Bestsellers this week

Chasing Fire (Hachette), Nora Roberts’ standalone novel about fictional firefighter Rowan Tripp, is top of the highest new entries chart followed by The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide (Hachette), an encyclopedic guidebook to the ‘Twilight Saga’ by Stephanie Meyers. Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph), based on the TV show of the same name, is top of the fastest movers chart and in fifth place on the bestsellers chart. At the top end of the bestsellers chart are: Sing You Home (Jodie Picoult, A&U) in first place; The Fifth Witness (Michael Connelly, A&U) in second; and City of Fallen Angels (Cassandra Clare, Walker Books) in third–Weekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Past the Shallows (Favel Parrett, Hachette)

The wild coast of Tasmania provides a moody backdrop for this story of two young boys. Harry and his older brother Miles live in a tumbledown shack with their worn-down and bitter father, who is a fisherman with his own boat. Their mother died some years earlier and the boys’ memories of her and her death are sketchy. Fishing is a cold, tough way to make a living, and when the boys’ oldest brother Joe leaves town, Miles knows he is stuck with helping his dad on the boat, even though he hates it. Harry is scared of the water and has been spared fishing because of seasickness. One day when their father insists both boys go out on the boat in rough weather, a tragedy seems inevitable. This debut novel doesn’t have a single excess word and the characters are thoroughly believable. Harry in particular is captured with a charm and vulnerability that is really touching. Favel Parrett shows a lot of patience and restraint in her first but hopefully not her last novel. She is a seriously good writer. This book reminded me of Danielle Wood’s The Alphabet of Light and Dark, also set in Tasmania, and the way the young characters were captured put me in mind of Jasper Jones a bit.

Heather Dyer is the owner of Fairfield Books in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the April issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Most mentioned this week

It’s no surprise that war-related titles dominated book pages over the Anzac Day holiday. Receiving the most mentions was Crack Hardy: From Gallipoli to Flanders to the Somme by Stephen Dando-Collins (Vintage), the true story of three Australian soldiers, the Searle brothers, in which one brother was killed at Gallipoli, another on the Western Front and another coming home a decorated hero. Author Scott Bennett explores the importance of a small French village in winning the battle of the Somme in his book Pozieres: The Anzac Story (Scribe). Also appearing on the most mentioned chart were Little People (Jane Sullivan, Scribe), Michael Kirby: Paradoxes and Principals (A J Brown, Federation Press), and Jamrach’s Menagerie (Carol Birch, Text)–Media Extra.

Bestsellers this week

The top two spots on the bestsellers chart are taken up by Sing you Home (Jodie Picoult, A&U), in first place, and Land of the Painted Caves (Jean M Auel, Hachette), in second. City of Fallen Angels (Cassandra Clare, Walker Books), the latest book in the ‘Mortal Instruments’ series, is third on the bestsellers chart and is at the top of the fastest movers chartThe Fifth Witness (A&U), Michael Connelly’s latest crime thriller featuring defense attorney Micky Haller, is fourth on the bestsellers chart and in first place on the highest new entries chart. Leading up to the Royal wedding, children’s book Kate the Royal Wedding Fairy (Daisy Meadows, Hachette) is in fifth place on the highest new entries chartWeekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks, Fourth Estate)

In 1665 a young man from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. This fragment of history is the basis for the latest novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks. Caleb’s Crossing revolves around this young man’s spiritual and intellectual elevation in the eyes of English society. Bearing witness to this ‘civilising’ project is a minister’s daughter, Bethia Mayfield, who, on the basis of gender, is denied the education she craves. Bethia and Caleb—the son of a chieftain—meet in the wilds of Martha’s Vineyard as children and their clandestine but innocent encounters prove to be largely and mutually influential. Bethia teaches Caleb to read and strives to convert him to her Christian god, but he has just as much to offer her, as he shares island secrets and his native language. Caleb’s wide-eyed yet witty questioning of the Christian faith is compelling; their soulful and sweet exchanges are at the forefront of a quietly escalating tension between the native inhabitants and the gradually encroaching colonialists. As Bethia and Caleb grow older the divisions between them become more apparent; both are forced to subdue their natures in different ways. Bethia’s impending indenture as a housekeeper sparks a disagreement, which illuminates the diminishing options for both their futures. Such conversations between the pair evoke strong emotion and are a welcome release from the repression of Puritanism that dictates their behaviour. Reminiscent of Brooks’ debut novel Year of Wonders, wherein a bubonic plague outbreak is chronicled by an intelligent young maid, her latest fictional history sees Bethia grow from an uncertain minister’s daughter—striving for utter purity but plagued by doubt and failings—to a determined young woman who learns to exercise her intellect in whichever way she can. Bethia’s observation of Caleb’s triumphs and tribulations on the road to Harvard exposes both a warmth and distance between the pair. Her determination to document the role she plays in his journey bespeaks a desire for recognition. Caleb’s Crossing depicts the harshness of pioneer life and the rigidity of puritan values, tempered by the compassion and kindness of individuals. As the clash between cultures unfolds, loss of life, language and culture is a tragic inevitability that Bethia bears witness to on a personal level. Through the observations of a well-drawn protagonist Brooks conjures the disenfranchisement of an entire people.

Portia Lindsay works at the UNSW Bookshop in Sydney. This review first appeared in the April issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Miles Franklin shortlist

The shortlist for this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award was announced in Sydney this morning, as reported by the Weekly Book Newsletter.

The three shortlisted titles have been reviewed by Bookseller+Publisher and all reviews have been published on Fancy Goods.

When Colts Ran (Roger McDonald, Random House)
Bereft (Chris Womersley, Scribe)
That Deadman Dance (Kim Scott, Picador)

Following the announcement of the shortlist this morning, some members of the Australia literary community expressed concerns about only three titles making the list. In 2010, six titles were shortlisted for the award. The absence of female authors on this year’s list has also attracted attention. See Angela Myer’s Literary Minded blog for more on the controversy.

Most mentioned this week

The first three books topped the most mentioned chart with equal mentions this week. Leslie Cannold’s The Book of Rachael (Text) continues to generate interest for reviewers and book buyers. Ever since foreign correspondent Geraldine Brooks turned to fiction with her novel March, fans have been eagerly awaiting more of her creative work. Caleb’s Crossing (Fourth Estate) is her latest novel, based on a real event: the year is 1665 and a young man from Martha’s Vineyard is the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Another book continuing to gain interest is David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King (Little, Brown) in which IRS employees at a regional office in Midwest USA consider the dullness of their existence. Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie (Text) and Liz Byrski’s Last Chance Cafe (Macmillan) also featured on the most mentioned chart--Media Extra.

Travelling in literary China

Publishing assistant Andrew Wrathall attended Australian Writers’ Week in China in March. Here, he gives us a taste of three Chinese literary festivals that hosted Australian authors in 2011.

English speaking literary festivals have sprung up all around China over the past decade. Festival guests this March included many Australian authors, who flew to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong as part of Australian Writers’ Week, coordinated by the Australian Embassy.

Beijing

Perth author Craig Silvey and director of UWA Publishing Terri-ann White in Beijing

‘We really draw on the resources of our community to highlight what an amazing and vibrant city Beijing is,’ said  Bookworm International Literary Festival director Kadi Hughes. The festival runs during March each year within Beijing and two smaller cities, Chengdu and Suzhou.

‘We’ve been running Bookworm International Literary Festival for five years, it’s grown enormously every year. This year we have about 160 events in Beijing,’ said Alex Pearson, managing director of the festival and owner of the Bookworm Bookshop. The festival runs out of the Bookworm, which is part bookshop and part library, with books for sale and books that can be borrowed.

‘We are bigger than we have been in the past, but really sticking to the core beliefs of the festival. So we have book talks, panel discussions, writing workshops, literary eats, performance poetry, a variety of different things, and our program really focuses on a combination of amazing writers and amazing voices from around the world and also from China,’ said Hughes.

At this year’s festival Christos Tsiolkas spoke on a panel with Irish-born author Emma Donoghue on the subject of ‘taboo’; Kate Jennings and Jessica Rudd spoke on the topic of the boy’s club in big business and politics; and Craig Silvey joined Julia Leigh to talk about the Australian outback as a gothic backdrop in their literature.

Australia is one of 19 countries represented by the festival, with authors also attending from Iceland, Hungry, Poland, Wales, Scotland, Belgium and Nigeria. Pearson said she often goes abroad to other international festivals to find an international contingent of writers. The purpose of the festival is to ‘encourage the foreign community in Beijing to enjoy Chinese literature, the foreign community outside China to enjoy Chinese literature, and Chinese community here to enjoy foreign literature,’ said Pearson.

Alex Pearson talks to the festival audience with her translator

‘We have Chinese writers who you may have read in translation, whose work has been established abroad, and hopefully after this festival, more writers who will be translated and read abroad,’ said Hughes.

‘Another important part of our festival is our social enterprise, and every year we’ve been involved in international schools in Beijing, Suzhou and Chengdu, bringing our festival authors to children to share with them our celebration of literature and ideas. And this year we’re very excited to announce we have a migrant school program where a lot of our authors are going to migrant schools where they will share folk tales of their home countries and inspire children to write their own stories,’ said Hughes.

Shanghai

The view from Shanghai restaurant M on the Bund

Shanghai International Literary Festival started nine years ago at Shanghai restaurant M on the Bund. Michelle Garnaut manages the restaurant and is also the festival director.

‘It started by accident,’ said Garnaut, who recounts that a friend in Shanghai said, ‘We have a friend who’s a writer called Frank Moorhouse,’ to which Garnaut replied, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to do that. Why don’t we get him to fly over and do that?’ Soon after, Australian author Moorhouse held a lecture called ‘the Martini in Literature’ in the restaurant’s Glamour Bar, thereby becoming the first writer of the festival. Other writers were due to attend the festival, but were scared off by the SARS outbreak. Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: Batavia (Peter FitzSimons, Random House)

Most Australians only know the vaguest details of the Dutch East India Company’s Batavia, shipwrecked off the coast of WA in 1629. The astounding tale of slavery and wanton murder which ensued is a sorry chapter in our history, and one that is brought to life in a pacy, entertaining, informative and chilly narrative by Peter FitzSimons—in his own inimitable style. Moving between the various groups of survivors, the narrative is gripping—almost like a good thriller movie. The actions of Jeronimus Cornelisz, the self-proclaimed leader (i.e. dictator) of the survivor colony are truly shocking. Cornelisz oversaw the murder by his fellow mutineers of at least 110 men, women and children in his care. Drawing on the extensive journals of the ‘Commandeur’ of the fleet as well as other surviving letters and documents, FitzSimons has reconstructed dialogue, personalities and scenes which complement the facts and give the narrative a life and pace which would otherwise be lacking. As with previous historical episodes getting ‘the Fitzy treatment’, history purists will likely frown upon his methods—no matter how well-researched and deliberate they may be. Due to this chatty and accessible style, however, many more readers will be educated about the incredible story of the Batavia and booksellers will enjoy a bestseller sure to outsell any academic treatment limited to provable history.

Scott Whitmont is the owner of Lindfield Bookshop & Children’s Bookshop in Sydney. This review first appeared in the March issue of Bookseller+Publisher.

BOOK REVIEW: A Pocketful of Eyes (Lili Wilkinson, A&U)

A taxidermist-in-training, Bee works at the Natural History Museum and arrives at work one day to learn her boss and mentor has been found dead in the Red Rotunda room—an apparent suicide. Bee doesn’t believe it. In fact she is convinced it was murder. Like a teenage Agatha Christie, or an indie Nancy Drew, Bee is determined to find Gus’ killer. This book is a lark, immediately engaging and very, very funny. The reader is made suspicious of all the characters in turn as Bee, a highly observant detective, shares her theories and observations. There’s a selfconscious tone to the story—it’s a little tongue in cheek with its references to the mystery and to the great mystery writers—but this gives the story a delightfully hyper-real feel. With an excellent cast of characters, suspects and accomplices and sidekicks alike, it’s the perfect read for girls (and boys) who like their fiction fast and funny, with just enough edge (and romance) to reel in the older readers, but not so much as to dissuade the younger ones. Melbourne’s Lili Wilkinson is the author of five books, including the beautiful Scatterheart and 2009’s fantastic Pink. With A Pocketful of Eyes she continues to prove herself master of vastly enjoyable and engaging novels for teenagers as she brings another excellent female character to the Australian YA scene.

Kate O’Donnell is a bookseller at the Younger Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared in the April issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.