8 Books With Bees on the Cover

I follow a number of book reviewers on YouTube and one of them recently mentioned their affection for books with bees on the cover. This captured my attention immediately, because I have the same bias for books with keys on the front, so I decided to keep my eyes open for bee-themed book covers and group them together.

Here’s a list of 8 books with bees on the cover.

1. The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon
This book seems to be everywhere at the moment, and I guess it’s no surprise given it was published on 1 April 2016. It’s a mystery novel about families and secrets.

2. The Bees by Laline Paull  Bees by Laline Paull
The Bees is being pitched as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Watership Down and given that the main character Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, and this is the story of her life, I can totally see why. I loved Watership Down this year, so I might give this one a go.

3. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Most Arthur Conan Doyle fans know about Sherlock’s love of bees and fans of TV shows Sherlock and Elementary might enjoy reading The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Published in 1994, it’s the first in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Homes series, which now has 14 books in the series.

4. The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau World Without Us Mireille Juchau
I think this is my favourite cover on the list. The World Without Us is a story of secrets and survival, family and community, loss and renewal.

5. Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar
This is a coming-of-age story featuring Carol and her mentally ill Grandfather.

6. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
I’m a huge fan of the Penguin clothbound classic series, and they offer a beautiful edition of Far From the Madding Crowd in their collection. Having said that, here’s another stunning edition with bees on the cover.

7. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Probably the most well known book on the list, The Secret Life of Bees is a bestselling novel that was made into a film starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys.

8. The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy The Bees Carol Ann Duffy #2
This is a poetry collection and here’s an excerpt from the blurb: Woven and weaving through the book is its presiding spirit: the bee. Sometimes the bee is Duffy’s subject, sometimes it strays into the poem, or hovers at its edge. In the end, Duffy’s point is clear: the bee symbolizes what we have left of grace in the world, and what is most precious and necessary for us to protect. Check out the stunning blue hardcover edition.

Hope you enjoyed this collection of books. If you can’t go past a good book list, check out my list of 14 Books With Keys on the Cover.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Fever of Animals

Fever of AnimalsI can’t remember if I put my hand up to review Miles Allinson’s Fever of Animals or if it was sent to me because the publisher’s PR team thought it might be up my alley. Either way, I was pleasantly and slightly surprised and confused when it arrived.

The winner of the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award, Fever of Animals is a fictional tale of a narrator named (slightly confusingly) Miles who’s trying to determine what happened to Romanian surrealist painter Emil Bafdescu.

Bafdescu disappeared in a forest in 1967. Miles hears about Bafdescu and is intrigued by his mysterious disappearance courtesy of a painting hanging in a Melbourne restaurant.

Still with me?

Let me first say that the premise of this book is intriguing and it undoubtedly hooked me (I would love to know the novel’s creative origins slash backstory). Let me say second that it is exquisitely written—Allinson possesses a lyrical writing skill far above and beyond any I do.

Let me say third that as a non-fiction reader who’ll forgive poor writing as long as the book is plot-driven and actually takes me somewhere, I’m probably not Fever of Animals’ target audience.

I assumed I was about to read a non-fiction book about animal rights ala Eating Animals when I pulled the book from its postal envelope and read the title.

Even having finished it, I still don’t know to what the title refers. If you’ve read it and know what I missed, please let me know. And yes, I feel a little silly—it seems a big thing to have missed.

That’s a three-way way of saying I truly admire the book Allinson’s crafted, but I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy it. I was never caught up in the tale as I so often am by other books. Case in point: I’ve recently found myself re-reading excerpts of, and imploring others to pick up, Andrew Westoll’s The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary.

I’m still not entirely sure what Fever of Animals was about—that may well be me not being clever enough to discern its points—and my abiding thought both while reading and after finishing its final pages were the ever-dreaded ‘so what?’.

You see, Fever of Animals ruminates on life. It’s quiet and internally focused. Which is great in and of itself. But the book doesn’t really go anywhere—something I struggled with as a time- and brain space-poor reader.

I needed something that would really pull me in, something strong enough to compete with life already demanding huge amounts of my time and attention.

Truth be told, I’m also probably a little too close to the whole ‘lost 20-something wandering around Europe’ trope to be able to view it with any decent perspective.

I’ll never argue a book has to resolve all its plots in neat fashion, but I do like to come away from a book having a sense of something having shifted. Of the character having (forgive the terrible cliché) ‘grown’ or attained some insight into themselves or their circumstances.

Still, there were moments of the novel that wholly impressed me. These include a passage where Miles reflects on flying home to see his dying father: ‘It’s rare, I suppose, that our lives are given such definition, are marked out as clearly as that, so that the part which is over tilts away, and another part—the future, for instance—begins.’

Also, it turns out there’s a (relatively unpronounceable) word for ‘Are you going to keep tickling me in the face in the same spot repeatedly?’

There are these rather memorably bleak passages too:

They say an elephant will stay on its feet for ten days after it’s been shot. They say that some animals can sense a volcano days before it erupts, and that they’d rather kill themselves. In such cases, the water in the bay will teem with drowning snakes.

[smoking]…and I stand with the students there beside the sliding doors, breathing out plumes of toxic smoke towards the rain, like one of those grey patients I remember from the hospital: like someone who feels free to smoke as much as they want now because they are dying from something else.

Despite not being its best reader, I can see why Fever of Animals won the unpublished manuscript award. Allinson is clearly talented and this text would have leapt off the submissions pile.

The book may not be for me, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for others. It also doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be interested in reading what Allinson creates after this, his first novel. I look forward to see what he publishes next.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma is one of my favourite reads of the year, and I was excited to hear it had been The Fishermen by Chigozie Obiomalonglisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2015, and elated when it made the shortlist. Woohoo!

Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma has crafted a magical book about brotherly love and the meaning of family in The Fishermen. Breaking the rules by fishing at the local forbidden river, four brothers come across a local madman who has a history of delivering accurate prophecies. The madman tells the eldest boy that he will die at the hands of one of his brothers.

This prophecy has a devastating effect on the brothers and ends up tearing the entire family apart. But can the madman actually see the future, or do the boys give the prophecy life with their belief? This is up to the reader to decide.

The Fishermen is at times funny, moving, heartbreaking, lyrical and magical. The narrator Ben is the youngest of the four brothers and we see the events unfold through his eyes. Thinking of Ben right now makes my chest ache with longing; that’s how much this story sticks with you. Even the cover (above, right) showing the four fishing hooks representing each of the brothers is poignant and full of meaning to me.

The Fishermen is so perfect (in my humble opinion) that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel for Chigozie Obioma. He’s certainly in good company amongst his fellow shortlisted writers.A Spool of Blue Thread

The other Man Booker shortlisted novels for 2015 are:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

In case you’re wondering how a Nigerian author qualifies for the Man Booker, this is the second year the prize has been open to writers of any nationality, as long as they write originally in English and publish in the UK. (Previously, the prize was only open to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe).

Have you read The Fishermen or any of the others novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction this year? I’ll definitely be crossing my fingers Chigozie Obioma walks away with the prize this year. Either way, he’s definitely an author to watch out for in the future.

Queensland Literary Awards 2015 – still time to vote

After its recent tumultuous history, the Qld Literary Awards are growing from strength to strength under the banner of the State Library of Queensland and a bevy of eminent sponsors.

The 2015 shortlists have just been announced and the winners will be revealed at the Awards Ceremony on Friday 9th October in Brisbane.

Some categories showcase Queensland authors. These include the Queensland Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance

Shortlisted authors are:Heat and light

The impressive Ellen van Neerven  for Heat and Light  (University of Queensland Press)

Zoe Boccabella  Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Mark Bahnisch  Queensland; Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask  (NewSouth Publishing)

Anna Bligh  Through the Wall: Reflections on Leadership, Love and Survival  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Libby Connors  Warrior  (Allen & Unwin)

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

Imogen Smith  Araluen

Elizabeth Kasmer  Aurora

W. George Sargasso

Kate Elkington  Wool Spin Burn

 Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards

Andrew McMillen

Megan McGrath, Program Coordinator at the Brisbane Writers Festival

Michelle Law

Rebecca Jessen

Sam George-Allen

It is impressive how these state awards nurture and promote Qld authors.

The Qld Literary Awards are also notable for their support of Indigenous authors with the David Unaipon Award for Unpublished Indigenous Writer –

Andrew Booth  The First Octoroon or Report of an Experimental Child

Mayrah Yarragah Dreise  Social Consciousness Series

Patricia Lees with Adam C. Lees  A Question of Colour

Other categories celebrate the finest Australian writers (and some illustrators) across the country.

These include the

Griffith University Children’s Book AwardNew Boy

Meg McKinlay  A Single Stone  (Walker Books Australia)

Tasmin Janu  Figgy in the World  (Omnibus Books)

David Mackintosh  Lucky  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Nick Earls New Boy (Penguin)

Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley Teacup (Scholastic Australia)

There was a strong selection of novels, picture books and others to whittle down into a shortlist this year.

Griffith University Young Adult Book AwardAre You Seeing Me

Darren Groth  Are You Seeing Me?  (Random House Australia)

Justine Larbalestier  Razorhurst  (Allen & Unwin) This won the Aurealis spec fiction award for Horror Novel.

Diana Sweeney  The Minnow  (Text Publishing) This was a CBCA Honour Book.

John Larkin  The Pause  (Random House Australia)

Jeri Kroll  Vanishing Point  (Puncher and Wattman)

I have read these except for Vanishing Point and so am now keen to read this also. It’s great to see a publisher I know for its poetry publishing YA.

University of Queensland Fiction Book AwardSnow Kimono

Amanda Lohrey  A Short History of Richard Kline  (Black Inc)

Joan London  The Golden Age  (Random House Australia) Reviewed here

Mark Henshaw  The Snow Kimono  (Text Publishing) Reviewed here

Malcolm Knox  The Wonder Lover  (Allen & Unwin)

Rohan Wilson  To Name Those Lost  (Allen & Unwin)

University of Queensland Non-fiction Book Award

Brenda Niall  Mannix  (Text Publishing)

Don Watson  The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia  (Penguin)

Anne Manne  The Life of I: The New Culture of Narcissism  (Melbourne University Press)

Annabel Crabb  The Wife Drought  (Random House Australia)

Karen Lamb  Thea Astley: Inventing Her Own Weather  (University of Queensland Press)

University of Southern Queensland History Book AwardCyclone

Carolyn Holbrook  ANZAC, The Unauthorised Biography  (NewSouth Publishing)

Angela Woollacott  Settler Society in the Australian Colonies: Self-Government and Imperial Culture  (Oxford University Press)

Christine Kenneally  The Invisible History of the Human Race  (Black Inc)

Agnieszka Sobocinska  Visiting the Neighbours: Australians in Asia  (NewSouth Publishing)

Sophie Cunningham  Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy  (Text Publishing)

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Nic Low  Arms Race and Other Stories  (Text Publishing)

Nick Jose  Bapo  (Giramondo)

Ellen van Neerven  Heat and Light  (University of Queensland Press)

Christos Tsiolkas  Merciless Gods  (Allen & Unwin)

J.M. Coetzee  Three Stories  (Text Publishing

State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection – Judith Wright Calanthe Award

Susan Bradley Smith  Beds for All Who Come  (Five Islands Press)

Robert Adamson  Net Needle  (Black Inc)

David Brooks  Open House  (University of Queensland Press)

Lucy Dougan  The Guardians  (Giramondo)

Les Murray  Waiting for the Past  (Black Inc)

Thanks to the State Library of Queensland and supporters, including those who sponsor and give their names to specific awards.

And vote now until 5pm Friday 18 September 2015 for

The Courier-Mail 2015 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the YearNavigatio

 Nick Earls Analogue Men

Patrick Holland Navigatio

Inga Simpson Nest

Kari Gislason The Ash Burner

Zoe Boccabella Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

John Ahern On the Road…With the Kids

David Murray The Murder of Allison Baden-Clay

Mary Lou Simpson From Convict to Politician

Release of Beauty’s Kingdom by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

Long before the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, Anne Rice was writing a raunchy series of erotic novels in the 1980s under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure. The Sleeping Beauty series contained the following three novels: The Claiming of Sleeping BeautyBeauty’s Punishment and Beauty’s Release. The trilogy has been very successful for Anne Rice, and in the 1990s, she revealed her identity as the author behind the pen name A.N. Roquelaure.Beauty's Kingdom A.N. Roquelaure

The latest and most exciting news is that a new book has just been released, and Beauty’s Kingdom is the fourth in the series and the first in 30 years. Before I tell you about the latest release, let me give you a brief overview (or reminder) of the series in case you haven’t come across it before. And if the erotica genre is not for you, then click here for some art therapy to cleanse your mind, and I’ll bid you farewell.

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty is certainly not your typical fairytale, nor is it appropriate for children. Beauty is woken from her 100 year sleep, not with a kiss from a handsome prince, but with copulation. The prince takes her to his kingdom and in gratitude for waking her from her spell, Beauty is trained to become a plaything and sex slave. Don’t worry though, Beauty enjoys her encounters and falls passionately in love with a male slave. The sex is submissive and features elements of BDSM and pony play.

In Beauty’s Punishment, Beauty is punished for her affair with a fellow slave and is sold at auction. She is purchased by an innkeeper and captures the attention of the Captain of the Guard, who takes over her ‘education in love, cruelty, dominance, submission and tenderness.’ At the end of the book, Beauty and several other slaves are kidnapped and sent to serve in the palace of the Sultan.

In Beauty’s Release, Beauty finds herself in a new realm and a prisoner within a harem belonging to an Eastern Sultan. As the title suggests, she does escape her predicament and marry, but to tell you any more would be a spoiler. As the blurb says: ‘Anne Rice makes the forbidden side of passion a doorway into the hidden regions of the psyche and the heart in this final volume of the classic Sleeping Beauty trilogy,’ and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Throughout the Sleeping Beauty series, themes of desire, discipline, pleasure, pain and surrender are all explored, and the writing is evocative and erotic.

Beauty’s Kingdom is the latest release, and is set 20 years after the events at the end of Beauty’s Release. Other than that, I don’t know much more, but I can’t wait to read it.

These Are The Names

These Are The NamesIt never ceases to amaze me that every so often you come across a cultural product (in this case, a writer) you’ve never heard of, but that’s (who’s) immensely popular and bestselling in another country.

Tommy Wieringa is an award-winning Dutch writer. He’s published many books to critical and award claim, and the book most recently released in Australia, These Are The Names, won Holland’s Libris prize. That’s the Dutch equivalent of the Booker.

That prize hints at the style of book These Are The Names is: challenging; containing characters and storylines that aren’t entirely likeable but that illuminate some key human and cultural lessons. So, an arduous read, but one that’s worthily enlightening.

These Are The Names contains a motley assemblage of characters. Pontus Beg is an ageing policeman chasing the skirts of his cleaning lady and taking stock of his life—past and present. He has not, as the first line of the book tells us, become the wise, calm old man he’d envisaged. One of his feet is perpetually cold. Life and routine and alienation from family have worn him down. His family history is something of a mystery.

Beg lives in a border town on the steppe. It’s unclear which country this steppe occurs in—perhaps deliberately, or perhaps because I’m obtuse and couldn’t figure it out. Regardless, it’s a bleak, harsh town reflected in the landscape.

Concurrent to Beg’s story is that of a group of refugees attempting to cross the border to a better life. Thrown together through tense circumstance, they find themselves on a relentless, wrenching march across the steppe. They are starving, distrustful of each other, unsure if they’re going to survive.

Their and Beg’s worlds collide when the group eventually makes it to the town, at which point Beg’s task is to discover their names, their stories, and to solve a related murder. Which is a difficult task, for they have ‘become people without a history, living only in an immediate present’. They’re also ‘dead people’, one tells Beg. ‘You have no idea how often we fell asleep in the certainty that there would be no tomorrow…You can’t get to us.’

These Are The Names tackles some big themes: religion, family origins, identity, asylum, hope, and despair. It’s an unflinching look at flawed humans, the choices they make, the repercussions of those choices, and whether redemption can be had.

Each character is complex and troubled in their own ways, and the journey immensely difficult, which Wieringa wrings out through exquisite turns of phrase. For example:

A thirst that drowned out all thought, thirst that tempted you with cool ponds, that conjured up the sound of dripping faucets. They wept for rain. Every word they spoke tasted of rusty iron. The child, a boy, pinched the skin on his forearm and pulled. The puckered skin rose up and remained in place, like a crease in a sheet of paper.

And:

The dreams with which each of them had left home had gradually wilted and died off. Their dreams differed in size and weight, and remained alive in some longer than others, but in the end they had almost all disappeared. The sun had pulverised them; the rain had washed them away.

While I can’t say I enjoyed These Are The Names per say, nor can I say it’s the point. As with any Booker-style book, it’s designed to test and incrementally shift our perceptions of the world. Wieringa’s book has haunted me, which is a sign its themes resonate off the page. Most particularly, it’s made me wonder what I would do in desperate circumstances, whether as a refugee or as someone ageing and feeling increasingly obsolete and out of place.

Wieringa will be in the country shortly, but crazy work and life curveballs will prevent me from hearing him speak. My goal is now to track down some podcasts and interviews to learn more about him and his oeuvre.

For although I didn’t know about him prior to Scribe giving me the opportunity to review this book, now that I do, I’ll be seeking Wieringa’s work out.

List of books with the word ‘boy’ in the title

I enjoyed writing the blog post Books with the word ‘Girl’ in the title so much, I thought I’d do one for books that have ‘boy’ in the title. At first glance, I thought this one might be easier, but let’s see how I go.The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The first book that comes to mind for me is The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. Now a very well-known motion picture film, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is definitely unforgettable, but did you know it is rumoured that author John Boyne wrote the entire first draft in two and a half days? Amazing!

As you might expect, there are a number of YA titles with ‘boy’ in the title, beginning with Boy – Tales of Childhood by none other than Roald Dahl. Published in 1984, Roald Dahl recounts his days as a child growing up in the public school system in England and the living conditions in the 1920s – 1930s.

Boy Roald DahlMany of us will remember reading Storm Boy by Australian author Colin Thiele at school and might even admit to crying at the end (I think I had something in my eye). It’s a story about a boy and his pelican and was part of the school curriculum when I was growing up.

Another Australian contribution to this list is Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Set in a mysterious museum, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a modern day fairytale about the power of friendship, courage and love and of course, never giving up.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf is such a familiar story with a powerful message – we all know it – but when you look up the title in any directory you’ll see a swag of authors and can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. The edition I’ve selected for this collection is The Boy Who Cried Wolf with The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs illustrated by Val Biro, primarily because it’s marketed as Aesop’s Fables for Easy Readers. Perfect right?

For those who enjoy delving into non-fiction, there’s The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog And Other Stories From A Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook – What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing by Bruce Perry and Maia Azalavitz.About a Boy Nick Hornby

Getting back to adult fiction, there’s About A Boy by Nick Hornby, an entertaining read about ladies man Will Freeman (played by Hugh Grant in the 2002 adaptation) who picks up women by attending single parent groups. His life takes a turn though after he meets 12yo Marcus.

So, how many of these books have you read? What have I missed?

Books with the word ‘Girl’ in the title

In the last two months, I’ve read three books with the word girl in the title. In December I read Gone Girl, in January I read The Girl on the Train and I just finished reading The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan. I started to wonder if this was a recent trend in book titles, but when looking back over books I’ve read in previous years, I discovered plenty of books with the word girl in the title.

Just for fun, I’ve decided to list them here in the order they were read:

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
A young girl is lost in the woods after stepping off the nature trail while walking with her family. She listens to her walkman for comfort and her favourite baseball player, Tom Gordon.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larssonmillennium trilogy Stieg Larsson book covers
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo burst onto the book scene several years ago, and readers couldn’t get enough of the Millennium Trilogy. Lisbeth Salander – genius hacker with a photographic memory, extremely poor social skills and a mysterious past – is an unforgettable character. Together with Blomkvist, they investigate a disappearance.

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
This time Blomkvist helps Lisbeth Salander who finds herself in trouble. Knowing the author has passed away in 2004, certainly increased interest in the series.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg LarssonWild Girl Kate Forsyth
The final in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest is about ‘the trial’ and I found it the least enjoyable of an otherwise exciting and gripping trilogy.

The Wild Girl
by Kate Forsyth
This is the story of Dortchen Wild, a young girl growing up in the medieval town of Hessen-Cassel in Germany. Dortchen lives next door to the Grimm family; the brothers being famous for their collections of fairytales. It is a little known historical fact that Dortchen told the brothers almost 25% of their stories, this is her story told by Australian author Kate Forsyth.

Cemetery Girl
by David J. Bell
Caitlin is found dirty and dishevelled 4 years after she goes missing and her parents struggle to find out where she’s been all that time.

just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth
just_a_girl is about fourteen year-old Layla, provocative, daring, reckless and a tease. Set in the Blue Mountains, this is a book for mature readers (in my opinion).Girl on the Train Hawkins

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Blockbuster novel that needs no introduction, also now a major motion picture starring Ben Affleck.

The Girl on the Train
 by Paula Hawkins
The Girl on the Train is gaining popularity and is a cracking read with flawed characters. Rachel catches the same train to London each day and enjoys looking at the houses and sometimes imagining the lives of those who live there. One day she sees something that will change her life forever (and it’s not a murder).

The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan
I finished this recently and adored it. If you like the writing style of Australian author Kate Morton then you’ll love The Girl in the Photograph. An historical fiction novel told in the the past and present, this is a haunting and atmospheric mystery.The Girl in the Photograph Kate Riordan cover

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White is on my TBR pile, and almost qualifies, while I’ve given an honourable mention to Kiss the Girls by James Patterson.

So, how many of the titles above have you read? Do you have any books to add to the list? What have I missed?

Archimede Fusillo talks about Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night

Dead Dog In The Still Of The NightAward-winning Australian author, Archimede Fusillo delves deep into what it is to be a man in his latest coming-of-age novel for young adults, Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night. 

The story follows the journey of Primo as he attempts to navigate his way though his final year of school with an emotionally brittle mother, a father suffering from dementia, a troubled brother and a demanding older girlfriend. When Primo crashes his father’s prized Fiat Bambino he’s forced to make some difficult decisions. Without strong role models, his choices are dubious and ultimately lead to more trouble. Primo discovers that there’s more to being a man than just posturing as one.

JF: Congratulations on your new book, Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night, Archimede Fusillo. You have carved a niche in the YA market writing about boys seeking an identity. Can you explain the motivation for this?

AF: I have always thought that boys and young men were more than simply the sum of their adventures. It seems to me that too often males in general are portrayed by the mass media as being one dimensional, with little to draw upon apart from angst, self-destruction and a high tolerance for drink and mayhem.

All I ever set out to do was explore what I saw was the deeper more emotional, more humane side of the male gender. I was brought up surrounded by boys, young men and older men who were not carbon copies of one another.

What spoke to me was the breadth and depth of dignity, a sense of caring, and yes, even a degree of self-loathing that permeated the life of boys seeking to discover what it was that made them men, what the parameters and boundaries and expectations were and are that help define one’s sense of selfhood.

JF: There are some deeply flawed male characters in Dead Dog in the Still of the Night. Is this how you see society in general?

Archie Fusillo profile pic at TLC June 2014 croppedAF: Being flawed is a human not a “male” condition. Perhaps it’s just that with the male propensity to mask hurt and pain and sorrow and grief under masks of macho bravado, the flaws are more highlighted than might otherwise be the case.

I’m not a sociologist, or even an anthropologist. I don’t have answers to why some people – male and female, are flawed more obviously than others. All I know is that the machinations set in motion when people seek to hide their flaws, or cannot control them, make for powerful human stories.

In Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night, Primo’s mother is flawed too. Otherwise how to explain her inability (unwillingness?) for so many years to make a stand against all the emotional damage her husband brings to bear upon her family.

The male characters in the novel are flawed, but not damaged beyond redemption –  at least not Primo. Their flaws are compounded, perhaps even brought about by, their inability to put others ahead of themselves. It takes a very strong sense of other, a willingness to look at the world through another’s eyes, and walk about in their shoes, to be able to identify clearly one’s own shortcomings. And perhaps this is the greatest flaw of all of the males in this novel – their inability to reflect upon another, let alone their own actions before those same actions bring about dire consequences.

JF: As with your other YA novels, family is at the centre of this story, rather than a peer group. Why do you focus on family?

The DonsAF: Family is the centre of the world I know and have grown up in. Italians see family as the core of who they are – as a race, as a nation. It is inbred in me to believe in the sanctity of family, and therefore in the power of family to both destroy and create, to love and to loath, to offer and to take. A peer group is by and large an artificial construct that exists outside of bloodlines and blood obligations. The most fascinating, the most powerful, the most engaging stories often begin with the individual caught within the web of the family-its expectations, its dramas, its demands, and its rewards.

With this in mind, why wouldn’t I focus on the pull and push of family life when I want to give my characters the motivation for questioning everything they have come to believe about themselves and the world around them.

JF: The novel’s main character, Primo, is forced to make choices without the benefit of strong male role models. What impact does this have on him and how do you see this playing out more generally in society?

AF: It is a natural aspect of growing up that we look to others for some signposting about where we are at any stage of our lives. Every civilization has rites and rituals where boys look up to their elders for guidance, and the role of the older male role model can’t be overestimated. Choices made without guidance can’t be measured until after the event, so role models can act as a sounding board, helping us avoid some of the pitfalls in life.

Primo’s choices are made according to his own still very limited view and understanding of the world and how it operates – so there is ample room for him to misread cues, not least of all those that require a maturity beyond his youthful years to fully appreciate. Of course he will make mistakes. How big those mistakes are, and how they will impact on him and his family is at the core of the novel’s plot.

JF: As a father, how do you handle the job of role model?

AF: All I can do, all I have ever tried to do is listen, try not to prejudge-and more significantly, try to remember what it was like to be a boy and then a young man.

JF: What’s next for you?

AF: I am working on a new YA novel about young love, poor decisions, and the comedy of being in a big, loud, unashamedly loving family-unsettled by the oddball, unsettling, blended family that moves in next door!

Oh – and Josie Montano and I have co-authored a YA novel titled Veiled Secrets which has been bought by the US publisher Solstice – due out in hard and electronic copy early 2015.

JF: Thanks for visiting, Archimede. Good luck with Dead Dog In the Still Of The Night and your upcoming books.

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

Judith Rossell chats about Withering-by-Sea

judith rossell photographJudith Rossell’s prodigious talents as an illustrator and writer, her inimitable wit and her obsession with Victoriana come together superbly in her latest book for children – Withering-by-Sea.

The story follows the trials of Stella Montgomery, an 11-year-old orphan, who lives with her dreadful aunts in a damp, dull hotel in Victorian England. But everything changes when she witnesses an evil act in the conservatory.

The book is the first in a series of Victorian adventures for Stella Montgomery and features the kind of beautifully intricate and magical drawings that have made Judith Rossell one of Australia’s most successful illustrators.

Judith joins me to talk about her new book and the historical period that inspired it.

JF: Congratulations on Withering-by-Sea. It’s a wonderful book and the illustrations are stunning. Which came first – the pictures or the words?

JR: Thanks Julie! I’m very happy with how it came together. (Particularly the ribbon. I’m very happy about the ribbon!). I started with the words, but along the way I did some of the drawings. Sometimes drawing the little details of the characters or the setting can give ideas for the story. Drawing the pier gave me the idea of a theatre, which gave me the idea that the Professor was a stage magician.

JF: What interests you about Victorian England?

withering front coverJR: I’m a big fan of the early Sherlock Holmes stories, with the lovely atmosphere of fog and gaslight, and mysterious goings-on. And it was such an interesting era for the enormous changes that were happening, so many important inventions, and social changes. The pace of change in the 1890s was so much greater than now, people experienced the first telephones, motorcars, moving pictures, anesthetics, votes for women, education for all children… so many life-changing things. It must have been an exciting time to live.

JF: Why do aunties get such a bad rap in Victorian era fiction?

JR: Aunties and Stepmothers! You’d expect your mother to be on your side, sympathetic, reliable and looking out for you, but an Aunty might do anything! Aunties have many more possibilities, for exciting adventures, and for evil deeds. (I’m an Aunty myself, so I can say these things).

JF: There are some very fanciful characters in the story – singing cats, a clockwork beetle, and a hand of glory. Where have these come from?

I remember reading a story when I was little which had a hand of glory in it, and I found it terrifying! The clockwork beetle is a little bit steampunkish, I think. I like the idea of clockwork and magic working together. I can’t remember where I got the idea of the singing cats from… Sometimes things just come to you, and you think – yes!

pier low resJF: What are the most intriguing snippets of Victoriana that you unearthed while writing Withering-by-Sea?

JR: My favourite invention of the time is a bed that’s attached to a clockwork timer. You wind it up, and go to sleep, and all night it goes tick tick tick, and in the morning, the whole thing flips over and dumps you on the floor. What a way to wake up! I have a recipe book, too, and my favourite recipe is for negus, a kind of fruit punch, which was mainly served at children’s parties. The recipe says for 10-12 little children, a pint of cheap port is sufficient. Basically, don’t waste the expensive drink on the little kids.

JF: How long do you spend on each drawing and did you have to redraw any to suit the story that you eventually wrote?

JR: The single page pictures took three or four days each, and yes, I did have to do a couple of them again, because I rewrote the ending of the story, and there were significant changes. It’s difficult to be annoyed with the writer changing her mind, when the writer is yourself. haha.

JF: This is the eleventh book you have written. You have illustrated 80 books. Which do you find more rewarding – writing or illustrating? 

JR: I like them both. I enjoy illustrating picture books, and bringing the characters to life. But it’s also been a real pleasure to write and illustrate my own book, without having to consider what another creator might want. I’ve never written something that someone else has illustrated, I think it would be difficult to put your work into someone else’s hands, and step back. I admire the writers who can trust the illustrator like that.

JF: You worked as a scientist before becoming an illustrator and writer. How does your background affect your work?

singing catsJR: The only thing I can think of is that I do enjoy the research. I love getting a new history book and reading it to find things I might use for my story. At the moment, I’m reading a book about shell grottoes, which were caves and tunnels people built in their gardens in the 18th and 19th centuries, decorated with shells and coral and stones. One was decorated with the knucklebones of sheep, and another with the baby teeth of the children in the house! I’d love to put a shell grotto in my new story.

JF: I remember sharing a stage with you and a group of other talented authors at a school in Rockhampton. Michael Gerard Bauer revealed that he had wanted to be a Ninja when he grew up. I shared my hopes of owning a wildlife sanctuary in Africa and you revealed that you wanted to be a rubbish collector. Why was that?

Three AuntsJR: I’d forgotten that! I was very little, and the father of one of the boys in our class was a rubbish collector. He used to ride on the back of the truck and jump down and pick up the bins. And it was clearly the best job in the world, this boy had a lot of status in our class, because his dad had such a cool job. I was a bit vague about what my dad actually did (he was a scientist), and so for a while I pretended he was a rubbish collector as well, so people would think I was cool too. Sadly, I don’t think they ever did.

JF: I understand you are working on a sequel to Withering-by-Sea. Any hints on what Stella Montgomery gets up to in that one?

JR: Aha! I’m working on it right now. The title is probably going to be Wormwood Mire. Stella is sent away to a mysterious house, to stay with two cousins and their governess. And there’s something lurking in the forest… Something frightening…

JF: Thank you for visiting Judith. Good luck with Withering-by-Sea. I look forward to the sequel!

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

 

The Highlights of a Professional Life: An Interview With Ursula Dubosarsky

Ursula_Dubosarsky_publicity_photo_A_2011Ursula Dubosarsky has written over 40 books for children and young adults. Some of which include The Terrible Plop, Too Many Elephants in This House, Tim and Ed (Tim and Ed Review), The Carousel, The Word Spy series, and The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta series.

She is a multi-award winner of many national and international literary prizes including The Premier’s and State Literary Awards, The Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards, The Children’s Choice Awards, The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and The Speech Pathology Australia Awards.

Ursula’s books have been characterised as timeless classics with universal accessibility, always heartwarming, funny and indelible. Her picture books, in particular, emanate energy and delight, wit and ingenuity. She has worked with some legendary illustrators who have brought Ursula’s playful words to life, including Terry Denton, Tohby Riddle and Andrew Joyner.    

I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to have had this opportunity to discover more about Ursula Dubosarsky’s writerly mind, joys, achievements and plans for the future, and she has been so gracious in sharing her views with our readers.

Where do you get your creativity from? Were you born into a creative family?
Well I was born into a family of writers, although they are more non-fiction writers than fiction writers. But non-fiction demands plenty of creativity, as I discovered when I tried to write non-fiction myself (my “Word Spy” books.) My mother also had an amazingly vivid dream-life -I sometimes wonder if that’s where the story ideas come from…  

What or who are your biggest motivators?
For some reason I find this a very confronting question! and I don’t know how to answer it. Perhaps it’s one of the biggest mysteries of creative acts – why do it? It feels like a compulsion.  

Which age group do you most prefer to write for, younger or older children?
I love the succinctness that is demanded of you in writing for younger children – I love throwing out all the words until you have just that bare minimum. The other nice thing about writing for younger children is you get to work with illustrators, which has been such a pleasure in my life. But of course as anyone would say, each form has its particular rewards (and hardships.)  

the-word-spyWhat has been the greatest response / fan mail to you and your books?
That would be my three “Word Spy” books – non-fiction books about language, particularly the English language. I think one reason they get the most fan mail is that the books are written in character. They are narrated by a mysterious person called The Word Spy. So I think children really enjoy the fantasy of writing to an imaginary person – I enjoy the fantasy of writing back as a character! The Word Spy even has her own blog “Dear Word Spy” where you can see lots of the letters children have written to her – and her answers! http://wordsnoop.blogspot.com.au/

What is your working relationship like with illustrator, Andrew Joyner? Do you or the publisher choose to pair you together?
Oh I love working with Andrew.The pairing came about quite naturally. At the time I was working for the NSW Department of Education’s School Magazine, which is a monthly literary magazine for primary school children. I was doing some editing there, and Andrew happened to send in some illustrations. I just so responded to his work, immediately. Anyway then when I had written the text for “The Terrible Plop” he was a natural person to suggest to Penguin, the publisher, as an illustrator for the book.

Cover_0What was your reaction when ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ was selected for this year’s ALIA’s National Simultaneous Storytime? How were you involved in the lead up and on the day?
That was truly the most thrilling and touching experience. We were just delighted to hear it had been chosen, and I can’t tell you how heartwarming it was to see children (and adults!) all over Australia reading our book. ALIA did a brilliant job of organising and promoting the event – we hardly had to do a thing. On the actual day Andrew and I read the book aloud at the Customs House branch of the City of Sydney library down at Circular Quay. I can truly say the National Simultaneous Storytime was one of the great highlights of my professional life.  

IMG_6741You’ve had two of your picture books turned into successful stage productions; ‘The Terrible Plop’ (2009-2012) and ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ (2014). How were you approached / told about the news? What creative input did you (and Andrew Joyner) have in the productions?
In both cases it was a matter of the theatre company (Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre for “The Terrible Plop” and NIDA for “Too Many Elephants”) seeing the book and then approaching the publisher to see if we’d be willing to have the book staged. We were very willing! In neither case did we have a lot of input into the production. The writer/director at NIDA did keep us informed and sent us draft scripts -but I think we both felt it was better to stand back and let her and the actors and the rest of the creative team follow their own instincts. Again, for me and Andrew it was a tremendous experience to see the books transformed and re-imagined.  

What are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
Well Andrew and I will be working together on an illustrated novel, so much longer than and very different to our picture book collaborations. It’s called “Brindabella” and is about a kangaroo. I have written the text already – and am now looking forward enormously to seeing what Andrew does with it.  

What other hobbies do you enjoy besides writing?
I wish I could say something strange and unexpected but it’s just walking! I love to walk the dog, but I also just like walking altogether. And I do like looking for very unusual cake recipes, researching their history and then having a go at baking them. I’m not much of a cook but I enjoy it!

the-terrible-plopFan Question –
Katharine: In The Terrible Plop, where did the bear run to? Did he ever find out what the Terrible Plop really was?

(This question is) something I’ve never been asked before and never thought about! I guess the bear would run home to all his brother and sister and mother and father and granny and grandpa and uncle and auntie bears, who listen to his story and tell him that’s what comes of sitting in folding chairs and that in future he should stay safely inside their big dark cave. So I don’t think he OR any of the others ever find out what the Terrible Plop really is – in fact over time it becomes part of the Great Bear Mythology…

Ursula, thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books! It’s been an absolute pleasure!

Find out more about Ursula Dubosarsky:
www.ursuladubosarsky.com
http://wordsnoop.blogspot.com.au/

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Aussie New Releases To Look Forward To

There are several books by Australian authors being published in the last six months of the year that I’m really looking forward to, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is already out, and it’s Kate Forsyth‘s Dancing With Knives.  Set on a farm outside Narooma in NSW, Dancing With Knives is a rural murder mystery and a story about love and family secrets.

Rebecca James (author of Beautiful Malice and Sweet Damage) is gearing up for the launch of Cooper Bartholomew is Dead in early October.  Cooper Bartholomew is Dead is a psychological thriller centred around the death of Cooper Bartholomew, and his group of friends, one of which is keeping a dangerous secret.

Kate Morton (author of The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper) is releasing her fifth novel in October this year and I’m so excited about it.  Untitled and simply called Book 5 for now, we don’t know what’s it’s about yet, but given she’s one of my favourite Australian authors, I’m sure it’s going to be a delicious page-turner.Matthew Reilly book cover The Great Zoo of China

Matthew Reilly is releasing a block-buster action monster-movie of a novel (his words) called The Great Zoo of China on 10 November.  China has discovered a new species of animal and is preparing to unveil their amazing find in the form of the largest zoo in human history.  The Chinese re-assure a media contingent invited to tour the zoo that it’s perfectly safe; however if Matthew Reilly is involved, you know that nothing’s ever safe.  You can click here to watch a short video of Matthew Reilly telling us about The Great Zoo of China, or pre-order it now and receive 30% off.

Candice Fox (author of Hades) featured here on the blog in January this year, and her latest book in the Bennett/Archer series Eden, is due out later this year.  Click here to read the Player Profile with Candice conducted by Jon Page.

Australian music personality Molly Meldrum has written a memoir called The Never Ever Ending Story, and is said to contain plenty of stories about some of the many rock and pop stars he interviewed throughout his career.  The Never Ever Ending Story is due to be released in November.

Another iconic member of the Australian music industry has to be John Williamson.  In the aptly named Hey, True Blue, John Williamson takes readers through his life story and his success as a singer.

So, that’s it from me, but what new Australian books are you looking forward to?

Review – Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre

9781408854457 (1)A remarkable piece of fiction following proudly in the footsteps of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkThe Yellow Birds and Redeployment. Wars never truly end for everyone involved and this is the territory Michael Pitre explores in his impressive debut novel.

On the eve on the Arab Spring in Tunisia three men are grappling with their futures now that their war has supposedly finished. Each is scarred and tainted by what they have witnessed and the decisions they have made. They are changed men returning to a changing world not sure if they achieved what they were fighting for. And if they possibly did whether it was worth the price.

Lieutenant Pete Donovan led a Marine platoon in charge of repairing potholes outside of Baghdad. What sounds like an innocuous responsibility is in fact extremely dangerous work as every pothole Donovan’s platoon must repair contains an IED. Every time.

The novel is told in flashbacks. Donovan has resigned his commission as an officer in the Marine Corps and is studying for his MBA in New Orleans. He is removed and detached from his class mates as well as the men and women with whom he served.

Lester ‘Doc’ Pleasant was the corpsman in Donovan’s platoon. His war ended with a dishonourable discharge. All the doors that Donovan’s service opened for him are closed for Lester who became isolated and detached from the rest of the platoon well before their deployment finished.

The third man is known only as Dodge. He was the platoon’s Iraqi-born interpreter. Through Dodge we see what the war means for Iraqis. The damage it has caused not just physically on the towns, cities and countryside but that damage it has caused to families, friendships and individuals.

Dodge’s story is the most powerful and insightful of the novel. While the lives of Donovan’s platoon are directly in his hands, Dodge’s own life and the people around him are a day-to-day juggling act where loyalties are won and lost, tested and betrayed.

Each man must try to make sense of the senseless violence they have lived and breathed and work out if they can possibly resurrect a new life from the aftermath.

War is never one-sided. It is all-encompassing and personally harrowing. Pitre has captured this aspect of war with compassion, complexity and clarity. It maybe a cliche to say that this is an important book about war that we should all read but it is only a cliche because it is true. We can’t understand a war until we have seen all its sides and Michael Pitre’s powerful debut novel is the first to explorer the pain and destruction wreaked on both sides of this long and different war.

Buy the book here…

What Is It? Genre, Part I

In this What Is It? article we’re going to take a look at genre.  Identifying a genre of books you love can be exciting and rewarding, but readers can become lost in the terminology; so let’s look at the very basics of genre.

Fiction & Non Fiction
All books can be separated into either fiction or non fiction.  Fiction books contain stories that are ‘made up’ whereas non fiction books contain information that is factual.  A novel is the same as a book, but not all books are novels, so what’s the difference?  A novel contains ‘fictitious prose’ which means a non fiction book will never be a novel (because it’s not fictitious).

From there, there are literally thousands of genres that fall under the headings of fiction or non fiction.  An easy way to think of genre is by considering the categories of shelves (or sections) in a bookshop.

Fiction shelves in a bookshop will house crime, romance and fantasy novels.  Each of these categories is a genre.

Non Fiction shelves will usually include: travel, art and history books, and each of these is a genre.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the fiction genres that may be new to you.  Most readers will recognise science fiction, horror, YA (Young Adult), classic and short story genres, but what about these:

Cozy mystery: a murder mystery without violence, usually featuring an amateur sleuth.

Farm lit & rural romance: romance novels that take place in the outback or towns in rural areas.  (Australian authors of note in this genre include: Nicole Alexander, Loretta HillRachael Johns, Fiona McCallum and Rachael Treasure).

Historical fiction: a story that takes place in an historical setting and which can include fictional accounts of famous people from history.  Popular historical fiction books from Australian authors include: The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Maralinga by Judy Nunn and Cloudstreet by Tim Winton.

Urban fantasy: a book with supernatural themes (such as magic, werewolves, witches, vampires) that take place in a real-world setting, hence ‘urban.’  In other words, the setting is not a make-believe world.WordItOut-word-cloud-441198

Let’s take a closer look at some of the genres within non fiction that you may not have explored.

For Dummies: the yellow and black instructional manuals tackle every topic under the sun in an easy-to-read and understand format.

Literary criticism: essentially the study of literature, or other books. Authors and works are subtly and overtly analysed and interpreted resulting in positive and negative criticism of existing works.  If you are reading (or have read) a great classic and want to know more about it, then the literary criticism genre is a great resource.

Survival: books detailing the survival of individuals from tragedy, natural disaster or crime can be inspirational and informative.  An Australian survival book that comes to mind is Everything To Live For by Turia Pitt.  An international bestseller is I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.

Travelogue or travel writing: the author informs the reader about their travel experiences.  Travel writing (and TV shows) continue to increase in popularity and give the reader the opportunity to experience travel and adventure from the safety of their armchair.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to genre.  Stay tuned for the next instalment in the series, What Is It? Genre Part II.  In the meantime, please leave a comment below and let us know what genre is your favourite.  Mine is historical fiction.

Review – Silence Once Begun by Jesse Bell

9780307908483This is one of those great novels that blends up truth and imagination so well that the lines between fact and fiction are so blurred you don’t even know where to begin trying to unravel it. It also doubles the intrigue especially the way Jesse Ball structures the story to unfurl piece by piece, layer by layer in such a way you are taken by surprise after surprise.

The story concerns the “Narito Disappearances”. A crime that baffled local authorities in Osaka where eight people had gone missing seemingly without a trace until one day a signed confession is handed in to police. The man who has made the confession is quickly arrested and doesn’t say another word. But this is not a whodunit because as the story goes on we see there is a much bigger and more important question that who.

“I am looking for this mystery. Not the mystery of what happened but the mystery of how”

One one level this is an ingenious crime novel. By telling the story in a different order the facts and “truth” aren’t revealed to us until we get to the beginning of the story. Rather than telling the story in chronological order we follow the path Jesse Ball’s investigation follows like a trail of breadcrumbs. Ball recounts his investigation through interview transcripts and internal notes as well as letters and other documents he is given along the way.  Each interview shines a little more light onto the story and leads Jesse to another piece of the puzzle.

I was so engrossed in this book it wasn’t until finishing it that I truly digested what I had read. In many ways this is a modern parable about the moral fallacies we place on our systems of justice but the skill and subtlety in which Jesse Ball tells the story gives it not just power but also emotional resonance. And by doing so Jesse Ball gets to the absolute core of what a crime story is and what it should mean when we read one.

Buy the book here…

Review – Darkness, Darkness by John Harvey

9780434022939John Harvey has written a superb final case for the enduring and never weary (ok, just a little weary) detective Charlie Resnick. It has been a while between drinks and the way Cold In Hand finished a few years ago had me thinking that might have been the last we’d seen of Resnick. However John Harvey had other ideas and gives Resnick one last hurrah.

Now retired Charlie Resnick is still involved with the job he loves, and can’t get away from, assisting with witness statements and other administrative work. However when a body from thirty years ago is unearthed during some excavation work Charlie is asked to lend his expertise.

Thirty years before and at the height of the miners’ strikes Jenny Hardwick disappeared. Jenny was heavily involved in the strike movement however her husband refused to stop work in the local mine. Rumour had it she had run off with another man. Her disappearance only raised small suspicions and a limited investigation. Until now, thirty years later.

Resnick was heavily involved with the police action at the time, police action which is now under the microscope. Command wants the case cleared up as quickly and as quietly as possible. However with the trail of evidence and witnesses buried in the past questions are only going to open old wounds.

John Harvey’s mastery is on full display as he crafts together not only an intricate and intriguing murder mystery but also a look back at the social powder keg that the miners’ strike was. Not only on a national scale but for a small town and within a marriage.

Charlie Resnick gets the farewell he and his fans deserve and if you haven’t encountered him before I implore you to go back and read one of the best crime series ever written by an author who continues to get better and better.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

9780061242922Elmore Leonard is known for his fantastic crime novels and his cool, crisp dialogue but he started out writing westerns way back in the 1950s. This collections showcases his western short stories and his immense talent as a writer.

I think it is easy to pass Elmore Leonard off as a writer of crime novels that have been turned into countless films and television adaptations but you would only do that at your own peril. Yes Elmore Leonard has become known for a few of his own tropes; brilliant dialogue, idiotic crooks, plots involving schemes that unravel and precise prose but these tropes fit the crime genre perfectly. Reading Leonard in another genre shows a completely different side to his writing and I think in many ways it is even better.

The Western genre is of course the precursor to the modern American crime novel. The lines between right and wrong are blurred by lawlessness and greed but there are still heroes and villains, both of which are not easily decipherable which makes for very interesting characters. The landscape has more significance and there is a minefield of politics to explore; post-Civil War, race, slavery, Native Americans, immigration, government, Mexico. Issues still alive and kicking today.

In many ways Elmore Leonard’s crime novels are more Westerns than mysteries. His favourite hero/protagonist is often a US Marshall and that is directly born from his western stories. What I found most interesting about Leonard’s western writing was that he explored more themes. His western stories are much more political than his crime novels. Dialogue also takes a back seat, or more correctly his dialogue becomes more prominent in his later writing. This maybe because he was still learning his craft but I suspect it is more reflective of the understated nature of the western genre. Leonard is also much more descriptive in his western writing and again I think this is because there is more significance on the landscape in the genre. Which only proves, even in his early days, Leonard was a master writer who knew his craft like few other writers.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

9781250019530Dennis Tafoya is one the best kept secrets in crime fiction. Which is a shame because he deserves to be heralded in the same breath as George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane. And his new novel only confirms this, in spades.

Frannie Mullen is a US Marshall. After a bungled operation she takes full responsibility for any mistakes that were made and quits her job. As she tries to sort out her life and help her sister recover from another round of rehab, the father she thought was long out of her life returns. Her father, Patrick Mullen, was a thug and enforcer for a local trade union whose violent job was also part of a violent life at home. Now on the run from prison Patrick cuts a violent path toward his two daughters. Looking for revenge, but revenge for what and for whom is a very long list.

Tafoya’s action scenes are simply sublime, in particular the opening scene of the novel. But what really sets Tafoya apart from the pack is the heart he brings to his stories and his characters which he does once again here. Emotion is what drives people and that is what is at the core of this brilliant novel. The emotions that drive us and the damage they do along the way. Tafoya captures this brilliantly in a fast-moving, intense page-turner that will keep you totally gripped and double guessing right until the final pages.

Buy the book here…

Review: Veronica Mars The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

9780804170703Ten years after the TV series was heartbreakingly axed Veronica Mars is making a comeback. First there was the much-anticipated, kickstarter funded, movie and now there is a series of novels that continue the Neptune universe.

A TV/Movie spin-off book is not usually on my radar and I don’t think I would have read this but when I found out Kristen Bell was reading the audio book I was in. (Plus the movie was sooo good!)

(SPOILER ALERT: you must see the film before reading the book and the rest of my review will talk about the movie’s ending)

At the end of the movie Veronica has returned to Neptune and is in the PI business again. The book takes off right from there with Veronica taking on her first big case. The storyline is like a good, solid double episode from the show. Now older and wiser things get a better darker and more dangerous for Veronica than her school/college PI days. It is spring break in Neptune and a teenage girl has gone missing. Fearing the negative press coverage Neptune’s Chamber of Commerce hires Veronica to look into the case which is being handled with the ineptitude and laziness we have come to expect from the Sheriff’s department. When a second girl goes missing Veronica must quickly re-find her PI shoes before it is too late.

All our favourite characters make an appearance with a surprise thrown in. My only grumble was that the story is told in the third person, which still works but I was really looking forward to being inside Veronica’s head more (like the TV show) especially with Bell narrating the audio book. Otherwise it was a really fun story and it is really great to see the story being kept alive, whatever the format and I will definitely be reading the next book in the series.

Buy the book here…

Review – Fallout by Sadie Jones

9780701188511I am a massive Sadie Jones fan. The Outcast was a debut from a writer of the highest calibre that could easily stand up to comparisons to Ian McEwan. Small Wars only confirmed this but The Uninvited Guests didn’t connect with me. So there was a little trepidation before I started reading her new book. Completely unnecessary trepidation because not only was this the Sadie Jones I loved, this was Sadie Jones at her absolute best.

The novel is set in and around the world of London theatre in the early 1970s. Luke Kanowski is a young playwright destined for big things. Big things not possible until he meets Paul Driscoll and Leigh Radley. Their friendship allows Luke to put his turbulent past behind him and introduces him to the fringes of the London theatre scene. Together they look set to change the world.

Interspersed with Luke, Paul and Leigh’s story is Nina Jacobs. The daughter of a failed actress she is bullied into the same career. Her marriage to a producer supplements her mother’s cruelty. When her life intersects with Luke their affair threatens to consume everything and everyone.  And the world Luke is set to change threatens to shatter completely

This is a wonderfully constructed novel that unfolds like a play. Each character is so vividly drawn especially Luke whose internal and external emotional confusion ricochets around everybody he meets. It is an intense novel of friendship and a deeply passionate love story. But it is also deceptively volatile keeping you enthralled until the very last words on the page.

Sadie Jones is an author like no other. The Outcast reminded me a lot of Ian McEwan but she is well beyond that now. I may not have liked her last book but that means nothing. Great writers should always strive to be different and take their craft where they see fit and The Uninvited Guests resonated with many other readers. Her new novel though is simply sublime and I am over the moon that she has reaffirmed, for me, her immense talent.

Buy the book here…

Review – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

9780356502564This book draws immediate comparisons to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. But where Life After Life was about a character who kept reliving their life over and over without knowing they were doing so, this is about a character who keeps reliving their life over and over and remembers everything. And this difference changes everything.

I loved Life After Life and this feels in no way treading over familiar territory. In fact I would compare it more to Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls (minus the serial killer part) as there is a large mystery to solve that spans multiple times, places and of course lives.

Through Harry August we are introduced to people who live multiple lives. We meet Harry on the deathbed of his eleventh life where he has just been informed (by a seven year-old girl) that the world is ending. All the worlds; past, future and present. Time is literally running out.

9780316399616The story jumps back and forth between Harry’s past and future lives as he tries to slowly piece together what is bringing about the end of everything. Harry must race against the length of each of his lives to find out who is responsible and if they can be stopped. And the closer he gets the more high stakes the game of cat and mouse becomes.

Part unique and intriguing mystery, part philosophical look at life, memory and time travel this story kept me totally gripped from the opening words to the mind blowing finale. Now all I want to know is who is the pseudonymous Claire North?

Just who is Claire North?  She’s the author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. But Claire North is the pseudonym for a ‘prominent British author’. We’ve got three copies to giveaway – if you can guess who it is…

Review – Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

GalvestonI have been completely and utterly addicted to (and obsessed by) True Detective so when I found out the show’s creator and writer had written a crime novel I had to read it. And what a cracking book it is. Using some of the same elements as his television show Pizzolatto has constructed a highly atmospheric, slow burning thriller.

Roy Cady is a bagman who has just been diagnosed with cancer and sent on a job where he thinks his boss has tried to have him whacked. Now on the run he must navigate his way from New Orleans to East Texas with a young woman and her sister in tow. Roy is conflicted between his own short-term survival and that of the two girls now under his protection.

Just like True Detective Pizzolatto shifts time perception to perfection, drip feeding you bits of information, past and future, that leave you craving to know more.The raw emotion of Roy Cady is brutally and poignantly displayed and the way Pizzolatto describes the gulf coast landscape is an amazing blend of desolation and beauty.

We already know from True Detective that Nic Pizzolatto knows how to tell a story. Galveston proves that this talent was evident well before his HBO series.

Via Buzz Feed A list of dark, weird, and southern gothic books that every fan of HBO’s True Detective should read.

Gone Girl

Gone GirlI’m probably the last person in the universe to getting around to reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, so let me preface this blog with: I finally got round to reading it after (and despite) being subjected to its enormous hype.

I’m also an aspiring book writer, so commercially and critically successful books invoke in me a complicated mix of envy and awe. Suffice to say, I wasn’t an entirely objective Gone Girl readerer.

The Cliff Notes version of this blog is I will concede Flynn is eminently talented and Gone Girl is fantastically wrought. It’s definitely worth a read. But does it warrant such breathy discussion as it’s inspired? My jury’s still out.

That annoying twist that everyone eludes to before saying, ‘But I can’t say any more without spoiling it’? I spent at least half the book going: Is that the twist? Because if it is, it’s not that great. Is that the twist? Because if it is, that’s not that great either. When it came about, I have to admit I thought not about how clever it was, but: Finally. Then: It’s not that ground-breakingly spectacular.

Had I not had so much forewarning there was a GIANT TWIST coming, I might have been gushing like everyone else did. Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. I wouldn’t put this book quite in the hype-worthy, game-changing realm of something like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. But it was solid in the way that solid is a compliment.

Love is the world’s infinite mutability; lies, hatred, murder even, are all knit up in it; it is the inevitable blossoming of its opposites, a magnificent rose smelling faintly of blood (Tony Kushner, The Illusion) is the epigraph setting the book’s theme. I rarely go back and re-read epigraphs, but Gone Girl’s was apt and striking, especially by the time I reached the book’s final page.

Flynn has an undeniably excellent way with words:

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily. I’d know her head anywhere.

It’s an ominous opening in a book that we know involves a woman going missing and her husband, the narrator, being suspected of having something to do with that disappearance.

My eyes flipped open at exactly six a.m. This was no avian fluttering of the lashes, no gentle blink toward consciousness. The awakening was mechanical. A spooky ventriloquist-dummy click of the lids: The world is black and then, showtime!

It’s a recognisable and yet fresh way of describing a way of waking up. So is: ‘Sleep is like a cat: It only comes to you if you ignore it.’

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you are, like me, coming late to the book, here’s what you need to know: Man (Nick) and woman (Amy) are married. They’ve relocated from New York to small-town Missouri, his childhood home, because his mother is terminally ill.

Native New Yorker Amy isn’t enjoying the move, and their relationship begins to fracture. Then she disappears the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. All clues point to Nick as the guilty husband. Except he’s not guilty (at least, that’s what he’s telling us).

Flynn uses the old unreliable narrator technique, which is one I’ve long found a little annoying. So I’ll not deny I wasn’t entirely involved in the plot—more aware of the practices she was using to red herring us readers and keep us tenterhooked. Likewise, the Amy-as-muse-for-books and warped effect that infused her relationship with her parents seemed a little contrived.

But I sound like a positive grump. I will say Gone Girl is smart. The cover art is minimal and great. The title is memorable and intriguing. Flynn’s writing is exquisite. The kind of cut-above that makes any and every other writer feel more utterly inadequate than usual.

She uses such words as ‘uxorious’ and, not packing it in my everyday vocabulary repertoire, I had to via a dictionary remind myself it stands for having, or demonstrating, a great or excessive fondness for one’s wife. I mean, with that definition, it is the most impossibly perfect word for this book. Which is why Flynn’s book is attracting the attention it is.

The Secret HistoryGone Girl isn’t the first time Flynn’s writing has been lauded. Her first novel, Sharp Objects, won two CWA Dagger Awards and was shortlisted for both the CWA Gold Dagger Award and for an Edgar.

Her second, Dark Places, was a bestseller. So she released Gone Girl to a relatively established and rather rapturous audience. Not having read her previous two books, but basing it on the hype I’ve witnessed, I’m guessing this is her best work yet (feel free to correct me if this isn’t the case).

With passages like the below, I’m inclined to admit I’m impressed with Flynn’s writing (and impressed enough to want to check out her previous two books):

The camera crews parked themselves on my lawn most mornings. We were like rival soldiers, rooted in shooting distance for months, eyeing each other across no-man’s-land, achieving some sort of perverted fraternity. There was one guy with a voice like a cartoon strongman whom I’d become attached to, sight unseen. He was dating a girl he really, really liked. Every morning his voice boomed in through my windows as he analysed their dates; things seemed to be going very well. I wanted to hear how the story ended.

Flynn exquisitely captures the in-fighting and the gradual wearing away of each other that occurs in marriages. She blends that with the in-jokes and resentments and us-against-the-world-ness married life brings. ‘Who are you?’ the book asks. ‘What have we done to each other?’ They’re invaluable questions as the book reveals it’s possible to both know and not know the person you’re supposed to know better than anyone else.

I felt the backstory build-up to the big twist was too great, although my are-we-there-yet knowledge that the twist was coming up probably contributed to that. For others, it may have offered an enthrallingly detailed examination of a complex marriage between complex people.
Either way, Gone Girl inspires discussion beyond the page, which Flynn and her publisher oblige, offering bookclub questions at the back of the book—and solid, thought-provoking ones too. It also provides a Q&A with Flynn on her insights into the characters and tale and why she wrought them as she did.

Hindsight makes you a smart ass, but I have to say I’d probably have picked the twist even had I not been forewarned there would be one. Still, it’s not enough to temper my agreement that Flynn is a talented writer and Gone Girl—if you are, like me, in the not-yet-read-it minority—is one you should brave the hype and attempt to lower your expectations for, as you’ll likely find you really quite like it.

Review – Redeployment by Phil Klay

9780857864239What an amazing book! This is a firm candidate for my book of the year already and it is beyond doubt the best collection of short stories I have ever read. I literally could not put this book down but at the same time wanted each story to last as long as possible. I went into total procrastination mode today before reading the final story because I was not prepared for this book to end but resistance was futile.

I first read the title story of this collection in last year’s Fire & Forget. It was one of the standout pieces in a standout collection. I knew at the time reading Fire & Forget that the contributors in the collection were destined for big things. And Phil Klay not only reaffirms that but announces himself in a massive way with his first book.

I have blogged a couple of times here that short stories are not usually my thing. Often there is a story I wish there was more of or a story that leaves me unsatisfied. But absolutely every story in Redeployment was spot on. This was writing as close to perfection as I have ever read and I want to read the book again right now.

I am a big reader of war fiction. They are stories I am drawn to, that seem to resonate with me more than any other fiction. What I loved about Phil Klay’s collection was that each story resonated in a different way. One of the unique aspects to Klay’s collection are the different points of view he conveys in his stories. It is impossible for me to highlight one story and I don’t wish to go through each story one by one because that would spoil the magnificent reading experience.

Klay covers stories about soldiers in action and soldiers coming home. Soldiers wounded in action and soldiers haunted by the fact they saw little or no action. We read about a Marine chaplain, a Marine in Mortuary Affairs, a Foreign Affairs officer sent to Iraq to help rebuild. And through all these stories Klay shows the war in all its messy permutations and consequences, the good and the bad, the humanity and the inhumanity. He even explores the art of telling these stories and the different ways stories can be used and told, hidden and untold.

Every story packs an emotional intensity not only rare in short stories but rare in longer fiction too. Imagine the emotional wallop of The Yellow Birds with the frank and brutal insight of Matterhorn distilled into a short story and you get close to the impact each of these stories makes on their own. Put together as a collection and you have something very special that will be read (and should be read) by many long into the future.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

9780091956134This was of the funnest books I can remember reading in a long time. Gripping, funny and told in a totally original and authentic voice you can’t help but be hooked in by this part-Apollo 13, part-Castaway survival story.

Mark Watney is an astronaut, part of the third manned mission to Mars. Six days after landing on Mars a fierce dust storm forces Mark and his crew mates to abandon the planet. However during the evacuation Mark is left behind. Now he must work out how is going to survive on Mars until the next resupply mission. In two years time.

The majority of the book is told via Mark’s log entries detailing his survival. The log is written in a beautifully sarcastic tone where outright panic is only a hair’s breath away. There is plenty of self-deprecating humour and the log format works perfectly in detailing Mark’s day-to-day survival.

Mark is completely stranded. He has no way of communicating with his crew mates or NASA. He only has enough food and water to last half the time he needs. Mark puts to work his skills as an engineer and botanist to figure out if he can survive. The how is one of the most entertaining reads you will come across. Full of insane (but practical) problem solving you are glued to the book wanting to find out how Mark gets himself out of each new predicament he finds himself in. I defy anyone to be able to put this down once they start!

Buy the book here…

Review – The Human Division by John Scalzi

Firstly, WOW! John Scalzi has already blown my mind with Redshirts and the previous Old Man’s War series but his new book is something else. For any literary snob that still looks down on genre writers I pity you because the way Scalzi has constructed this novel is something to behold.

The Human Division was originally released in 13 parts, over 13 weeks. Think your favourite TV series and you’ll understand the structure. Each part is an episode that pretty much stands alone but bound together forms a story arc that comes to a climax in the season finale. I really wanted to read this week by week but, for one reason or another, my reading life didn’t seem to make room. But just like a TV series I totally binged on all 13 episodes at once. And having now been “renewed” for a “second season” I will definitely be reading week-by-week next time.

Each of Scalzi’s previous Old Man’s War books have explored different aspects of the universe he has created; The Colonial Defense Force’s recruiting process, their special forces and colonization. In The Human Division Scalzi explores the murky and high stakes world of diplomacy in the universe. Not only must the CDF navigate delicate negotiations with hundreds of different alien species they also must deal with The Conclave who are trying to put an end to unmitigated colonization. This is complicated by the fact that, thanks to John Perry, Earth wants more of a say now in universal affairs.

Harry Wilson, who was a back seat character in the previous books takes centre stage but the episodic structure means we also explore and visit many different characters, old and new, as well as a variety of fascinating, hilarious and intriguing storylines. I loved the previous four books in this series but I think this might be my favourite novel of all. Scalzi’s universe contains a rich plethora of stories to explore each more beautifully complicated than the last and I’m chomping at the bit for season two!

Buy the book here…

Review – The Free by Willy Vlautin

9780571300297I have always meant to read Willy Vlautin. My old sales rep practically begged me for years to read him (I still have two books in my to read pile). One of my favourite authors, George Pelecanos, ranks him as one of his favourite writers (which should have been enough for me). But what finally got to me read Willy Vlautin was the Ann Patchett quote (alongs side a Pelecanos) quote on the front of his new novel, because quite frankly Ann Patchett has done me no wrong lately.

This is not a war novel but it does deal with the aftereffects of war. It is not a political novel but it does look at health care in America. It is a novel about the wounded. Those wounded by what life throws at them and what they do with those wounds. It is a dazzling original novel, profound and full of hope. And it will stay with you long after you finish reading it.

The Free reminded me of two things. The first was one of the best books I’ve read about war, Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien. O’Brien is best known for his Vietnam War novel The Things They CarriedGoing After Cacciato was very different. It was experimental, it played with the boundaries of reality and went to that place inside a soldier’s head where he tries to hide from the horrors of war. Willy Vlautin takes this even further with the character of Leroy Kervin.

Leroy is a wounded veteran of Iraq. He has suffered a horrific brain injury and has spent years in a home for the disabled, barely functional. As the book opens Leroy has a moment of clarity and tries to take his own life. We then follow Leroy as he dips in and out of consciousness and into the dream world he creates to escape to somewhere better, to come to terms to what has happened to him.

Around these dreams we meet the people around Leroy; his mother who sits by his bedside reading science fiction novels to him, his girlfriend Jeanette who is also a huge part of Leroy’s dreamscape. Leroy’s dream world reminded me a lot of George Saunders’ short stories. Influenced by the books Leroy used to read, and now listens to, his dreams take on a slight science fiction bend. But as hard as Leroy tries he can’t out run his own consciousness and he wounds and memories creep into his dreams.

We also follow Pauline, the nurse who cares for Leroy in the hospital and Freddy, the caretaker at the home who found Leroy. These are the other wounded, the ones who soldier on. Who bare the brunt of a hard and uncompromising world. Freddy is drowning in debt trying to pay off a huge hospital bill. He works two jobs and as a consequence his wife and kids have left him. Pauline looks after her mentally ill father while at the same time trying to care for her patients at the hospital. But both Pauline and Leroy find hope in their lives and this drives them toward something better.

Willy Vlautin is an amazing writer who I should have read long before now and I can’t wait to get stuck into his previous books I have sitting in my pile.

Buy the book here…

Review – & Sons by David Gilbert

9780007552795I am a sucker for a great American novel, in particular ones set in college and this kind of fits into both those categories but with a twist. This was originally described to me as Wonderboys meets The Art of Fielding which isn’t necessarily true. Instead imagine a novel like Wonderboys or The Art of Fielding and then imagine what happens to the author and his family forty years later.

A.N. Dyer is the author of Ampersand, a seminal work of American literature set in a college in the 1950s. It was the defining book of his career and is still held in reverence forty years later. A.N. Dyer, Andrew, is now an old man. He has three sons, two with his wife and one from an affair that ended his marriage. Following the death of his oldest and closest friend Andrew, sensing his own imminent mortality, tries to repair his damaged relationship with his sons.

Gilbert treads a fine line throughout the book between satire and metafiction dipping in and out of each almost perfectly. He deftly blurs the lines between fact and fiction in his fictitious world. The way his dissects the publishing industry is wickedly brilliant but the core of the novel is the relationship between fathers and sons and the battles fought over legacy and individualism. The story is narrated by Philipp Topping, the son of Andrew’s recently deceased best friend, who I wouldn’t go as far to say is an unreliable narrator but he definitely has his own biases. The story does take a slightly odd turn but Gilbert keeps everything on the road.

A clever story of fathers and sons and a tragic exploration of the great American novel and it’s aftermath.

Buy the book here…

Review – After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

9780571299676Laura Lippman delivers another absorbing thriller that sucks you in with vivid characters and great plotting. Inspired by a true story of a Baltimore mobster who went missing in the 1970s while under house arrest, Lippman does what she does best, sees a side to the story more interesting than the headline, the people left behind.

Felix Brewer had it all; a beautiful wife, three wonderful daughters and money, via a successful numbers racket. But when it finally came time to face the music, in 1976, Felix ran, leaving everything and everyone behind including a host of unanswered questions. And another woman.

The story jumps from 2012 back to 1959 and slowly comes forward. In 2012 a cold case is reopened by retired city homicide cop Roberto ‘Sandy’ Sanchez. Felix’s girlfriend, Julie disappeared in 1986. Everyone assumed she had gone to join Felix. However her body turned up 15 years later and now her murder, like Felix’s disappearance, remains unsolved.

Through the alternating storyline we get to know the people Felix left behind. His wife Bambi, his daughters Linda, Rachel and Michelle, his best friends Burt and Tubby and his girlfriend Julie. We see the impact his disappearance had on their lives and the jealousies that festered between them all.  We also start to learn the secrets, half-truths and lies that have been built around them. Protecting them, shielding them and ultimately betraying them all.

Laura Lippman is the master of this kind of storytelling. Not only does she create intricately built, suspenseful mysteries but she totally absorbs you with wonderfully realized characters each of whom is coming to terms with their place in an ever-changing world. Each of whom bears a responsibility for what has happened but all of it ultimately stemming from being left behind.

Buy the book here…

Review – Beams Falling by P.M. Newton

9780670074525Ex-cop P.M. Newton burst onto the Australian crime writing scene four years ago with her impressive debut The Old School. Newton’s distinctive style and experience brought a point of view sadly missing from most Australian crime novels. And the introduction of Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly was a welcome change from the usual clichéd lead character in Australian crime fiction. Set in the early 1990s Newton explored a world of corruption, racism and sexism, where history weighs heavily on everybody’s shoulders.

I am going to go out on limb here (a very sturdy limb) and state now that I think Beams Falling is even better than The Old SchoolBeams Falling takes up where The Old School left off. One of the pitfalls of many crime series is continuity. Often the hero comes back in the next installment, slightly scarred, but ready to continue the fight, with few hangovers (so to speak) from past cases or events. But one of the great things about P.M. Newton’s writing is the authenticity she brings to the page. Yes there is a murder to solve in this book but one of the main parts to this novel is Ned’s recovery, physical and mental, to the horrific events at the end of The Old School.

After recovering in hospital and working the system Ned is passed fit to return to work. However her old station doesn’t want her back after what she did. She eventually ends up in Cabramatta, part of a task force assigned to crack down on the rising crime in the area. To the media she is now a hero cop and the brass are going to milk that for all it’s worth. When two young boys are gunned down in separate incidents, more victims in the never-ending drug war, Ned realizes the hard way she is not ready to come back to the job and must now confront the possible bitter truth about whether she actually wants the job back at all.

Newton has packed so much into this book. This is not only an intricate crime mystery but a fascinating exploration of the social, political and economic impact of migration in Sydney’s west. Newton shows there is much more to Cabramatta than what the media fed us in the 1990s and shows the human side and the human cost of a so-called “war” on drugs. At the same time Newton explores the complex issue of corruption, demonstrating the varying degrees and guises it can take, the consequences it has and how the concept of good and bad, right and wrong gets totally and utterly blurred. Combined with the psychological aspect and Newton has produced a truly remarkable novel.

Buy the book here…

Review – You Will Never Find Me by Robert Wilson

9781409143161Robert Wilson is a master thriller writer and he proves it again with his new novel. You Will Never Find Me picks up right where Capital Punishment ended which is a challenge in itself. Wilson give himself no time to ease into the story, reintroduce characters or build tension and still pulls off an exceptional page-turner.

At the end of Capital Punishment kidnap consultant Charlie Boxer and DI Mercy Danquah return home to find that their daughter has left home. She has completely erased herself from their lives taking not just her possessions but every photo and any trace of herself. All she has left is a note which finishes “you will never find me”.

Things have not been good between Mercy and her daughter and Charlie’s job means he has hardly been there for his daughter for the past ten years. But both their jobs mean that they aren’t going to let Amy just go. The trail leads them to Madrid but it maybe already too late.. Meanwhile Mercy’s job gives her no time or space to take stock and she is quickly thrown into a kidnapping of a Russian businessman’s son which may have connections to Russia’s secret intelligence agency, the FSB.

Wilson juggles the two story-lines with expert ease never once dimming the pace or the tension of the story. Charlie Boxer is one of Wilson’s most complex characters and we are still only just scratching the surface of his persona which I hope means there are more books featuring him to come.

If you haven’t read Robert Wilson before the Charlie Boxer series is a great place to start and I can guarantee you will be diving into his previous work straight after.

Buy the book here…

Re-Reading The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

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After reading The Goldfinch I knew I had to re-read Donna Tartt’s previous two books. After re-reading The Secret History it was The Little Friend’s turn.

A lot of people have commented to me that they loved The Secret History but were not fans of The Little Friend. I distinctly remember loving it the first time around so beyond the fact that The Little Friend was not The Secret History I was not sure why it wasn’t well received. I was also curious to see the influence of Charles Portis’ True Grit after reading that it was Donna Tartt’s favourite book growing up and was part of the inspiration behind Harriet.

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As with my re-read of The Secret History my memory was extremely shoddy. I remember Harriet being very bookish and that she thought she could solve the murder of her brother twelve years earlier and that this led her to becoming entangled with local meth dealers. I also distinctly remember a scene with snakes. But of course there was so much more going on The other impression I remember having was that The Little Friend was somehow a darker, modern-day To Kill A Mockingbird. That impression I can dispense with completely now after a second read.

I can definitely see why some readers were unsatisfied with The Little Friend. It is a dense book and the central plot is never resolved and it is for these very reasons that I loved this book again the second time around. Harriet’s life is full of contradictions. Her life is both insular and enriched. Her family is privileged as well as meager. And she is fiercely independent while being totally unprepared for what that means.

A twelve-year-old girl is never going to solve a 12-year-old murder. And that isn’t the point of the story. But how one death can damage the lives of so many and what the consequences of that damage are years later is the territory Tartt explores. And explores so well.

I loved every part of Harriet’s world that Donna Tartt creates. You get the sense that everything in this world is deeply familiar to Tartt as it is also the place where she grew up. While I was looking for similarities in Harriet to Maddy Ross from True Grit I saw more similarities with what little I know about Donna Tartt, particular in the physical description of Harriet. I also got the feeling of a personal connection to not only the place but the people in the book in particular the three sisters (Harriet’s grandmother and aunts). These weren’t just characters she invented but inspired by people she knew and knows.

And the snakes! Forget a scene with snakes. There were multiple scenes with snakes. Each more terrifying than the previous one. Tartt uses them brilliantly both for their physical, actual danger and their symbolic threat.

If you haven’t read The Little Friend before don’t let the naysayers put you off. Donna Tartt is an exceptional talent and this is an utterly original novel.If you have read it before and weren’t a fan I suggest giving it another go especially now post-The Goldfinch.

Buy the book here…

Turns a Popular Genre Completely on it’s Head

9780356502847Review – The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

What a book to kick off 2014! This book totally blew me away from the first page. It is definitely one of those books where the less you know about it the more you are going to enjoy it. So I am going to break my review into two parts: Spoiler free and Spoilerific.

What makes genre fiction so popular is the rules and lore past writers have created and passed on. Readers get to know and appreciate all the tropes, major and minor, and new writers get to play around with these rules, bending, braking, changing them as they see fit. Sometimes these changes don’t work or go too far but every now and again somebody changes a genre completely. Which is what M.R. Carey has done in The Girl With All The Gifts. He has taken a popular genre and turned it completely on it’s head. In doing so he not only breathes in fresh air but he has brought a whole new perspective to a very familiar scenario.

The book opens with 10-year-old Melanie. She is sitting in a cell waiting for the Sergeant who is going to strap her to a wheelchair and take her, under guard, to her classroom where she will learn about the world with the other children. Something has happen to the outside world and Melanie and her classmates might be humanity’s only hope.

If you loved The Passage you will love this even more, grab a copy now. If you want to know a bit more (spoiler warning) scroll a bit further down

SPOILER ALERT [you have been warned]

This a cross between The Passage, The Walking Dead and 28 Days/Weeks/Months/Years Later. Not only does M.R. Carey (Mike Carey) completely flip the zombie genre but he also brings more humanity to the genre than anyone else I can think of. Set in England, it has been 20 years since the ‘Breakdown’ which has nearly wiped humanity out (you know the drill). ‘Hungries’ roam the countryside and control the cities.

Scientists have been trying to figure out what has caused the infection, if it even is an infection, with no luck. But ten children seem to hold the answer. They aren’t like the other hungries: mindless, feeding machines. They are cognitive. However when they get the scent of food, in particular humans, their infected natures come to the surface. These children are part of a last ditch study to try and find a vaccine or even antidote.

The book is told mainly from Melanie’s perspective and she captures and breaks your heart in equal measure. The strength of Carey’s writing is in his characters and as we get to know the people around Melanie; her teacher, the Sergeant, the doctor in charge; we (and they) learn about what it truly means to be human. At the same time Carey keeps the story moving at a perfect pace. Not only are the the hordes of hungries an ever present threat but feral humans known as ‘junkers’ also put the vital research being done at risk. But the biggest threat is time itself which is running out.

The other part I really loved about the book is the science behind the hungries. Zombie stories have toyed with many different explanations, mainly virus or bacteria infection spread through blood or saliva (see biting). Nearly all zombie explanations rely to some extent on either a supernatural element or a slight (or major) suspension of scientific belief. Carey takes a different tack and uses elements already present in nature, namely fungi. The way this scientific element is woven into the story is the icing on an already incredible the cake.

Buy the book here…

If you are growing weary with The Walking Dead this is the boost you need.

Book Review – World War Z

9780715643099After watching the film, and being pleasantly surprised, despite all the production/screenplay problems it was rumoured to have had, I thought I should check out the original.

The movie was a welcome change from the slow (slow) burn of The Walking Dead and even though the book’s zombies were back to the more traditional shambling zombies the scope of the book was also refreshing from the, bordering on tedious, Walking Dead.

The book is told as an oral history, very similar to many of the military history books I love. The “author” has been writing a report for the UN on the Zombie War but hasn’t been able to included many of the personal stories he encountered while researching his official report. The book is therefore the “history book” of the war.

The ‘author’ interviews people from all around the world and who have all had various experiences during the war. We hear from soldiers, doctors, divers, politicians, civilians. We learn how the zombie plague spread and how the world reacted to it. Brooks brings some really interesting ideas to the zombie genre. I especially loved the military reaction. Conventional weapons and tactics proved ineffectual and had to change. The big one being it was impossible to instill fear against a brainless, undead horde. The way Brooks demonstrates all the different worldwide reactions is fascinating and makes for compelling reading.

9780804165730I highly recommend the audio version which is done with an all-star cast including Max Brooks himself as the narrator.

If you are growing weary with The Walking Dead this is the boost you need.

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Buy the audio here…

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

9781847088765

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.

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