BOOK REVIEW: The Tea Chest (Josephine Moon, A&U)

tea chestFive unlikely women have to work together to make a boutique tea shop work and flourish. Simone has left her two Australian tea shops, and the plans for another branch in London, to her financial backer and stepsister Judy and to tea designer Kate. Rather than sell out her share to Judy, Kate and her husband decide she should follow her passion and open the first international Tea Chest shop in London. Kate takes along Leila, whom she has rescued from unemployment, and they soon meet Elizabeth and her sister Victoria. The four women work together, battling construction companies run by unscrupulous operators, the 2011 London riots and all manner of personal issues to get the shop up and running. Judy is a kind of shadowy figure, supposedly a helpful associate, but at times seeming almost like an adversary. There is a lot of jumping around in this book: jumping from character to character, as the different women take turns narrating, and jumping between time periods, as the back stories for each of the characters are slowly revealed. This requires a certain amount of concentration, but the rewards are worth it—the story is fascinating and I found it difficult to put the book down. And while the ending seems almost too neat, it’s also lovely to read a book that turns out well. The Tea Chest will appeal to readers of commercial women’s fiction of all ages—especially those who love a good cup of tea!

Jessica Broadbent is a qualified librarian who prefers hot chocolate over tea. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Grace’s Table (Sally Piper, UQP)

grace s tableThis beguiling novel is set at a pivotal moment in the life of Grace, an Australian woman about to turn 70. She is determined to mark this moment with an old-fashioned family dinner and we meet her as she is preparing the food, assisted by her spiky daughter Susan. As a 70-year-old man, I doubted my ability to become involved in this tale. I could not have been more wrong. The author uses the meal—preparation, serving, eating and aftermath—as a device within which to tell Grace’s story. From her rebellious childhood, then a marriage that turns depressingly sour, through family tensions and a huge, unspoken tragedy, through friendships and enmities, we are given a portrait of a family that slowly fractures yet will still come together for occasions like Grace’s 70th. The last pages of the book, in which the old tragedy is revealed to the reader and the family finally faces it and starts to deal with it as adults, are confronting yet uplifting. Grace’s Table is involving, moving, amusing and genuinely entertaining. I kept wanting to introduce Grace to Mr Wigg (Inga Simpson’s stubborn farmer from her recent eponymous novel). They have much in common and would make a feisty, formidable team.

Max Oliver has just retired after 55 years in the book trade. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Max (Marc Martin, Viking)

maxThis picture book tells an emotional story about the relationship between a cheeky seagull called Max and a fish-and-chip shop-owner called Bob. Max has become a friend to Bob, who feeds the bird chips from his store, which is located on an ocean boardwalk. Unfortunately, market forces play their part when, one summer, the nearby fun fair is dismantled. Customers no longer visit the boardwalk, the shops close down and Bob disappears. After waiting for days, then weeks, for Bob’s return, Max decides to fly over the city to search for his friend, until he once again sniffs that familiar fish-and-chip smell. Marc Martin has written a heartfelt story that encourages readers to love Max. To create his unique brand of illustration, Martin uses lino print, splatter paint and sponge textures within sharp stylised shapes, which he previously used in the brilliant picture book The Curious Explorer’s Illustrated Pocket Guide to Exotic Animals A to Z. This is an excellent book for children under five years.

Andrew Wrathall is Books+Publishing’s production guru and enjoys long walks on the beach. This review first appeared in Junior Term 1, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Tree Palace (Craig Sherborne, Text)

Tree PalaceSet in the Wimmera Mallee in Victoria’s north-west, award-winning author Craig Sherborne’s second novel Tree Palace is about a group of street smart survivors living on society’s fringe. They are itinerants or ‘trants’ who squat and obtain an income from welfare and from selling the heritage fittings they strip from abandoned properties. Matriarch Moira and her partner Shane, his half-brother Midge, and Moira’s children Zara and Rory have found a place where they could settle and be happy but life is never simple. The police are after Shane, and 15-year-old Zara is struggling to bond with her newborn son Mathew; she wants to continue being a carefree teenager and this causes conflict with Moira, who feels a great responsibility towards the baby. Much of the novel’s action and characterisation unfolds through its authentic dialogue, and Sherborne’s skills as a poet and playwright shine through. Readers will also enjoy his vivid depictions of nature—another strong feature of the novel is its rural setting. Told with warmth and humour, this contemporary, distinctly Australian story explores teen pregnancy; motherhood and parenthood; love and family; the roles and feelings of men and boys; and the power plays inherent in all human relationships. Tree Palace serves up a full slice of life—the bitter with the sweet.

Paula Grunseit is a freelance journalist, editor and reviewer. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Rivertime (Trace Balla, A&U)

rivertimeThis book is laid out in cartoon strips, which takes a while to get used to if you’re not familiar with reading in this format. But the narrative flows as easily as, well, a slowly moving river. It’s about 10-and-a-half-year-old Clancy, who is taken camping for 10 days by his uncle Egg, who happens to be a birdwatcher. At first Clancy is unimpressed with the mozzies and the lack of TV access on their canoe, but gradually he’s seduced by the wildlife and the various outdoorsy adventures of the bush—such as drinking fresh water from mossy cliffs, snacking on wild raspberries and gazing at the Milky Way without the distraction of city lights. This is Trace Balla’s celebration of the Glenelg River with its manifold attractions. The illustrations are presented in muted earthy tones, and there is plenty of fauna featured—particularly birds, including the lesser-known white-throated gerygone, the brown thornbill and the rufous bristlebird. Rivertime is a reminder for mid-primary school kids—who are quite partial to being hooked up to various electronic devices—that it’s good to move beyond your comfort zone, and that communing with nature has its own rewards.

Thuy On is a Melbourne-based reviewer and the books editor of the Big Issue. This review first appeared in Junior Term 1, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Calypso Summer (Jared Thomas, Magabala)

calypso_summer_cover_hi-resHis name is Kyle, but everyone calls him Calypso. In high school he grew dreadlocks, started listening to reggae and took to the ganja with a vengeance. Calypso isn’t Jamaican though, he’s from the Nukunu people of South Australia—not that he’s seen his mum’s mob in the Flinders Ranges since he was a kid. Now that Calypso is out of school, things are changing. He’s finally scored a job, is sharing a flat with his troubled cousin Run and is losing interest in the smoking. Gary, his new boss at the health food shop, wants to stock some natural remedies from Calypso’s ‘tribe’ and suggests he gets back in touch with them. Then there’s that girl at the hairdresser’s who Calypso can’t stop thinking about. It’s a summer of cricket, family and romance. In Calypso Summer, Jared Thomas has created a strong, likeable character who comes to a greater appreciation of his heritage, his family and his connections. Thomas brings the reader into Calypso’s world, vividly capturing his language and his large and vibrant family. This book contains frequent drug use and strong language, and as such is suitable for older readers. Thomas won a kuril dhagun Indigenous Writing Fellowship as part of the black&write! Indigenous Writing and Editing program for this book.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Kat Jumps the Shark (Melinda Houston, Text)

kat jumps the sharkMelinda Houston’s debut novel is a fun, heartfelt and deeply satisfying story about Kat Kelly, a 40-something Melburnian whose seemingly charmed life is turned upside down, and then the right way up again, in spectacular fashion. Kat’s career as a location scout for a television production company is her dream job, even if her work on a new series of Survivor is keeping her on her toes, while her home life with partner Miles and his young daughter Bonnie is everything she thought she wanted. But when Kat decides that what she wants from love and life is something entirely different, her break-up with Miles sets in motion a disastrous chain of events. Houston’s leading lady is incredibly likeable—think Nina Proudman from Offspring—and I was cheering Kat on within the first pages of this book. Her friends and workmates are equally well cast, especially Kat’s naive-yet-eager intern Heidi and barista-turned-confidant Wilson, and Melbourne’s inner suburbs of Fitzroy and Coburg provide the perfect locations for this moving drama about not losing faith. I relished my time in Kat’s world and I hope this is the first of many more clever and entertaining novels from Houston.

Eloise Keating is news editor of Books+Publishing. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store (Jo Riccioni, Scribe)

italians_at_cleatsConnie is dissatisfied with village life and feels the smallness of Leyton closing in on her future, which seems to consist mainly of listening to village gossip while serving customers at Mrs Cleat’s store. This dissatisfying outlook changes with the arrival of the Onorati brothers: the swaggering entrepreneur Vittorio and taciturn artist Lucio. As the story moves between the brothers’ life in their war-torn Italian village and the post-war British community, it unveils the similarities between the two places. Life in one village mirrors the other, and hunting, gossip, religion and art are pivotal in both. Jo Riccioni creates some brilliant connective imagery in the creation of church murals and the death of animals both domestic and wild. Against the ravages of war a love story forms, subtle and gently brewing. The Onorati brothers are magnetic in their own ways. Their past is explored through the Montelupini chapters, which lay bare the perniciousness of village gossip and the horrifying impact of war on civilians. The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store is a rich debut novel. Riccioni weaves together romance and tragedy, and captures a vivid sense of history and place, in a story that is at once expansive and personal.

Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in Issue 4, 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Weaver Fish (Robert Edeson, Fremantle Press)

The Weaver FishThe Weaver Fish is fiendishly clever. It brings together so many threads it’s hard to know where to start. From hurricane-proof hats to a mysterious bird of prey that’s perhaps not what it seems, to a thriller subplot somehow tied to financing Margaret River wineries and illegal Chinese logging on a remote island, it all links together, somehow. Many of the quirky characters have punny, aptronymic names that serve to amuse and confuse in equal measure, as do numerous suggestions peppered throughout the narrative that some (or all) of what is going on may well be an elaborate academic hoax. Everything in this intellectual puzzle of a book is underpinned by brilliantly realised but, we can only presume, entirely made-up science, linguistics, psychiatry, history and geography, complete with extensive endnotes. It’s a novel unlike anything you’ve read before, but will provide hours of brain-food to those who enjoy being challenged by authors such as Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, Neal Stephenson or David Mitchell. It would certainly make for a discussion-stimulating bookclub read!

Tim Coronel is a freelance editor and the coordinator of the Independent Publishing Conference for the Small Press Network. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Two Wolves (Tristan Bancks, Random House)

two wolvesBen Silver wants to be a detective when he grows up, solving crimes and sending criminals to jail. One day after school the police come to his house looking for his parents. Then his mum and dad arrive home just after the police leave and insist they are taking Ben and his little sister Olive on a holiday. With no time to pack or change out of their school uniforms. As his parents become more evasive, and their actions more inexplicable, Ben realises that something must be seriously wrong. His parents are in trouble. But what have they done? And what will Ben do if he figures it out? Tristan Bancks has crafted an exciting tale of family secrets and misadventure. He deftly captures the sense of betrayal children feel at being deceived by those they trust. Ben is a memorable character. He makes bad decisions sometimes, but he is more resourceful and resilient than he appears at first, and he is constantly torn between family loyalty and doing the right thing. This is a good book for upper-primary and lower-secondary readers.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared in Issue 4, 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.