BOOK REVIEW: The Lady of the Rivers (Philippa Gregory, S&S)

The Lady of the Rivers follows the life of Jacquetta Woodville—a descendant of the water goddess Melusina—who is drawn into what would later become known as the Wars of the Roses through her two Lancastrian husbands. Throughout the turbulent 15th century, Jacquetta serves both King Henry VI and his queen, Margaret of Anjou, faithfully, sometimes at great personal risk to herself and her family. As a modern reader, it is sometimes hard to understand this sense of duty to the sovereign—the Queen habitually breaks her word and the King is mentally unfit to rule. By the end of the book, however, readers get a glimpse of the way in which Jacquetta’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, allies the family to the victorious York family. Philippa Gregory continues to bring history to life quite spectacularly in this third book in the ‘Cousins’ War’ series, and she captures the shifting alliances and betrayals in the fractured English court much more than in the previous books. The Lady of the Rivers is set immediately before The White Queen, which stars Jacquetta’s Elizabeth as the proud queen of Edward IV, and readers interested in the history of the period may want to read them chronologically. For further reading, The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother (Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin & Michael Jones, S&S) compares Gregory’s fiction with historical fact, and will be released along with The Lady of the Rivers.

Emily Smith is a Melbourne-based freelance reviewer. The Lady of the Rivers was featured on the cover of the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher.

BOOK REVIEW: Surviving Maggie (John Fingleton, HarperCollins)

John Fingleton is the brother of Australian swimming champion Tony Fingleton, whose autobiographical novel was adapted into the 2003 film Swimming Upstream starring Geoffrey Rush as the boys’ overbearing, alcoholic father. In this story, John offers his own perspective on his father’s character, looking back at Harold Fingleton’s harrowing childhood. The story begins in the 1920s. We’re introduced to Harold as an ordinary seven-year-old boy whose life is turned upside down by the death of his father. His mother, Maggie, is unable to hold herself together financially or emotionally, and turns to alcohol and prostitution. She beats Harold and abandons him for days without food. Eventually, Harold becomes a ward of the state and is sent to St Vincent’s Orphanage, where he is subjected to the harsh treatment of the sisters of the orphanage. Physical punishment soon becomes a way or life as Harold is singled out as a troublemaker. For the next few years Harold bounces back and forth between his mother and the orphanage, until he turns 14 and is released as a ward. With intimidation and fighting all that he knows, it is clear that Harold’s tumultuous childhood will have severe repercussions on his journey into marriage and fatherhood. This tale is reminiscent of stories such as I Can Jump Puddles and Angela’s Ashes; it’s shocking yet heart-warming—a real page-turner. Fans of such biographies and those who have seen the movie, Swimming Upstream, will enjoy this book.

Sharon Athanasos is a former bookseller. This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Bestsellers this week

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Penguin) is a story told from the perspective of two African-American maids, Aibileen and Minny, who look after a white family in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, and a 23-year-old white woman, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelen. After returning from college, Skeeter finds out that the maid who raised her as a child, Constantine, has disappeared. The story shows how Jackson revolves around ‘the help’ and reveals the racism faced by the maids on a daily basis. The film adaptation of the novel is currently screening at cinemas. The Help is in first place on the bestseller charts. Pierre Dukan’s The Dukan Diet (Hachette) is in second place, returning to the bestseller charts after a number one place in July. Last week’s number one Flash and Bones (Kathy Reichs, William Heinemann) is in third place, followed by another film tie-in edition One Day (David Nicholls, Hachette). New York to Dallas (J D Robb, Hachette) is at the top of the highest new entries chart. The Dukan Diet is also at the top of this week’s fastest movers chart–Weekly Book Newsletter.

‘The Slap’ on TV

The first episode of the eight-part mini-series adaptation of The Slap (Christos Tsiolkas, A&U) is due to air on ABC1 on Thursday, 6 October at 8.30pm. Each episode, like the book, focusses on the lives of eight different characters. The first is episode is about Hector, a handsome and financially secure man in his early 40s, married to the beautiful veterinarian Aisha, with two children and adoring Greek working-class parents, yet for the past year he’s been having an affair with 17-year-old Connie, part-time assistant to his wife.

The relationships can get complicated, so we thought we would post the family tree the ABC has provided to help you get your head around all the characters and their connections (see below).

The Slap has been an incredibly popular book, winning a slew of awards including the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the ALS Gold Medal and the Booksellers’ Choice Award. Bookseller Scott Whitmont reviewed the book for us back in September 2008 and said ‘it would not be inappropriate to describe it as a contemporary Australian masterpiece’. Here’s hoping the television series is a masterpiece of its own. You can read Whitmont’s full review here.

Of course, The Slap isn’t the only book by Tsiolkas to reach the screen. His debut novel Loaded (Vintage) was adapted to film as Head On in 1998, starring Alex Dimitriades as Ari. In The Slap, Dimitriades will play Harry. Fans of Tsiolkas should also look out for the movie adaptation of Dead Europe (Vintage), which is currently in production by See Saw Films. The film will be directed by Tony Krawitz, best known for his production Jewboy.

Keep up-to-date on twitter by following @theslaptv and tweeting the hashtag: #theslap.

BOOK REVIEW: The Slap (Christos Tsiolkas, A&U)

The Slap’s action hinges around a Melbourne suburban BBQ. Three-year-old Hugo needs to learn boundaries and his behaviour is fully deserving of the slap he receives. The problem is that it is delivered by an adult who is neither Hugo’s parent nor relative. The reverberations from this incident are far-reaching, affecting friendships, marriages and the dynamics between those who witness it, particularly the eight voices whose individual stories make up the narrative. Through these characters’ lives, we experience the full gamut of 21st-century suburban life. Our protagonists are young and old, of multi-cultural backgrounds, married and single, gay and straight. While the event’s ricochet effects become apparent, they grapple with spousal infidelities; cultural constraints and expectations; alcoholism; the biological clock; parenting; loyalties and conflicts of interest. The Slap is ideal for book clubs. My one caveat in an otherwise enthusiastic endorsement, is Tsiolkas’ prominent use of the ‘c-word’, initially confronting but possibly a vehicle to keep our attention and provoke heightened emotional responses. The language issue aside, The Slap works. It would not be inappropriate to describe it as a contemporary Australian masterpiece, reminiscent of Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity.

Scott Whitmont is the owner of Lindfield Bookshop & Children’s Bookshop in Sydney. This review first appeared in the September 2008 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: Empire Day (Diane Armstrong, Fourth Estate)

Those who read Diane Armstrong’s memoir Mosaic and her follow-up story of migration, The Voyage of their Life, will recognise a part of the author in each of her subsequent novels dealing with the Holocaust, displacement, survival and new beginnings. Her history is also evident in Empire Day, the engrossing story of the residents of Wattle Street, Bondi Junction, in 1948 Sydney. Half of the street is made up of ‘reffos’ who have escaped post-War Europe—Jewish survivors of the unimaginable camps and Eastern Europeans who have fled communist rule. The others are ‘regular Aussies’ struggling to understand their neighbourhood newcomers and to make ends meet in an era of rationing, before the days of social services and government assistance. Like Maeve Binchy, but with tremendous gravitas, Armstrong demonstrates a talent in making each member of this disparate suburban community a friend as we learn of their differing life challenges. Whether facing social acceptance, polio, poverty or crises of personal identity, love or ambition, their relationships represent a microcosm of a new Australia emerging from the war—a community of migrants that resonates in 2011. Though not literary in style, Armstrong’s book explores her many themes with a roundness and aplomb, while simultaneously providing a thoroughly entertaining multi-strand novel.

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

Most mentioned this week

Diane Armstrong’s Empire Day (Fourth Estate) is set in Sydney’s Bondi Junction in the late 1940s. It is a microcosm of changing Australia, and life is changing too fast for locals like Pop Wilson, who resents the European ‘reffos’ who have moved in. Stephen Sewell’s Babylon (Victory) is about Mick, an English backpacker, who is heading to the north of Australia for the chance of making his fortune on the prawn trawlers plying the gulf. Anna Funder’s debut novel All That I Am (Hamish Hamilton) continues to generate interest from reviewers and readers. Also on the most mentioned chart is Francesca Rendle-Short’s Bite Your Tongue (Spinifex), the story of a teenage girl growing up in Queensland in the 1970s, and Andrew Robb’s Black Dog Daze (MUP) on the challenges of managing depression. Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Biography (Text) was also a notable entry this week, gaining publicity from its release without Assange’s permission–Media Extra.

BOOK REVIEW: Bite Your Tongue (Francesca Rendle-Short, Spinifex Press)

Bite Your Tongue by Australian author and academic Francesca Rendle-Short intermingles novel and memoir, looking back to the 1970s at the time of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s reign over Queensland. It is the story of a teenage girl growing up in Brisbane, and her relationship with her mother, a morals crusader who bans books such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The narration is split into two threads, alternating between Rendle-Short and the character of Glory, who is effectively another means for Rendle-Short to tell her story; both narrators are in the process of questioning and investigating their past and their defining relationships. Rendle-Short effectively embraces the hybrid nature of this work, and the transitions between the two narratives are seamless. It is a fascinating and horrifying time in Australian history, brought to life with a deft use of language. You can almost feel the sweat on the kitchen lino and smell the mustiness of the nursing home. Bite Your Tongue will appeal to fans of Australian history and feminist theory, in particular Queenslanders, given the book’s subject matter. Rendle-Short’s previous novel, Imago, won the 1997 ACT Book of the Year Award.

Kimberley Allsopp is a bookseller at Dymocks Brisbane and a freelance reviewer. This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Bestsellers this week

Kathy Reichs’ Flash and Bones (William Heinemann), the latest thriller in the ‘Temperance Brennan’ investigative series, is top of the bestsellers chart, followed by James Patterson’s Kill Me If You Can (Century) in second, and Darren Lockyer (Random House) in third place. Bad News: Murdoch’s ‘Australian’ and the Shaping of the Nation: Quarterly Essay (Black Inc.), in which Robert Manne investigates Rupert Murdoch’s political voice and influence in Australia through the Australian newspaper, is first on the fastest movers chart followed by Liberal MP Andrew Robb’s book Black Dog Daze (MUP) in second. The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2012 (Joanna Savill & Terry Durack, Penguin) is top of the highest new entries chart–Weekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Shift (Em Bailey, Hardie Grant Egmont)

When new girl Miranda arrives at school, Olive and her friend Ami try to ignore the crazy rumours circulating about her past, particularly the one about Miranda killing her parents. Olive has enough to deal with in the wake of her father’s departure, but she can’t help but notice there is something a bit off about Miranda. The way she latches on to the most popular girl in school, slowly driving her other friends away. The way she becomes more and more vibrant as her new friend fades into the shadows. Olive is sure there is something sinister going on, but she hasn’t been too stable over the past year, and her mind could be playing tricks on her again. This well-written, tightly plotted thriller kept me reading long into the night. There were a number of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, making this a book that really stands out in the genre. As with Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, the reader is never sure if what they are getting from the narrator is the full story. This is an enjoyable, exciting read that will suit readers aged 13 and up who are looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Amelia Vahtrick is the children’s book buyer at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown. This review first appeared in the July issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.