It 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.