BOOK REVIEW: Clara in Washington (Penny Tangey, UQP)

It’s the end of high school, the end of an era, and Clara decides to break with tradition and go to Washington with her mother for the holidays rather than spend time with her father at their beach house. But Washington isn’t quite the adventure Clara expected, and she feels alone with her thoughts in a strange city and detached from her friends and family. Clara is on the verge of adulthood, and as her own life and the world around her changes, she struggles to connect with people and maintain her sense of identity. Clara is a wonderfully textured character whose fears and insecurities will ring true to all readers on the verge of leaving high school and entering the next stage of their lives. Her fears and insecurities almost cripple her when she arrives in Washington, but as she pushes her own boundaries, she discovers her own limits. It is impossible not to empathise with Clara’s journey. Clara in Washington is based on the author’s own time in the city, and her experiences are evident in the level of detail in this book. The surroundings come to life as Clara strives to find an experience that is more real than a postcard. Wrapped in a very entertaining coming-of-age story, this is a fun read, but also quite a thoughtful one.

Bec Kavanagh is a Melbourne-based writer and reviewer and ex-bookseller. This interview first appeared in the the Junior Term 2 supplement of the June issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Read Junior Term 2 online here and sign-up to The Junior Newsletter.

Bestsellers this week

The third book in the ‘Fallen’ series, Passion (Lauren Kate, Doubleday), has risen to the top of the bestsellers chart, in first place, and has maintained the top position on the fastest movers chart for another week. Jamie’s 30-minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph) has slipped into second place on the bestsellers chart, followed by Private London (James Patterson & Mark Pearson, Century) in third place. At the top of the highest new entries chart is Harlan Coben’s crime thriller, Miracle Cure (Hachette), in first place, followed by John Grisham’s  ‘Theodore Boone’ follow-up novel, Theodore Boone: The Abduction:(v. 2) (Hachette)–Weekly Book Newsletter.

PANZ Book Design Awards 2011 shortlist

Shortlisted titles for the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ) Book Design Awards 2011 have been announced:

HarperCollins Award for Best Cover
No Fretful Sleeper: A Life of Bill Pearson (Paul Millar, Auckland University Press) cover design by Keely O’Shannessy. Eep! (Joke van Leeuwen, Gecko Press) cover design by Spencer Levine. Lives of the Poets (John Newton, Victoria University Press) cover design by Greg Simpson.
Mary Egan Award for Best Typography
Classic: The Revival of Classic Boating in New Zealand (Ivor Wilkins, Random House NZ) cover and interior desgin by  Kate Barraclough Hauaga: The Art of John Pule edited by Nicholas Thomas, Otago University Press) design by Fiona Moffat (cover) & Wendy Harrex (cover and interior). Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life (Leigh Davis, Otago University Press) cover design by Christine Hansen.

Random House New Zealand Award for Best Illustrated Book

Group Architects: Towards a New Zealand Architecture (Julia Gatley, Auckland University Press) design by Spencer Levine (cover) & Katrina Duncan (interior) Blue Smoke: The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918–1964 (Chris Bourke, Auckland University Press) design by Spencer Levine (cover) & Katrina Duncan (interior). It’s in the Post: The Stories behind New Zealand Stamps (Richard Wolfe, Craig Potton) design by Sarah Elworthy.

Hachette New Zealand Award for Best Non-Illustrated Book

Chancers and Visionaries: A History of Wine in New Zealand (Keith Stewart, Random House NZ) design by Katy Yiakmis. The Great Wrong War: New Zealand Society in WWI (Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Random House NZ) design by Pieta Brenton. No Fretful Sleeper: A Life of Bill Pearson (Paul Millar, Auckland University Press) design by Keely O’Shannessy (cover) & Katrina Duncan (interior).

Pearson Award for Best Educational Book

School Journal Part 3 Number 3 2010 (Learning Media Te Pou Taki Kōrero) design by Jodi Wicksteed.
Leprechaun Ice Cream ( Learning Media Te Pou Taki Kōrero) design by Liz Tui Morris. Principles of Accounting 4th edition (Murray Smart, Nazir Awan & Richard Baxter, Pearson) by Marie Low (cover) & Esther Chua (interior).

Scholastic New Zealand Award for Best Children’s Book

Hester’s Blister (Chris Gurne, Scholastic NZ) design by Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson. Hill and Hole (Kyle Mewburn and Vasanti Unka , Penguin NZ) design by Vasanti Unka.
The Moon and Farmer McPhee (Margaret Mahy, illus by David Elliot, Random House NZ) design by Sarah Elworthy & David Elliot.


The winners of this year’s awards, as well as the winner of the Young Designer of the Year Award, will be announced at an awards ceremony at the National Library in Auckland on 25 August.

See more information on the shortlist here.

Most mentioned this week

Melanie Joosten’s Berlin Syndrome (Scribe), Malcolm Knox’s The Life (A&U) and Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance (Picador) received equal mentions this week. Kim Scott is the winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award for That Deadman Dance. The novel is set in the first decades of the 19th century in the area around what is now Albany, Western Australia. It explores the early contact between the Indigenous Noongar people and the first European residents. Maya Ward’s The Comfort of Water: A River Pilgrimage (Transit Lounge) and Conquest (Julian Stockwin, Hodder & Stoughton) also featured in the most mentioned chart this week–Media Extra.

INTERVIEW: Kim Scott on ‘That Deadman Dance’ (Picador)

Last night, Kim Scott won the 2011 Miles Franklin Literary Award for That Deadman Dance (Picador), a story about the early contact between Europeans and Indigenous Australians, set in and around Albany. Reviewer Toni Whitmont spoke to Scott in October 2010 about his novel.

Many readers will be unfamiliar with the history of early contact between the Noongar and the Europeans. Is this a work of fiction, or are the events and characters based on known facts?
That Deadman Dance is a work of fiction, but one that is inspired by, and that draws on, specifics of the early history of a region—in this instance, the area in and around the town today known as Albany, Western Australia. I see the novel as a sort of ‘analogue’, drawing upon a reasonably specific history in order to tease out the possibilities in the interaction between Noongar people and Europeans, and—perhaps—to suggest possibilities still latent today. Crucial to that inspiration is the Noongars’ confidence, innovation and inclusiveness, as well as their willingness and ability to appropriate and use European cultural forms and transform them within their own traditions.

Does the ‘Dead Man Dance’ exist?
Not as described here. It has its origins in a military drill performed by Marines on a beach along the south coast prior to colonisation that was transformed into a Noongar dance. There’s an ambivalence in the name: on the one hand, Noongar people may initially have thought the new arrivals were not fully alive or human—djanaks: devils or ghosts, perhaps—thus, ‘dead men’. On the other hand, the adaption of that dance may have been the ‘beginning of the end’ of a way of life, and thus for the novel’s central character Bobby, and his community, an ending. Bobby may be a ‘dead man’. However, since he does not die, is it only a dance learned from ‘dead men’, and one among other examples—like perhaps this novel—of forms explored and played with as ways of expressing place and identity. New cultural forms always have consequences, sometimes good and sometimes bad.

This book seems to be about forging an identity and finding your place in a changing world. Given your Aboriginal ancestry, does this reflect your own journey?
Given my Aboriginal identity, the novel explores how we can connect an ancient heritage, its strengths and weaknesses, to contemporary existence. I’m interested in finding empowering ways of carrying that past into the present, in ways that are not only reactive and reductionist. I’m not sure that the story is a reflection of a journey, as such, rather it’s about finding possibilities and potential in history—in positing alternatives. I am interested in story rather than polemics, in agency and resilience, and in ways that literature might function politically, but also subtly.

In recent years some exceptional books have been written about early contact between Aboriginal and English people, such as Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and Richard Flanagan’s Wanting. That Deadman Dance is rooted in the soil and sand of coastal south-west Western Australia. How important is the notion of place to our understanding of these stories?
I can’t speak for the others, but I believe and hope it is [important] in the instance of That Deadman Dance.

You have spoken publicly about the Australian neurosis concerning identity, race and history. Are we any closer to laying these ghosts to rest?
Listening to diverse voices and other stories, having courageous conversations and respectful dialogues will help us all heal. I’m not sure we need to ‘lay those ghosts to rest’. Sometime they may need to be listened to also.

That Deadman Dance is published by Picador. This interview first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Read Toni Whitmont’s book review here.

Bestsellers this week

Passion (Lauren Kate, Doubleday), the third book in the ‘Fallen’ series and the latest installment in the love story of mortal Lucinda and fallen angel Daniel, is top of the fastest movers chart followed by Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Dominion (Eric Van Lustbader & Robert Ludlum, Hachette). Jamie’s 30-minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph) is still at the top of the bestseller chart, again followed by Private London (James Patterson & Mark Pearson, Century). Sex Life (Vermillion) by sex therapist Dr Pamela Stephenson Connolly, a book based on hundreds of interviews with everyday people of all ages, is top of the highest new entries chart–Weekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Mole Hunt: The Maximus Black Files (Paul Collins, Ford Street)

Special Agent Maximus Black isn’t your average 18-year-old. Charming, brilliant and deeply ambitious, he’s one of the rising stars within the galaxy’s powerful and mysterious law enforcement agency, RIM. But Maximus is also not what he seems. Black in both name and character, he’s a cold-blooded sociopath working on a plan that will plunge the universe into chaos and allow him to seize control. Only one person can stop him—the equally clever and fearless agent, Anneke Longshadow. The question is, who will reach who first? While the title of book one in Paul Collins’s futuristic action series for teenagers may sound like junior fiction, it’s anything but. Bitingly clever and imaginative, it’s like a cross between The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Total Recall and Dexter. Cutting back and forth between the two rivals, the plot twists and turns in a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase as each tries to outwit the other, while dodging all manner of obstacles like assassins and alien bounty hunters. It all amounts to compelling on-your-toes reading that will appeal to high-tech dystopian sci-fi fans, as well as those looking for a spy or psycho-thriller with a difference, and a feisty heroine to boot.

Meredith Tate is a freelance writer, editor and reviewer who has worked for a children’s publisher. This review first appeared in the May issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

INTERVIEW: Jennifer Rowe on ‘Love, Honour and O’Brien’ (A&U)

Jennifer Rowe, aka Emily Rodda, aka Mary-Anne Dickinson, has written Love, Honour and O’Brien (A&U), a ‘cast-of-quirky-characters mystery’ set in the Blue Mountains. She spoke to Jarrah Moore.

Love, Honour and O’Brien features a host of weird and wonderful characters, including, most memorably, an Elvis-impersonating hearse driver. Do you have a favourite character?
I really value eccentric characters in real life, and loved writing about the eccentrics in the book, but in fact I’d have to say that my favourite character is actually the one who seems the most ordinary—Holly Love, my beleaguered heroine. Like most people, Holly’s in fact not nearly as ‘normal’ as she seems, or as she thinks she is. I very much enjoyed getting to know her.

The Blue Mountains setting is integral to this story. Is an Australian setting important to you in your writing?
I like to write about a place I know very well—whether it be a fantasy world or a place where I’ve actually lived. I could have set the book in the inner city, where my family and I lived for a long time, and which is more of the sort of setting people expect in a ‘crime’ novel. But the Blue Mountains, where we have lived for many years now, seemed a perfect setting for Love, Honour and O’Brien. Not just because I felt at home writing about the area, but because here we have a small enough population to have a sense of community. If you complain to a friend in a cafe about the plumber who didn’t turn up, you’re just as likely to be sitting next to the plumber’s wife, who teaches your child in school. The Blue Mountains is a string of small villages, linked by a highway and a railway line, tiny dots in a vast expanse of National Park. It suffers all the usual problems of semi-rural communities. Its people are diverse—they all live outside the city for a reason, but all the reasons are different. There’s still room to be unselfconsciously eccentric, if you want to. It’s the perfect place to set a mystery.

What can we expect from Holly Love’s future adventures?
Well, Holly has friends in the Mountains now, and she still has very little money and nowhere else to go. I think she’ll stay exactly where she is, and use her newly found detective skills to eke out a living, with the help of Abigail the clairvoyant and Mrs Moss, the lady who keeps late hours in the flat opposite. They seem to have adopted her. Not to mention Martin, the blue-eyed landscaper, who is obviously interested. If I were Abigail, I’d say there are many more mysteries in store for Holly.

You’ve published successfully in both children’s and adult fiction. Which is your favourite to write?
The fact is, I love whatever I’m writing at the time.

How did you choose your pseudonyms?
Emily Rodda was my grandmother’s maiden name, and my greatgrandmother’s married name. I always liked the name, so decided to use it. Mary-Anne Dickinson, which I only used for the first publication of the ‘Fairy Realm’ books, was a sort of joke, a combination of Mary-Anne Evans (George Eliot’s real name), about whom I wrote my BA honours thesis, and Emily Dickinson, who was the subject of my MA thesis.

Love, Honour & O’Brien is published by Allen & Unwin in June. This interview first appeared in the May issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. See the review here.

Most mentioned this week

The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature (Jeff VanderMeer & S J Chambers, Thames & Hudson) details the steampunk movement, a grafting of Victorian aesthetic and punk rock attitude onto various forms of science-fiction culture–a phenomenon that has influenced film, literature, art, music, fashion and more. Craig Sherborne’s The Amateur Science of Love (Text) continues to appear on the most mentioned chart. Meg Mitchell Moore’s The Arrivals (HarperCollins) is about two parents who find their adult children suddenly returning home to stay. Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live veteran and creator of 30 Rock, has written a humorous memoir about her childhood called Bossypants (Sphere). Also mentioned this week was Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes’ satirical bedtime book of parental frustration Go the F**k to Sleep (Text)–Media Extra.

Bestsellers this week

The London branch of Jack Morgan’s international investigation agency ‘Private’ is in the spotlight–the daughter of the agency’s most valuable client has been kidnapped and Dan Carter, head of the London office, must use every resource available to find her. Private London (James Patterson & Mark Pearson, Century) is hot on the charts claiming second place on the bestsellers chart and first on the fastest movers chart. Jamie’s 30-minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph) tops the bestseller chart for another week and The Kingdom (Michael Joseph), Clive Cussler’s latest adventure novel about treasure-hunting couple Sam and Remi Fargo, is third on the bestsellers chart and second on the fastest movers chart. Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Dominion (Eric Van Lustbader & Robert Ludlum, Hachette) is top of the highest new entries chart–Weekly Book Newsletter.