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.

BOOK REVIEW: The Yellow Papers (Dominique Wilson, Transit Lounge)

yellowpapersThe first full-length novel from short story writer Dominique Wilson is a sorrowful but captivating historical epic, and a unique view of the formation of modern China. Spanning nine decades, The Yellow Papers charts the destinies of three main characters: a lowly Chinese peasant who flees to Australia following an unsuccessful mission to obtain ‘the secrets of the West’ in the US; a wealthy Australian man obsessed with his oriental lover; and a child of China’s Cultural Revolution. Wilson’s impeccable research helps her to convey a realistic impression of some of the significant political, intellectual and social changes in China’s development, and the impact this evolution has had on Western culture, particularly Australia. While this attention to historical detail adds authenticity to the narrative, it is Wilson’s well-crafted characters and shrewd storytelling that arouse all the emotions that great tragedy is supposed to evoke. To compare The Yellow Papers to the historical sagas of the kind that consistently rise to the tops of bestseller lists may seem to trivialise the importance of its subject matter, but the book will still satisfy a readership hungry for a gripping, grandiose read.

Jennifer Peterson-Ward is a freelance reviewer and professional writing and publishing academic. This review first appeared in Issue 4, 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Darcy Moon and the Deep-Fried Frogs (Catherine Carvell, illus by Michael Scott Parkinson, Fremantle Press)

DarcyMoon_coverDarcy Moon has her own problems to deal with—her ‘embarrassing weirdo’ parents, fitting in at school and having enough money to buy Skippity Chips—without having to save the environment as well. But, according to the inhabitants of the local swamp (including talking frogs and tortoises), Darcy is an Earth Guardian whose duty is to save the swamp and its residents before it’s too late. Initially, Darcy goes into denial, scared of appearing even weirder to her school friends than she already does (thanks to a dad who smells like his beloved compost and a mum who plays the pan pipes and refuses to wear a bra). But, despite a few minor hiccups in ethical judgement, it is clear that Darcy’s natural impulse to do the right thing will triumph. What follows is a slimy, stinky, race-against-time endeavour to save the swamp, including its now-endangered western swamp tortoise. Any children’s book exploring environmental issues runs the risk of being overtly didactic, and as a result, a little off-putting. But Catherine Carvell’s romping good-versus-evil struggle and amusing array of characters offset the weight of her underlying message. This is a finely balanced adventure for eight- to 11-year-olds that touches on many other issues too, including acceptance, pride and the power of working together.

Jacqui Lawson is a freelance writer and reviewer, and a bookseller at Pages & More in Glenelg. This review first appeared in Junior Term 1, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.