BOOK REVIEW: Walking on Trampolines (Frances Whiting, Pan Macmillan)

Walking on Trampolines coverI was expecting another story of a life turned upside down, and then fixed, in very predictable ways, but this book was wonderful and surprising! Lulu’s story weaves back and forth across the years, but concentrates on her friend Annabelle Andrews: how the two girls met as children and grew up together, sharing each other’s families, and eventually, in one crashing moment, breaking apart—only to reunite and break apart again. Frances Whiting is associate editor of the Sunday Mail in Queensland, and her prowess with the pen easily translates to fiction. Each time I was sure I could predict what would happen next, I was wrong. The story was delightful, surprising and true to life in many ways. In particular, I could see real love in Lulu’s mother and father, both towards each other and towards their daughter. It was really quite moving. I’d recommend Walking on Trampolines for those who don’t like their chick-lit too light, for those looking for some escapism, and for those wanting something lovely and comforting to cheer them up in the cold winter weather.

Jessica Broadbent is a former bookseller and trained librarian. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in August 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Infamy (Lenny Bartulin, A&U)

InfamyIt is 1830. William Burr, who has been adventuring in South America, is contacted by his old friend and former employer John McQuillan, who has moved to Van Diemen’s Land. A reward has been posted for the capture of escaped convict turned bushranger Brown George Coyne: could Burr be the man to track him down? Coyne’s inept associates attempt to kidnap the wife of Hobart’s magistrate, but she is rescued by Aboriginal tracker Robert Ringa. Thus Lenny Bartulin sets the scene for a rollicking, dark tale set in the bloody midst of Tasmania’s colonial past. While the opening of the novel puts it in the adventure camp, as the plot develops Infamy gets into more serious issues of settler/Indigenous relations, the corruption of the colonial rulers and the strange beauty of the landscape. This is a change of direction for Bartulin after three contemporary black-comic detective novels featuring Sydney secondhand bookseller Jack Susko, and Infamy will no doubt face comparison to other epic Australian historical novels in similar settings. It will acquit itself very well.

Tim Coronel is a former editor and publisher of Books+Publishing. He is currently editor of Metro and Screen Education magazines for ATOM. This review first appeared in Issue 3 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Girl (Michael Adams, A&U)

Last GirlEveryone thought Danby was going mad at first, even Danby. It wasn’t possible that she was hearing other people’s thoughts. Except it was, and Danby was just one of the first. An internet-obsessed world was about to discover what ‘connection’ really means. Suddenly, on Christmas Day, everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts, and all hell breaks loose. Danby discovers she is indeed special, as she can hear others’ thoughts without projecting her own. Soon her entire neighbourhood, and possibly all of the world, descends into chaos, madness, murder and finally catatonia, leaving only Danby conscious. She decides to flee Sydney, carrying her unconscious little brother Evan, striking out for her mother’s house in the Blue Mountains. She crosses the silent, ruined city, past the dead, the dying and the eerie living statues. But is she truly alone? The Last Girl is the first novel of a planned trilogy from Michael Adams, a well-known movie reviewer, whose love of the cinematic shows. The book is gripping and fast-paced, with exciting action scenes. Danby is a strong and resourceful character. This is a dark book with several violent and uncomfortable scenes, and as such is suited for older readers seeking an exciting read.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 3 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Eyrie (Tim Winton, Hamish Hamilton)

EyrieTim Winton is an outstanding writer, whose distinctive originality has never been more evident than in his newest novel, Eyrie. He has always been interested in characters whose lives are being lived on the edge. In Breath, his most recent, and shortest, novel, we saw a distilled and concentrated exploration of physical courage, foolhardiness and danger of surfers’ lives lived on the edge, where the contrast between the ordinary and extraordinary in life couldn’t be sharper. Eyrie is a much longer, yet sharply focused new work, as finely calibrated and nuanced as anything Winton has done, yet more confronting and unrelenting than any of his previous work. Tom Keely’s life is being lived very much on the edge, indeed the brink, of oblivion. A disastrous miscalculation in his professional life has left him without a job, reputation, wife, money and, seemingly, hope. Holed up in a public housing high-rise in Fremantle, he’s nevertheless drawn into the lives of his neighbours, a woman from his childhood and her sad, almost other-worldly grandson. What follows is a rich and engrossing story, as intense and exciting as anything Winton has yet written. It’s rich in black humour while at the same time has elements of a crime thriller. This is a book that will challenge, and possibly divide, readers, with its uncomfortably tough-minded questions about coping and engaging in a flawed world, but in the end this is Winton at his most intense and haunting best. Unmissable.

David Gaunt is the co-owner of Gleebooks. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in September 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Interferon Psalms (Luke Davies, A&U)

Taking its inspiration from the Book of Psalms, which arguably (with Song of Songs) is the part of the Old Testament that comes closest to pure poetry, Interferon Psalms is a striking mix of ancient and modern, as indeed the title itself suggests (interferon is a protein used to treat cancer). In a feat of no mean technical achievement, Luke Davies co-opts the heightened, declamatory language of the psalms (‘O I came upon such emptiness/& it never stopped’) to deliver a sustained and dramatic modern monologue about love lost and experience gained. In 33 poems of varied length and intensity, Davies has his narrator relate both a physical and spiritual journey of recovery and discovery that is triggered by the end of a relationship. Despite the occasional use of bathos, the overall effect is deliberately epic. This is a book of big themes, encompassing musings on God, life, the universe and everything, if you will. Given this, the choice of an archaic language and form is entirely appropriate and at times quite moving. In keeping with its epic scale too is the energy of the language, which sometimes overwhelms with its noise, sudden changes of direction and mixed metaphors. It is as if Davies’ narrator is literally struggling to find the language capable of conveying the depth of his experiences. This is a maelstrom of a work.

Andrew Wilkins is director of independent press Wilkins Farago and a former publisher of Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: The Shadow Girl (John Larkin, Woolshed Press)

This young-adult novel really packs an emotional punch. The Shadow Girl is the dramatic story of a girl trying to escape her horrendous family situation: she lives through years of homelessness, trying to keep herself safe and find schools to attend, all the while outrunning an uncle who wants to kill her. But despite the drama, this is both a realistic and insightful book, and the lessons she learns and the people who help her along the way really make the reader think. The structure is also compelling: the story is told through the eyes of the protagonist, but is also revealed in her meetings with an author who is taking down her story for publication. John Larkin is a talented writer who knows exactly how to manipulate his audience and leave them on the edge of their seat. This young adult novel draws on elements of thrillers and mysteries, but in essence, it is something more: an evocation of life lived at rock bottom and the resilience it takes to clamber back into the light. It can be quite violent and graphic at times, so I would recommend this book to mature readers aged 15 and up.

Kate Sunners is a bookseller at Riverbend Books. This review first appeared in the July issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Sign up for the free fortnightly Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here.

BOOK REVIEW: For All Creatures (Glenda Millard, illus by Rebecca Cool, Walker Books)

This second collaboration from the creators of the award-winning picture book Isabella’s Garden is a winner in my book. It reads like a prayer of thankfulness, straight from the pages of Glenda Millard’s award-winning ‘Kingdom of Silk’ books, with her trademark lyrical language drawing the reader in with its rhythm and alliteration. The book pays homage to all creatures great and small, to love and life, to kindness and gentleness and to the marvel of being alive. The language is imbued with tenderness and warmth. It is varied, evocative and thought-provoking, yet playful and imaginative. It doesn’t shy away from complex words like metamorphosis or new phrases like ‘haughtiness and humpiness’ and ‘scribbled silver secrets’. Rebecca Cool’s mixed-media illustrations are superb: dramatic and varied. The rich colours leap from the page as a procession of animals stride through the book. Every double-page spread is a surprise and a wonder that will enthrall young readers, whether they are reading independently or listening and sharing with an adult. In this fast-paced world it is the kind of book that will slow us down in order to savour the language and enjoy the illustrations again and again.

Margaret Hamilton is a former children’s book publisher and now runs Pinerolo, the Children’s Book Cottage in Blackheath. This review first appeared in the July issue of Bookseller+Publisher. Sign up for the free monthly Junior Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here, for news about Australian and New Zealand children’s books.

BOOK REVIEW: RPM (Noel Mengel, UQP)

It’s 1984 in a small silo town in Queensland, and 19-year-old Neil Gentle is part of a mismatched group of dreamers and cultural outcasts: JD the DJ; Stephen the Modernist; Phil the Hipster; Peaches who hates machines and Kennychan who lives for them; Meg, Neil’s friend from childhood; and Charley, the first girl he could talk to about the Beatles, along with others. Neil’s been drifting since high school ended, rock’n’roll dreams fraying at the edges, but 1984 is the year of change. What connects the characters is their shared obsession with music, and the same thing holds the book together. The musical references are eclectic and wide-ranging, dipping in and out of eras, genres and movements, and the serious enthusiasm for all is joyously infectious. This is a book with heart, delicate characterisation and a striking sense of place: the small-town world with its wide open spaces and narrow minds, and the vibrant music aficionados scene that springs up around the record store RPM come together in a way that is both idealised and deeply honest. It will appeal particularly to anybody who has been part of a music scene or wished they could have been.

Jarrah Moore is an editorial assistant at Cengage Learning. This review originally appeared in the July issue of Bookseller+Publisher. Sign up for the free fortnightly Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here.

BOOK REVIEW: Harry Curry: Counsel of Choice (Stuart Littlemore, HarperCollins)

Stuart Littlemore, QC and barrister, is best known for his role as writer and host of ABC’s Media Watch from its inception in 1989 to 1997. Littlemore, having returned to his legal practice in recent years, has represented Mercedes Corby, Pauline Hanson and Nicole Cornes in her defamation action against Mick Molloy. Harry Curry: Counsel of Choice is Littlemore’s first work of fiction. We meet the irascible main character Harry Curry, a brilliant and unorthodox criminal defence lawyer who has been suspended for professional misconduct. Harry soon teams up with the stunning young lawyer Arabella Engineer, an English lawyer of Indian descent, trying to make her mark in Sydney, and together they take on a variety of cases ranging from the drug smuggling by two young women with a suitcase of marijuana, to a drowning off Walsh Bay wharf, terrorist activities and an assault charge with a shattered beer glass. Littlemore knows his subject matter intimately, bringing to life the inner workings of court rooms, and the legal loopholes and strategies employed to win cases. Immensely readable with an accessible style and excellent dialogue with shades of Rumpole and Rake, it will be a great Father’s Day book.

Sarina Gale is a freelance writer and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared in the July issue of Bookseller+Publisher.

BOOK REVIEW: Cargo (Jessica Au, Picador)

Jessica Au’s debut novel Cargo is a stunning and compelling read. The novel weaves together the stories of three teenagers finding their way in the early 1990s in Currawong, a small Australian coastal town in which the lives of residents are invariably influenced by the water that surrounds them. Frankie is carrying the implications of her parents’ tumultuous relationship as well as her own desires for the new deckhand on her father’s boat. Gillian is weighed down by an accident at sea years before, but gets a glimpse of what love could feel like when she meets Alex. And Jacob is consumed by jealousy for his older brother and his unrequited love for the mysterious girl at the swimming pool. Au captures the rawness of her protagonists’ emotions with compassion and skill, as well as refreshing honesty. There are no clichés in Cargo—no predictable, Hollywood-type endings. Instead, the complexity and uncertainty of growing up is celebrated in this unique snapshot of adolescence which will be appreciated by readers of all ages.

Eloise Keating is a journalist with Bookseller+Publisher magazine and the Weekly Book Newsletter. This review first appeared in the July issue of the magazine. You can view the magazine online here.