BOOK REVIEW: Lucas and Jack (Ellie Royce & Andrew McLean, Working Title Press)

Lucas and JackEvery week Lucas and his mum visit Great Grandpop in the nursing home, and every week Lucas waits outside getting grumpy and bored. One week, while he is waiting, Lucas meets another occupant called Jack, and with Jack’s encouragement he comes to see the exciting, vibrant people that the nursing home residents used to be. And still are! Jack’s ‘tricks’ help Lucas to understand his great-grandfather and appreciate him for the person he is. Lucas and Jack is a tale of discovery and love, gently told and beautifully illustrated. Its colourful, evocative illustrations and thoughtful narration make the story accessible to a wide range of readers aged from four years. Lucas and Jack is the kind of book that should be on all family bookshelves, with its message that we should remember our elders for who they are, what they have achieved and the amazing lives they have led, rather than seeing only their frailty.

Natalie Crawford is a children’s book specialist at Dymocks Claremont.This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

Top stories this week

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BOOK REVIEW: Surviving Peace: A Political Memoir (Olivera Simić, Spinifex)

Surviving PeaceLaw academic Olivera Simić has penned this absorbing yet troubling account of the effects of the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. She writes of the life journey that has taken her from Bosnia to exile in Serbia, to the US, Costa Rica and Brisbane, in a narrative voice that is likeable and reasoned. Do not expect a retelling of war experiences; instead Simić gives an intellectual consideration to issues surrounding war, its atrocities, and more specifically, the hardships encountered in living after the war. What happens after the violence has ended and economies are broken, when people have been removed from their homelands, when there are no jobs? What happens when your cultural identity comes from a nation that no longer exists? Are you entitled to talk on the war if you have not suffered as much as others? These are just some of the issues covered. Peppered with quotes from diverse sources, this volume unusually combines academic-type discussion with personal reflections. It also gives a first-hand account of post-traumatic stress. Surviving Peace provides greater understanding of the Balkan Wars to those who don’t know much about the Bosniak, Serb and Croatian ethnicities, and some possible new perspectives to those who do. It makes a valuable contribution to ensuring we don’t forget the horrors and enduring impact of war.

Joanne Shiells is a former editor of Books+Publishing. This review first appeared in Books+Publishing magazine Issue 2, 2014. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: My Dog Doesn’t Like Me (Elizabeth Fensham, UQP)

My Dog Doesn't Like MeMy Dog Doesn’t Like Me is an endearing tale of a young boy named Eric and his new puppy Ugly. Since coming into Eric’s home, Ugly has caused no end of trouble and, in spite of his efforts, he is showing no signs of improvement. Finally, Mum and Dad issue an ultimatum: Eric must train Ugly properly or he’ll be re-homed. With the help of his school friends and Grandpa’s friend Maggie, Eric embarks on a plan to make sure Ugly is allowed to stay for good. Elizabeth Fensham has written this story from Eric’s perspective, offering an intimate view of everyday family life. With its gentleness and humour, My Dog Doesn’t Like Me will appeal to children aged seven years and above who have felt overwhelmed or burdened by the task of caring for their pet. It’s refreshing to read a book that shows the pressure children can feel to be grown up, as well as the great sense of achievement they can gain from taking on responsibilities.

Natalie Crawford is a children’s book specialist at Dymocks Claremont. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

Top stories this week

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Bestsellers this week

John Green novels and Minecraft manuals continue to dominate the bestsellers chart. The regular and film tie-in edition of The Fault in Our Stars (Penguin) are in first and second place, while four titles in the Minecraft guide series fill up third through to sixth spot. Evie Wyld’s Miles Franklin Award-winning All The Birds, Singing (Vintage) is in tenth spot, and is the week’s second fastest mover, behind Armageddon Outta Here: The World of Skulduggery Pleasant (Derek Landy, HarperCollins). The week’s highest new entry is the adult edition of Four: A Divergent Collection (Veronica Roth, HarperCollins)—Books+Publishing.

Awards round-up: July

Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing (Vintage) has won this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award and picked up the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize and Encore Award for a second novel. BookScan reports that sales of Wyld’s novel have ‘risen significantly’ since her Miles Franklin win.

A number of awards were announced at the recent Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) conference. Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (Giramondo) won the 2014 Australian Literature Society (ALS) Gold Medal; the Magarey Medal for Biography was presented to The Lone Protestor: AM Fernando in Australia and Europe (Fiona Paisley, Aboriginal Studies Press); and the Mary Gilmore Award for poetry went to Even in the Dark (Rose Lucas, UWA Publishing).

Also announced in recent weeks were the winners of the Australian Shadows Awards for horror fiction and the Dagger Awards for crime fiction; the shortlists for the National Biography Award, the Ernest Scott Prize for history and the Australian Christian Book of the Year; and the longlist for the John Button Prize for writing on policy and politics.

In New Zealand, the winners have been announced for the New Zealand Society of Authors Best First Book and the longlist for the Ngaio Marsh Award for New Zealand crime fiction.

Recent international awards include the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Andrew Carnegie Medal, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Forthcoming nonfiction reviews: September to October 2014

Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen (Erik Jensen, Black Inc., October), 4.5 stars, reviewed by Gerard Elson
A Bone of Fact (David Walsh, Pan Macmillan, October), 4 stars, reviewed by Veronica Sullivan
Dress, Memory: A Memoir of my Twenties in Dresses (Lorelei Vashti, A&U, September), 3.5 stars, reviewed by Portia Lindsay
Talking Smack: Honest Conversations about Drugs (Andrew McMillen, UQP, September), 3.5 stars, reviewed by Paula Grunseit
This House of Grief (Helen Garner, Text, September), 4.5 stars, reviewed by Matthia Dempsey


Forthcoming fiction reviews: September to October 2014

The Brewer’s Tale (Karen Brooks, Harlequin, October), 4 stars, reviewed by Kat Mayo
Dreamer’s Pool: Blackthorn and Grim 1 (Juliet Marillier, Pan Macmillan, October), 4.5 stars, reviewed by Jarrah Moore
Heat and Light (Ellen Van Neerven, UQP, September), 3.5 stars, reviewed by David Gaunt
Killing Adonis (J M Donellan, Pantera Press, October), 4 stars, reviewed by Deb Crabtree
The Rosie Effect (Graeme Simsion, Text, October), 4 stars, reviewed by Louise Fay
The Snow Kimono (Mark Henshaw, Text, September), 3.5 stars, reviewed by Brad Jefferies
Window Gods (Sally Morrison, Hardie Grant, October), 3 stars, reviewed by Sonia Nair


Postage costs and the Australian book industry: a history

postboxThe Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) believes the biggest threat to bookshops and other local retailers is postage costs. It offers this example: ‘It costs in excess of ten times more to post one book from Mosman to Penrith than it does to post the exact same book from the UK to Sydney. This is not only damaging local retailing but it is also crippling an Australian institution.’

In 2011, Books+Publishing published a post on the subject, ‘Why is it cheaper to post a book from overseas than within Australia?’. Some of the contributing factors we reported were: the ability of organisations such as the Book Depository to negotiate a volume-based discount from Royal Mail; fluctuations in the Australian dollar; and ‘a substantial difference between the unit costs charged by Australia Post and Royal Mail’.

‘Australia Post … is required to deliver parcels sent through Royal Mail (and other international postal services) within Australia as a member of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). In return for delivering these parcels, Australia Post receives a payment from the Royal Mail,’ a spokesperson for the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy told Books+Publishing at the time. ‘It makes sense then that if parcels coming into Australia are increasing because of retailers like the Book Depository, Australia Post is spending more money on delivering parcels for Royal Mail. The questions then becomes, are the payments received by Australia Post for delivering these parcels covering the costs of delivery?’

The book industry investigates
The Book Industry Strategy Group’s (BISG) report to government, which was published in 2011, goes into further detail on the cost of parcels mailed to Australia from overseas countries such as the UK.

‘Under the rules of the UPU, international package postal rates are determined by the rate charged for a 20g first class priority letter within the destination country,’ explains the BISG report. Australia has a flat letter rate of $0.60, while many other countries, including the UK, have a first class postal rate for letters that results in higher rates for parcels sent to those countries.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, quoted in the BISG report, estimates that UK companies may pay Royal Mail about $3.04 for each 500 gram parcel sent to Australia, as a volume discount for posting 100 parcels (but companies such as Amazon and Book Depository may have a higher volume discount). Royal Mail then effectively passes on 60 cents of that amount to Australia Post, which is forced under international postal union obligations to deliver these parcels and cover the remaining cost of delivery.

‘Australia Post now concedes that delivering parcels from the United Kingdom is a loss-making activity, which suggests that higher prices on their domestic services are in part compensation for its losses of approximately $1.72 per parcel from the United Kingdom,’ said the BISG report.

Australia Post had previously applied to the UPU to register a first class postal rate for letters of $2.60, but the UPU rejected the request. Registering a first class postal rate would close the gap on Australia Post’s delivery cost of overseas mail by moving the cost onto overseas companies.

The BISG report includes a recommendation that ‘the Government initiate negotiations with the Universal Postal Union (UPU) to secure amendment of the appropriate postal treaties to provide more equitable and competitive pricing for print post delivery, where Australia is currently severely disadvantaged’.

The government responds
The former Federal Labor Government formally responded to the BISG recommendations in 2012. It supported the recommendation ‘in principle’ that the government enter into negotiations with the UPU to amend postal treaties. It noted that ‘effecting this recommendation will require renegotiation of Australia’s terminal dues rate which is set by rules established through the Universal Postal Union Convention and Acts’.

‘The rates of payment to Australia Post for inward parcels are set using a formula linked to the domestic standard letter postage rate [of 60 cents],’ said the government. The government said that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is currently talking to members of the union ‘to agree [to] a different letter postage rate to be used for terminal dues’ but with 192 countries as members of the union, ‘negotiations are complex’. ‘Potential options outside of the union treaty arrangements are also being investigated by Australia’s designated operator, Australia Post,’ said the government.

Calls for a first class mail rate
The ABA has called on the current Federal Coalition Government to establish a first class mail rate in Australia to increase postage costs for overseas retailers sending parcels to Australia. In an open letter to the federal Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull, the ABA said:

‘In Australia there is no First Class Mail rate. This has been exploited by many overseas retailers, in particular The Book Depository (an Amazon-owned company). With no First Class Mail rate overseas companies are able to post goods under 400 grams to Australia at the cost of a local stamp. The Book Depository has used this to send orders in individual parcels and to provide free freight to customers in Australia. Under international postal union obligations Australia Post is then forced to deliver overseas parcels at their own cost. These costs have been passed onto Australian businesses and Australian consumers.

‘Free post coupled with a strong Australian dollar has meant that overseas purchases have skyrocketed. Not only that, but Australia Post’s costs have also gone through the roof. Parcel post costs have dramatically increased which means Australian businesses are in effect subsidising their overseas competitors. And now jobs and services are being cut back. Four years ago Australia Post was one of the most profitable government-owned enterprises. Now it is in dire straits.

‘If a first class mail rate was established in Australia overseas retailers would not be able to offer free freight to Australia and the volume of overseas post would decrease to more viable levels. This would reduce Australia Post’s costs and save jobs across the Australian economy.’