BOOK REVIEW: Violent Exposure (Katherine Howell, Pan Macmillan)

Violent Exposure is the fourth and arguably the best novel by former paramedic and talented crime author Katherine Howell featuring Detective Ella Marconi. Howell has received a number of accolades for her second novel The Darkest Hour, and as her work continues to improve and impress, there are likely to be more on the cards. When paramedic Carly is called to the scene of a suspected domestic she has no idea that in less than 24 hours the woman she treats will be found dead, and the woman’s partner, the suspect of a violent stabbing, will be missing. With adultery, secrets, murder and lies in the mix, the borders between business and personal and law and life blurred, and detective Marconi left trying to find an ‘invisible’ murderer, readers will need to strap themselves in for an exhilarating read. Fast-paced, gutsy and intriguing, Violent Exposure will appeal primarily to female fans of both detective and forensic investigation stories, and can be read alone or as part of this very readable series.

Lucy Meredith is a former bookseller of nearly 10 years who currently works as an internet content writer and freelance reviewer. This review first appeared in the summer edition of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Most mentioned this week

Back in the most mentioned chart is Hand Me Down World (Lloyd Jones, Text), about a North African woman who washes ashore in Sicily and is looking for her son. Receiving the same number of mentions is Peter Robb’s journey through the history, culture and mean streets of Naples in Street Fight in Naples (A&U). How to Make Gravy (Paul Kelly, Hamish Hamilton), Greek Pilgrimage (John Carroll, Scribe) and Mr Shakespeare’s Bastard (Richard B Wright, Fourth Estate) were also regularly mentioned in the media this week–Media Extra.

INTERVIEW: Juliet Marillier on ‘The Seer of Sevenwaters’ (Macmillan)

In the summer edition of Bookseller+Publisher Hannah Cartmel reviewed The Seer of Sevenwaters, book five in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series (Macmillan), and being such a fan of the series she was quite eager to ask the author a few questions.

The Sevenwaters books were originally published as a trilogy, but clearly readers couldn’t get enough of the Sevenwaters families. How did the series evolve for you? How many books do you envisage in total?
When I started the first book, Daughter of the Forest, I wasn’t thinking beyond that one story, which is based on a Grimm’s fairytale, ‘The Six Swans’. I quickly realised when writing the novel that the catastrophe that befalls the family would affect the protagonist, Sorcha, and her brothers for the rest of their lives. It would also have an impact on future generations of the Sevenwaters family. While there is a happy ending for the central couple, in real life not every person gets that happy ending, and I did put a real family in the heart of my story, not a set of fairytale characters. I wanted to explore those other stories too—the unresolved and the tragic included.

The trilogy does have an over-arching story as well as the three complete one-book stories. When I’d finished those three novels, I had no intention of revisiting Sevenwaters. I was keen to try something different, which I did with the more substantial, more historically based Norse books, Wolfskin and Foxmask, and the Bridei Chronicles, which are set in the kingdom of the Picts. And I wrote two novels for young adults.

I went back to Sevenwaters at the request of my American editor and of readers around the world who kept asking for more stories featuring that setting (early medieval Ireland) and those characters. The later books in the series, Heir to Sevenwaters, Seer of Sevenwaters and one more to come, do revisit the settings and characters, but are stand-alone novels. As to whether there will be any more once the series reaches six, that’s still undecided.

The Sevenwaters books are inspired by ancient Ireland. As a Kiwi author who lives in Perth, what attracted you to this setting? Would you ever consider writing a novel that is based in a fantasy version of Australia or New Zealand?
I was born and raised in Dunedin, the most Scottish city outside Scotland, and I come from Scottish and Irish stock. I have Celtic stories and music in my blood, so those settings speak to me very powerfully. The area around Dunedin even looks like Scotland. I bet my forebears felt a twinge of recognition when they stepped off the boat! I’m not tired of telling Celtic stories yet, though I have ventured into Norse history and mythology with the Light Isles series, and explored Romanian and Turkish culture in my books for young adults. But yes, they are all set in the Northern Hemisphere. I write what my heart tells me to write. I immersed myself in European myths, legends and fairytales from childhood and they’ve had a profound influence on my creative thinking.

While I don’t discount any possibility for the future, I think there are other authors who do a better job of fantasy set in Australia and New Zealand than I ever could—for instance Kiwi writer Karen Healey who wrote the fabulous Guardian of the Dead, set in modern Christchurch and featuring Maori mythology. If I wrote a New Zealand novel I feel it would be mainstream, not fantasy.

I really liked your heroine Sibeal in Seer of Sevenwaters—her strength and vulnerability, and her desire to learn. Do you have a favourite Sevenwaters heroine?
I tend to like whichever heroine I am currently writing about, but my joint favourites of the Sevenwaters girls are probably Liadan and Clodagh. Liadan because she is the sort of woman I would love to be—brave and sure of herself. Clodagh because her strengths are subtle, feminine ones. She can win her battles without being a warrior woman. She, too, is brave and resourceful, and she has a remarkable ability to see beyond surface appearances.

The first book in the Sevenwaters series Daughter of the Forest was based on the Grimm Brothers story of ‘The Six Swans’. Do you find it easier to base your stories on existing material, or come up with something entirely new?
Neither is easier than the other, they just require different approaches to plotting. I’ve written three books loosely based on fairytales (the other two are Heart’s Blood, which owes quite a bit to Beauty and the Beast, and Wildwood Dancing, based on ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ / ‘The Frog Prince’.) None of my novels is a fairytale retelling; those three books have their own plots and characters, but retain aspects of the traditional stories. There’s so much wisdom in fairytales, it’s no wonder they continue to inspire writers. I think each of us dips into the cauldron of story for ideas, and each of us puts something fresh back in when we write a new novel. So the brew gets richer and richer; the stock of traditional wisdom meets the spice of originality!

You’ve announced that you’re working on the first novel in a new series called ‘Shadowfell’. What can you tell us about this series? When can we expect to see the first book?
The Shadowfell books are intended for the older end of the YA age group and should also be a satisfying adult read. They’ll be published by Pan Macmillan in Australia and Knopf in the USA. The first book is getting its finishing touches now and will be released some time in 2012. The setting is an imagined version of ancient Scotland, which is under the rule of a cruelly repressive king. The story includes a young woman with a perilous gift, a fledgling band of guerrilla fighters and a motley crew of uncanny folk. The theme is tyranny and rebellion. Unlike my previous novels, this series is more fantasy than history.

Read Hannah Cartmel’s review of The Seer of Sevenwaters (Juliet Marillier, Macmillan) in the summer edition of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Bestsellers this week

Jeff Kinney has monopolised the charts this week with his ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series (Puffin) blitzing the competition and taking the number one spots on all three charts. The Ugly Truth, the fifth instalment of the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series, tops the bestsellers chart as well as the highest new entries chart. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is top of the fastest movers chart with Dog Days in second place, Rodrick Rules in third and The Last Straw in fourth. Di Morrissey’s novel, The Plantation (Macmillan) has moved down a slot on the bestsellers chart into second place followed by Guinness World Records 2011 (Guinness World Records) in third–Weekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Off the Record: 25 Years of Music Street Press (ed by Sean Sennett & Simon Groth, UQP)

The free weekly street press is a bible of sorts for music lovers around Australia. While the quality of writing and editing in these papers is sometimes frustratingly bad, the street press informs music lovers of weekly gigs and CD releases, and promotes bands via interviews and gig advertisements. Sean Sennett, editor of Time Off magazine (Brisbane’s street paper since the mid-70s) and Simon Groth have compiled a selection of ‘best of ’ band interviews. Beginning with Hunters and Collectors in 1986 and moving chronologically through almost 100 interviews to Angus and Julia Stone in 2010, Off the Record covers vast ground. It can be dipped into at any page but a chronological read provides a fascinating look at how the music industry has changed over the years, from vinyl to CDs through to the influence of iTunes and myspace. Personal favourites in this collection include Jello Biafra discussing Queensland’s censorship laws and the confiscation of his albums in 1989 and a Jeff Buckley interview from 1996 (a poignant reminder of music’s sad loss). The interviews are concise and not always in-depth, but there’s enough variety within Off the Record to appeal  to music lovers of all styles.

Deborah Crabtree is a Melbourne-based writer and bookseller

INTERVIEW: Brendan Cowell on ‘How it Feels’ (Picador)

‘Sex, drugs, art, suicide, love, death and, possibly, murder are the themes of this exceptional debut novel,’ writes Paul Landymore in his five-star review of Brendan Cowell’s debut novel. He spoke to the author.

Suicide plays a large part in the story. Is this a big issue for Cronulla, particularly among its young men?

I believe so, yes. Well it was when I was growing up. A couple of boys in my year, a few in the year above and below, all took their own lives. It’s such a beautiful place Cronulla, quite stunning actually, and with a strong sense of family and community, so it hurts and fascinates me as to why these young men cannot see enough light in their lives to go on.

Your protagonist, Neil, is initially very hesitant sexually, but undergoes a rapid expansion of his awareness once at uni. Is this simply a result of his being away from home or is it a process of ‘art culture’?

The first part of the book takes place on the night the students get their HSC results. There is a party, and the characters are forced to confront the fact that this part of their life is over, and that it will never be the same again between them. Neil, our protagonist, is under pressure from his girlfriend to have sex, to lose their virginity together on this night, but her life is so full of pain, and her need to do this act so loaded, that he cannot go through with it. He is also a shy, introverted fellow, whose creativity has not been allowed to blossom in the Shire. Once at university his talent thrives and with it, his ego, and with that, his penchant for experimental sex. It’s all part of the same thing, for Neil, the art and the sex and the drugs, it’s all part of his obsession with the idea of ‘Me’, which makes up most of part two until tragedy explodes it all.

The idea of sexual freedom within artistic communities has been a constant throughout history. Do you think the pursuit of art feeds this freedom? Are people with more relaxed sexual boundaries more likely to be artistic? Or is it less direct than that?

Look, I am sure there are some accountants having orgies and mad sessions somewhere. I’m not sure it’s only the work of the artistic. Though, I must say, when one studies theatre and/or performance, your guard comes down pretty quickly. A lot of the study involves being vulnerable, and sharing your truth with other people. It also involves a lot of touching and physical involvement, so sex and so forth does not seem like so much of a stretch from what is already taking place. Though, I must say, this was not necessarily my experience at university, though I’m sure it was going on.

Given your background, questions of autobiography are likely to be raised around your novel. To what extent did you use your own life or knowledge of others you knew, studied and worked with?

As my agent Jean Mostyn said so eloquently, writing is a pot pourri of truth, observation, and invention. I would go along with this. How It Feels is very similar to my life trajectory, in terms of geography, but it is not my life. I did not run a theatre company in London for seven years, nor did I have a Sri Lankan girlfriend, or fall out of a window after a foursome in Dalston. Though I did play skirmish once. A lot of this book comes from things I saw and felt from being young, and leaving the Shire and becoming an artist, and then coming back, but it is a whole lot more interesting than how it happened for me.

Having acted, written and directed, what drew you to writing a novel and were you conscious of the potential for people to treat you akin to a soap actor trying to be a pop star?

Firstly, I am not so sure being a pop star is a reasonable equivalent to being a novelist. Well, I’m not sure Dickens would appreciate the connection to Britney. I wrote How It Feels for a few reasons. Firstly, I wanted to write a book. I have always dreamt and aspired to this. Books have played a large part in enriching my life and I wanted to add to the greater pool of this. I also wanted to get back to the very stuff of writing, and to do so on my own. Writing television, film, and theatre for that matter, well there are a lot of voices on board, a lot of factors you have to consider. Writing a novel allowed me to use language, and offer my mind absolute freedom. I also wanted to write about being young before I forgot how it felt. And also, well, I guess it’s a love letter to a lost friend as well. If they can read in heaven, well, I wrote it for him.

This interview first appeared in the November issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Read Paul Landymore’s review of How it Feels here.

Most mentioned this week

For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. This is the idea behind John Grisham’s latest novel The Confession (Century). Travis commits murder and can’t believe his luck when football star Donté is locked up for his crime. Nine years later he suffers from an inoperable brain tumour and Donté is on death row. For the first time in his life, he decides to do what’s right and confess. The Confession received as many mentions as Life (Keith Richards, Weidenfeld & Nicolson), which appears for a second time on the most mentioned chart. Also mentioned this week were How It Feels (Brendan Cowell, Picador), Poh’s Kitchen (Poh Ling Yeow, ABC Books) and Fall Girl (Toni Jordan, Text)–Media Extra.

BOOK REVIEW: First Dog on the Moon’s The Story of the Christmas Story (Andrew Marlton, Text)

The picture/humour/gift book is a genre that really comes into its own at Christmas, particularly for last-minute purchases and those tricky Secret Santa gifts. First Dog on the Moon’s The Story of the Christmas Story by Crikey cartoonist Andrew Marlton (aka First Dog) is a welcome addition to the genre. It’s an irreverent take on the Christmas story, with digressions on whether Jesus was really born in a stable or in someone’s spare room, how many wise men showed up, and why there wasn’t a donkey in the story (apparently there are a few gaps in the gospels of Matthew and Luke). The book is illustrated with a mix of cartoons and defaced paintings—Mary and Joseph get googly eyes and speech bubbles spouting silly lines—and there are lots of little details to keep kids amused, such as the feral Christmas puddings and the biblical scallops. The satire isn’t so strong that it is likely to offend: if you’re OK with God rendered as a dog with a halo, accompanied by the line ‘people don’t often agree on quite who or what God is, but in our story God looks like this’, then you’ll be OK with the rest of the story. I have a friend who loves Monty Python and Blackadder and enjoys exchanging reasonably priced gifts that gently mock the Christmas story, and this would be perfect for her.

Andrea Hanke is editor of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. This review first appeared in the November issue.

Bestsellers this week

Di Morrissey’s novel, The Plantation (Macmillan), is top of the bestsellers chart again this week followed by Towers of Midnight (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson, Hachette), the thirteenth volume in the ‘Wheel of Time’ fantasy series. Towers of Midnight makes an appearance again topping the highest new entries chart, followed by Frank: The Making of a Legend (Hachette), a biography of Frank Sinatra by James Kaplan.  Port Mortuary (Hachette), Patricia Cornwell’s latest crime novel in the Kay Scarpetta series, is first on the fastest movers chart followed by John Grisham’s legal thriller, The Confession (Century)–Weekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Genesis: The Rosie Black Chronicles Book One (Lara Morgan, Walker Books)

Rosie Black is a 16-year-old girl living 500 years in the future. Tides have risen and the world is separated into the poorer Bankers, like Rosie and her ailing father, and the rich Centrals, like Rosie’s Aunt Essie, an Orbitcorp pilot travelling between Earth and the Mars colonies, which is Rosie’s ambition. The Ferals live around the edges, avoided and feared. When Rosie finds a mysterious box in the old city, she unknowingly activates a series of events with terrible consequences. Rosie must find out who to trust—the authorities, who should protect her, or Pip, a Feral, and his boss, who say that her life is in danger? Genesis is a good sci-fi novel for young teenagers. Rosie’s future world is well developed without irritating over-exposition. The story takes rather big plot leaps, but manages to pull them off without becoming unbelievable. Readers will find it is satisfying that young protagonist Rosie is able to work with the adult characters, rather than having to constantly overcome them. Young teenage girls will love Rosie’s resourcefulness, and will enjoy the frustrating love interest, which will be one of the hooks to book two: Equinox.

Rebecca Butterworth is a freelance writer and ex-bookseller living in Melbourne.
This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.