Bird & Bear is a beautifully illustrated picture book that explores the unfolding wonder of a young teddy bear as he ventures out into the world. We meet Bear on his ‘bearthday’ as he and his friend Bird head off on a special picnic. While Bear is down at the pier, he sees his reflection in the water and comes to the understanding that it is not another ‘him’ he sees but rather an image of himself. Author and illustrator Ann James uses this example to celebrate childhood and all of its associated discoveries, while evocative illustrations imbue the book with a sense of the innocence around which the narrative centres. Bird & Bear should appeal to a wide range of readers, both young and old, and bookstores, libraries and schools will find it a welcome addition to their children’s picture book collections. Bird & Bear is a story about the small moments of understanding that can change a young child’s life, and this sense of innocence and realisation is beautifully depicted in James’ book. This is a book to be savoured.
Natalie Crawford is a freelance reviewer and works at Dymocks Claremont. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in March 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.
A new film adaptation of The Great Gatsby is due to hit Australian cinemas next week, but book lovers have more than one option when looking to purchase a copy of F Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic book about life in the jazz age.
The fires of Black Saturday in 2009 are a significant event in Australia’s history. But, as Peter Stanley writes in some detail in his book, 7 February 2009 sits alongside the other great fires of Ash Wednesday (1983), Black Friday (1939) and Red Tuesday (1898). Black Saturday at Steels Creek reflects on this history through a snapshot of one community that survived the 2009 fires, and continues to live with the aftermath. Stanley writes about the community of Steels Creek (a small area near Yarra Glen in Victoria) before the fires, and then takes the reader through the horrific hours when Steels Creek faced the Black Saturday fires with little or no warning from the authorities. As you might imagine, there are stories of tragedy, triumph and heroism. And at the heart of these stories is the central question: how does a community survive such terror and tragedy? For the most part the answers are positive, though more complex and challenging than you might expect. As a military historian, Stanley is interested in how war affects communities; he believes that fire is a kind of war and therefore has similar implications for a community. This is a terrific account of a terrible day, and of what followed. It is written with compassion and insight by Stanley, who has an eye for the micro (the voices of the people) and the macro (the scale of the fire, the geography of the location). The book also includes maps and photos of the region.
Annelise Balsamo is a freelance reviewer and English teacher. This review first appeared in the Issue 1 2013 ofBooks+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
This is not a book about ‘how to feel good, how to find happiness or how to reap some reward for your goodness’. Hugh Mackay’s message is that while those things may well be by-products of living ‘the good life’, if you try to chase them, you will have missed the point of the journey. He postulates that society is consumed by narcissism and the ‘Utopia complex’, which demands perfection in all areas of life. Marketing ‘brand me’ feeds our obsession with self-esteem, the ultimate goal being anti-ageing. Add to this our pursuit of a permanent state of happiness and it’s no wonder we’re downright miserable. Which leads to the question, is there a better way to live and, eventually, die? Mackay draws on real-life stories and on the observations of philosophers, poets, scientists and theologians, as well as reconstructed and imagined scenarios, fables and parables, to explain his theories. Life is a spectrum of emotions and experiences and this user’s manual advocates wholeness. Mackay is a social researcher, novelist and honorary professor of social science at the University of Wollongong.
Paula Grunseit is a freelance journalist, editor and reviewer. This review first appeared in the Issue 1 2013 ofBooks+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Cory Taylor’s debut novel—the critically acclaimed Me and Mr Booker—was a brilliant and darkly comic coming-of-age story. My Beautiful Enemy, her second novel, is a story of love, desire and shame, set in a Japanese internment camp in regional Victoria during World War II. Arthur Wheeler is a young soldier who develops a life-changing infatuation with a Japanese youth, the stunningly beautiful and enigmatic Stanley. While Stanley’s beauty, antics (as a tennis-playing circus performer with a habit of escaping the camp) and sadness are mesmerising, Matron Conlon’s gin-soaked care, Bryant’s thuggish behaviour, and Baba-san’s tragic stoicism also evoke the complexities of war, as well as the horrors of ingrained racism and homophobia. Arthur’s own confused voice is central to these themes, and a painful journey of obsession and loss ensues as Arthur tries to recover from the war, from memories of his youth and his feelings for Stanley. Black humour is cunningly tangled with moments of sheer emotional devastation; Taylor crafts sentences of such sharpness and insight that I was forced to pause at moments to bask in the prose. My Beautiful Enemy is a heartfelt and beautifully written novel about love and war for readers of exquisitely crafted literary fiction.
Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in the Issue 1 2013 ofBooks+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
On Christmas morning a biblically epic storm traps Sarah Barnard and her horse on the (nominally Tasmanian) Devil’s Mountain. Sarah finds shelter and supplies at an abandoned workmen’s camp and settles in for what she hopes is just an uncomfortable night. And then out of the rain and mist emerges a lone, unequipped bushwalker. Sarah now has to contend not just with an increasingly destructive storm, but also with the unsettling presence of a handsome stranger, Heath, whose story rapidly unravels. Is he alone? Why is he really on the mountain? And how does he know it so well when he claims not to? As if this isn’t enough, hidden essentials go missing, supplies begin to dwindle and, as Sarah and Heath reach an uneasy intimacy, dangerous undercurrents in their lives are revealed. Honey Brown, author of the Miles Franklin-longlisted The Good Daughter (Viking) does an excellent job of this taut and atmospheric thriller, successfully adding a darkly sexy tone. The characters are well drawn and charismatic, and the twists are great—even the reader gets trapped and confused by lies. And hooray for the twist at the end, I’m still puzzling it over.
Catherine Schulz is an indie bookseller at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in March 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.
The Cloud Road is the second book in Isobelle Carmody’s ‘Kingdom of the Lost Book’ fantasy series for younger readers. After the events of The Red Wind, brothers Bily and Zluty are on the run. The mysterious rain of stones destroyed their idyllic home in the valley, and they have decided to flee, carrying what they can. Their friend Redwing flies with them, and Zluty keeps the strange metal egg he found in his pack. At Bily’s insistence, they have also brought the Monster, the wounded creature that Bily is fascinated with and Zluty can’t quite trust. The monster claims to know of a new place they can live, but first they must cross the White Desert and something they’ve never seen: the monster calls them ‘mountains’. On the way they meet new allies, encounter terrifying new enemies and begin to unravel the mysteries of the strange world they live in. Bily and Zluty are brave, curious and intrepid explorers. Carmody’s world-building remains first class, and the many mysteries of this world begin to unravel in this volume, adding a level of intrigue to the adventure. This is recommended for younger fans of fantasy tales.
Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in February 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Sonya Hartnett’s novel Of a Boy (Penguin) has been adapted into a film. The Weight of Elephants was shot in Southland, New Zealand, in March 2012. It is the feature film debut from New Zealand writer-director Daniel Joseph Borgman, and stars young New Zealand actors Demos Murphy and Angelina Cottrell. Read more about the film here.