BOOK REVIEW: Maudie and Bear (Jan Omerod & Freya Blackwood, Little Hare, October)

Maudie and Bear is one of the most exciting collaborations for 2010 between two beloved Australian author/illustrators. Freya Blackwood has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, and her whimsical illustrations are the perfect complement for this beautiful picture book, which will sit alongside great works by Shaun Tan and Alison Lester as examples of great picture books for older readers. Readers young and old will love Maudie, whose demanding but endearing voice will ring true to anyone who has known a young child. Bear is the ideal stand-in for the older parent, sibling or friend, who is there for every demand, will cater to every whim, and most importantly, will always be there for Maudie. The unusual chapter format of this book will give readers who are making the transition from picture to chapter books the opportunity to progress with their reading, while still enjoying the comfort of illustrations, and the safe picture book format. Maudie and Bear has the look and feel of a classic. I have no doubt that this will be gracing our bookshelves for years to come.

Bec Kavanagh is a freelance reviewer and accounts manager for The Little Bookroom in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the Term 3 issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher.

Top picks from the current issue

Which books got good reviews in the October issue of Bookseller+Publisher you ask?

Well…

The proof copy of Caroline Overington’s novel I Came to Say Goodbye came covered in glowing quotes from Random House staff who’ve read the book and our reviewer Scott Whitmont has joined the chorus. He calls the novel ‘a gripping blockbuster that booksellers can recommend unreservedly’ and predicts Overington’s following ‘is destined to grow in leaps and bounds’.

Toni Whitmont was impressed with That Deadman Dance by Miles Franklin winner Kim Scott (Picador, October), suggesting it will ‘surely attract consideration for a raft of major prizes’. ‘While the story is compelling,’ writes Whitmont, ‘what makes this an extraordinary book is the writing. Scott’s prose shimmers.’

Andrew Wilkins was equally taken with a collection of work by the late Dorothy Porter. Love Poems (Black Inc., October) ‘brings together poems and song lyrics from across Porter’s career, gathered into sections that suggest love in its various phases’ and is ‘simply an essential collection of Australian poetry,’ says Wilkins.

Other eagerly awaited books being reviewed in this issue include Tim Flannery’s Here On Earth (Text, October), which Eliza Metcalf says is ‘an important read’. ‘Flannery traces our species’ evolution and expansion out of Africa and across the globe, noting the trail of destruction we left in our wake,’ she writes. ’The picture he paints is a fairly devastating one, but also quite awe-inspiring.’

Paul Landymore assures readers that When Colts Ran, the new novel by Roger McDonald (Vintage, November), lives up to expectations raised by the author’s Miles Franklin win in 2006. ‘If you’re a fan of Australian literature then I’m sure you will find this book, as I did, a deeply satisfying read,’ writes Landymore.

Deborah Crabtree, our regular music book columnist, was taken with Paul Kelly’s How to Make Gravy (Hamish Hamilton, October), a book that grew out of series of performances Kelly put on in 2004. ‘Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns,’ writes Crabtree, adding that the book gives Kelly ‘space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world’.

And that’s not to mention Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World (Text, October), Kate Holden’s The Romantic (Text, October), Things Bogans Like (E C McSween et al, Hachette, November), Toni Jordan’s Fall Girl (Text, October), and many, many more…

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BOOK REVIEW: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (David Mitchell, Sceptre)

David Mitchell’s much-anticipated new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, returns to Japan, but unlike the ultra-modern settings of Ghostwritten and number9dream, or the futuristic Japan of Cloud Atlas, this time Mitchell travels back in time, to the floating island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay in the years 1799 and 1800 (for the most part, although it does travel several decades further on in the latter stages of the novel). Dejima is a heavily regulated trading post for the Dutch East India Company and the only point of European contact for a highly insular Japan. The novel opens with the arrival of the clerk Jacob de Zoet at Dejima, along with a new chief resident, Unico Vorstenbosch, who appears intent on wiping out the corruption in the trading factory, starting with the imprisonment of the outgoing chief, Daniel Snitker. Jacob is a morally upright man who is nevertheless astute enough to understand the risks of aligning himself with the new chief and against the existing workers who stand to lose a lot of their sideline income. Jacob also gets offside with the resident surgeon, Dr Lucas Marinus, an enlightened intellectual who has made strong bonds with some of the local Japanese. The key Japanese characters include Orito Aibagawa, a young midwife who has received a dispensation to train under Dr Marinus; Ogawa Uzaemon, a translator; Lord Abbot Enomoto; and Magistrate Shiroyama.

As with his earlier novels, Mitchell gives The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet an episodic structure. The first section, ‘The Bride For Whom We Dance’, is (apart from Jacob falling inconveniently in love with the scarred Orito) essentially a tale of corporate corruption, backstabbing and politics, as Jacob tussles with the Prussian Peter Fischer, his rival for the position of head clerk and Deputy Chief Melchior Van Cleef, and starts to become disillusioned with his mentor Vortsenbosch. The second section, ‘A Mountain Fastness’, largely leaves Jacob and Dejima behind as the bizarre nature of Lord Enomoto’s Mount Shiranui Shrine emerges. The pace shifts to that of a tense thriller as the newest sister at the shrine plots her escape and gradually discovers the horrifying truth of her role there. Meanwhile, the translator Ogawa Uzaemon comes into possession of a scroll that also reveals what happens at the shrine and musters a team of samurai for a raid.

The third and final section, ‘The Master of Go’, shifts back to Nagasaki Harbour, where the Royal Navy ship the HMS Phoebus has entered under a Dutch flag, intending to raid any Dutch East Indies ships they find docked there. The focal character here becomes Captain Penhaligon, who is wracked by gout as well as doubts over his future. Mitchell has based this section on a real incident involving the frigate HMS Phaeton, bringing it forward from 1808 to 1800. Remarkably, Jacob de Zoet remains the emotional centre of the novel, even though he is absent from the novel for large chunks of the last two sections.

There was a point during the second section that I felt I was enjoying this novel as much as Mitchell’s previous ones; however, the escape sequence felt forced to me and the revelations about the shrine too contrived—as conversations were fortuitously overheard and letters discovered. By the end of the novel, though, I was totally won over, and the second section felt like a necessary part of the journey that got me to that point. Continue reading

The new issue has landed!

Well, the shiny new issue of Bookseller+Publisher has landed, with a big fat 20 on the cover—that’d be Allen & Unwin, who are celebrating 20 years of independent publishing this year. Happy Birthday A&U!

The July issue is full of news, profiles, author interviews and of course, reviews. There are several titles that earned five stars this time around, including The Good Daughter (Honey Brown, Viking, July), which Kate Summers at Riverbend Books says ‘carries the same dark, atmospheric weight of Sonya Harnett’s books, with an authenticity that will resonate with teenage, as well as adult readers’; Jon Bauer’s Rocks in the Belly (Scribe, August)—anybody who reads this book and isn’t instantly a fan probably wasn’t paying close enough attention’, says B Owen Baxter—and Kindling (Darren Groth, Hachette, July), which Toni Whitmont of online bookshop Booktopia says ‘is an absolute stunner’, with ‘shades of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘, and ‘in parts, of Scot Gardner’s Burning Eddy‘.

Tony Wilson’s Making News (Pier 9, July) impressed Riverbend Bookshop’s Lee McGowan, who calls the novel ‘a scathing commentary on tabloid journalism’s gorge on the greasy spoon of contemporary celebrity’—’a fast-paced, near-realist melodrama sliced through with box-cutter blade humour’. Continue reading

The new issue has landed!

Ah, there’s the new-magazine smell again. Yes, the May/June combined issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine just arrived in the office.

This issue has a gazillion reviews of as-yet-unpublished books (okay, 75), including such highly anticipated titles as Rebecca James’ Beautiful Malice (A&U, May), Fiona McGregor’s Indelible Ink (Scribe, June), Peter Rose’s Roddy Parr (Fourth Estate, July), Leanne Hall’s Text YA prize-winning This is Shyness (August) and Benjamin Law’s debut The Family Law (Black Inc., June). (If you want to know what some of our reviewers’ top picks were you can read about them in this post.)

As well as all those reviews, the May/June issue includes Kalinda Ashton (The Danger Game, Sleepers) writing about how she got where she is today, Kabita Dhara on the publishing scene in India, author interviews with Susan Maushart, Ben Groundwater, Bill McKibben, Amanda Braxton-Smith and James Phelan and lots more besides.

Subscribers, it will be on its way to you very soon. Non-subscribers, you’ll find a list of places you can buy a copy here. (Or you could, you know, subscribe: $130 a year. Bargain.)

Forthcoming titles: reviewers’ top picks

So, among our reviewers’ top picks in the April issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine were: The Second-last Woman in England (Maggie Joel, Pier 9, April); Sunday’s Kitchen: Food and the Art of Living at Heide (Lesley Harding & Hendrah Morgan, Miegunyah, April); The Return of the Word Spy (Ursula Dubosarsky, Viking, May); When Courage Came to Call (L M Fuge, Random House, April); and The Hard Light of Day: An Artist’s Story of Friendships in Arrernte (Rod Moss, UQP, May).

Booksellers, had a chance to read any of these yet? What did you think?