Bestsellers this week

One Day (David Nicholls, Hachette), a novel about friendship and love spanning two decades, now adapted to film, is at the top of the fastest movers chart and fourth on the bestsellers chart this week. British adventurer and TV host Bear Grylls’ autobiography Mud, Sweat and Tears (Corgi), appears in second place on the fastest movers chart and is half-way up the top 10 bestsellers chart, in fifth place. Jamie’s 30-minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph) is back in first place on the bestsellers chart, followed by Now You See Her (James Patterson, Century) in second and 4 Ingredients Kids (Kim McCosker & Rachael Bermingham, 4 Ingredients) in third. Children’s book Pink (Janet A Holmes, Little Hare) tops the highest new entries chartWeekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Sarah Thornhill (Kate Grenville, Text)

In 2005 Kate Grenville wrote the bestselling and multiaward-winning The Secret River. She followed it up with The Lieutenant, a novel inspired by the First Fleet diaries of William Dawes. Completing this loose trilogy is Sarah Thornhill. William Thornhill, the main character from The Secret River, is a man ‘sent out’ to Australia for theft, who is now a landowner on the Hawkesbury River—a river with a secret. This time it is his daughter’s turn to tell her tale. This book is told in first person, through Sarah’s eyes, and through her we meet Jack Langland, son of a white father and Aboriginal mother. Ultimately, this book is about blood ties, love that is blind, the ‘sins of the fathers’ and a family’s secret, which reaches across the Tasman to New Zealand. Sarah says it’s an account ‘of those things left undone that we ought to have done, and the things done that we ought not to have done’. Unashamedly romantic, Sarah Thornhill will appeal to lovers of colonial Australian fiction. Its themes of young love lost and the destructive power of secrets, and Grenville’s clear writing, will also make it attractive to younger readers.

Fiona Stager is co-owner of Avid Reader Bookshop & Café in Brisbane. This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Kate Grenville is a guest of the Melbourne Writers Festival and Brisbane Writers Festival.

BOOK REVIEW: All That I Am (Anna Funder, Hamish Hamilton)

Given the striking intelligence and originality that Anna Funder brought to the subject of the East German Secret Police in her award-winning Stasiland, it comes as no surprise to find her first novel All that I Am so assured and poised. The two books share more than their German political and historical focus, and that’s Funder’s capacity to delve into the moral complexities of lives trapped in very difficult circumstances.

Part one of All That I Am opens in a Sydney hospital with a beautifully understated sentence: ‘I’m afraid, Mrs. Becker, the news is not altogether comforting.’ Ruth Becker (Wesserman) is at the end of a long life, lived, we soon realise, in the most discomforting circumstances imaginable. Born in Germany in the first decade of the 20th century, Ruth has lived a remarkable life, at the centre of the small but passionate group of engaged activists who saw early on the repugnant brutality of Nazism, and who resisted. It’s an old cliché about the personal being political, and every act being a political act, but it holds true in this book, as the relationships between Ruth, her charismatic cousin Dora and the dramatist Ernst Toller (who was, in fact, president of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919) unfold in the Weimar and early Nazi years.

This is a story based on real people, and the powerful subject matter is brilliantly organised through a dual narrative, told by Ruth and Toller, rendered more complex by being told across time shifts of 80 years. Interwar Germany, London and New York, as well as contemporary Sydney, are vividly present, all the while contextualised by the dramas of heroism and betrayal played out before us. This is a genuinely moving novel, which challenges the reader’s perception and judgement, at the same time as it works as a political, and historical, thriller. And the moral dilemmas present for all the historical characters, real and imagined, are at the absolute centre of the novel. It’s not just the potential of the consequences of anybody’s actions that is so riveting; it’s the contest between courage and cowardice, risk and safety, loyalty and betrayal, in a world of increasing terror, where the stakes are, as we know from history, so high.

David Gaunt is co-owner of Gleebooks in Sydney. This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Anna Funder is as a guest of the Melbourne Writers Festival and Brisbane Writers Festival.

Most mentioned this week

It wasn’t just the stories about the Melbourne Writers Festival that placed Kate Grenville’s novel Sarah Thornhill (Text) at the top of our most mentioned chart. While Grenville is certainly one of the stars of the festival, her new book generated coverage on many other literary pages as well. Protagonist Sarah Thornhill is the youngest child of William Thornhill, convict-turned-landowner on the Hawkesbury River. She grows up in the fine house her father is proud of, a strong-willed young woman who’s certain where her future lies. Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap (A&U) was named a favourite Australian fiction title by several journalists this weekend, prior to the screening of the television series adaptation. Angel in the Rubble: How I Survived for 27 Hours under the World Trade Center Debris (A&U) is author Genelle Guzman-McMillan’s story of being the last survivor to be pulled out alive from under the wreckage of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. Christopher Kremmer’s The Chase (Picador) and Sonya Hartnett’s Come down, Cat! (Viking) were also mentioned on the chart this week–Media Extra.

BOOK REVIEW: Midnight in Peking (Paul French, Viking)

Peking was the name of the city of Beijing, before Mao Zedong and the Communist Party introduced the modern standard of writing to China. The name conjures up the nostalgia of old China prior to the Cultural Revolution, a puzzle of controlled chaos and a place of superstition, fraught with danger, where Westerners could seek out adventure and gain riches from spice trade. In 1937, this was a city abandoned by Chiang Kai-shek, controlled by warlords, and on the brink of invasion by Japan.

Midnight in Peking is a nonfiction mystery on the brutal death of Pamela Werner, an English girl in Peking, which shocked the city as well as the world. She was the daughter of the eccentric Edward Werner, a former British consul to China and respected academic. The story follows the investigation into her death, following Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis as he unravelled the truth and was stopped on each new path by troubling dead ends. Edward Werner later made it his personal mission to find the killer after Dennis was taken off the case. The media interest in the death fuelled the rumour mill, thwarting the investigation. The gossip and fears of the people combined with anxieties about the impending war.

International diplomats and businessmen lived in the Legation Quarter, a section of the city carved out by the colonialists. Alongside the quarter in the Badlands lived prostitutes, drug addicts and gamblers. In French’s account, everyone here had something to hide and corruption lurked below the surface.

Pamela Werner’s body was found dumped below the Fox Tower, part of the city wall. At night the tower was filled with bats, visited by nasty dogs and according to the Chinese was inhabited by mischievous and deadly fox spirits. The superstition further fuelled anxieties.

Paul French has masterfully recreated the murder investigation from mountains of research of a 74-year-old crime, taking it on as a ‘cold case’ to be solved. French has also painted a beautifully intriguing picture of the city. The story lacks dialogue because of its nonfiction style, but this doesn’t detract from the narrative, as the reader is kept absorbed by the curious tale. Against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion of China, the story shares the same historical period as Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard (HarperPerennial) and both tell the story of the Westerner in China. I recommend this book to anyone who would like to glimpse old Peking and particularly those who enjoy a good murder-mystery.

Ben Ball presented the book at the Book Buzz session at the Australian Booksellers Association conference in July as one of the top three Penguin books to be released this year. The book was also presented at Books at MIFF as a novel that has potential for screen adaptation and pitched as, ‘An opportunity to make a Chinese-Australian coproduction with real international appeal.’

Paul French is touring Australia in September and appearing at the Melbourne Writers Festival and Brisbane Writers Festival. The book has its own website here.

PANZ Book Design Awards 2011 winners

The winners of the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ) Book Design Awards 2011 have been announced.

The winners are:

Gerard Reid Award for Best Book sponsored by Nielsen Book Services
Hill and Hole (Kyle Mewburn & Vasanti Unka , Penguin NZ) design by Vasanti Unka.
HarperCollins Award for Best Cover
Lives of the Poets (John Newton, Victoria University Press) cover design by Greg Simpson.
Mary Egan Award for Best Typography
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
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).
Hachette New Zealand Award for Best Non-Illustrated Book
The Great Wrong War: New Zealand Society in WWI (Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Random House NZ) design by Pieta Brenton.
Pearson Award for Best Educational Book
School Journal Part 3 Number 3 2010 (Learning Media Te Pou Taki Kōrero) design by Jodi Wicksteed.
Scholastic New Zealand Award for Best Children’s Book
Hill and Hole (Kyle Mewburn & Vasanti Unka, Penguin NZ) design by Vasanti Unka.

See the shortlisted books here.

Bestsellers this week

Now You See Her (James Patterson, Century) tops the bestsellers chart for the second week running, again followed by Jamie’s 30-minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph) in second place and 4 Ingredients Kids (Kim McCosker & Rachael Bermingham, 4 Ingredients) in third. 4 Ingredients Kids is first place on the fastest movers chart and, with the film adaptation hitting Australian screens soon, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (Penguin) is sitting in second place. Before the Poison (Peter Robinson, Hachette), a novel about a recently widowed musician who gets drawn into the story of a murder that occurred in his house 60 years ago, is top of the highest new entries chartWeekly Book Newsletter.

Most mentioned this week

In Tom Campbell’s Fold (Bloomsbury), five friends, each in their 40s, meet monthly in each other’s houses for a ‘friendly’ game of poker. Nick Earls’ new book The Fix (Random House) is about Josh, who dreamed of investigative journalism, exposing corruption and changing the world for the better. After a romance and friendship fail simultaneously he finishes his university studies with little motivation except a desire to head to London. In Armageddon: Two Men on the Anzac Trail (Miegunyah), authors Paul Daley and Michael Bowers visit the deserts and mysterious cities of the Middle East, which were the lesser-known backdrops for the battles of the Australian men and boys who served there during the First World War. Nicki Greenberg’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (A&U) for kids also appeared in the most mention chart this week, as did George R R Martin’s A Dance with Dragons (HaperVoyager), which should enjoy even more popularity as fans tune in to the new HBO series–Media Extra.

CBCA winners

The winners of this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Awards were announced today.

The winners and honour books in each of the categories are:

Older Readers


  • The Midnight Zoo (Sonya Hartnett, Viking).

Honour books:

  • Graffiti Moon (Cath Crowley, Pan Macmillan)
  • The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher (Doug MacLeod, Penguin).


Younger Readers


  • The Red Wind (Isobelle Carmody, Viking).

Honour books:

  • Just a Dog (Michael Gerard Bauer, Omnibus)—read the review
  • Violet Mackerel’s Brillant Plot (Anna Branford & Sarah Davis, Walker Books)—read the review.


Early Childhood


  • Maudie and Bear (Jan Ormerod & Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)—read the review.

Honour books:

  • The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies (Tom Niland Champion, Kilmeny Niland & Deborah Niland, A&U)—read the review
  • Look See, Look at Me! (Leonie Norrington & Dee Huxley, A&U).


Picture Book of the Year

Joint winners:

Honour books:

  • Why I Love Australia (Bronwyn Bancroft, Little Hare)—read the review
  • My Uncle’s Donkey (Tohby Riddle, Viking).


Eve Pownall Award for Information Books


  • The Return of the Word Spy (Ursula Dubosarsky & Tohby Riddle, Viking)—read the review.

Honour books:

  • Drawn from the Heart: A Memoir (Ron Brooks, A&U)
  • Our World: Bardi Jaawi Life at Ardiyooloon (One Arm Point Remote Community School, Magabala Books)

BOOK REVIEW: Why I Love Australia (Bronwyn Bancroft, Little Hare)

With spare text and her usual striking imagery, Bronwyn Bancroft uses the pages of this picture book to explore the variety and drama of Australian landscapes. She pays homage not just to natural scenes but man-made ones, with spreads such as the delightful ‘suburban homes that chatter under a patchwork of rooftops’. The text reads aloud like poetry: elegant and evocative, but also simple enough to be absorbed by younger listeners. Her artwork is rich and beautiful with its trademark palette of vivid earthy colours. Images are recognisable, yet abstract enough to capture the essence of the place represented. A lovely sense of reverence and respect for both the land and its original custodians permeates this book. Of note is the small figure on each spread that represents a traditional smoking ceremony. He is there as a host to each landscape, wishing readers well as they visit and passing on their acknowledgements to the Ancestors and Elders. This book definitely has a place in schools: classroom use could hopefully inspire a similar homage to the children’s own environment. It would also make a great tourist keepsake that’s a little different to the usual photographic one. Ages six and up.

Jenny Gorman is the children’s bookseller at Megalong Books, Leura. This review first appeared in the Aptil 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.