My Dog Doesn’t Like Me is an endearing tale of a young boy named Eric and his new puppy Ugly. Since coming into Eric’s home, Ugly has caused no end of trouble and, in spite of his efforts, he is showing no signs of improvement. Finally, Mum and Dad issue an ultimatum: Eric must train Ugly properly or he’ll be re-homed. With the help of his school friends and Grandpa’s friend Maggie, Eric embarks on a plan to make sure Ugly is allowed to stay for good. Elizabeth Fensham has written this story from Eric’s perspective, offering an intimate view of everyday family life. With its gentleness and humour, My Dog Doesn’t Like Me will appeal to children aged seven years and above who have felt overwhelmed or burdened by the task of caring for their pet. It’s refreshing to read a book that shows the pressure children can feel to be grown up, as well as the great sense of achievement they can gain from taking on responsibilities.
Natalie Crawford is a children’s book specialist at Dymocks Claremont. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Pen Barber has an unremarkable life in the Western Australian suburbs. Her relationship with her husband Derek is not bad, but it has become bland and formulaic. The familiar routine of her life is disturbed when she finds an old letter from Derek’s university days. What she reads in it casts doubt on everything she believed to be true about her husband and her marriage, and so she sets out to unravel what she believes to be the untold truth of his past. Convinced that the answer lies with one of Derek’s ex-lovers, Pen decides to stalk her. In the process she finds out things about herself that she could not have imagined, and becomes trapped in a web of her own lies and deception. This is a short, tightly written book and an intense exploration of obsession and introspection. Pen’s internal monologue is compelling and intimate. The story also has a stunning finale that readers will be turning over in their heads hours after they have finished it. I would recommend Claustrophobia to readers of Jodi Picoult, Patricia Highsmith and Gillian Flynn, though it is more subtle than Gone Girl. If you have book club customers, you should tell them about this one too. It is a little book that will start big conversations.
Stefen Brazulaitis is the owner of Stefen’s Books in Perth. This review first appeared in Issue 2, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Singer-songwriter, comedian and writer Justin Heazlewood—AKA The Bedroom Philosopher—has written a hybrid memoir-guidebook for anyone interested in working in the creative arts in Australia. Funemployed recounts Heazlewood’s career of highlights and missteps, backed up with extensive interviews with local artists. It doesn’t encourage artists not to have a go, it just reminds them to temper their expectations. Heazlewood writes openly about the mistakes he’s made and his crippling fears and doubts. He tenderly recounts his childhood and the stages of his music career, his early success on Triple J radio, the mounting debts, and a peaceful equilibrium he could only find after a lot of painful lessons. Interspersed with Heazlewood’s own story are the voices of more than 100 local artists. The average annual creative income for an artist is $7000—how do they survive? They discuss which jobs support a creative life, give tips for applying for funding grants and warn about the occupational hazards. Funemployed is a great gift for someone graduating, just beginning, or considering a university arts degree. While they might have heard the same message before from their parents, career counsellors and teachers, a fledgling artist is much more likely listen to someone like Heazlewood, who can speak without pretension about the lessons he learnt scraping his way through the Australian arts scene.
Brad Jefferies is the publishing assistant for Books+Publishing. This review first appeared in Issue 2, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Such is the enduring quality of Pamela Allen’s work that, to this day, whenever my bathtub overspills, I picture Mr Archimedes jumping in and out of his animal-filled tub—like many others who have grown up with Allen’s books over the past thirty-odd years, I suspect. Her latest offering, about an elderly couple and their Sunday roast ritual, follows the gentler, more contemplative tone of recent worksThe Little Old Man Who Looked Up at the Moon and The Toymaker and the Bird. One Sunday, amid a raging storm, an old man calms his fretting wife: it’s Sunday and, no matter what, they will have roast lunch and visitors. And so they set about cooking their meal, until a surprise guest arrives. Very young readers might not grasp this book’s underlying sense of nostalgic longing and loss, but this tale of generosity, hospitality and hope—and the importance of keeping traditions alive—is accessible for readers aged from three years. Allen’s simple yet effective text builds tension, and conveys expectation and surprise in a way that’s ideal for reading out loud. It’s the illustrations, however, that truly captivate here. Surely some of Allen’s best, they capture her characters with empathy, intimacy and warmth.
Meredith Lewin is a Sydney-based freelance reviewer, editor and proofreader. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Michaela McGuire was an uninspired writer spending time overseas when she came across the death of Crown Casino patron Anthony Dunning in the news. Fascinated by the alleged role of the casino’s bouncers and the responsibility of the casino, she began to follow the court case and think about gambling more generally. The result is Last Bets, a thoroughly researched but quite intimate account of a complicated social issue. McGuire writes in a personal way; she lays bare her process in a method reminiscent of Jeff Sparrow’s excellent study of the porn industry Money Shot. Last Bets is about gambling but it is also a compelling study of an entire court case. McGuire follows the trial of the Crown Casino bouncers, describing intricately the atmosphere of the courtroom: the procedures, the witness testimonies, the lawyers’ squabbles, her own doubts and responses—even the gossip of the work experience kids—as the trial unfolds. Interspersed with the trial are McGuire’s interviews with others involved with gambling, from an addicted family member to the Crown Casino chaplain. Most interesting is gambling syndicate member and MONA founder David Walsh. McGuire provides insight into issues surrounding gambling, the law, and her own experiences in casinos. Last Bets is a thoughtful and enjoyable book.
Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre