Monday, 18 August 2014

DEMOKRASI: Indonesia in the 21st Century by Hamish McDonald ~ ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK

Demokrasi: Indonesia in the 21st Century by Hamish McDonald at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Hamish McDonald

ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK ----- Like many Australians, my knowledge of Indonesia was next to nil. When it did cross my mind, the picture ranged from that of a mythical tropical land of exotic and mystical delights, to a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. With the recent elections in one of the largest democracies in the world, my interest was piqued with this book by Hamish McDonald, a Walkley Award-winning journalist who has a long association with Asia.

McDonald takes us on a sweep across the history of the archipelago as the ebb and flow of colonial and military power and cronyism are revealed. The structure is well thought-out as each chapter focuses on a key facet of the society or history. The 'disguised coup' from which Major-General Suharto assumed power from Sukarno is the subject of The Crocodile Hole. The embedded nature of the military within the fabric of civil, economic and political life is covered in Beyond Dwifungsi (Dual Function). Capital takes us through the development of the economy and the strained relations with non-indigenous tycoons and nepotism. Moving through history, later chapters deal with Papua (their claim for independence from Indonesia is a sore that won't heal), and the battle against pollution and environmental plundering.

The peppering of Indonesian words throughout also provides a strong sense of the culture. We learn of 'preman' (gangster-thug-enforcers for hire) and 'cukong' (roughly meaning 'boss' but which evolved to also imply a Chinese businessman who had thrived under military patronage).

All-in-all we get a strong picture of emergence. Indonesia is on the rise but it is certainly not a straight line. Key reforms in education, welfare, anti-corruption and democracy run alongside brutal suppressions and corruption. The pattern identified by McDonald is of good intentions, policy and reforms at the top level being watered down or simply ignored by entrenched corruption and poor administration, combined with inadequate resources for enforcement.

The dust is still settling on the Presidential election and it appears that the triumph of Joko Widodo is a lucky escape for the nation, with his defeat of the Suharto-era former general Prabowo Subianto representing a further break from the military regimes of the past.

Craig Kirchner 

Limited time offer: Buy DEMOKRASI now using promo code WHEREIDEASGROW online and save 10%.


1 September 2014

Indonesia Update Conference 2014
The Yudhoyono years: An assessment
19 – 20 September 2014

More reading: An excellent article on a new paradigm for leadership
Soft power, the bazaar and voting for Indonesia's future

INTERVIEW Margaret Throsby speaks with Hamish McDonald on ABC Classic FM

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Lindy Jones has been reading...

Lindy Jones ~ Australian Bookseller's Association Inaugural Bookseller of the Year 2011

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Favel Parrett

ABBEY'S CHOICE SEPTEMBER 2014 ----- Set in the 1980s in Hobart and on the southern oceans, this finely crafted novel is as deceptively simple as Parrett's first, award-winning Past the Shallows.

Isla and her brother have been taken to Hobart by their mother who is escaping an unhappy marriage. It is a grey sort of life for all of them, until her mother befriends some Danish sailors who are crew on the Nella Dan which supplies the Australian Antarctic bases under contract. One sailor in particular, Bo, brings a different way of seeing the world to Isla, and for a few weeks each summer, his kindness and quiet practicality brighten her life.

The chapters are interspersed with Bo's point-of-view as he works as a steward on the Nella Dan (a ship that engenders strong ties and affection in all who serve on her) and these sections are highly evocative of shipboard life and the wonders of the icy south. This is a quiet and reflective novel, pared down but beautifully formed. It is a story of small actions that generate great significance, of the helplessness of children who can only work things out in an incomplete manner, and of how adults bumble their way through life, not having all the answers themselves.

Deeply moving, and highly recommended.

Limited time offer: Pre-order now using promo code WHEREIDEASGROW online and save 10%.


Nest by Inga Simpson at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Inga Simpson

ABBEY'S CHOICE AUGUST 2014 ----- From the author of Mr Wigg comes this beautifully crafted novel of an artist re-finding her purpose and place in life. Jen is licking her wounds after the dissolution of her long term relationship with a man she has never gotten over, nor seems to want to recover from, and her mother’s death has given her the chance to buy a house and piece of bush near her childhood town. Jen left many years ago, but having nowhere else to go, has returned in order to resume her painting and her life. She tutors a promising young boy, Henry, works on her house and block, and observes the birds around her.

When a young girl who is Henry’s close friend goes missing, Jen’s past rears up to confront her, because when she was Henry’s age, her best friend went missing, never to be seen again. And so too, did her father, at the same time – and the town has never been convinced of his innocence. When the town starts remembering, Jen has to accept that her life will change yet again... An outstanding novel with a finely worked narrative line and fully realised characters.

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Wayne Macauley

Seven old friends decide to spend the weekend in a house perched above the Great Ocean Road. It is to be a total escape from the pressures of their various professional and domestic situations, with good food, good wine and stories. No papers, no television, no mobile phones or computers and no children - it should be a restorative break from modern life. Waiting for the last couple to arrive, they decide to take turns telling stories - true or invented? - as the weather starts to close in.

When Marshall does finally turn up, it's not with his wife but with his daughter, and the dynamics of the group shift into uncertainty - and recriminations. And the stories being told are less innocent, and when the house is cut off by a huge storm, their old friendships are called into question…

A sly social commentary, a thoughtful examination of tale-telling and its forms, and a cleverly constructed novel with unexpected flashes of cutting humour.

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Britta Bolt

I don't usually read a lot of crime novels, and the ones I do should provide me with interesting characterisations and situations rather than gory details! This one is set in Amsterdam, and the main character, Pieter Posthumus, works for the Department of Emergencies and Internment in the section known as the Lonely Funeral team. They provide dignified funerals for the unclaimed, anonymous and forgotten.

When one of the bodies belongs to a Moroccan immigrant, Posthumus feels there is something that needs explaining about the situation, and he starts to look for clues. Meanwhile, an elite police squad is hunting for terrorists but one of the detectives starts to suspect all is not above board in their investigation…

Twists and turns, and a portrait of contemporary Dutch life to boot!

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Darren Groth

Justine and Perry are twins. Their Dad died just before their 18th birthday, their Mum is long gone, and Justine has deferred university (and her slightly overbearing-in-a-nice-way boyfriend) to take care of Perry, who has a brain condition that causes him to react differently to situations he finds stressful. The two of them are off on an overseas holiday care of insurance, and Justine wants it to be memorable for Perry, as he is moving into assisted accommodation when they return to Australia. And it will be, if not for all the reasons she thought before the trip started…

Told in alternating voices of both Justine and Perry, this is a sensitively told story of what matters most, whatever your age or however others see you. Ages 14+ 

E. Lockhart

Cadence Sinclair is the eldest granddaughter of a patrician old-money family. Each summer they holiday on their private island off Marthas Vineyard - grandparents, aunts and cousins. The aunts are all vying for favour from their bigoted father, the littles and the golden retrievers are tolerated with amusement, and the older grandchildren - Cady, Mirren and Johnny form their own clique. Gat is an addition to their circle, a brown-skinned politically aware boy who Cady falls deeply in love with from the very beginning.

But something unspeakably horrible happened to Cady on the island of her fifteenth summer - and no-one speaks of it. She is continually plagued by debilitating headaches, has missed a lot of school and her cousins don't return her emails.

After missing one summer on the island, she returns the next, only to find there is a lot more she hasn't been told about - her grandfather's senility, her aunts' deterioration, her cousins refusing to stay in their allocated family homes. Spiky and energetic writing carries along a clever, gripping and twisty story. 14+

Claire Saxby & Graham Byrne (Illustrator)

Following on from their successful book Big Red Kangaroo, the creators turn to the other symbol on our coat-of-arms. A father emu gathers up a clutch of blue-green eggs, and incubates his brood. Non-fiction blended with a simple story and accurate and artistically rendered illustrations, so that young readers learn interesting facts wrapped up in the narrative.

John Corey Whaley

Travis has woken up after what feels like a nap to him. He had terminal leukemia and volunteered to undergo a procedure where his head was cryogenically preserved until the time a suitable donor body could be found. At the time of his death, he thought that would be a long time in the future, but it turns out to be only five years - just long enough for people to have come to terms with losing him and picking up the pieces of their lives. Including his girlfriend Cate and best friend Kyle.

It's hard enough dealing with adolescence but dealing with the fact your birth certificate says you're 21 when you're still 16 and the people you relied on have grown up and you haven't, let alone the associated publicity that comes from being grafted onto someone else's body and considered a miracle - well Travis has a lot of catching up to do. And it won't be easy…

This was brilliant! A fascinating concept handled deftly, with a lot of interesting questions and thought-provoking scenarios, but also with humour and insight. Ages 13+ 

Bob Graham

Somewhere in an Asian country, a young sparrow flits about finding food where he can. One day he discovers a sack of grain, and before he knows it, he is transported by truck and ship to a strange land, where he eventually finds a new home. Then he comes into contact with Elsie, who is in a stroller pushed by her loving grandparents, and by chance and the actions of a dog, Elsie discovers one of the greatest pleasures in life…

As always with Bob Graham's books, this one has a quiet message and delicately expressive illustrations that capture both the freedom of the bird and the wonderment of the child.

Another beautiful book, sweet without sentimentality, that will appeal to anyone who loves picture books!

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Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 1 August 2014

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ August 2014

I suspect you might have to be of “a certain age” in order to fully appreciate the new novel from Linda Grant, Upstairs at the Party.

It concerns the lives of a group of young people in the Seventies attending a new university just built in York, in England. A friend asked me what I meant by a “red brick university”. Has that term gone out of use? Not everyone will recognise the significance of a new shop opening selling sprouts and lentils! She goes on to describe how their lives were changed by this new-found opportunity to attend University. Linda Grant is an especially entertaining writer who has an ability to evoke a time and place while describing the clothes people wore at that time. Her book The Clothes on Their Backs, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, is a favourite of mine and she has also written The Thoughtful Dresser which examines fashion, from a social aspect not from design. How our clothes reflect who we are. You might have to special order this. It came out in 2009. Linda Grant was born in Liverpool with Russian-Polish refugee parents and she says much of this book if autobiographical. If you like Margaret Drabble’s stories you’ll enjoy this although she is a bit tougher.

I recently watched a DVD of The Monuments Men - the film George Clooney made about the art historians who helped rescue important works during the final days of the Second World War. The film was disappointing so I got a copy of the book from Abbey’s. The book, by Robert M Edsel with Bret Witter, is much better. Such a good story needed to be told.

The mass market edition of Jung Chang’s terrific book Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China is now out. This is a huge turnaround – Jung Chang has been able to read the originals of historical documents recently released and shows Cixi to be the driving force opening Ancient China to the west – to railways, telegraph, electricity and an army and navy with modern weapons, not the cruel despot we imagined as we looked at the Summer Palace and the giant floating marble boat in Beijing. It is very readable. I’m going to give a copy to grandson Will who studies Chinese at High School.

There is a good Chinese History section at Abbey’s but I also want to recommend a book in biography about an Australian who was important in Chinese history at the end of Cixi’s reign. It is about Morrison of Peking as he became known, the Australian journalist for The Times of London, whose life is truly fascinating. I think the latest edition of this book by Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin is called The Life and Adventures of Morrison of China. It seems to have a lot less pages so perhaps it doesn’t talk about his adventure as a young man walking from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne only twenty one years after Burke and Wills perished trying to do the same thing. It was first called The Man Who Died Twice.

I’ve just been across to Western Australia on the Indian Pacific train. I had planned to take the Miles Franklin Prize winning novel All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld with me but, horror of horrors, I left my books at home. Daughter Jane, escorting me to the train, lent me her latest crime novel – she is an addict. It was one of Lee Child’s called A Wanted Man and kept me well entertained. I didn’t fall for famous hero Jack Reacher, for whom women lust and who men want to be. I didn’t approve of his system of never washing any clothes – he just gets new ones every four or five days! Good story though. [ Some have had fun costing out Jack Reacher's drifter lifestyle - view article. Ed. ]

Son Donald, now working in Perth for Woodside, is a mentor for several young men in the company. When asked by them if he was a mentor what were they? He hesitated. I think it should be mentoree but apparently it is mentee! When told this the young men protested that they were not lollies! Mentees not Minties says Donald. We looked it up on Google and apparently mentee is the word although certain bloggers say it is an ugly little word in danger of being misunderstood. Rush to your dictionaries now. I’ve discovered Abbey’s doesn’t have a Dictionary of New Words now. No doubt people look words up on Google but still word addicts like a printed copy and Abbeys does always have a decent Linguistics section. Susan Butler, Editor of Macquarie Dictionary has a book coming out this month. It is called The Aitch Factor: Adventures in Australian English. I haven’t seen it yet but I shall certainly have a copy.

As a previous Judge I was invited to the Miles Franklin Award announcement held in a beautiful room upstairs at the Museum of Contemporary Art and like many people there I was surprised at winning choice, although now that I am reading it I do approve. All the Birds, Singing is a pretty tough book. An awful lot about sheep so there’s no doubt about it being Australian.

Keep well.


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Breaking: Australian musician takes drugs - TALKING SMACK

Talking Smack by Andrew McMillen at Abbey's Bookshop 131 York Street, Sydney

This young man came into our shop this morning and asked about a book about Australian musicians and drugs.

I told him "I'm sorry, we're not that sort of bookshop, sir. Can I interest you in this book on ancient Rome?"

But he was insistent. "It's called Talking Smack and I'm the author."

On hearing this, one of our young booksellers said yes indeed, we did have a book by that title and it came in this morning. The book was brought to the counter. The man, who then introduced himself as Andrew McMillen, said he was a journalist and his book contained in-depth interviews with Australian musicians who were very frank and forthcoming about their use of narcotic substances.

At this, my cheeks reddened as I voiced my objection. "Are you suggesting, good sir, that our fine Australian musicians make their music in a state other than one of complete sobriety?"

He looked at me with some misgiving, before venturing "Well yes. I've spoke with many of them. It's all in the book. See here? Paul Kelly, Tina Arena, Gotye, Phil Jamieson…"

"Phil Jamieson!" I spluttered "From the Christian rock band Grinspoon?!"

"Well, they weren't exac-"

"I can imagine a ne'er-do-well such as that young Farnham boy going wayward, but surely not Phil Jamieson?"

But Mr McMillen assured me this was so and then he whipped out a pen and signed all the copies of the book we had in-store. He then shook my hand with the confident zeal of one bearing 'the Truth' and strode out the door for parts of the city unknown. Well, I think he was going to another bookstore.

Dazed, I stood pondering this revelation. Grinspoon. An odd word, certainly. Powderfinger. I wonder. Midnight Oil. Two words, not conjoined - but still, something… subversive. Savage Garden. Oh my! It must be true! With that I sat heavily, pulling a handkerchief from my cardigan to mop my brow. A cup of tea. Yes, that would do nicely.


Signed copies while they last. Use PROMO code WHEREIDEASGROW online for 10% OFF.

Talking Smack by Andrew McMillen at Abbey's Bookshop 131 York Street, Sydney

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 4 July 2014

Notes from Eve Abbey - July 2014

I was a bit reluctant to begin reading the newly published “latest” book by great Australian writer Elizabeth Harrower’s In Certain Circles.

Finished in 1971, the manuscript sat in the National Library of Australia until Michael Heyward, of Text Publishing persuaded Elizabeth to let them publish it this year.

I was still recovering from the tension after re- reading her most famous book, The Watch Tower. Would In Certain Circles prove a disappointment? Would this be yet another psychological thriller? The answers are No to the first and Yes to the second question. In Certain Circles is an almost perfect novel and suffers in no way from being written more than forty years ago. The picture of affluent life in Sydney’s Northern Suburbs seems scarcely different, except there remains that certain cultural uneasiness that things were better in Europe, which we don’t feel so much today. The story chronicles the interlocking lives of two sets of brother and sister, one set poor orphans and the other set blessed with charm, security and confidence. There is intense scrutiny of their actions, a great deal of unspoken understanding and psychological awareness. Put aside a few days to read this novel carefully. It will repay your attention. Her other novels are Down in the City, The Long Prospect and The Catherine Wheel. All have been re-published under the Text Classics series at only $12.95.

I mention this price because despite people thinking eBooks are the answer to cheap reading materials you can now buy really good books at very reasonable prices. Penguin Classics, Popular Penguins and various other imprints including the War Series are only $9.95 while Vintage Classics are only $12.95. There is a huge range. They may not be the latest but they are good and worth keeping in print. Shops like Abbey’s make a point of having the full range so browsing is well worthwhile.

I was sad to read of the death of Eric Hill, the creator of all those wonderful books for very young children. Who doesn’t have a memory of reading Where’s Spot to a child? If they don’t they have missed a great pleasure. Remember lifting the flap and searching for Spot? There are 134 titles on Abbey’s database including some in Italian, Spanish or Chinese (even in dual language Chinese/English) although not all are in stock. Lindy Jones keeps her discerning eye on the fabulous children’s section in the back corner of Abbey’s so she will always help you find just the right book while you have to go upstairs to Language Book Centre for those in foreign text. Remember you can now go up in the lift from the lobby if you don’t fancy climbing the stairs.

Prompted by yet another obituary I have been reading some of the Collected Stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Published in the 1960’s they remain vivid, exciting pleasures where you can see his progress from experimentation towards Magical Realism. Marquez is said to be the most popular author since Cervantes! Find him under G for Garcia on the shelves! If you haven’t already read his most famous books One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera perhaps now is the moment? They are both available in Popular Penguin as well as other editions. There are editions in Spanish upstairs in Language Book Centre as well as a biography by Gerald Martin while in Literary Criticism you can choose the Cambridge Companion to Gabriel Garcia Marquez by Philip Swanson or the Cambridge Introduction to Gabriel Garcia Marquez by Gerald Martin.

There was some good news from The New York Times recently about a new, big prize called The Breakthrough Prize. It is for Mathematics which has not been included in the Nobel Lists. When you hear it will be worth three times as much as the Nobel you won’t be surprised it is funded by two Silicon Valley moneymen, Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg. They have already awarded 3 million dollars each to five mathematicians. Three of the men (no women yet) have previously won the Fields Medal but this is only awarded every four years and is worth $15,000 Canadian Dollars. The Fields Medal began in 1936 and is awarded by the International Mathematical Union at their four yearly Congress. So this is a huge step forward.

Mathematics is a beautiful language which unfortunately I do not speak but Abbey’s has a huge range of titles. Some customers from Melbourne always come in to check the Mathematics sections.

I checked our database and found almost 20,000 titles but 465 ready to ship including Alan Turing’s Systems of Logic: The Princeton Thesis by Andrew W. Appel or The Proof is in the Pudding: The Changing Nature of Mathematical Proof by Steven G. Krantz or The Works of Archimedes: Volume 1, The Two Books on the Sphere and the Cylinder. Commentary by Archimedes and Reviel Nietz. If you would like to continue your search you will find Mathematics as a sub-category of Science and Medicine in Abbey’s database.

Bangarra Dance Theatre has recently staged Patyegarang, the story of the friendship between a young Aboriginal girl and William Dawes, astronomer with the First Fleet, after whom Dawes Point is named. Perhaps this is the time to read Kate Grenville’s follow-up to The Secret River, which is called The Lieutenant and covers this same story.

Keep well.


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Lindy Jones has been reading...

Lindy Jones ~ Australian Bookseller's Association Inaugural Bookseller of the Year 2011

Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds by John Pickrell
Nicky (Hachette), Brooke and Lindy

Brooke Davis

Millie Bird, aged 7, records dead things in her special book, but she wasn’t to know her Dad would be the 28th entry. Nor was she to know when her mother leaves her in the ladies’ underwear section of the department store, how long she would have to wait.

Karl, aged 87, has been left in an old people’s home and he doesn’t know how much more of his life he has to wait. And Agatha Pantha, aged 82, has been left alone after her husband dies and she doesn’t know how much longer she has to record measurements in her book of ageing.

How these three different characters form a unit makes for a charmingly off-centre story, as they escape their enforced waiting and attempt to reunite themselves with family, love and life. Throw in an incomplete mannequin, public transport, the Indian-Pacific and an assortment of helpful or interfering minor characters and you have a fine road trip of a read.

In turns, funny and poignant, wise and wide-ranging, this book crosses boundaries and deserves all the success it will inevitably have!

Brooke came in to Abbey's recently. It was 'the' book at the recent London Book Fair and has already been sold into 16 countries, with major deals in the US and UK - not bad for a debut novel! Brooke has worked as a bookseller in Victoria and Perth (where she now lives) and charmed everyone she met at the recent booksellers' conferences in Melbourne, with her modesty, intelligence and good nature. Her book is a universal favourite amongst those of us who have read it in advance of release, and we look forward to sharing this wonderful book with the wider reading public!

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Fredrik Backman

ABBEY'S CHOICE JULY 2014 ----- Perhaps the Scandinavians are tired of being associated with literary works of the darkest and most depressing hue, because there are some deliciously farcical and entertaining books filtering through that show the Scandis have a sense of humour! This latest offering has been an international bestseller, and it thoroughly deserves that status.

Ove is 59, in the second day of his forced retirement, and considering the best place to put a hook in his ceiling. He has conducted his morning ritual of ensuring the residential area is free of vehicles, nothing has been broken into, the rubbish has been properly sorted into the recycling bins, and shooed away an annoying cat. Ove is a practical man of inflexible habits and perceived as the neighbourhood’s grump – but that is far from the truth because Ove knows there is right, and everything else is wrong. He judges others by the car they drive (he is a lifelong devotee of Saab) and when his morning is disturbed by the sound of a Japanese car backing into his letterbox, he cannot contain his fury. But it turns out to be just the thing he needed to start living again – because as the reader finds out, Ove is a man who has lost the love of his life and his reasons to live.

This wonderful book had me in fits of laughter at times, and at others in quiet tears. It is a life-affirming novel with many shades of light and dark, a great cast of characters (I did enjoy the Cat Annoyance!) and a charming narrative style. The sort of book I don’t just highly recommend, but want everyone to read!

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Nick Earls

Nick Earls is well-known for his comedic novels often about young men, decent but somewhat clueless, coping with being adults. In this engagingly funny new novel, he turns his sharply observant talent to a middle-aged man’s struggles in navigating the world around him. I can’t tell you how much I laughed (but I do apologise to the man I startled on the train when I brayed out loud!)

Andrew has finally had enough of being an infrequent visitor to his family’s lives, and has taken on another role in order to return to Brisbane. From being a private-equity troubleshooter for companies overseas, he has been shifted sideways into managing a radio station – AM, at that. His wife is a brisk, efficient doctor who seems chagrined and amused in equal measure by his return; his twin children are busy with technology and being teenagers; his father (once the reigning king of local radio) has moved in to recover from cancer surgery. There just doesn’t seem to be room for Andrew. To top it off, his biggest problem at work is the station’s biggest asset – a politically incorrect bigmouth who delights in offending all and sundry. Andrew starts to feel increasingly irrelevant – an analogue man in a digital age. Warm and wry, witty and wise – a great book to drive away the winter blues!

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Leigh Hobbs

He's back! That lovable giant chicken decides he has to visit London, so after breakfast he grabs his camera and flies there for the day. After a whirlwind day full of sightseeing and the sort of chaos that follows him wherever he goes, Mr Chicken heads home tired but satisfied… As much fun as Mr Chicken Goes to Paris with the slightly crazed and anarchic style that makes Leigh Hobbs such a favourite with readers of all ages! 

Christie Nieman

Robin has been forced to leave her beloved home in the Victorian countryside when her father decides to take off with another woman, and her teacher mother accepts a post in Melbourne. She hates the city, the school, and being the new girl. Seth is alienated and angry and spends his days in a drug-induced haze, having dropped out of school when his mother (a scientist studying bush stone-curlews) died in a bushfire. His sister Delia, highly intelligent and principled, is struggling with her nightmares and grief, but as their father is a selfish drunk stuck in his own loss, has to be the grown-up of the family. Each of these lost teenagers are drawn together, united by a misplaced stone-curlew, and eventually learn how to cope with what life has thrown at them. A strong novel for readers 14+

Ellie Royce and Andrew McLean

Every week Lucas accompanies his Mum when she visits her grandfather in a nursing home. It's boring there so Lucas doesn't go inside to see his Great Grandpop - but one day he meets Jack. Jack is another resident, but he's full of stories and even a bit of mischief. Suddenly Lucas can't wait to visit each week, as Jack tells stories and teaches Lucas that old people were once young and full of stories - and often, despite their age, still full of life. Quite a touching story, well-served by Andrew McLean's gentle illustrations. 4-6yo

Robin Stevens

Hazel Wong has been sent to an English boarding school, because her Anglophile father in Hong Kong wishes to score points against his competitors. Hazel has been determined to enjoy it, but the reality is somewhat colder and hungrier - not to mention lonelier. That is, until the most popular girl in the school, Daisy Wells decides Hazel will be her best friend (or willing slave, though in Daisy's books they are much of a muchness!) Together they start a detective agency but it's not until Hazel discovers the science mistress dead that they have something to investigate. Particularly when the body disappears before anyone else has seen it… A rather charming cross between an Enid Blyton and an Alan Bradley and a lot of fun! 12+ 

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 6 June 2014

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ June 2014

I think it was bad luck for NoViolet Bulawayo that her wonderful book We Need New Names came out the same year as Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.

They are both totally original and totally unusual. They were both Short Listed for the Man Booker Prize and The Luminaries won. This was great for Eleanor but not much help to NoViolet (who maybe needs a new name herself)...

Nonetheless, let me press her book upon you. The Luminaries is quite a slow read but We Need New Names flashes along. It is set in an unnamed African state, probably Zimbabwe, where a lively group of young people, in a poor area, spend their time stealing guavas from the houses in better areas, and dreaming about going to America when things “get better”. The story is told by a bright and brave girl called Darling who does go to America to study and stay with her Aunt who has made it. It is the quality of the prose which is so affecting. You might think you know the reaction to going to America but this book is a total surprise. For instance, driving through the derelict suburbs of Detroit with her Uncle she remarks “if these buildings could talk they would stutter”. Do read this.

Another very successful book from an African writer is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is from Nigeria and is also the author of Half of a Yellow Sun, which has been made into a film screening here recently. Americanah is the story of a very successful migrant from Nigeria to America. She has become quite a famous blogger and has a gorgeous American lover but she pines for home and her childhood friend. He meanwhile has been educated in England but has returned home to become a somewhat shady businessman. This is a love story filled with information about migrant and African life. Perhaps too much information. The author is determined to leave nothing out. There is a lot of very amusing information about how Africans deal with their hair. The New York Times made it one of their Ten Best Books for 2013.

After I finished The Luminaries I made it my business to read Eleanor Catton’s first book (which was also a prize winner for First Book), because I could see Eleanor Catton was an especially gifted writer. It is called The Rehearsal and is hardly a rehearsal for The Luminaries! It is very different. It is full of over-heated adolescent sex and anxiety. It is set in a good High School where the main characters are learning the saxophone from a most unusual music teacher who is full of advice and plots. The sister of one of the music students has had an affair with a youngish male teacher and is temporarily “off school”. This episode enthrals the other students and unfortunately the students at the nearby Institute of Dramatic Art decide to use the story as the base for their end-of-year production.

In true Eleanor Catton style there is much written for you to think about – whether it be drama, movement, theatre, sex, friendship or parental supervision. At times the thoughts seem a bit mature for the characters and there are moments when you are not sure if this is part of the real story or part of the imagination of the character at that moment. Never mind. It is all worthwhile. Read it and enjoy it. I suspect there will be someone you know for whom this is just the right book?

The First Tuesday Book Club had Anne Tyler as their classic guest last month. What a good choice. When Peter Carey came to Abbey’s years ago (when Oscar and Lucinda won the Booker Prize) to talk with Elizabeth Riddell on the stairs, he told me Anne Tyler was one of his favourite writers. You’ll always find some of her fine titles on the shelves at Abbeys, such as Beginner’s Goodbye, Back When We Were Grownups or The Accidental Tourist or Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. All good! Lovely.

Keep well.


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers