BOOK REVIEW: One Minute’s Silence (David Metzenthen, illus by Michael Camilleri, A&U)

one minute s silenceThis year marks the centenary of World War I, so we can expect to see a number of new titles commemorating this event from different perspectives. One Minute’s Silence concerns Remembrance Day as it relates to the Anzac soldiers who fought at Gallipoli, but it also asks readers to consider the young Turkish soldiers who fought bravely to defend their land. The title page shows a teacher in front of a blackboard looking up at a clock as the hands reach 11am, and the opening double-page spread shows a class of high school students looking bored. Thereafter, the narrator asks readers to imagine what it was like for the ‘twelve-thousand wild colonial’ boys as they landed on the shores of this strange, hostile land, and then to imagine the Turkish soldiers ‘from distant villages, hearts hammering’ as they stood in trenches ready to fire. Were they so different after all? The text in this book is minimal but searching, and the illustrations are outstanding. This is an ideal book for upper-primary to secondary school students, to discuss a time when people much like themselves faced terrible dilemmas.

Hilary Adams works in a specialist children’s bookshop in Sydney. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Deeper Water (Jessie Cole, Fourth Estate)

Deeper WaterThe premise of Jessie Cole’s second novel is reminiscent of her acclaimed debut novel Darkness on the Edge of Town: a car accident brings a stranger into the lives of a family living on the outskirts of a small rural community. This is no bad thing, as Cole’s first novel was brilliant, absorbing and haunting. Deeper Water is told entirely through the eyes of Mema, a sheltered young woman who comes across the slightly older and intriguing Hamish during a storm. His intrusion into her world—which includes a bereaved sister, fierce mother and disturbed best friend—propels Mema towards an awakening that forces her to consider her place in the world beyond the security of the farm. Cole creates vivid scenes of lush farmland and teases out interesting and rich characters with an impressive economy of language. Mema manages to be somewhat naïve and a social outsider but also observant and engaging. Glimpses of black humour and social commentary—a conversation about the value of email, for instance—are cleverly injected into the narrative. There is a sense of foreboding around Mema’s unpredictable best friend Anja, a slow burn towards catastrophe, which also echoes the mounting tension of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Jessie Cole is an impressive writer and Deeper Water is another fine and elegantly written novel.

Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in May 2014.View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy (Sophie Cunningham, Text)

Warning The Story of Cyclone TracySophie Cunningham has a novelist’s eye for action and ear for dialogue, and she brings both to the story of Darwin’s devastation by Cyclone Tracy. Cunningham draws on a range of intimate sources, including oral testimonies, interviews, diaries, family histories and newspapers, seeking out Darwinians’ first-hand experiences of the 1974 cyclone and using these individual stories to frame the large-scale destruction. She speaks to scientists and authorities, but the most compelling testimonies come from locals who found themselves in the cyclone’s path. These people share the awe and terror the storm’s apocalyptic force provoked. Warning is accessible reading, its compelling narrative informed by scientific fact but not overly bogged down by complex detail. Cunningham views the interaction of humans and natural disasters through the lens of climate change, showing that we are only now beginning to comprehend the damage humans have wrought on the planet. A work of contemporary historical analysis, Warning sits alongside evocative narrative nonfiction such as Anna Krien’s Into the Woods, though Cunningham’s presence in the story is less pronounced. As in her previous nonfiction book, Melbourne, the telling of significant historical events is deeply grounded in human experience, and small details convey the story of Cyclone Tracy with visceral power.

Veronica Sullivan is a bookseller and deputy online editor of Kill Your Darlings. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in June 2014.

BOOK REVIEW: Lucas and Jack (Ellie Royce & Andrew McLean, Working Title Press)

Lucas and JackEvery week Lucas and his mum visit Great Grandpop in the nursing home, and every week Lucas waits outside getting grumpy and bored. One week, while he is waiting, Lucas meets another occupant called Jack, and with Jack’s encouragement he comes to see the exciting, vibrant people that the nursing home residents used to be. And still are! Jack’s ‘tricks’ help Lucas to understand his great-grandfather and appreciate him for the person he is. Lucas and Jack is a tale of discovery and love, gently told and beautifully illustrated. Its colourful, evocative illustrations and thoughtful narration make the story accessible to a wide range of readers aged from four years. Lucas and Jack is the kind of book that should be on all family bookshelves, with its message that we should remember our elders for who they are, what they have achieved and the amazing lives they have led, rather than seeing only their frailty.

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.

BOOK REVIEW: Surviving Peace: A Political Memoir (Olivera Simić, Spinifex)

Surviving PeaceLaw academic Olivera Simić has penned this absorbing yet troubling account of the effects of the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. She writes of the life journey that has taken her from Bosnia to exile in Serbia, to the US, Costa Rica and Brisbane, in a narrative voice that is likeable and reasoned. Do not expect a retelling of war experiences; instead Simić gives an intellectual consideration to issues surrounding war, its atrocities, and more specifically, the hardships encountered in living after the war. What happens after the violence has ended and economies are broken, when people have been removed from their homelands, when there are no jobs? What happens when your cultural identity comes from a nation that no longer exists? Are you entitled to talk on the war if you have not suffered as much as others? These are just some of the issues covered. Peppered with quotes from diverse sources, this volume unusually combines academic-type discussion with personal reflections. It also gives a first-hand account of post-traumatic stress. Surviving Peace provides greater understanding of the Balkan Wars to those who don’t know much about the Bosniak, Serb and Croatian ethnicities, and some possible new perspectives to those who do. It makes a valuable contribution to ensuring we don’t forget the horrors and enduring impact of war.

Joanne Shiells is a former editor of Books+Publishing. This review first appeared in Books+Publishing magazine Issue 2, 2014. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: My Dog Doesn’t Like Me (Elizabeth Fensham, UQP)

My Dog Doesn't Like MeMy 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.

BOOK REVIEW: Spurt: A Balls and All Story (Christopher Miles, Hardie Grant Egmont)

spurtAs Year Eight draws to an end, Jack Sprigley is feeling left behind in the physical development department by his classmates, and just plain left behind by his friends. The street cred he gained from starring in a reality TV show two years earlier has run thin, almost entirely forgotten except by three Year Seven students who, like Macbeth’s witches, seem to predict and influence Jack’s destiny. When the chance to star in a where-are-they-now TV special presents itself, Jack sees an opportunity to ‘fake it till he makes it’, but with one false step his lack of development could be broadcast to a national audience. An over-achieving TV producer encourages Jack in his lies and deceptions, but it soon becomes apparent to his friends and family that Jack is changing in all the wrong ways. Spurt is a refreshing take on body image, acceptance and the need to fit in. The novel’s moments of profundity are subtle yet powerful, and masterfully balanced with humour. This book would sit nicely on the shelves of readers aged 12 to 15 who have outgrown Andy Griffiths, perhaps alongside Morris Gleitzman’s novels—although Spurt is appealingly naughtier.

James Paull is a bookseller for Gleebooks in Blackheath. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in April 2014. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Claustrophobia (Tracy Ryan, Transit Lounge)

ClaustrophobiaPen 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.

BOOK REVIEW: Poppy Cat (Sara Acton, Scholastic)

PCBCA Award-winning author and illustrator Sara Acton’s work is recognisable for its elegant watercolour palette and loose lines. In her latest book Poppy Cat, Acton creates a warm atmosphere in her tale of the relationship between a girl and her cat. Simply and engagingly, Acton shows some of the girl’s daily difficulties, which are common to most children who are becoming independent, such as getting dressed, tying shoelaces and pouring milk. The major accomplishment of the story is its parallel between the girl and the cat—while they spend much of their time together, they both need time apart. The book’s plentiful white space echoes this theme. The story culminates in a satisfying cuddle on the sofa. Traces of humour make Poppy Cat a book that children aged three to five years will appreciate even more with multiple readings.

Joy Lawn is a freelance reviewer who has worked for independent bookshops in NSW and QLD. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in April 2014. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Funemployed (Justin Heazlewood, Affirm Press)

FunemployedSinger-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.