BOOK REVIEW: Cargo (Jessica Au, Picador)

Jessica Au’s debut novel Cargo is a stunning and compelling read. The novel weaves together the stories of three teenagers finding their way in the early 1990s in Currawong, a small Australian coastal town in which the lives of residents are invariably influenced by the water that surrounds them. Frankie is carrying the implications of her parents’ tumultuous relationship as well as her own desires for the new deckhand on her father’s boat. Gillian is weighed down by an accident at sea years before, but gets a glimpse of what love could feel like when she meets Alex. And Jacob is consumed by jealousy for his older brother and his unrequited love for the mysterious girl at the swimming pool. Au captures the rawness of her protagonists’ emotions with compassion and skill, as well as refreshing honesty. There are no clichés in Cargo—no predictable, Hollywood-type endings. Instead, the complexity and uncertainty of growing up is celebrated in this unique snapshot of adolescence which will be appreciated by readers of all ages.

Eloise Keating is a journalist with Bookseller+Publisher magazine and the Weekly Book Newsletter. This review first appeared in the July issue of the magazine. You can view the magazine online here.

The August issue is here!

Did we forget to mention that the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher is in our hot little hands?

Much goodness in this issue (starting with the macaron delights on the cover, courtesy of Adriano Zumbo’s forthcoming cookbook, which is due from Murdoch Books in October). We’ve got: 25 reviews, including Gleebooks co-owner David Gaunt on Anna Funder’s debut novel All That I Am (Hamish Hamilton, September), Readings Books owner Mark Rubbo reporting from Book Expo America, Pip Newling taking a look at how local booksellers are selling online, Andrew Wrathall rounding up this year’s Father’s Day titles, Max Barry in praise of ebooks, plus we celebrate 90 years of Bookseller+Publisher.

That’s not to mention the usual news, profiles and author interviews with Funder, Diane Armstrong and Margaret Wild.

You can also check out the July issue of the magazine online here.

Happy Birthday to us! Bookseller+Publisher is 90 years old today!

The original Australian Stationery and Fancy Goods Journal

Happy Birthday to us! We’re 90 years old (though we’re told we wear it well).

Bookseller+Publisher magazine started life on 10 June 1921 as the Australian Stationery and Fancy Goods Journal—a name we like so much we named this blog after it. Much of what we know of this magazine’s early history comes from the memoir A Life of Books: The Story of DW Thorpe Pty Ltd by founder D W Thorpe and his daughter Joyce Thorpe Nicholson, who took over the family business. There are also the magazine’s archives: shelves of wonderfully fragrant issues chronicling the history of bookselling and publishing in Australia.

Bookseller+Publisher was launched in difficult times—the first editorial opened with the line: ‘Everywhere we hear of falling prices.’ Of course, D W Thorpe wasn’t referring to the price of books from online overseas retailers but to the post-war slump in commodity prices. ‘It was hardly an encouraging climate to start a trade journal,’ writes Thorpe in the memoir. ‘In fact no time was favourable until after the Second World War.’

But he persevered. In the second issue Thorpe called for the establishment of a trade organisation to bring together retail, wholesale and manufacturing sectors of the industry—as well as offering a more light-hearted piece on gum-nut novelty items, or ‘specimens of woodology’ as the article referred to them, and an ad for James Spicer & Sons toilet rolls. For better or worse, the journal had a distinctly ‘Australian’ feel.

The original delightful name was changed in the 1930s to Ideas for Stationers, Sporting Goods, Newsagents, Art & Gift Shops, Booksellers and Libraries. Not surprisingly, that was shortened before long to Ideas and in the 1970s the magazine became Australian Bookseller & Publisher.

In the early years of this decade we became Bookseller+Publisher, but if we had that old 1930s reckless disregard for brevity we might just as well be Bookseller, Publisher, Author, Editor, Librarian, Newsagent, Distributor, Designer, Printer, Agent, Student+Reader. We’re for booklovers everywhere, and we thank you all for being our friends.

(PS You can check out some highlights from the current issue here. And sign up for our free fortnightly Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here.)

Bookseller+Publisher magazine: July issue top picks

The July issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine has landed! Here are some of the forthcoming releases that impressed our reviewers this issue:

Spirit of Progress (Steven Carroll, Fourth Estate, August)
Clive Tilsley of Fullers Bookshop in Tasmania reviewed Steven Carroll’s Spirit of  Progress, a ‘prequel’ to The Art of the Engine Driver, the first of Carroll’s ‘Glenroy’ trilogy. ‘Reading Spirit of Progress was one of the most enjoyable things I have done for a long time,’ writes Tilsley. ‘While it begins and ends in 1977, most of the story is set in the immediate post-war years in Melbourne as the country starts life afresh… I am sure everyone who has read the ‘Glenroy’ series will welcome this addition.’

Babylon (Stephen Sewell, Victory, August)
Rachel Edwards, events manager at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart, declares Babylon ‘a taut and unpredictable crime novel from Stephen Sewell, who is best known as a playwright and scriptwriter and who recently adapted the film Animal Kingdom into book form’. Charismatic psychopath Dan is driving a stolen black Chevrolet when he picks up Mick, a young English backpacker. ‘Dan’s flair and immediate power over the vulnerable Mick are slowly teased out in an extended cop-chase/road-trip through a dark and mythic east-coast Australia,’ writes Edwards. ‘This is a tightly written literary crime novel.’

Cargo (Jessica Au, Picador, August)
journalist Eloise Keating says former Meanjin deputy editor Jessica Au’s debut novel Cargo is ‘a stunning and compelling read’. The novel weaves together the stories of three teenagers finding their way in the early 1990s in Currawong, a small Australian coastal town in which the lives of residents are invariably influenced by the water that surrounds them,’ writes Keating. ‘Au captures the rawness of her protagonists’ emotions with compassion and skill, as well as refreshing honesty… the complexity and uncertainty of growing up is celebrated in this unique snapshot of adolescence which will be appreciated by readers of all ages.’

The Courier’s New Bicycle (Kim Westwood, HarperVoyager, August)
Perth-based bookseller Stefen Brazulaitis said that while Westwood’s novel ‘will definitely appeal to science-fiction readers’, he’d recommend it to adventurous literary fiction fans too. ‘Salisbury “Sal” Forth is a bicycle courier in a future Melbourne, running contraband through the back streets of a society in turmoil. Mass vaccinations against the latest super flu have tipped the body chemistry of most of the population into endocrine crisis and infertility. With the government dominated by anti-technology Christian fundamentalists, the illegal hormone packages that Sal delivers are the only hope some have…’

RPM (Noel Mengel, UQP, August)
Reviewer Jarrah Moore was impressed by Noel Mengel’s novel, set in 1984 in a small silo town in Queensland, about ‘a mismatched group of dreamers and cultural outcasts’. ‘What connects the characters is their shared obsession with music, and the same thing holds the book together,’ she writes. ‘This is a book with heart, delicate characterisation and a striking sense of place: the small-town world with its wide open spaces and narrow minds, and the vibrant music aficionados scene that springs up around the record store RPM come together in a way that is both idealised and deeply honest.’

Melbourne (Sophie Cunningham, NewSouth Books, August)
In nonfiction, bookseller Veronica Sullivan enjoyed the fourth in NewSouth Books’ series of popular histories of Australian capital cities: Sophie Cunningham’s Melbourne. ‘As a former editor of Melbourne-based literary journal Meanjin, Cunningham is uniquely qualified to dissect the city. She offers an intimate, nuanced perspective of Melbourne past, present and future. This is the Melbourne of Graham Kennedy, Helen Garner and Mick Gatto, but also of generations of artists, cyclists, Collingwood fans and the covert urban explorers known as the Cave Clan,’ writes Sullivan. ‘This book is lively and accessible, with a voice that is informative but not didactic, making it ideal both as an insiders’ guide for locals and an introduction for curious outsiders.’

A Small Book about Drugs (Lisa Pryor, A&U, August)
Portia Lindsay says A Small Book About Drugs by former Sydney Morning Herald columnist Lisa Pryor is ‘a persuasively written and thought-provoking essay that warrants serious consideration by young people, parents, politicians, law enforcement and the media’. It ‘offers a controversial perspective on recreational drug use, as discusses many aspects of the practice that are often taboo in mainstream debate,’ writes Lindsay.

Violin Lessons (Arnold Zable, Text, August)
Lindsay also reviews Arnold Zable’s Violin Lessons in which ‘music in its many forms provides comfort, escape or nostalgia for a variety of trapped or displaced individuals—the Iraqi refugee reunited with his band, the Polish labourer enchanted by his music box, the Cambodian fisherman who serenades the river’. ‘This book is a wonderfully complex, sad and beautiful read,’ writes Lindsay.

Sign up for our free fortnightly Bookseller+Publisher newsletter for more information on forthcoming titles here.


REbecca Stead

Rebecca Stead, author of First Light (Text) answers a few questions…

 What would you put on a shelf-talker for your book?

An end-of-childhood story that won’t read the same way twice.

If you had to spend the rest of your life on a book tour, where would you go?

Ouch, painful thought. The US, I suppose—plenty of variety, and I could see my kids.

What is the silliest question you’ve ever been asked on a book tour?

‘Where do you do your grocery shopping?’

And the most profound?

‘What is the nature of time?’

What are you reading right now?

The Best American Short Stories 2010 (ed by Richard Russo, Mariner Books).

Adult: Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann, Bloomsbury); Children’s/YA: Dreamhunter (Elizabeth Knox, Fourth Estate).

What was the defining book of your childhood?

‘Defining’ is an interesting word. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, various imprints).

Which is your favourite bookstore?

Bank Street Books, my neighborhood indie [in New York City]. Because the booksellers there read books and care about them.

Who would you like to challenge to a literary spat?

No one. I worked ‘confrontational’ out of my system when I was a criminal defense lawyer. Now I’d rather bond.

Facebook or Twitter?

Facebook. Twitter requires too much babysitting.

If I were a literary character I’d be …

A sister in a family of sisters. Elizabeth Bennett, maybe.

In 50 years’ time books will be …

More precious than they are today.

Rebecca Stead is the author of First Light (Text). She is touring Melbourne and Sydney in May.

Bookseller+Publisher magazine June issue: top picks

The June issue has landed! This time around several titles impressed our reviewers. Here are just a few:

Berlin Syndrome (Melanie Joosten, Scribe, July)

Reviewer Eloise Keating describes Melanie Joosten’s Berlin Syndrome as a ‘courageous and exciting debut’ from ‘an extremely talented new writer’. She recommends the Melbourne writer’s novel to readers of literary fiction, who will appreciate the story of the ‘complex and dangerous relationship’ between a backpacking Australian photographer Clare and Berlin school teacher Andi. ‘Joosten is masterful in her descriptions of the loneliness that can be found both in a foreign city full of strangers and in an apartment shared by two people,’ she writes.

There Should Be More Dancing (Rosalie Ham, Vintage, July)

Fans of Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker ‘won’t be disappointed’ by her new novel, says reviewer Heather Dyer.  The story unfolds at Margery’s 80th birthday party, where she is ‘planning to fling herself from a balcony’. However, ‘there are a lot of people in the atrium below and she doesn’t want to spoil their day’ so she bides her time in her hotel room and ‘looks back on her life, convinced of conspiracies that have kept her in the dark for years, and full of grievances’. ‘A cast of memorable characters and Ham’s sly humour make this an entertaining read,’ says Dyer.

Lost in Transit: The Strange Story of the Philip K Dick Android (David F Duffy, MUP, July)

In Lost in Transit, author David F Duffy blends the story of a ‘stranger-than-fiction Philip K Dick android’ that was ‘built by a team of young scientists at Memphis University’s Institute of Intelligent Systems’ with a discussion of ‘artificial intelligence, robotics and Dick himself’, writes reviewer Lachlan Jobbins. The android, based on the famous sci-fi author, ‘briefly captured the world’s attention … before going missing on a flight between Dallas and Las Vegas, never to be seen again.’ Jobbins concludes: ‘It’s the best kind of popular science—a book that doesn’t require any previous knowledge, but leaves you hungry to know more, and wondering at the possibilities that may lie ahead.’

Infernal Triangle (Paul McGeough, A&U, July)

Foreign correspondent Paul McGeough’s Infernal Triangle is ‘essential reading’ according to reviewer Paula Grunseit. ‘It covers his observations of significant events in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Levant over a decade’, she writes, and despite his ‘access to numerous key figures, from political leaders to dissidents and Islamic Jihad fighters … the “ordinary” person is not forgotten either’. McGeough’s collection of reports ‘should be of interest to anyone who follows international news and current affairs’, says Grunseit.

Sign up for the free fortnightly Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here for more advance book news.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: S J Watson on ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ (Text Publishing)

Andrea Hanke spoke to S J Watson about his experience as a pupil in the Faber Academy’s first novel-writing course in the UKand the resulting novel Before I Go to Sleep, out this month from Text Publishing.


S J Watson doesn’t have a conventional background as a writer, if indeed such a thing exists. The UK physics graduate worked for many years for the National Health Service in London while dabbling with writing on the side, until he decided ‘that to be truly happy in myself I would need to stop thinking of my writing as a hobby and give it the space and time that increasingly I thought it deserved’.

In 2008 Watson was accepted into the Faber Academy’s first six-month-long ‘Writing a Novel’ Course, a program that covers all aspects of the novel-writing process, and offers guest seminars by well-known writers, agents and publishers. The program is due to begin in Australia this year.

‘I loved every moment of being on the course, and really can’t praise it highly enough! I met, and learned from, some wonderful writers, and I made some lifelong friends. I learned so much—everything from how to capture the essence of a character to how to write a synopsis and pitch your book to an agent—but it was also incredible just to be surrounded by people who took their writing as seriously as I did, and who understood what the writing life involves.’

On the last night of the Faber course Watson was introduced to literary agent Clare Conville (of Conville & Walsh in London), who had been invited to speak to the class on what she looked for in a manuscript. ‘We chatted afterwards and Clare asked me what my book was about. Luckily we’d been working that week on a “25-word pitch” to use in just such a situation! Mine was, “My book is about a woman with no memory who has to rediscover her past every day …” (There was more, but I don’t want to give away the plot!) She said she’d like to read it, and so when I finished I sent it straight to her. She liked it and, after a few more weeks editing, sent it out to publishers she thought might be interested.’

The amnesiac character is a familiar trope in soap operas, the source of mirth in the romantic comedy 50 First Dates and the subject of the psychological thriller Memento, which bears the closest resemblance to Watson’s novel. But Watson says his story came to him after reading the obituary of a man who had undergone surgery for epilepsy in 1953, which left him incapable of forming new memories, living constantly in the past.

‘I wondered how it must feel to look at oneself in a mirror in 2008, expecting to see the same person as 55 years earlier, and straight away the character of Christine came to me. After that, it was just a case of working out her story, and how a woman in her position might tell it.’

Before I Go to Sleep has made headlines for the Faber graduate after it was sold into over 30 languages and acquired for film by Ridley Scott’s production company, ‘an absolute dream come true,’ says Watson. ‘I met with the producer and writer/director and straight away could see that they understood the heart of the book and would make a film that reflected that. It’s going to be weird to see my book on the big screen, but I can’t wait!’

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

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.

BOOK REVIEW: The Taste of River Water (Cate Kennedy, Scribe)

I wonder how many times I have broken some lock,

Searched hastily and withdrawn,

Thinking the room empty,

Overlooked the disguised and waiting gift,

Missed the mountain. (‘Thinking the Room Empty’)

Poetry has the knack, in the right hands, of capturing the poignancy of a particular moment in a memorable or vivid way—of finding the ‘disguised and waiting gift’, as the above passage from Cate Kennedy’s latest collection calls it. Such moments need not be especially extraordinary in themselves in order to bring forth extraordinary insights. Indeed, Kennedy seems adept an extracting striking conclusions from the least epic of events—a joyflight experienced by long-dead family members, for instance, or a couple laying a new floor in their house. Sometimes her conclusions are comic—ever considered the parallels between the endless ones and zeros that are the basis of computing, and the ‘purl purl plain plain plain, purl purl plain’ of a mother knitting? Other times they are powerfully affecting; in one poem she depicts the last excruciating days of a survivor of the 1950s nuclear tests. Kennedy’s career as a poet has evolved in parallel with her success as a short-story writer and novelist and her accessible poems display the hallmarks of a poet increasingly well-practised in her craft. There is much to admire here.

Andrew Wilkins is director of independent press WilkinsFarago and a former publisher of Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the April issue of the magazine. The Taste of River Water will be published in May.

A dose of 1920s glamour …

The May issue of Bookseller+Publisher is hot off the press, with a lovely cover to celebrate the July publication of Sulari Gentill’s second Rowland Sinclair mystery A Decline in Prophets (Pantera Press), which reviewer Pip Newling describes as ‘historical crime with a healthy dose of 1920s glamour, wit and social history’. It’s very on trend, we think, with the buzz around prohibition-era TV drama Boardwalk Empire.

But what else do our reviewers recommend?

The Life (Malcolm Knox, A&U, June)
Reviewer Jo Case found Malcolm Knox’s latest novel a ‘deeply rewarding and utterly absorbing’ puzzle of a book. It’s the story of washed-up former surfing champ Dennis Keith, who is being interviewed by a journalist he nicknames ‘The BFO’ or ‘my Bi-Fricken-Ographer’. Case admires the ‘spiky, roughly hewn prose, rich with surf slang and wordplay, often breaking into sets of sentences that read like a kind of poetry’, as well as Knox’s expert ability to inhabit this ‘idiosyncratic, deeply sensitive, equally aggressive’ character.

Love, Honour and O’Brien (Jennifer Rowe, A&U, June)
‘When Holly Love decides to hunt down Andrew McNish, the fiancé who disappeared under mysterious circumstances and took all of her savings with him, she doesn’t realise that it’s the first step on a madcap ride that will lead her to an eccentric little town in the Blue Mountains, or that she will end up accidentally posing as a private investigator while sharing living space with a psychic, a sweet-natured elderly phone sex worker and a parrot,’ writes reviewer Jarrah Moore, who found Jennifer Rowe’s ‘cast-of-quirky-characters mystery’ ‘endearing and highly enjoyable’.

The Vanishing Act (Mette Jakobsen, Text, July)
The debut novel from Danish-born, Australia-based author Mette Jakobsen won five stars from reviewer Felicity McLean, who describes it as a ‘quixotic story’ that ‘explores the delicate dance between logic and imagination through the minutia of island life’. ‘The Vanishing Act introduces readers to a wonderland of characters so quirky it seems inconceivable they share the same 240 pages,’ she writes. ‘This is a stunning new voice for fans of literary fiction, and reads like a thoroughly modern Hans Christian Andersen fairytale.’

Whispering Death (Garry Disher, Text, August)
Fans of Garry Disher’s ‘Challis and Destry’ series will not be disappointed with his latest offering, writes reviewer Kimberley Allsopp. ‘All the elements that make up a great crime novel are here: an underfunded police unit, strong male and female characters, a distinct setting and the contrasting views of characters within the law and those that operate outside it.’ The story is set in the small town of Waterloo in Victoria, and Allsopp believes ‘the book’s prominent local setting should appeal to readers of Peter Temple’s “Jack Irish” novels’.