Imagine you are sitting in a cosy lounge room somewhere, chatting with literary journalist Ramona Koval about her life and reading interests. There are casual recollections of her past, and an impassioned discussion of books she has read and themes and topics she was into at the time. This is how By the Book reads. In it, Koval discusses her childhood and the infancy of her relationship with reading, and gives glimpses of her extraordinary mother and tragic family history. Essentially though, it is a journey through Koval’s diverse reading habits over time—from politics to science, feminism, travel, polar explorers, anthropology, classics, and even the Kama Sutra—interspersed with citations and a few personal anecdotes about the authors she has befriended. She writes: ‘the books we read introduce us to other books, as if we are at a magnificent party of the mind’. This book is just that, and one to read with a pen nearby to jot down titles. It may be hard to categorise: it fits easily on a ‘books and writing’ shelf, but would also be at home with the memoirs. Its obvious readership will be book lovers and Radio National listeners. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Koval’s enthusiasm bubbles from the page. It confirms the erudite and talented Koval is a treasure, whose voice is sorely missed on our airwaves.
Joanne Shiells is a former retail book buyer and former editor of Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the August/September issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine.View more pre-publication reviews here.
Popular fiction author Monica McInerney needs no introduction to the Australian book trade. In her new novel, Ella, an editor, is in her mid-30s and settled in domestic bliss in Canberra. A horrible tragedy explodes her seemingly perfect world and sends her to the other side of the world. This instantly feels like a Monica McInerney novel: a web of characters, a confused protagonist, a strong family connection and an Irish link. Then the plot turns: tragedy, grief, heartbreak and jealousy, with any strands of romance playing second fiddle to Ella’s battle with her overwhelming grief. The tragic scenes are very moving and the fog and pain of Ella’s anguish seems realistic. There is an endearing warmth to the narrative and characters, and the underlying themes of family and forgiveness are uplifting and hopeful. There’s an emphasis on place, and the romance of central London is vividly depicted, with the story centred around a rundown Paddington terrace inhabited by untidy academics. The desire to untangle the web surrounding Ella and see some kind of peace amid the turmoil kept me engrossed: an important element of this genre. This is a quality example of its type and booksellers can be confident recommending it to customers seeking a heartening and entertaining read.
Joanne Shiells is a former retail book buyer and former editor of Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the August/September issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
You may know of Susan Johnson for her brave memoir of motherhood, A Better Woman, or her novel about writer Charmian Clift, The Broken Book, among other titles. Her seventh novel, My Hundred Lovers, opens with a woman in middle age who is feeling overpowered by memories. Passages about her relationships and human connections are interspersed with vignettes recalling the joy of different sensory experiences. Amid passion, despair and humour, the fallible-yet-likeable Deborah provokes sympathy as she realises the untruth of romantic love. Johnson reminds us of the inherent sensuality of all kinds of experiences, from patting a dog to wearing a dress, taking a bath and eating gelati. Deborah’s erotic encounters do not dominate the plot, demonstrating there is much more to a sensual existence than sex, and much romance to be found in life. Expected to attract a mostly female audience, this rich and meaningful novel deserves a broad readership. It is easily readable and poetic; Johnson’s gift for language delights and some of her descriptions are to be savoured. With much of the novel set in France, it may also appeal to those with a penchant for the Gallic. I found My Hundred Lovers uplifting, due to its sumptuous language, and the mirror it shines on the beauty and intrinsic preciousness of life.
Joanne Shiells is a former retail book buyer and editor of Bookseller+Publisher. Read the interview with Susan Johnson here. This review first appeared in the April/May issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine.