup found and Alvin stole) and claim the throne of the King of the WIlderwest. Hiccup and his trusted friends have been in hiding from both Alvin and the dragon Furious, who is hell-bent on ridding the world of humans starting with Hiccup! However Hiccup is brought of hiding to save the life of his cousin (and turncoat) Snotlout. Snotlout’s rescue presents Hiccup with a chance to get the Lost Things back but can he trust his former bully and tormentor? Whose side is Snotlout really on? And who is going to betray our Hero?

Packed full of the humour and adventure we’ve come to expect from this fantastic series Hiccup must learn what it really takes to be a hero and a king…before it’s too late!

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Ah Arkady Renko, its good to have you back.

9781849838115Review – Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith

Ah Arkady Renko, its good to have you back. Still cantankerous and stubborn and able to not only sniff out trouble but completely ensconce yourself in it. One of the most endearing characters in crime fiction returns in the best Arkady Renko novel since Wolves Eat Dogs.

We first met Arkady Renko in 1981 and as we have followed his journey we have followed that of Russia and the former Soviet Union. The latest novel takes place in a Russia where corruption is not only in full swing, it is par for the course. Tatiana Petrovna is an investigative journalist who, like our hero, won’t just let the status quo stand without questioning. However modern-day Russia has no tolerance for journalists and Tatiana soon meets a nasty end.

Her death is ruled suicide but Arkady senses that the truth isn’t being told. However he doesn’t have a case until Tatiana’s body goes missing from the morgue. His digging leads him through various crime syndicates to the forgotten port of Kaliningrad. Once the German city Konigsberg, then a city with no name during the Cold War and home to lucrative Amber mine. They key to everything is a translator’s notebook, written in a code only one person knows, whose body has also recently turned up.

Fans of Arkady Renko will be well pleased. I have no idea how old the weathered and beaten old detective is but there is plenty of life in him yet and plenty of trouble for him to find and stir up.

Buy the book here…

Moonshine, Murder and the Great Mississippi Floods

9780230769007Review – The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

I loved Tom Franklin’s award winning Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter but it was with a bit of hesitation that I picked up his latest book. Not because the story didn’t appeal to me (it did) but because he has teamed up with his wife to write this book and I am not sure about co-authored books.

I can’t remember reading a dual authored book before and for some reason felt a reluctance to do so. I’m not even sure how the process works. Do co-authors alternate chapters or write different parts? Or do they write different characters’ points of view and meld everything together. There are probably a myriad of different ways it is done and with The Titled World it is impossible to tell as it is written and reads seamlessly.

Franklin and Fennelly tap into the world of bootlegging which seems to be making a comeback in crime fiction at the moment on the back of Boardwalk Empire. Set in the fictional town of Hobnob on the banks of the Mississippi during the great floods of 1927. Bootlegging has been rife in the community and when two revenue agents go missing aspiring Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover sends his two most trusted agents in to investigate. Posing as engineers they soon get caught up in the efforts to save the town from the flood waters. The town’s levees are threatening to break, either through the huge build up of water or at the hands of saboteurs down river.

The story is told from the one of the revenue agents’ point of view, Teddy Ingersoll, and that of bootlegging, house wife Dixie Clay (this maybe where the authors alternate but I couldn’t detect any changes in style or tone). Their lives and fates become entangled over an orphaned baby and when the levee eventually breaks their worlds are literally and figuratively turned upside down.

While The Tilted World doesn’t reach the heights or trawl the depths that Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter did I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel. I’m not sure it has cured me of my reluctance to read co-authored books but I will be a little more willing in the future.

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This tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

9781408704950Review – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt is a true enigma. She is a phenomenal bestseller with a cult following. There isn’t very much known about her but you wouldn’t call her a reclusive author either. The Goldfinch is her third novel in twenty years, a decade gap between each book. All of them worth the wait.

I can distinctly remember first discovering Donna Tartt. When I first started doing the buying 11 years ago there was a lot of fuss about a novel called The Little Friend because it was the author’s first book since The Secret History. I had no idea who the author was or why, after ten years, there was such excitement and anticipation for her second novel. My rep, who was selling the book in at the time, told me to read The Secret History. Which of course I did and was totally blown away.

It was unlike anything I had read before (or since). I am not big on classics, ancient or modern, but the world Tartt created in The Secret History sucked me straight in (just like the book’s protagonist Richard). She is one of the few writers whose writing is truly mesmerizing. I was straight on the bandwagon after that, dying for a copy of The Little Friend. Which I also loved.

A lot of Donna Tartt fans were disappointed with The Little Friend but I was not one of them. I think people were expecting another The Secret History which was always going to be impossible and Tartt gave us something completely different. The Little Friend is a bit of a modern-day To Kill A Mockingbird without the anchor of a parent and where the outside world is full of much more menace. 12-year-old Harriet, bright and bookish, believes she can solve the mysterious death of her younger brother 12 years ago. The death fractured her family and Harriet is determined to set things right. Again Tartt’s writing is captivating and I can still vividly remember a scene involving Harriet’s best friend Hely and some snakes. I later found out that Harriet was inspired by Mattie Ross in True Grit by Charles Portis, one of Donna Tartt’s favourite books growing up,which also has another unforgettable scene involving snakes.

In many ways The Goldfinch is a combination of elements of her first two novels but the only thing familiar is the once again mesmerizing writing that draws you into her world immediately. When I first started The Goldfinch it felt like I was holding my breath and when I came up for air the first thing I wanted to do was re-read The Secret History and The Little Friend. I’d forgotten the power of Tartt’s writing and wanted to re-immerse myself in as much of it as I could find. And then I plunged back into The Goldfinch.

The central character of the novel is Theo Decker and a painting called The Goldfinch. Through traumatic circumstances the painting comes into his possession and becomes a talisman throughout his life. I am not into art or paintings but Tartt has this ability to draw you into any subject, in very detailed and extraordinarily intriguing ways (including antique furniture and its restoration!). The book is almost 800 pages, every one of which is totally absorbing, compelling and majestic. Unlike Tartt’s previous two novels this story is also wide-ranging, from New York to Las Vegas and Amsterdam. The Secret History and The Little Friend were very localized stories where as The Goldfinch is much more spread out while still hauntingly focused. It is also very philosophical and tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

I hope we do not have to wait another ten years before getting to read Donna Tartt again but then again she can take as long as she wants. In the meantime I am going to revisit her first two books something I should have done before now but that’s the magic and the joy of great books. They are always there to be enjoyed again and again, even when you forget!

Buy the book here…

This might just be George Pelecanos’s best work to date.

9781409114604Review – The Double by George Pelecanos

This might just be Pelecanos’s best work to date. Which when I look back at his books that is a big call but one I am more than willing to make because George Pelecanos is carving out something pretty special with Spero Lucas.

We first met Spero in 2011’s The Cut; a returned serviceman who is looking to make up for lost time as well as recapture some of the experiences he had overseas. Spero is also adopted. He’s been raised by Greek-American parents and Pelecanos is deliberately vague about his race.  But race isn’t a dominating issue in either of the novels, not to say it isn’t there, it is set in modern-day America, but the colour of Spero’s skin doesn’t define him as character. The decisions he makes, the influence and bearing his friends and family have on him, the experiences he has lived through make Spero who he is and is why one of the reasons this series is such an accomplishment,

Another reason The Double is so good is that it works so well as conventional crime thriller. The plot is constantly moving, there is plenty of action and tension, both physically and emotionally. And the good guy and the bad guy are clearly defined but there is plenty of grey to smudge them up too.

Spero is still running his one-man, private investigation business. He takes casework from a defense attorney and cash jobs on the side. The balance of each suits Spero giving him flexible hours and spending money. One of these cash jobs is the retrieval of a stolen painting. A woman has been scammed and robbed in a very callous fashion and hires Spero to get her property back. But the manner in which Spero pursues the job will lead him down a very dark path, one he may not be able to walk back from.

But there is also so much more going on beneath this storyline. Like The Cut Pelecanos again examines the lives of America’s most recent military veterans, how they are adapting to life back home and how home is adapting to them. Pelecanos’s most regular character, the city of Washington DC, as always plays an important role. This time one of change and renewal and a sense of loss that it can bring. But the moral, emotional and physical crossroad that Spero finds himself in is the core of this gripping narrative and again demonstrates that pigeonholing George Pelecanos as just a crime writer is a huge mistake.

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The twists and turns come as thick and fast as the action and keep you guessing right up to the last page.

9780099552581Review – Ratlines by Stuart Neville

I love a good World War Two thriller and am a sucker for Irish crime so to get both in one was something I was never expecting. Ireland’s role in the Second World War is rarely mentioned in history books. Ireland officially remained neutral during what they called ‘The Emergency’ but there was a high amount of anti-British feeling amongst stout republicans. This meant that there was even a pro-German sentiment during the war which led to Ireland being a place of refuge for Nazis and Axis collaborators after the war. One Nazi that settled in Ireland was Otto Skorzeny, an SS Colonel who famously rescued Mussolini in 1943. Stuart Neville takes these facts and weaves an impressive historical thriller.

Set in 1963, John F. Kennedy’s historical visit of Ireland is only weeks away. Ireland’s politicians are determined that his visit will be without incident. So when three foreign nationals with shady pasts are found murdered the mess needs to be cleaned up as quickly as possible. Lieutenant Albert Ryan, who fought for the British during the Second World War and has been shunned for doing so, is tasked with protecting Otto Skorzeny who has been singled out as the next target.

Ryan must choose between his country, which has treated him poorly, and his own moral code as he must protect a man whose ideals he fought against in the war. At the same time as dealing with this internal struggle Ryan must discover who is targeting ex-Nazis and why. He also needs to workout who he can really trust because everyone has their own motives and are prepared to do whatever it takes to get what they want.

This is a superb read. The twists and turns come as thick and fast as the action and keep you guessing right up to the last page. I found the historical stuff as fascinating and gripping as the fiction in between and hope we see more of Lieutenant Albert Ryan in the future.

Buy the book here…

Re-Reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History

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Review – The Secret History by Donna Tartt

With Donna Tartt’s highly anticipated The Goldfinch due for release on October 23  (don’t miss out on our special pre-order offer) and remembering how brilliant Donna Tartt is I decided it was time to re-read The Secret History. I don’t normally have time to reread books because there are just so many books, new and old, that I haven’t read but Donna Tartt is so amazing I wanted to revisit her.

The first time I read The Secret History I can distinctly remember being blown away. Just like the book’s 9780141037691main character Richard I was sucked into the world of Hampden College and the tight-knit group studying Ancient Greek. Having originally read the book 10-11 years ago my memory was very fuzzy and I remember the book being about Richard falling in with this elite group who thought themselves above everybody else, so much so, that they believed they could get away with murder. But they couldn’t get away from the guilt and the secrets after the fact.

Reading it the second time (and being 10+ years older) changed the whole perspective of the book for me. I was around the same age as Richard the first time around so I guess I was susceptible to the charms of both the college and its inhabitants. Second time around I was much more aware of the subtle manipulation of Richard. This was probably in part to having already read the book but also part being older (and hopefully a little wiser). Instead of being charmed, like Richard,  by Henry, Francis and the twins I found them completely pretentious and detached from the real world. Their money, their attitude, their cleverness hid their naivety and I think on my first reading I (again like Richard) was the more naive one.

What I found really interesting was I pretty much remembered most of the book up to Bunny’s murder but not a thing afterwards. The whole unwinding of each member of the group and the group itself felt completely new to me. I knew it happened but Bunny’s funeral and the eventual ending had completely escaped me. The first time I read the book I felt the murder changed everyone involved. The weight of guilt and having to keep a secret ate away at everyone until everything disintegrated. This time I don’t think the murder changed anyone, with maybe the exception of Richard. I think the murder just highlighted who each character really was and they eventually turned on one another as they had turned on Bunny.

Despite reading The Secret History with this new perspective (or more likely because of it) I thoroughly enjoyed the book second time around. Donna Tartt is an immense talent and is well worth reading again and again.

Buy the book here…

Pre-order The Goldfinch here…

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A joy to read. Pure reading heaven. I miss it already!

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Review – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This was such a joy to read. It is pure reading heaven. It is richly detailed yet highly readable and features a large cast of characters who are each flawed in all the many ways people can be. It is also an intricate mystery, a puzzle that each character (and you the reader) are trying to get to the bottom of.

The Luminaries is a monster of a book. The size of the book may put you off but don’t be! I stupidly let this sit on my shelf for months. I didn’t want to commit to a book so big. However, literally after the first page, I was so glad that this was a huge book because I just wanted to read and read. You honestly don’t want this book to end. When I did finish I instantly began to miss it and all it’s characters.

Eleanor Catton loses you in the story and, like the characters of the novel, sucks you in to the puzzle. Catton’s style and talent defy her years. Each chapter begins with a brilliantly penned synopsis, which I must admit I’d read at the end of the previous chapter like a ‘next time on The Luminaries‘. These synopses brilliant capture the mood and tone of the story and are just one of many hooks.

The story is set in the New Zealand Goldfields and involves a murder, an attempted suicide, a missing man and a pile of gold whose ownership is far from clear. The mystery unfolds from the perspective of 13 men who are each involved in the story in different ways. Each of these men piece together their stories but the truth is hiding behind miscommunication, misinterpretation and each person’s own intentions and stake in the events.

The Luminaries is totally absorbing, utterly original and a must for The Booker Prize! I am going to have an absolute nightmare putting together my top 10 of the year now (a good nightmare). Eleanor Catton is such an amazing writer (I already have The Rehearsal sitting in my ‘to read’ pile). Even without The Booker this is a book that deserves to be read, enjoyed, celebrated and read again.

Buy the book here…

A masterwork by one of Australia’s best writers

Review- The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

9781741666700Richard Flanagan has been working on this novel for over 12 years, writing other novels in between. He’d gone through countless drafts, reworked the story, started completely over. The reason it troubled him so much was because central to the story are the Australian POWs who worked on the Thai-Burma death railway. An experience shared by his father. He didn’t just want to get the story right, he had to get the story right. And I believe, deep down in my guts, in my heart and with every fibre of my being that he has got the story right.

Richard Flanagan has written a tragic love story, a deconstruction of heroism and mateship, and captured a side of humanity I’ve never read before. Wars, according to our history books, have beginnings and ends but for those who take part in wars, who are swept up in it’s maelstrom, there is no beginning or end. There is only life. And the damage war causes must be endured by those lucky or unlucky enough to survive it.

Dorrigo Evans is a Weary Dunlop type character. Revered by his fellow soldiers/prisoners and mythologized by his country’s media, politicians and people. But Dorrigo’s experience of War and being a POW doesn’t equate to the image his men needed during their imprisonment nor the one thrust upon him later. He battled his role in the POW camp and tried to hide from the one at home. At the expense of family, friends and love. It is not that these images are based on lies, they just don’t ring true to himself. And after surviving the horror of internment he can no longer make sense of the emotions of the life he must now grapple with.

Flanagan structures this novel uniquely. I think he was trying to base his story on a Japanese style but am not 100% sure. We start with Dorrigo’s early years growing up in rural Tasmania and his journey to becoming a surgeon but in between we start to get snippets of his time in the POW camp. We jump to Dorrigo’s later years before jumping back to his time just before the war and an affair that will change Dorrigo irrevocably. When we get to his time at the POW camp the story is contracted around one day, one 24 hour period, but it doesn’t feel like just one day, it feels like many lifetimes. We barely follow Dorrigo through this day as we have already glimpsed bits and pieces and will re-live yet more. Instead we get everyone else’s story. The other prisoners, the guards, the Japanese officers in charge. Flanagan clearly shows us each characters’ motivations, desires, inner turmoil and demons. As the day unfolds we experience the terror, the devastation, the depredation, the hope, the loyalty, the betrayal, the choices of life on the Thai-Burma death railway.

But Flanagan’s novel is not just about what happened on the death railway but also what happened after. How it was explained and justified. How it was hidden and run away from. How justice can be escaped but is also used as revenge. And how it never really ended for anyone involved.

We often talk about the Anzac spirit in Australia but we rarely confront it. War is never altruistic, no matter which side you are on. Survival brings out the best and worst in people as does victory, as does love. Flanagan explores this warts and all. Dorrigo is not a hero, nor is he a bad man, father, husband. He is all of theses things and he is neither. This is a masterwork by one of Australia’s best writers.

Buy the book here…

“You don’t know a high-water mark until you’ve seen a lot of low water.” Winner of the Best First Fiction Ned Kelly Award

Review – The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt

“You don’t know a high-water mark until you’ve seen a lot of low water.”

9781921922930I was totally blown away by this book. This is crime fiction at its absolute best. Zane Lovitt literally bursts on to the literary scene with this book and I can say without a doubt is destined for huge things. This is not a new writer who has potential, this is a new writer whose skill and talent just oozes out of the page. From the structure of the novel to Lovitt’s distinct style, from the black as night dark humour and cynicism to the deep recesses of human emotion and frailty this is the most original, absorbing and utterly compelling crime novel I’ve read in a long time.

The Midnight Promise is told in ten cases. Cases, not short stories. Although the magic of this book is that they each work perfectly on their own. And I want to be clear here, this is not ten short stories mashed together. This is not ten short stories that form a novel. Think of the ten cases more like vignettes or episodes. They are self contained but together they combine to make something truly special. As you read, everything slowly starts to form together and cases you thought had no bearing on each other actually play a vital role in the story.

As you put the individual pieces together, a bigger picture is formed, a wider story is told and you’ll be in awe of what you’ve just been reading. You are following an intricate and subtle arc that is slowly but surely spiraling down. And this is the genius of the book. You think you’re reading ten cases, ten separate stories that have no bearing on each other but they have all been leading to a certain point, a midnight promise. A deal made at rock bottom, never to get here again. But the journey to rock bottom is what is important, as well as realizing what rock bottom actually is.

There are only a few authors who I can still vividly remember the first time I ever discovered them. The moment, the feeling, stuck in my reading memory: George Pelecanos (The Big Blowdown), Don Winslow (The Power of the Dog), Laura Lippman (Every Secret Thing), Ken Bruen (The Guards), Peter Temple (The Broken Shore), David Simon (Homicide), Adrian McKinty (Dead I Well May Be). You knew you’ve just read a writer who you will follow anywhere. I’m adding Zane Lovitt to that list.

Buy the book here…

A fitting finale to the Silo trilogy; thought-provoking, action-packed and keeping you guessing all the way to the last page.

Dust

Review – Dust by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey wraps up his trilogy that began with Wool and ShiftWool showed us a world beyond imagining, a world where everything was underground and the truth was hidden from everybody. Shift showed us how this world came into being and began to expose the truth. In Dust the truth must now be confronted and not everybody is ready to face it.

Unlike the previous two books Dust hasn’t been serialized which does change the pacing of the story. Unlike the previous two books I found Dust a bit slow to get started. This was partly due to the structure and also it had been a whole book since we last saw Juliette. However once things get going it is non-stop.

Juliette has returned to Silo 18 and is determined to get back to Solo and the kids in 17. Only now she is mayor and responsible for the lives of many. Meanwhile Donald is trying to prevent the plans he has exposed. But the truth will also expose Donald and it may already be too late to stop something which has planned for long ago.

What I loved about the the final book was that now that the truth about the silos had been exposed it wasn’t a fait accompli. Discovering the truth is one thing, delivering it is something else altogether. Some people do not want accept the truth, no matter what the consequences. Juliette must come to terms, not only with the truth she discovered, but the consequences learning this truth will have on others around her.

Howey delivers a fitting finale to the Silo trilogy; thought-provoking, action-packed and keeping you guessing all the way to the last page.

Buy the book here…

I haven’t had this much fun reading a book for ages – Winner of the 2013 Hugo Award

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Review – Redshirts

I haven’t had this much fun reading a book for ages. I literally chuckled through the entire book. I’m not a sci-fi reader but am a big sci-fi watcher which works perfectly for this book.

Whether we watched it religiously or not at all we are all pretty familiar with Star Trek. And we’re also familiar with the coloured shirts they wore in the 60s TV series. Captain Kirk, Spock and co wore the blue and yellow ones. And the poor unfortunates who usually got killed off wore the red ones. Well this is the redshirts’ story…

The novel opens like your classic sci-fi story. We are introduced to five characters who are about to the join the crew of the starship Intrepid. However these new crew members quickly realize that all is not well with Intrepid and its crew. Firstly there seem to be an above average number of highly dangerous “Away Missions” where a crew member is nearly always killed except for 5 officers who always manage to escape being killed or narrowly avoid death. The rest of the crew do anything they can to avoid these “Away Missions” and try to hide whenever one of the 5 officers enter a room. The new crew members, led by Ensign Andrew Dahl, soon learn that there is more going on than bad luck and the colour of their shirts.

“Avoid the narrative”

This works on so many levels it may possibly give you a headache as you try to get your head around it. It is a great sci-fi adventure with lots of action and tech. It is also great satire that will have you laughing out loud wherever you’re are reading it. And it is totally brilliant metafiction. It breaks down the sci-fi genre, the writing process and the omnificence of the narrative. John Scalzi does all this while entertaining the pants off you.

The novel finishes with three codas. I had be warned off reading the codas and had heard some dissatisfaction about the end but I think they are great. They take the metafiction up another notch and if your brain wasn’t already spinning enough they give it another few, fast rotations.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read and wish it had come out in Australia at the same time as the US rather than 6 months later. But in saying that it is a perfect book for Summer reading and having a good laugh out loud. And it may lead me to read a bit more sci-fi.

Buy the book here…

One of the most fascinating and brutal social experiments in human history

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Review – Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum

I am a big reader on The Second World War but my reading has never taken me past 1945. Earlier this year I finally read Anna Funder’s Stasiland and was fascinated by what life was like in East Germany so when I saw this book I jumped at the opportunity to read about Eastern Europe in the direct aftermath of World War Two.

Most Cold War histories contend that the Iron Curtain was a reaction to the Marshall Plan of 1947 however Applebaum shows that Soviet plans for an Eastern Bloc were instigated the moment they swept through Eastern Europe in 1944, before the Second Wold War had ended.

Iron Curtain focuses on three Eastern European countries; East Germany, Poland and Hungary. It details their transition from the end of the war to becoming part of the so-called Soviet Bloc. Anne Applebaum has chosen these countries as they each had different experiences and roles in the Second World War which influenced their transition to Communism and in particular Stalinsim.

The transition to Soviet Communism was swift and total. Applebaum details how the Soviet Union literally took over and dominated absolutely every part of society from youth groups to the media, political parties to schools and universities and even art and architecture. The Soviets were systematic and relentless. They initially thought they could win power via elections but when their propaganda and rhetoric failed to capture a majority of votes they turned to vote rigging and the literal crushing of any opposition.

It is hard to believe, almost 70 years later, how the people of Eastern Europe in some cases supported, in others tolerated, the Stalinization of their countries. But Applebaum also explains in depth people’s different reactions to this process. There was much misplaced optimism and hope that a better, utopian Europe could be built from the rubble and ashes of the Second World War. In some cases there was a strident need and desire to position themselves as far from the Nazis as possible. In other cases there was simply exhaustion from being at war for 6 years. Capitalism was also seen as having given rise to Nazism so an alternative was sort. And though opposition was quickly stamped out, people found ways to protest which included wearing particular shirts and ties and even colourful, striped socks.

However following Stalin’s death in 1953 a spell seemed to be lifted and Eastern European countries began to try and exert some autonomy over themselves and to develop their own form of communism. Again this varied from country to country and culminated in the uprising in Hungary which was brutally crushed. Despite appearances that the citizenry of Eastern Europe had fallen into lockstep with Soviet communism and the assumption that the totalitarian regimes had stamped out all opposing views these uprisings showed that the human spirit and its desire for freedom and individual identity can never be completely crushed. Unfortunately The West stood idly by and it would be more than 40 years before another mass movement of resistance to Societ control bubbled to the surface.

This is a highly readable history of a time that has been mythologized by both sides of the Cold War. Applebaum sets the record straight as well as explores one of the most fascinating and brutal social experiments in human history.

Buy the book here…

Conveys the immensity and horror of a truly total world war

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Review – The Second World War by Antony Beevor

There have been so many books written about the Second World War, as whole and it its parts. For a war that finished almost 70 years ago there is not a lot of new material to be found or analysis to give. Andrew Roberts did it in The Storm of War and Antony Beevor has managed to do it in his books on specific battles of the war (CreteStalingradBerlin and D-Day). So I was very interested see how Beevor wrote about the whole war and what new material and perspectives he brought. I was also looking forward to Beevor’s perspectives on the Pacific War.

When I first became interested in the Second World War Stalingrad was one of the first books I discovered and read. The things I have really loved about all his books, and in particular Stalingrad, have been how he has taken a single battle and shown all its contexts. Beevor has written about an entire war before, The Spanish Civil War (twice in fact) but the scale of the Second World War is immense to say the least. There was no way an 800+ page book was going to cover the whole war in the detail we’ve come to expect from Antony Beevor so there was always going to be parts of the war either not covered or expanded upon as much as some readers would like. For example Kokoda doesn’t even rate a mention and the Papua New Guinea Campaign only gets a paragraph. But while Kokoda and Papua New Guinea are important to Australia’s context of the Second World War it is not as important to the whole war’s context.

However Beevor does heavily favour the European theatre, in particular the Eastern Front, which is understandable because that is where he has done most of his research and it is also where most the death and destruction occurred in the Second Wold War. But he also looks at the Allies in the west which he has only looked at previously with D-Day and Crete. You can almost see a new book by Beevor on the Desert War and I am pretty sure he has said the The Battle of the Bulge is his next book. He covers both in depth but also gives you the impression he could have expanded greatly upon both these battles.

While I felt that the Pacific War didn’t get the coverage I wanted he does cover China during the war in great detail. Previously I had only read about China in the context of the Japanese invasion pre-1939 but Beevor covers China all the way through the war which I found fascinating.

I also found the political manoeuvrings of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin immensely intriguing. Long before the tide started to turn in the war these three were already trying to out fox one another to get what they wanted post-War. Both Churchill and Roosevelt thought they had Stalin’s measure but he played them both off against each other both subtlety and crudely.

Writing about the whole of The Second World War is an ambitious task for any writer or historian. Beevor uses all of his skill to convey the immensity and horror of a truly total world war. Beevor fans will be well satisified and I think this is a great book for those who haven’t read him before to cut their teeth. And judging from the research that has gone into this book I can see at least three new books coming down the line.

Buy the book here…

A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

9780091953799Review – Night Film

Marisha Pessl burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with the unforgettably titled Special Topics In Calamity Physics. Comparisons to Donna Tartt abounded and unlike many others Pessl lived up to the comparisons but also carved out her own wonderfully distinct style. I adored the book and it was a very pleasant surprise to find her new novel suddenly pop up on the release schedule.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away in this review because a huge part of this book is experiencing it. Pessl immerses you in a world where fact and fiction blur, the magical and the explained co-exist and the truth is not necessarily the answer to the questions asked.

Central to the story is the Cordova family. The patriarch of the family is a reclusive and revered film maker whose life and art is shrouded in mystery, most of which he has created himself. His films have created their own mythology that he uses to hide behind. Journalist Scott McGrath believes something more sinister lies beneath this veneer but has been unable to dig up anything concrete without his own reputation being severely burned.

Night Film is a wild ride of a novel and I was amazed by the interactivity built into the story. Apparently there is also an app coming that enables the reader to engage even more, all of which only immerses you as a reader into a world that already blurs fact and fiction and is dotted with clues hidden and dangled in front of your eyes.

Pessl deftly takes you on a journey that ebbs and flows from the rational and analytical to the disbelieving and magical until eventually breaking down your walls of resistance which only helps shroud everything in a more deeper mystery. Pessl confirms the deep talent she has and delivers a novel that you will first debate with yourself before engaging others to see what they thought. A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

Buy the book here…

Meet INTREPID Agent Alex Morgan

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Review – Defender

I’m not a big fan of the action/thriller genre. They’re always a bit hyper-real for me; the story, the action, the characters. I like a good gritty story without too much make-believe. Even in film it is not my favourite genre but there are always good ones the can cut through, especially if you’re in the right mood.

INTREPID is a group inside Interpol whose members are part-cop, part-spy, part-soldier. They’re the strong (and secret) arm of the International Criminal Police Organization. After seizing a shipment of illegal arms INTREPID Agent Alex Morgan is sent into Malfajiri, a small fictional country in West Africa. A rebel coup is brewing and two British Agents have gone missing from a mining operation in the country. Morgan quickly discovers that the coup is a piece in a more complex puzzle being orchestrated by a group that may have ties inside the British Government.

The action is intense and the story very well plotted. There are no make-believe gadgets or over-the-top villains, the story is grounded in the real world, but there is a love interest, of course. Chris Allen keeps you guessing while also showing you what is happening on both sides. I loved the Australian element to the story and Chris Allen’s past in the military brings a real authenticity to the action. The climatic showdown in Sydney entered the hyper-real but by then I was already invested. I may not be a convert to the genre but I will definitely be reading book 2, Hunter, to find out what happens next.

Buy the book here…

I feel I have met a character who I will never forget

Review – The Panopticon

Pa`nop�ti`con ( noun). A circular prison with cells so constructed that the prisoners can be observed at all times. [Greek panoptos ‘seen by all’]

9780099558644Gillian Flynn recently named the five books she thinks everyone should read this summer (well, winter down here). I had just finished Visitation Street which was on her list and because I also thoroughly enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s books I thought I’d give the rest of the list a go.

I started with The Panopticon purely because it was first in my download queue. I didn’t read the blurb and had no idea what the book was going to be about. Most of the list is crime/thriller related but the cover and title of The Panopticon gave me the impression that this might be something a bit paranormal/magical. Boy was I surprised and blown away.

The book is written with a Scottish vernacular but not like Irvine Welsh. You don’t even notice it after a while as you fall into the rhythm of the writing. In fact it helps you get into the rhythm of the words even more easily.

The story is told by Anais Hendricks, a 15 year-old girl. We are right inside Anais’ head but we’re not talking stream of consciousness. She is a troubled young woman who believes she is going mad and that her whole life is part of an experiment. When we first meet her she is handcuffed in the back of a police car. She is accused of bashing a police woman, putting her into a coma. Anais can’t remember the incident but she is pretty sure she didn’t do it despite there being a lot of antagonism between the two of them.

Anais has a history of drugs, violence, theft and destruction. She has been in and out of foster homes since her adopted mother was murdered. But this might be the final straw. The police want Anais sent to secure care, juvenile detention. While the police gather evidence and examine blood found on Anais, she is sent to The Panopticon; a foster care facility that’s more prison than home but where some freedoms still exist. For now.

As Anais settles into her new environment we begin to learn about her troubled past and the trouble she has gotten into an why. We learn about the people who still see her potential and the people who have given up on her. She begins to form strong friendships with the other ‘in mates’ but a series of tragedies and betrayals threatens to tip Anais completely over the edge.

This is a raw and heartbreaking story by a writer whose talents are breathtaking. I feel like I’ve spent the last week inside Anais’ head, an experience both confronting and amazing, and I feel I have met a character who I will never forget.

Buy the book here…

Coming of Age and Art Theft

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Review – Cairo by Chris Womersley

Coming of age novels often deal with the journey from adolescence to adulthood but the journey through adulthood, especially in those first few years, is just a treacherous. These are the waters Chris Womersley, author of the brilliant Bereft, explores in his new novel, Cairo. A book not about Egypt but instead an old apartment building in Melbourne in the 1980s.

Tom Button is a seventeen year old country boy who has moved to the city to attend university. Through the death of his Aunt he ends up moving into Cairo. Tom has never left home before or his small town of Dunley and moving to Melbourne to live on his own is a journey through many new doors.

Cairo’s tenants are an eclectic bunch and Tom soon falls in with a bohemian couple and their friends. This group of artists and musicians captivate Tom. Spellbound by the group’s centre, Max Cheever and falling hopelessly in love with Max’s wife Sally, Tom is convinced to ditch his plans for formal education and instead let the world be his guide. Tom quickly adapts to this new lifestyle of parties and art shows and is eager to be part of the group’s dream to leave Australia behind and settle in France and write novels, compose music and make art together.

Womersley sets all this against the real life theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria. A theft that remains a mystery today despite the painting being returned. Womersley uses this advantage to create his own version of events. Events Tom is all to easily caught up in, blinded to the consequences, deceptions and betrayals.

At first glance I wasn’t drawn to the storyline of this novel but Womersley’s writing quickly drew me in just as it did in Bereft. Tom’s naivety and innocence is deftly drawn and exploited, especially when it comes to love. The way Tom is enchanted by the older, seemingly more wise, group is a trap most of us have been guilty of at one point or more in our lives and blended with a real life art heist makes for addictive reading.

Buy the book here…

Part Southern Gothic, Part Epic Odyssey, Part Clash of Worlds

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Review – Southern Cross The Dog

This novel captured my imagination and attention from the first words. Set in the American South after the great Mississippi Flood of 1927 the story is part southern gothic, part epic odyssey, part clash of worlds. At the same time it is a tender story about the endurance of the human heart and the lengths it can go to survive. Bill Cheng explores a world deeply rooted in the past that is crashing headlong into the future and resisting with all its might despite the people caught in between.

The story begins with a flood that washes away people’s homes and lives. The poor and down trodden are left to fend for themselves and the imagery of Hurricane Katrina almost 90 years later echoes through your mind. A young boy will first lose his home then his friends and finally his family. First in the flood, then in the aftermath. And so a journey begins. An odyssey of sorts through flood and fire, decay and renewal, past and present. A boy becomes a man and must choose whether or not to stick with the past or run into the future.

The comparisons to Cormac McCarthy abound but I think they’re off the mark. McCarthy’s writing is often sparse and direct while Cheng’s is more poetic and profound. His style and the structure of the story is more reminiscent of Column McCann but Cheng’s own distinct voice shines through. Cheng brings vividly to life a physical world of decay and renewal, hope and despair and echoes these sentiments through his characters. Hauntingly sad this is an epic journey that tests and strains the limits of human endurance both physically and of the heart.

Buy the book here…

Review – Visitation Street

Visitation Street is urban opera writ large. Gritty and magical, filled with mystery, poetry and pain, Ivy Pochoda’s voice recalls Richard Price, Junot Diaz, and even Alice Sebold, yet it’s indelibly her own.” – Dennis Lehane

9781444778250This quote on the back of the book drew me straight in to this book and I was not disappointed. This is a brilliantly written mystery set in and around the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Red Hook. Two girls take a raft out one summer evening but only one returns. What happened? The events will echo through the tightly divided neighbourhood.

We follow the surviving girl Valerie as she tries to cope with what has happened to her best friend June. We follow Cree, a young African-American man from the projects who was the last to see the girls together. We follow Jonathan, the local music teacher who found Valerie but also has his own demons to contend with. And we follow Fadi who owns the local bodega which, through a lot of his own hard work, is the hub of the Red Hook community. And through these characters we meet the mysterious Ren who has his own secrets to keep and tell.

This is what good crime fiction is all about. The story, the people, the place is all real and living on the page. There are no quirky cops, in fact there are barely any cops at all. There is no vicious or deranged killer. There are no plot twists. It is just life where people are trying to survive; with each other, with the world, with their past. There are only a handful of writers who can write crime like this; George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon and Laura Lippman. Ivy Pochoda joins them and I can’t wait to read more from her.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile – Adrian McKinty, author of In The Morning I’ll Be Gone

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Adrian McKinty, author of I Hear The Sirens In The Streets

Tell us about your latest creation:

In The Morning I’ll Be Gone: a locked room mystery set in Northern Ireland in 1985 featuring Detective Inspector Sean Duffy.

9781846688201Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I’m from Belfast and I live in St Kilda.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

Always wanted to be a writer.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

The Cold Cold Ground: a generally unbiased and accurate account of what Northern Ireland was like in the apocalyptic year of 1981.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

Coffee shops mostly and St Kilda library. Sometimes a pub called The Local Taphouse.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read everything. I have read everything.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

Probably The Lord of the Rings when I was about 10.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Stephen Maturin from the Patrick O’Brian books because he’s such a bad ass.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

White collar crime.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Illegal Pete’s Big Fish Burrito, Boulder Colorado. Russian River Pliny The Elder IPA.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Winston Churchill because he saved the world drunk off his ass half the time. And he was a hell of a writer too.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books
and reading?:

Reading books will increasingly become a niche cult activity but its our job to make it a cool niche cult activity.

Blog URL: adrianmckinty.blogspot.com
Twitter URL: @adrianmckinty

Review – The Twenty-Year Death

9780857689184As a lover of crime fiction I was literally in awe of this book. It is a crime lover’s dream come true. It is an epic story told in three novels, each in the style of the masters of noir fiction: Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler & Jim Thompson. Each novel stands out on its own and would be worth of a separate purchase and read but together make a crime story that is almost magical.

I have to confess here that I haven’t read any of the three authors Ariel Winter pays tribute to, which is something I am going to rectify in the next 12 months. Georges Simenon was probably the least familiar to me where as Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson were more familiar as it obvious they are the inspiration for so many crime writers today, particularly the darker stuff that I am drawn to.

The first novel, Malniveau Prison, is inspired by Georges Simenon and is set in the small French town of Verargent in 1931. During at torrential rain storm a body is found in the gutter outside the town baker’s house. The man has been stabbed multiple times. Verargent’s small police force is not used to conducting a murder investigation however Chief Inspector Pelleter, from Paris, is in town to visit a prisoner and the nearby prison. Pelleter, who is famous for closing some famous cases, assumes control of the investigation. The murdered man turns out to be a prisoner from the local jail but he hasn’t been reported missing.

The opening story is superbly paced. Like the chief inspector you sense the mystery is bigger that first appearances and the eccentricities of the small town and its inhabitants further compound this sense. As Pelleter digs at the edges of the case and tugs each loose thread the truth is slowly loosened but justice may still prove elusive. Central to the mystery is the murdered man’s young and beautiful daughter and her over-protective husband, a famous American novelist.

The second novel, The Falling Star, is inspired by Raymond Chandler and is set a decade later in Hollywood. Dennis Foster is an ex-cop, turned private eye. He is hired to keep an eye on a movie star who is convinced she is being followed. But Foster is not comfortable in the bodyguard role and following a hunch begins to tail the movie star’s philandering husband, a now famous Hollywood writer. Instead of protecting the movie star he instead implicates her in the murder of her husband’s girlfriend. Foster is quickly fired and shut out of the murder investigation. But he can’t let the case go. He must not only clear the movie star’s name and find the real killer he also must watch his back.

The middle story is full of atmosphere. You can almost see the movie in black & white. Winter channels Chandler with consummate ease and you feel like you are reading a crime classic. Foster cuts a path through the power and influence of Hollywood and down into the darker and seedier parts of Tinsel Town to not only find the truth but also save a woman, not only from those that could do her harm, but from herself too.

The third novel, Police At The Funeral, is inspired by Jim Thompson and is classic noir fiction. The writer we have met in the previous two stories takes the lead. It has been twenty years since we first met him in a small French town. He is now a struggling alcoholic, up to his ears in debt. His first wife has recently passed away and he is in town to find out what, if anything, he stands to get from her estate. Instead his estranged son inherits the entire $2 million estate. After a heavy night’s drinking he confronts his son in an effort to try and reconcile their differences, instead the ensuing argument gets out of control.

The final story is a classic perspective story. Winter puts us right in the head of the struggling writer and we witness first hand hand his desires, motivations and regrets. In doing so we see the form of a killer take shape. We are convinced that the son’s death was an accident but the lengths the writer has to go to cover it up means that there is no coming back.

This book is a true masterpiece of crime writing and for it to be the author’s debut is a remarkable accomplishment. It shows the depth and breadth of what is possible within the crime genre and is a hugely satisfying read. And it has inspired me to visit some of the classics of the crime genre.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile – Michael Robotham, author of Watching You

mr-press2-lgeMichael Robotham, author of Watching You

Tell us about your latest creation:

WATCHING YOU is a psychological thriller featuring some family characters – psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and former detective Vincent Ruiz. It also introduces someone new – Marnie Logan, a mother of two, whose husband has been missing for more than a year. Suffering from blackouts and increasingly desperate, Marnie has always had a sense that she’s being watched – ever since she was a young girl – but now she’s suffering from blackouts and gaps in her memory. Enter psychologist Joe O’Loughlin who offers to help, but the closer he looks at Marnie, the more he begins to doubt her story. Is she being haunted by some past tragedy – or is there someone very real and dangerous watching her?

9781847445278Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in Casino in northern NSW and grew up in country towns like Gundagai and Coffs Harbour. Now I live on Sydney’s northern beaches.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

I wanted to be a writer from the age of about 12 when I discovered the writings of Ray Bradbury, who is best known for Fahrenheit 451. I wrote a letter to Bradbury and he wrote back, sending me several books that weren’t available in Australia. It was that generosity that made me want to become a writer. What do you consider to be your best work? Why?: Asking a writer to nominate his or her best work is like asking a parent, ‘Which is your favourite child?’

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

My children call my office ‘Dad’s Cabana of Cruelty’. It’s a lovely place for writing such dark stories.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read very widely – not just crime writers, although I have my favourites. I’m a big fan of James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Gillian Flynn, Peter Temple and Laura Lippman.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

Lord of the Rings was a defining book for me. It was the first book I ever felt I ‘earned’. I re-read it so often that Mrs Fitzpatrick, my school librarian, forbade me taking it out again. I took to hiding it in the library. She caught me one recess and instead of punishing me, she gifted me the book. I still have it today.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Homer Wells – the orphan that nobody wanted in John Irving’s Cider House Rules. His was a life  full of tragedy, but he also great love. He is a true prince of Maine and King of New England.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

This is really boring. I have no hobbies. Writing is my passion, my hobby, my career. It’s what I do. And when I’m not writing, I’m reading.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Writers and alcohol have always had a close relationship. For me it’s a reward for a day at my desk. A glass of white wine. A gin & tonic. A Bloody Mary….don’t get me started.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I admire the unsung heroes, those people who care for our sick, elderly and disabled, who earn low pay and are constantly told the coffers are empty whenever they ask for more. Why is that  CEOs never make the same sacrifices?

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

The biggest challenge facing books will partly come from the technology but also from changing public perceptions. Piracy looms, but perhaps a greater threat is the tsunami of cheap self-published titles flooding the marketplace – creating a new generation of readers who think a book is only worth 99c.

Website URL: www.michaelrobotham.com
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelRobothamAU
Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/michaelrobotham

Review – The Cold, Cold Ground & I Hear The Sirens In The Street

9781846688232The Cold, Cold Ground

I have been a fan of Adrian McKinty ever since I picked up DEAD I WELL MAY BE. I knew he had me hooked the moment Michael Forsythe began listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind on a New York Subway Train. I’ve always had a soft spot for Irish writers but that book took my breath away and I’ve eagerly awaited every book since. His new book begins with a reference to my favourite novel, THE THIN RED LINE by James Jones, and I knew straight away he had me. And no exaggeration, this is one of the best crime novels I have ever read. McKinty’s last books, FALLING GLASS, was superb but THE COLD, COLD GROUND blew me utterly away. It is easily his best book to date and is also the start of a new trilogy. I cannot wait to see where he takes it.

Set in Belfast, 1981 McKinty immerses you completely in the time and place. Right from the opening pages you are put smack in the middle of the riots and the hunger strikes. Belfast is a war zone where law and order aren’t worth the bricks they’re graffiti’d on. Sean Duffy is a Catholic detective in the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). This and his ‘charm’ make him a magnet for trouble and he is posted to relatively quite Carrickfergus (relative to Belfast not anywhere else).

Through Duffy, McKinty explores the absurdity of ‘The Troubles’, the hypocrisy on both sides, the ignorant hatred and the politics of self-interest from Irish and British alike.

In the midst of all this a killer on the loose targeting homosexuals. The media isn’t focused on the murders and in a country where homosexuality is illegal and the paramilitaries on both sides have a zero-tolerance attitude there is nothing but apathy to the case. Except of course from Sean Duffy.

This all sounds very bleak but the novel is littered with brilliant humour. Duffy is a real smart-arse particularly when he shouldn’t be and the banter amongst the cops and between the various paramilitary groups is highly entertaining and stops you falling into a well of despair. The ending, as always with McKinty, is an absolute cracker with a wee taste of things to come.

This book is what crime writing is all about. A mystery to keep you guessing, plotted to make you turn the pages as fast as you can but the heart of the story is the place the characters inhabit and the complicated mess in which they must exist and by the end you’re not concerned with who did it or if justice is done because your mind has been opened up to a much bigger picture which can never be black and white. Bravo Adrian McKinty.

Buy the book here…

9781846688188I Hear The Sirens In The Street

The second installment of the Sean Duffy trilogy is set a year later in 1982. The Hunger Strikes maybe over but Belfast is still well and truly deep in The Troubles. When Britain goes to war with Argentina over the Falklands the tensions and dangers only increase. Sean Duffy’s nose for trouble is still acute but if he can’t find trouble he can certainly stir it up. The novel opens with Duffy doing just that which leads him to finding a torso in a suitcase. Being Northern Ireland there are a myriad of possibilities and Duffy won’t leave any stone unturned no matter whose toes he tramples on.

McKinty again drops you smack bang into Belfast with all the sights and sounds of 1982 as well as what was effectively a war zone. The brilliantly plotted crime mystery is infused with wickedly black humour and the politics of Northern Ireland has the added complexity of Britain being distracted and America taking an unofficial interest. The book also centers around the DeLorean Factory (the car from Back To The Future) and the economics of a war torn city.

I’ve loved all Adrian McKinty’s books but there is something special about this trilogy he is creating. This trilogy will go down as one of the absolute classics of the crime genre and I’m already dying to see how the trilogy ends especially after reading the small preview you’re given at then end of this book. These books are why I love the crime genre. It goes places other fiction rarely dares and it takes you there from different perspectives while thoroughly entertaining you at the same time.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Jenn J McLeod, author of House For All Seasons

Jenn J McLeodJenn J McLeod, author of House For All Seasons

Tell us about your latest creation:

My “come home to the country” women’s fiction story collection started with House for all Seasons (March 2013 and to lovely 5-star reviews). BLURB: Bequeathed a century-old house, four estranged friends return to their hometown, Calingarry Crossing, where each must stay for a season at the Dandelion House to fulfil the wishes of their benefactor, Gypsy. Surrounded by the past, the women discover something about themselves and a secret that ties all four to each other and to the house – forever.

9781922052049Where are you from / where do you call home?:

A city girl (Sydney)for a long time, I “came home to the country” in 2004 to focus on my writing. I run a B&B for people w/ pets in a small rural hamlet in the Coffs hinterland

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

I was supposed to be a multi-disciplined musician (like my Dad), study at The Conservatorium (like my Aunt), be a famous opera singer (like my cousin – whose sons – Ben and Alexander Lewis – are now making their own musical mark internationally).

I chose to write — the computer my keyboard of choice — leaving the old upright piano to languish in the living room and the daddy longlegs to weave their web around the piano’s soundboard and strings while I weave my stories.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

The reveiws and feedback on my debut (House for all Seasons) has been overwhelming, but as a writer grows and gets a feel for what their readers want, I think the best is always ‘yet to come’. I’m going with that! I have four books planned in my Seasons Collection. (The Simmering Season in March 2014 and two more after that – all going to plan!)

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

When not mopping floors and making beds in the B&B, I write everyday (and half the night) from my humble, homemade desk tucked in the corner of the living room, and find my muse in Strawberry and Daiquiri (two fluffy white mutts – little heartbeats always asleep at my feet – that’s when they’re not impatiently nosing the dinner bowl or sleeping on the leather lounge).

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I am always writing, but I was once told, “to be a great writer, one must be a great reader”. So I do try to read. I read new releases by author I know. I read the occasional ‘hype’ book to work out why it’s hyped! I read a classic when I can, but with such a huge author network, my TBR pile of books is toppling.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

I started reading late in life. My early ‘reading’ (inspiring my love of stories and words) were more likely song lyrics, stage productions and musicals. (I used to write poetry and lyrics.) I still love seeing all the Disney production with those wonderful musical numbers that tell stories. Fairytales from my childhood with music! Bliss!

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I’m not sure who I’d want to BE, but I LOVED Loretta Boskovic in P.A. O’Reilly’s The Fine Colour of Rust. I’d love her “I don’t give a …” attitude! A modern day heroine for sure!

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

Make beds and mop floors – and garden. SURPRISE! :)It’s a very special part of the world where I live and my property requires time and effort to tame the flora (and fauna)!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

There is not enough space to answer this question. What DON’T I love! When I first left the city, I bought a small cafe in a small country town. (Not that I’d ever run a cafe before. I’d drunk lots of coffee so how hard could it be? Hard!) But that’s how much I love food and coffee!

Who is your hero? Why?:

My Dad, because he tolerated everything I put him through as a brat! (But why does this question say say hero? What about heroines? 😉 We need more heroines in our lives, which is why I write the women’s fiction characters I do.)

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

Keeping up! There are so many books coming out these days. We need to read by osmosis or something. (Download a brain chip, or like Google Glasses have a book in front of our eyes 24/7.) Maybe then I can get through my TBR pile.

Website URL: www.jennjmcleod.com
Blog URL: www.jennjmcleod.com/blog
Facebook Page URL: www.facebook.com/JennJMcLeod.Books
Twitter URL: www.twitter.com/jennjmcleod

Book Review – Skinner

9781409124375You’ve never read an espionage thriller like this before. It is complex and twisted and there are no easy answers. Huston challenges you as a reader, which I totally love, to not only keep up but also decipher what is happening both on the surface and below it. Taking a world of unmanned drones, wikileaks and social media Huston has constructed a complex and nuanced spy story that will blow your mind.

Skinner works for a company called Kestrel, a private offshoot, so to speak, of the CIA. His job is to protects assets and do whatever that takes. He has a fearsome reputation built on his own maxim where if someone tries to take, hurt or kill an asset in his protection he will seek revenge against anyone and everyone involved in the threat. But when his employer seemingly sets him up, he breaks from his maxim and goes to ground.

Seven years later a serious cyber attack has taken place on a power station in the US. Jae, a brilliant robotics expert and data analyst, is called in by Kestrel to find what Kestrel’s analysts have been unable to spot. She is a valuable asset and they need Skinner to protect her. Skinner is coaxed out of hiding but he can’t trust Kestrel and Kestrel can’t trust Skinner. Everyone knows what he is capable of, what they don’t know is what Skinner will actually do.

It took me a while to get into the book, to get my head around Kestrel and in particular Skinner, whose backstory is something that needs to be digested. But once the strands of the story started to form together the book just absorbs you. There is something manic to the writing, which is reflective of the book’s characters. It builds in sentences and then calms but there’s always the threat that it will all boil over. But once you get the rhythm, of the characters, you are in all the way.

Huston’s last book, Sleepless, elevated his writing to a new level, Skinner takes it even further. Huston is amongst the best when it comes to action but he builds those scenes around cutting-edge, thought-provoking storylines. In Skinner he taps into issues of poverty, anarchy, terror and despair. He explores the inhumanity of warfare, on the battlefield and behind closed doors, and the power of information in a socially networked world. It will reverberate inside your head for days after you finish reading it.

But the book here…

Player Profile: Banafsheh Serov, author of The Russian Tapestry

 

Banafsheh SerovBanafsheh Serov, author of The Russian Tapestry

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Russian Tapestry is a tale of love and turmoil based on the true story of my husband’s grandparents, a romance that spans the years of the Great War and the Russian revolution, and is set in the ballrooms of St Petersburg, the streets of the rioting city, and the POW camps.

9780733629860At the start of the war, Alexis Serov is a commander in the Tsar’s Army and Marie Kulbas, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is a Law student in Petrograd. Their story and eventual love affair is a tapestry of family and Russian history, a weaving of truth and imagination, fact and fiction.
I first became interested in the story of Marie and Alexei when I was dating my now husband. Visiting his house, I saw a painting of Alexei in his dress uniform, wearing a breast full of medals. As a long-time lover of Russian literature,  I started imagining the glittering world they inhabited, their first meeting and love affair.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in London and spent my childhood years in Teheran. My family fled Iran in ’82 in the midst of Iran/Iraq war to Turkey, where we were caught and spent time in a detention centre while our refugee status was decided. We later immigrated to Australia that same year, arriving in Sydney in August ’82 where we’ve been living ever since.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

Growing up I had grand notions of joining the corporate world after graduating from Uni. I loved marketing and economics (still do) and saw myself climbing the executive ladder. It was only whilst doing a post-grad degree at Macquarie Uni did it dawn on me that I’m not suited to working in a corporation. The thought of writing did not come to me until much later in life.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I think I’m still growing into my craft and wouldn’t want to think that my best is already behind me. Hopefully I’ll continue to improve with every book.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

We have a small house with no spare room/ space that I can turn into a office. I write on my dining table (I have a picture of it on my Facebook). Thankfully its a fairly long table which allows me to easily spread my papers and books. Everything is cleared off in the evenings and filed away in special baskets slotted into my bookshelf.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read a variety of books, but I have a particular soft spot for Australian authors. I’ve just finished Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and have started reading The Asylum by John Harwood.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

The first book I remember reading on my own was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I stayed up all night to finish it. I still remember the thrill of wanting to know what’s going to happen next and not being able to fall sleep until I find
out.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I quite like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind. She is sassy, resourceful and brave. I wouldn’t however waste my breath on Ashley, instead I’d be gunning for Rhett Butler from the very beginning.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I run, practice Yoga, and do a bit of belly dancing, but not professionally. What is your favourite food and favourite drink?: I love Persian Cuisine. If you haven’t tried it already, do yourself a favour and do so. As for drinks, after a particularly hard day, nothing beats vodka with freshly squeezed lime juice.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I adore Geraldine Brooks. Year of Wonders literally took my breath away and since then, I’ve read all her books. I love her skill in seamlessly weaving history (often choosing real life characters) into her fiction. Vikram Seth is another one of my heroes as is Tolstoy and Hugo for their sheer ability to write epic novels.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

I’m not particularly worried about books disappearing. Book lovers (and I include myself amongst them) love owning physical books. From the weight of it in our hands, to the smell of the ink on the page, it adds to the overall experience and enjoyment of reading a book. Smart phones and tablets are probably the biggest challenge to people’s reading habits. With entertainment, social media and games readily available at their fingertips, it’s easy to get distracted and neglect time spent reading.

Website URL: banafshehserov.com
Facebook Page URL: facebook.com/BanafshehSerov
Twitter URL: @B_Serov

Book Review – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“Life: a constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” – definition of life in a Russian medical dictionary

9781781090060If you ever doubted the power of fiction then this is the novel to reaffirm your belief. If you already know how powerful fiction can be, prepared to be blown away. In the tradition of The Kite Runner, Anthony Marra tells a story of love and war, horror and humour, the absurd and the profound that will make you laugh out loud and feel grief in the pit of your stomach.

One of the things (apart from the fantastic storytelling) that made The Kite Runner such a huge success was that it opened readers in The West’s eyes to a country that we had all ignored for decades but in the wake of 9/11 now had to confront. Khaled Hosseini gave us a story of a father and son, forced to flee their country after it was invaded and what it was like to return home decades later after the Taliban had taken control. He followed this up with A Thousand Splendid Suns which gave us the story of an Afghan woman who didn’t leave and we live through the horrors of life under the Taliban. Anthony Marra does something equally as powerful with the wars in Chechnya between 1994 and 2004. And after recent events in Boston this already powerful and poignant story takes on much more meaning and significance

Like Afghanistan my knowledge of Chechnya was sorely lacking. I was completely ignorant. I knew there had been a brutal war for independence from Russia there in the 1990s. I knew that there had been terrorist attacks in Russia by Chechen militants.I didn’t know there had been two separate wars, I thought it had been one long war. I did know Chechens were largely Muslim and that Russia had used the same rhetoric the US had to invade Iraq and Afghanistan to justify increasing their military campaign. But this was just stuff I’d gleaned from snippets on television news and short snippets in newspapers. I had no real understanding, no comprehension, no humanity. This novel changes all that.

The novel centres on a small Chechen village and four of its residents as well as a doctor at a nearby hospital. They have all lost something in the wars. They are all clinging to something else. A piece of hope, real and imagined. They are all trying to find a way to survive. They are not innocent but nor are they guilty. They are just trying to live a life cruelly interrupted by bombs, mortars and landmines. Where friends, colleagues, family members can simply disappear overnight. As you learn more about each character the depth of the tragedy of war is exposed; piece by piece, brick by brick, scar by scar.

I was completely immersed in this novel and its characters and literally balled my eyes out at the end. Anthony Marra’s novel does more than just put a human face on a human tragedy, he puts the tragedy inside you. You fell the pain and misery deep inside your bones but also the underlying power humanity. It’s uncrushable joy and hope and determination.

I never thought I could read a book that could surpass the absurdity of war captured by David Benioff’s City Of Thieves. Or the power of story and family captured by Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife. Or the humanity captured by Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. But that is exactly what A Constellation of Vital Phenomena does. This is a book I will never forget.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Richard Beasley, author of Me and Rory MacBeath

6994290Richard Beasley, author of Me and Rory MacBeath

Tell us about your latest creation:

“Me and Rory Macbeath” is a novel set in the 1970’s about the friendship between two boys (Jake and Rory) who meet at the start of the summer when they are both twelve. They have the kind of fun together that kids did in summer back in the 70’s. Rory has a very violent father though, and the childhood of both boys is ended abruptly by a terrible event that happens as a result of that violence. In the trial that follows, the female defence barrister is the kind of person I would like to be a member of my chambers now, although we would probably have to up the wine budget.

Me and Rory MacBeathWhere are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in Sydney, grew up in Adelaide, and have lived in Sydney most of my adult life, or at least the part of my adult life that has involved being a lawyer/barrister.  I have never lived more than 1 kilometre from Randwick Racecourse. My bank manager and my trustee can tell you why

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

When I was a kid I wanted to be a test cricketer. That was in the 1970’s. I still want to be a test cricketer. It looks like I still have a chance. The Dream lives on.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

Me and Rory Macbeath. It’s a better story than my first two books. And it has much less swearing.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I wrote my first novel when I was a “baby-barrister”. I had a ‘readers room’ on my floor, which was literally an old broom closet, about 1metre x 1 metre. It’s famous now for having had “Hell has Harbour Views” written in it, and for having the child of one of our floor members conceived in it. My second novel I wrote in my current room in chambers. It is a windowless room, with 1960’s wood panelling. It’s the sort of room that requires even my clients to take 3 Prozac tablets before walking inside. It’s not a creative space. I wrote “Me and Rory Macbeath” at home, in our study, with our dog at my feet. That was much nicer. She’s much better company than other barristers too, and gave me more incisive feedback on my first draft than they or my previous publisher did.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I love reading Carl Hiassen. He’s the funniest writer ever, and I really like crime books that don’t have police in them. For more serious reading, I’ve loved everything by Cormac McCarthy I’ve read over the last few years, and Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

“The Catcher in the Rye”. My Year 10 English teacher recommended it. He started calling me “Holden” shortly afterwards. My mother still calls me Holden. And “The Great Gatsby”. It’s very hard for me not to order a custom made shirt every time I think about that book, which is daily.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

A male barrister who doesn’t want to be Atticus Finch hasn’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I’d kind of like to be Winston Smith from 1984, because the world, its governments, and big corporations all make me feel like him sometimes. Obviously I want a different ending, with Winston leading some kind of overthrow of Big Brother.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I cook a lot. I am really good. I’ve watched all the celebrity chefs on TV. I am as good as them all, and tidier. I would win Masterchef easily if I went on it, but I don’t like “dorm” accomodation, and would miss my family.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Red meat. Red wine.

Who is your hero? Why?:

In Politics: Gough Whitlam. I like the huge size of his vision. I was only 11 when he was dismissed, but I thought it was dodgy even then. As someone who now has legal expertise, I now think it was illegal. I want Gough reinstated.

In Books: F Scott Fitzgerald. I learntThe Great Gatsby off by heart when I was 17. There will never be another book like that for me. I bored dozens of girls reciting it from when I was 18 until I was about 25. They all married men who strongly resemble Tom Buchanan for some reason.

Music: John Lennon. I just love his songs. I love his playfulness with words. I liked his attitude. I even like Yoko.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

The survival of good bookshops is a key. That is one part of retail that I hope survives the online revolution and finds a way to thrive. I’m kind of optimistic though. My kids read a HELL of a lot more books than I did when I was in Primary School. So do their friends and classmates. So that make me hopeful.

Website URL: You don’t want a lawyer
Twitter URL: @richardcbeasley

Review – Me and Rory MacBeath

Me and Rory MacBeathI fell instantly in love with this book. There are echoes of Jasper Jones, Tim Winton’s Breath and Past The Shallows but this novel stands on it’s own two feet. It is truly something special. It is a combination of so many wonderful parts. Part coming-of-age story, part reminiscence of summers lost. It is, at it’s heart, a story about friendship and family and the bonds they form that either make us stronger or drag us down.

The story centres on Rose Avenue in the suburbs of Adelaide in the summer of 1977. A seemingly idyllic street where everybody knows each other, sometimes a bit too much. This street is the centre of Jake Taylor’s universe where he lives with his Mum, Harry, a successful barrister. Jake is 13 and about to start high school. But before that the whole of summer is ahead of him filled with swimming, cricket and fishing as well as a new neighbour and friend, Rory MacBeath. Jake’s not sure about Rory, he’s from Glasgow and can’t swim, bowl or bat but he can fish. By summer’s end their bond of friendship is rock solid. But as the MacBeath’s settle into Rose Avenue Jake begins to learn that all is not well in their household.

As Jake enters High School his world begins to change. Friendships are tested and strained as Jake’s world, and his friends’, branch out from Rose Avenue. As Jake tries to navigate this new world, with its new troubles and problems, the troubles on Rose Avenue boil over with tragic consequences and the enigmatic and irrepressible Harry is the only one who can do anything to help. But it may be too late to fix anything at all.

Harry Taylor is the soul of the book and one of those rare characters you meet in fiction that you hope and wish are really out there in the world. She’s the only constant in Jake’s life and is always ready to fight the good fight, in the courtroom or in the front yard, even when that good fight is stacked against her.

This is a book that hits every note in the emotional spectrum; I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I booed, I dared to hope, I shook my fist at the world. It is a story about growing up and how that changes us deep inside. It is also about how we learn who we are and what we’re made of, the lessons learned and ignored, and the friendships forged and broken and that we have to stand up for these things one way or another. But the way we stand up for these things is as important as what we stand up for and the courage to do that can be hard to find.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Angela Savage, author of The Dying Beach

Angela Savage, author of The Dying Beach

Author shot_Paul X Stoney_smallTell us about your latest creation:

The Dying Beach, set in the exquisite southern Thai province of Krabi, finds expatriate PI Jayne Keeney investigating the death of a young tour guide, a case that takes her into the murky world of corruption and environmental destruction.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

9781921922497I was born in Melbourne and call it home, but my heart is divided between Australia and Southeast Asia. When you were a kid, what did you want to become? An author?: I’ve wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember. I still have a book of bad poetry that I made as a ten-year-old, complete with ‘About the Author’ blurb on the back cover.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I believe writing is a craft and you get better with practice. My best work is still to come. Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?: I share a study with my partner, also a crime writer. His desk is ordered. Mine is chaotic. Thus the world balances itself.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I love good writing. I love books that reveal something new about the world and make me feel transported. I read mostly crime fiction and non-genre fiction, as well as at least one classic and one non-fiction book each year. Among contemporary Australian crime writers whose work I admire are Honey Brown, Robert Gott, Wendy James, David Whish-Wilson and Leigh Redhead. Two of my favourite books of all time are The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck by Beatrix Potter stands out from a childhood rich in books as my first thriller. The tale of a naïve duck who accepts the offer of a sandy-whiskered gentleman to incubate her eggs in his feather filled wood-shed still gave me chills more than 30 years later when I read it to my daughter. Jemima Puddle-Duck introduced me the power of literature that unsettles, frightens, arouses, and introduced me to the perennial literary theme of inappropriate relationships.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I would be an outsider drawn to Asia, like the unnamed narrator in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust, or journalist Guy Hamilton in Christopher Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

Spare time? I work four days a week, write books, try to maintain an ‘online presence’ and a functioning household with a partner and young child… I sometimes get to knit in front of DVDs. I also enjoy singing along to 80s pop music. Loudly.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I love Lao, Thai, Malaysian, Indian and good Italian food, French cheese and Belgian chocolate. I like New Zealand sauvignon blanc in summer, Australian shiraz in winter and Irish whiskey all year round.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I’m not really one for hero worship, but I have enormous admiration for the people I’ve had the privilege of working with on HIV/AIDS prevention in Southeast Asia over the years. I reserve particular admiration for the bravery and resilience of the Cambodians I worked with.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books
and reading?:

A friend suggested recently that we are headed for another Dark Ages, with the digitisation of so many of our cultural products. I think the biggest challenge is ultimately how we protect and preserve books for future generations.
Website URL: www.angelasavage.wordpress.com
Blog URL: www.angelasavage.wordpress.com
Facebook Page URL: a.savage.925
Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/angsavage

Player Profile: Kate Forsyth, author of The Wild Girl

Kate H-S smlKate Forsyth, author of The Wild Girl

Tell us about your latest creation:

THE WILD GIRL tells the story of star-crossed lovers Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales. Set during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars, THE WILD GIRL is a tale of love, desire, heartbreak and the redemptive power of storytelling.

9781741668490Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Sydney, Australia

When you were a kid, what did you want to become? An author?:

I’ve always wanted to be an author, I’ve never wanted to be anything else. I wrote my first book at the age of seven.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I’m very proud of THE WILD GIRL, which is the most difficult and challenging book I’ve ever written. I poured everything I have into it, and I’m so glad that so many people are
loving it so much.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I write in a book-lined study with a view across my garden to the ocean.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read a wide range of different books, though my favourite genre is historical fiction.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

I loved authors such as C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken, Geoffrey Trease and Rosemary Sutcliff.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I’d want to be a literary character that made their living writing books, travelling the world telling stories, and was madly in love with their life … but as I can’t think of a single book with such a character, I guess I’ll just have to stay being me.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I love my garden and I love to cook. I love music and theatre and the ballet. Most of all, I love to travel and have adventure and tell stories.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A fine sparkling wine will always make me happy, especially if taken with a little smoked salmon and caviar.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I love all the women writers whose books are being read all around the world.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

Being heard above the clamour of voices all shouting their stories to the world.

Website URL: www.kateforsyth.com.au
Blog URL: http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/kates-blog
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/kateforsythauthor