Thursday, 21 September 2017

Lindy Jones' Reviews ~ September 2017

Lindy Jones ~ Miles Franklin Literary Award Judge and Australian Bookseller's Association Inaugural Bookseller of the Year 2011


Sophie Green
Taking place over three years, this traces the friendships and changing lives of a small community just outside the outback town of Katherine. It follows a formula - the standoffish woman, her misfit friend, the English rose daughter-in-law, and the outsider and the abused wife - all women needing to prove their worth in a male-oriented world. Together they find friendship and succour while attempting to find something finer (and more literary) in their difficult lives. And yes, while it isn't wildly original, it is an enjoyable, competent and satisfying read, probably best accompanied with a plate of scones and a pot of tea!

Robert Drewe
What better set-up in order to dissect attitudes, skewer pretensions and tell lots of stories, than a huge family gathering? On a hot November weekend at his newly acquired vineyard near Ballarat, barrister Hugh Cleary is hosting a family reunion to celebrate 160 years since Conor Cleary arrived in Australia. Amongst the attendees is his notorious rock star brother Simon/Sly, who thinks he’s dead and is the complacent host to Conor’s ghost; sister Thea, a doctor with a family health revelation; their father Mick, a die-hard Richmond fan still nursing a grudge about being made redundant years ago; cousin Doug, who was part of the team that sacked Mick; cousin Ryan, Catholic priest/ex-Afghanistan forces padre with a secret crush. Then there’s the strangely familiar teenager, tattooed and disruptive, who in a Puck-like way spreads mischief and spite wherever he goes.

With such a vast number of characters to choose from, Drewe has sly fun commenting on family, society and history. Sometimes a little stretched with so many characters, and occasionally veering towards stereotype, this is nonetheless an entertaining read, the family dynamics leading to many humorous set pieces, and Drewe’s descriptive powers perfectly capturing the landscape.

Sarah Winman
This third book from Winman is very different from her others (When God was a Rabbit; A Year of Marvellous Ways). There's no magic realism - something I love as a reader, though others don't - but there is the beautiful writing and fully fleshed believable characters that have characterised her work. I'll go so far as to say this is my favourite book of the year so far, and I don't really think it will be topped. In all ways this is a perfect book, from its narrative structure to its depiction of loss, grief, friendship, love and survival.

It's almost impossible to describe this book without giving away the plot, such as it is, but it is about a man who has lost everything he valued. Ellis works in an automotive factory, going through the motions after the two loves of his life died five years previously. He is haunted by grief and regret and the sheer weariness of keeping going when there seems to be nothing left to live for. The reader learns what he has lost, but we also see the first shoots of regrowth… An entirely believable and truly moving story, one you can go back to and read again and again. I have - four times now. I suspect I will keep this one close!

Michael Robotham
One of the very best writers when it comes to twisty crime writing, this new book has all the psychological dramas and hidden motives any fan could wish for! Agatha is a shop assistant, and she is pregnant. She is also fixated with Meg, one of her customers, who is also pregnant, but lives a different sort of life - one that Agatha knows about because she not only watches Meg very carefully but reads her mummy-blog.

Appearances deceive, because Meghan is not having quite so perfect a life as Agatha believes. Both Agatha and Meghan are hiding secrets, and as they come closer to delivering their babies, the story starts to become very gripping indeed… Told through both characters' voices, this is a compelling thriller, and as Robotham can do so easily, there are always more surprises even when you think everything is revealed!

Mark Brandi
When Ben is eleven, the girl next door commits suicide. A new neighbour moves in, and asks Ben to do small jobs for him around the yard. It's the late 80s and Ben has been brought up to be polite and helpful. Ben's best friend, Fab, is a bit of a tearaway, exceedingly loyal, and the victim of unacknowledged (though well known) domestic violence.

They do everything together but Ben starts to become distant, and as they grow older they grow apart. As the narrative switches in time, the reader starts to see what has happened and a chilling story is revealed. Atmospheric and gripping, with a veracity to place only someone who has grown up in a small town can convey, it is the sort of book you read in one sitting, but stays with you for much longer.

Melanie Cheng
This won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscript last year, and is of the high calibre you would expect from such a prestigious award. It is a collection of short stories, and the main theme is how people of different backgrounds try to find a place to belong in contemporary Australia. A medical student from Hong Kong meets his white girlfriend's country family for the first time; the Indian doctor who is targeted by an Italian patient who hasn't improved after his broken bones were set in casualty; the girl who finally admits to her Syrian background in a tourist setting; the Chinese grandmother made to feel burdensome. But there are also tender and perceptive stories about motherhood, loneliness and ageing. Sympathetic, clear-eyed and insightful writing.

Inga Simpson
Many people dream about making a tree change. When Simpson and her partner fell in love with ten steep acres of bush in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, they succumbed to its allure without quite knowing just what they were taking on. Within a short time they followed their hearts and purchased the adjoining block to set up their own writers’ retreat business, threw in their jobs and slaved – only for the GFC (and other factors) to drop them so deep into debt that their dream, and their lives, started to unravel.

This book interleaves natural science and personal story, description and reflection. Many chapters start with a particular tree found on the block - its growth and habit, the fauna it supports and its human usage - before flowing into Simpson’s life and labours. She learns to look, to see, and finally to recognise not only the trees on her property, but also her own possibilities and strengths. While each of her novels (Mr Wigg; Nest; Where the Trees Were) has shown a strong connection to land and nature, this book allows her to expand her concerns and observations, and to preserve and celebrate her trees in words - a fine addition to the genre of Australian nature writing.


M. A. Bennett
Greer has had the choice while her father is on an extended filming job to stay with her rather dull aunt or to take a place at St Aidans the Great boarding school. She's smart so it seems a good idea to go to the school, with its extensive educational programmes. However, it caters for an entirely different class of people, and she soon finds herself friendless and struggling amongst the privileged set.

But then she gets an invitation from the golden boy Henry de Warlencourt, embossed with the words: Huntin' Shootin' Fishin.' Thinking this is her entrée into the school's hierarchy, led on by Henry to think she is specially chosen, she accepts. It doesn't take long for her to realise that she and two others (also misfits in the school - the nouveau riche daughter of a tech king and the son of an Indian principality) are especially chosen, and that the hunting, shooting and fishing is for entirely different quarry than the animals on the isolated estate... A gripping, sometimes genuinely terrifying, novel - one that was hard to put down! Ages 14+

A. L. Tait
Gabe was left as a foundling on the steps of a monastery, and has known no other life than the cloistered and disciplined institution. Nor does he have any great curiosity about the outer world, thinking his life will always be ordered and neat - until a dying man thrusts a mysterious manuscript into his hands with instructions to take it to Aidan and no-one else.

Before he has time to blink, Gabe is swept up into a grand adventure, unable to return to the monastery, not knowing who to trust and on the run. Fortunately for him he falls into the hands of a notorious band of robbers - who happen to be girls with a mission of their own. A swift-paced adventure for readers 9-12.

Krystal Sutherland
Esther's family has been cursed, ever since her grandfather met Death's apprentice in Vietnam, and actually escaped the fate that was meant to be his. Each member has a great fear, and it will be the thing that kills them - her father is agoraphobic, her mother an addicted gambler who fears bad luck, and her twin brother can't abide the dark. When Esther is conned by Jonah, a former friend, and he makes off with her list of things she could potentially be killed by, it starts a strange and beautiful friendship.

Jonah is determined to help Esther surmount her fears, and challenges her to confront them - filming them as they go through the list. Unbeknownst to her, she is becoming a social media star… A likable and imaginative young adult novel, with interesting characters (including Death, who has a world-weary line of snappy but almost-compassionate rejoinders) and the stirrings of first love.

Pamela Allen
A new book from Pamela Allen is always going to be a treat, and this one is darling! A little boy and his mother pack a lunch, set out from Kirribilli to walk across the Bridge and go to the Botanic Gardens for the day. When they are there, they see an ibis caught up in a plastic bag, and with a lot of help, set it free. This is reminiscent of the well-loved Alexander's Outing and is a joyful portrait of the city with a quiet environmental message conveyed in simple rhythmic text and clean-lined illustrations - a book that will be enjoyed by resident and tourist alike!

Meg McKinlay, Leila Rudge
Once, there was a small rhinoceros who wanted to see the big world. And although the other rhinos told her how she had a good life already with everything a rhino could need, still she listened to her own heart and built a boat. Despite all of the others' doubts, she sails away and sees more than she ever dreamed, until she returns home to share her tales: and perhaps kindle the spirit of enquiry in an even smaller rhinoceros. With gentle and happy illustrations in coloured pencil and watercolour by Leila Rudge, this is a sweet encouragement to step outside the everyday and discover the world for yourself. Ages 3-5

Peter Schossow
Henry and his nanny Gulsa are on their way to visit Henry's grandmother in hospital. When Gulsa gets caught up on her phone, Henry, who is bored, decides to find Grandma for himself. After asking at the information desk and not having any luck, he sets off through the hospital looking for her, meeting all sorts of people from patients to doctors. Quite a lot of text and with illustrations that repay close attention, this is a sophisticated picture book (originally from Germany) with a simple storyline that may have the side effect of demystifying hospitals and how they work. Lower primary ages.


Bruce Whatley
Whatley is known for his simple illustration styles (Diary of a Wombat etc) or impressionist style (Fire) but this book is completely different. The inevitable comparison will be with Shaun Tan's Arrival as it is a work of graphite on paper, although unlike that other masterpiece this book does have text. Rather surreal text, which allows the reader to fill in the gaps and construct the meaning for themselves. Ruben is a small, almost stunted figure, living alone in a threatening city, but one day he notices another small figure slipping in and out of the shadows, and gives chase. From such beginnings grow possibilities of change... Will appeal to anyone who admires the artistry of children's illustration.

Emily Rodda
Quil Medway is an orphan who lives with her high-flying, loving but distant, aunt. Packed off to a holiday camp, 11 year old Quil gets the oddest feeling as her train goes through a small town on the other side of the mountains, and before she has time to reconsider, she gets off. She's drawn to an old shop, and when a cheeky dog and the shop's owner appear, it's the start of her finding a home and the real feeling of family… Told with all the considerable charm you would expect from one of Australia's best-loved authors, this is a lovely read for upper primary ages.

Scot Gardner
Sparrow is in juvenile detention, and on an exercise off the Kimberley coast when the boat taking his group back to the mainland catches fire. In a split instant and despite the fear of saltwater crocodiles and sharks, he decides to escape. Reaching the shore and eluding his pursuers, Sparrow has to survive on his wits and determination not to go back. As the reader follows him in his quest for survival in what could be a hostile and unforgiving landscape, we also learn the life that Sparrow is so desperate to escape, and that the wilderness doesn't hold as many threats as his past. Weaving in themes of survival, resilience and environmental awareness, this is an interesting and powerful novel for readers 13+

Claire Saxby, Julie Vivas
A blend of fact and story, this picturebook is part of a series of titles about Australian animals. It follows a little koala as he has to leave his mother's territory, and find a home of his own. In a different font below the main text, factual information is given that explains what is happening and why. With beautifully soft and expressive illustrations by Julie Vivas, this gently educational book is aimed at newly confident readers who aren't quite ready for a serious book full of facts.

J. A. White, Andrea Offermann
This is the final volume in the Thickety sequence, which has been one of my favourites! The Spider Queen is searching for the pieces of the first grimoire, and when she has them she will destroy the world out of sheer rage and spite. Kara and Taff need to find them before Rygoth does, but to do so will come at a dreadful cost. Kara must go back to the past to find the Princess who began the whole wickedness, and then unravel the web of lies and deceit to save those she loves, and those who trust in her. A satisfying conclusion to a clever series.

Frane Lessac
There are many A-Z books using Australian animals but this one is set apart by giving a handful of interesting facts on the featured creature (and by the distribution maps at the back of the book in case the young reader wants to know where they might find them!) Colourful slightly naïve and joyful illustrations show the animals in natural poses and simplified habitats. I rather liked that X stood for Crusader Bugs because the insects have a x-shaped cross on their backs! A book both useful and attractive, for ages 3-5.

Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers