BOOK REVIEW: The Tea Chest (Josephine Moon, A&U)

tea chestFive unlikely women have to work together to make a boutique tea shop work and flourish. Simone has left her two Australian tea shops, and the plans for another branch in London, to her financial backer and stepsister Judy and to tea designer Kate. Rather than sell out her share to Judy, Kate and her husband decide she should follow her passion and open the first international Tea Chest shop in London. Kate takes along Leila, whom she has rescued from unemployment, and they soon meet Elizabeth and her sister Victoria. The four women work together, battling construction companies run by unscrupulous operators, the 2011 London riots and all manner of personal issues to get the shop up and running. Judy is a kind of shadowy figure, supposedly a helpful associate, but at times seeming almost like an adversary. There is a lot of jumping around in this book: jumping from character to character, as the different women take turns narrating, and jumping between time periods, as the back stories for each of the characters are slowly revealed. This requires a certain amount of concentration, but the rewards are worth it—the story is fascinating and I found it difficult to put the book down. And while the ending seems almost too neat, it’s also lovely to read a book that turns out well. The Tea Chest will appeal to readers of commercial women’s fiction of all ages—especially those who love a good cup of tea!

Jessica Broadbent is a qualified librarian who prefers hot chocolate over tea. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Grace’s Table (Sally Piper, UQP)

grace s tableThis beguiling novel is set at a pivotal moment in the life of Grace, an Australian woman about to turn 70. She is determined to mark this moment with an old-fashioned family dinner and we meet her as she is preparing the food, assisted by her spiky daughter Susan. As a 70-year-old man, I doubted my ability to become involved in this tale. I could not have been more wrong. The author uses the meal—preparation, serving, eating and aftermath—as a device within which to tell Grace’s story. From her rebellious childhood, then a marriage that turns depressingly sour, through family tensions and a huge, unspoken tragedy, through friendships and enmities, we are given a portrait of a family that slowly fractures yet will still come together for occasions like Grace’s 70th. The last pages of the book, in which the old tragedy is revealed to the reader and the family finally faces it and starts to deal with it as adults, are confronting yet uplifting. Grace’s Table is involving, moving, amusing and genuinely entertaining. I kept wanting to introduce Grace to Mr Wigg (Inga Simpson’s stubborn farmer from her recent eponymous novel). They have much in common and would make a feisty, formidable team.

Max Oliver has just retired after 55 years in the book trade. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

Top stories this week

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BOOK REVIEW: Max (Marc Martin, Viking)

maxThis picture book tells an emotional story about the relationship between a cheeky seagull called Max and a fish-and-chip shop-owner called Bob. Max has become a friend to Bob, who feeds the bird chips from his store, which is located on an ocean boardwalk. Unfortunately, market forces play their part when, one summer, the nearby fun fair is dismantled. Customers no longer visit the boardwalk, the shops close down and Bob disappears. After waiting for days, then weeks, for Bob’s return, Max decides to fly over the city to search for his friend, until he once again sniffs that familiar fish-and-chip smell. Marc Martin has written a heartfelt story that encourages readers to love Max. To create his unique brand of illustration, Martin uses lino print, splatter paint and sponge textures within sharp stylised shapes, which he previously used in the brilliant picture book The Curious Explorer’s Illustrated Pocket Guide to Exotic Animals A to Z. This is an excellent book for children under five years.

Andrew Wrathall is Books+Publishing’s production guru and enjoys long walks on the beach. This review first appeared in Junior Term 1, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Tree Palace (Craig Sherborne, Text)

Tree PalaceSet in the Wimmera Mallee in Victoria’s north-west, award-winning author Craig Sherborne’s second novel Tree Palace is about a group of street smart survivors living on society’s fringe. They are itinerants or ‘trants’ who squat and obtain an income from welfare and from selling the heritage fittings they strip from abandoned properties. Matriarch Moira and her partner Shane, his half-brother Midge, and Moira’s children Zara and Rory have found a place where they could settle and be happy but life is never simple. The police are after Shane, and 15-year-old Zara is struggling to bond with her newborn son Mathew; she wants to continue being a carefree teenager and this causes conflict with Moira, who feels a great responsibility towards the baby. Much of the novel’s action and characterisation unfolds through its authentic dialogue, and Sherborne’s skills as a poet and playwright shine through. Readers will also enjoy his vivid depictions of nature—another strong feature of the novel is its rural setting. Told with warmth and humour, this contemporary, distinctly Australian story explores teen pregnancy; motherhood and parenthood; love and family; the roles and feelings of men and boys; and the power plays inherent in all human relationships. Tree Palace serves up a full slice of life—the bitter with the sweet.

Paula Grunseit is a freelance journalist, editor and reviewer. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

Top stories this week

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BOOK REVIEW: Rivertime (Trace Balla, A&U)

rivertimeThis book is laid out in cartoon strips, which takes a while to get used to if you’re not familiar with reading in this format. But the narrative flows as easily as, well, a slowly moving river. It’s about 10-and-a-half-year-old Clancy, who is taken camping for 10 days by his uncle Egg, who happens to be a birdwatcher. At first Clancy is unimpressed with the mozzies and the lack of TV access on their canoe, but gradually he’s seduced by the wildlife and the various outdoorsy adventures of the bush—such as drinking fresh water from mossy cliffs, snacking on wild raspberries and gazing at the Milky Way without the distraction of city lights. This is Trace Balla’s celebration of the Glenelg River with its manifold attractions. The illustrations are presented in muted earthy tones, and there is plenty of fauna featured—particularly birds, including the lesser-known white-throated gerygone, the brown thornbill and the rufous bristlebird. Rivertime is a reminder for mid-primary school kids—who are quite partial to being hooked up to various electronic devices—that it’s good to move beyond your comfort zone, and that communing with nature has its own rewards.

Thuy On is a Melbourne-based reviewer and the books editor of the Big Issue. This review first appeared in Junior Term 1, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Calypso Summer (Jared Thomas, Magabala)

calypso_summer_cover_hi-resHis name is Kyle, but everyone calls him Calypso. In high school he grew dreadlocks, started listening to reggae and took to the ganja with a vengeance. Calypso isn’t Jamaican though, he’s from the Nukunu people of South Australia—not that he’s seen his mum’s mob in the Flinders Ranges since he was a kid. Now that Calypso is out of school, things are changing. He’s finally scored a job, is sharing a flat with his troubled cousin Run and is losing interest in the smoking. Gary, his new boss at the health food shop, wants to stock some natural remedies from Calypso’s ‘tribe’ and suggests he gets back in touch with them. Then there’s that girl at the hairdresser’s who Calypso can’t stop thinking about. It’s a summer of cricket, family and romance. In Calypso Summer, Jared Thomas has created a strong, likeable character who comes to a greater appreciation of his heritage, his family and his connections. Thomas brings the reader into Calypso’s world, vividly capturing his language and his large and vibrant family. This book contains frequent drug use and strong language, and as such is suitable for older readers. Thomas won a kuril dhagun Indigenous Writing Fellowship as part of the black&write! Indigenous Writing and Editing program for this book.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

Top stories this week

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Miles Franklin Literary Award 2014 longlist announced

The longlist for this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award has been announced.

The longlisted titles are:

The Life and Loves of Lena GauntNarrow Road to the Deep North Book CoverThe Railwayman s Wife

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt (Tracy Farr, Fremantle Press)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Richard Flanagan, Vintage)

The Railwayman’s Wife (Ashley Hay, A&U)

mullumbimbyNight GuestBelomor

Mullumbimby (Melissa Lucashenko, UQP)

The Night Guest (Fiona McFarlane, Hamish Hamilton)

Belomor (Nicholas Rothwell, Text)

GameMy Beautiful EnemyEyrie

Game (Trevor Shearston, A&U)

My Beautiful Enemy (Cory Taylor, Text)

Eyrie (Tim Winton, Hamish Hamilton)

The-Swan-BookAll the Birds Singing

The Swan Book (Alexis Wright, Giramondo)

All the Birds, Singing (Evie Wyld, Vintage).

The shortlist will be announced on 15 May at the State Library of New South Wales. The winner will be announced on 26 June. The winner of this year’s prize will receive a cash prize of $60,000.

For more information on this year’s longlist, click here.