BOOK REVIEW: Rod Laver: A Memoir (Rod Laver, Pan Macmillan)

rod laverRod Laver is widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time; he is the only player to win the Grand Slam twice and holds the record for most singles titles in the history of tennis. Laver was born in Rockhampton in Queensland, and from an early age showed a natural talent for tennis. He left school at 14 to pursue a career in amateur tennis and by the age of 22 had won all four major titles. His prize for Wimbledon? A handshake and a £15 voucher for approved products. Laver writes well about his amateur years but it’s after he breaks into the professional sphere that the colour, the personalities and the circus-like stories, from towing a tennis court across America to playing on ice-skating rinks, start to emerge. In the beginning, the professional tennis circuit was disdained by the establishment, but as the sport started attracting sponsors and money, it wasn’t long before the Open era began and modern tennis was born. Laver’s memoir is a nostalgic journey. The highlights are his titanic battles and rivalries, his love of family and the massive changes to the game over the years.

Sarina Gale is a freelance writers and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in August 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.

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: Letter to George Clooney (Debra Adelaide, Pan Macmillan)

Letter to George ClooneyI’ve been a fan of Debra Adelaide’s writing since The Hotel Albatross was published in the mid 90s. Her last novel, The Household Guide to Dying, was a wonderfully touching take on dying, simultaneously intense and affecting, and very funny, which was quite a feat. Her new collection of stories, Letter to George Clooney, has, as the title story implies, a striking originality and verve to it, and an arresting variety. Almost all the stories are rooted in everyday Australia, but it’s a take-off point. A razor-sharp wit and a clear-eyed intelligence lift all of them into another realm. ‘Writing (in) the New Millennium’  and ‘Glory in the Flower’ are wickedly funny exposes of the foibles and fallacies of a contemporary ‘writing industry’ and ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ brilliantly counterpoints the absurdities of those cryptic LRB personals with a muse on signs observed from and within a commuter train. It’s a tribute to Adelaide’s touch and timing that we move from light to dark, from mundane to extraordinary seamlessly, but nothing in the collection prepares us for the title story, quite rightly left to last. The quiet control of present life is transformed into the nightmare of terror and abuse of the past, making a deliberate mockery of the whimsy implied in the title. It’s a knockout story to end a fine collection.

David Gaunt is the co-owner of Gleebooks in Sydney. This review first appeared in Issue 3 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Wildlife (Fiona Wood, Pan Macmillan)

Wildlife_CVR SI.inddWildlife is a poignant and insightful view into the teenage battleground of friendships, family and new romance, and is Fiona Wood’s confident follow-up to her debut novel Six Impossible Things. Told from the perspectives of 16-year-olds Sibylla and Lou as they spend a term in the wilderness with their classmates, the story follows a group of typical teenagers trying to find their place in a world that has changed greatly since their parents were the same age. While both narrators are likeable, Fiona Wood’s great triumph is the voice of Lou, who we first met in Six Impossible Things. She is the new girl at school, observant, witty, self-possessed and still reeling from the death of her boyfriend the previous year. Sibylla, in contrast, is struggling with more common teenage dramas, including boyfriends, old friends and new friends. Through Lou’s eyes, and a class assignment on Othello, we are granted a window into the blossoming relationship and subsequent betrayal of Sibylla by those she thought most likely to look out for her. This is perfect for fans of John Green, with just the right blend of emotional heft and humour. I would highly recommend it for readers aged 14 and up.

Amelia Lush is the children’s buyer at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2 2013 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Good Life: What Makes a Life Worth Living (Hugh Mackay, Pan Macmillan)

The Good Life CVR SI.inddThis is not a book about ‘how to feel good, how to find happiness or how to reap some reward for your goodness’. Hugh Mackay’s message is that while those things may well be by-products of living ‘the good life’, if you try to chase them, you will have missed the point of the journey. He postulates that society is consumed by narcissism and the ‘Utopia complex’, which demands perfection in all areas of life. Marketing ‘brand me’ feeds our obsession with self-esteem, the ultimate goal being anti-ageing. Add to this our pursuit of a permanent state of happiness and it’s no wonder we’re downright miserable. Which leads to the question, is there a better way to live and, eventually, die? Mackay draws on real-life stories and on the observations of philosophers, poets, scientists and theologians, as well as reconstructed and imagined scenarios, fables and parables, to explain his theories. Life is a spectrum of emotions and experiences and this user’s manual advocates wholeness. Mackay is a social researcher, novelist and honorary professor of social science at the University of Wollongong.

Paula Grunseit is a freelance journalist, editor and reviewer. This review first appeared in the Issue 1 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Arkie Sparkle: Treasure Hunter—Code Crimson (Petra James, Pan Macmillan)

Arkie Sparkle knows what she wants to be: a treasure hunter just like her globetrotting parents. So when her mum and dad are kidnapped, Arkie follows a cryptic ransom note halfway across the globe in their pursuit, along with her genius (and slightly annoying) best friend TJ and her dog Charlie, as well as an array of inventions and high-tech gadgets. First stop: Egypt, and Queen Nefertari’s cartouche, where Arkie will have to use all her know-how to find the first of seven treasures that the kidnappers have demanded. Arkie Sparkle introduces a bright new character who has everything that young female readers will love: intelligence, independence, tenacity, access to cool technology and an outfit for every adventure (which TJ just happens to design, in each new season’s colours). The story is peppered with fun facts and illustrated with creative, age-appropriate margin designs, which make this an even more engaging read. Something new happens on every page—from edible cookie clues to time travel. Arkie Sparkle will appeal to young female readers of mid-to-late primary age. This is the first book in a series.
Rebecca Butterworth is a freelance writer and book reviewer living in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the April/May issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

Picador relaunches its ‘greatest novels’

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Pan Macmillan imprint Picador is re-issuing 12 of its ‘greatest novels’ in March.

This one-off list, which is being spearheaded by Picador UK, draws on prize-winning and bestselling authors from 40 years of publishing, including Bret Easton Ellis, Cormac McCarthy, Alice Sebold, Helen Fielding, Graham Swift, Alan Hollinghurst and Australia’s Tim Winton.

‘It’s an incredible list,’ says Picador Australia publisher Alex Craig. ‘Man Booker Prize winners (Last Orders, The Sea, The Line of Beauty), cultural game changers (American Psycho, Bridget Jones’s Diary), classics (All the Pretty Horses) and bestsellers (The Lovely Bones, Room).’

In Australia, the list includes three local titles—Tim Winton’s Dirt Music (which is part of the UK-selected top 12), Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance and Carrie Tiffany’s Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living. These hand-picked titles have been chosen to reflect ‘the spirit of the anniversary—representing the past, the present and the future of the imprint’, says Craig. ‘All three novels engage with Australian themes and concerns deeply rooted in our landscape, history and psyche. All are stunning novelists at the forefront of Australian literature.’

As with any new series, the design is crucial. Picador has chosen black-and-white jackets as a nod to the ‘distinctive white spines and black type’ of Picador’s early paperbacks. Each title includes extra content such as reading-group notes, interviews and articles from the authors (all published around the time the novels were released), and is priced between $19.99 and $22.99.

For more information on the series go here.

INTERVIEW: Di Morrissey on 20 years in publishing

Bestselling Australian novelist Di Morrissey has just published her 20th novel in 20 years, The Opal Desert (Macmillan). Andrea Hanke spoke to the author about her career journey, changes in publishing, new media vs ‘pressing the flesh’, and the marginalisation of women’s writing and popular fiction.

Twenty novels in 20 years is an extraordinary achievement. What kind of discipline is required to meet these publishing deadlines, year in and year out?
When you start writing you don’t think past getting that story out and hopefully getting it published, but when you have the commitment of a contract there is an additional motivation. I have a very strong, perhaps old-fashioned, work ethic. I shudder when I hear of people who have a contract or potential interest in their work and diddle around and can’t meet their deadline and never produce anything. I’m there on the day it’s due, manuscript in hand for better or worse. I also understand it’s not just about me but there is a whole team involved, a schedule, a business plan, marketing campaign and people who depend on me producing a publishable book. The writing process may be a solitary endeavour but there is a massive machine involving many dedicated people that take your original scribbles and turn it into a polished, professional product, so it does put considerable pressure on me. And of course, when you have a successful book the expectation is there to do an even better next book.

When you look back over your career, how has the way in which your books are edited, published and promoted changed over the years? Is the publishing industry better at its job today than it was 20 years ago?
Well technology has made it easier in many ways to write. When I first started I mailed hard copy to my editor, so email has certainly speeded things up.  Publishers today don’t like to take risks and have had to adapt, to be more focused, take less of a scatter-gun approach and hope a book on spec does well, as they can’t afford a failure in these more competitive times. So I wouldn’t want to be starting out now! Marketing is even more vital now and traditional media campaigns have changed as social networking and an online presence reaches an audience as quickly and effectively as a print or radio ad. Authors have to be prepared to adapt to the new media but frankly, I still feel that word of mouth and ‘pressing the flesh’ is as powerful as ever. Publishing houses have had to be more savvy as well as cost-conscious, the old conservative days of British publishing dominating the Empire are gone but try telling them that! There’s still a bit of literary snobbishness and parochialism with international publishers believing their books outrank ours.

There has been a lot of talk recently about a gender bias in literary criticism and awards. What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you support the creation of a new women-only book prize? And do you think we need more book prizes for genres outside literary fiction?
There is no question that the bias exists. Women are not reviewed as seriously or in as great a depth or frequency as men. Nor do women receive as many awards as men. But to section ourselves off with women-only prizes and categories is buying into the marginalisation, i.e. ‘Men do art, women do craft’. Besides, I think there are enough specialist categories for a variety of genres. We know literary fiction usually doesn’t sell anywhere near what popular fiction sells, yet the ‘literary’ tag imbues a book with some kind of merit so these ‘serious’ authors content themselves with a badge of assumed quality when most would secretly prefer to have a royalty cheque of quantity. And let’s face it, if a heap of people buy a book, and continue to show loyalty to a particular popular author, then that author must be doing something right.

Of all 20 novels, which is your favourite?
I don’t have a favourite book per se, it is a bit like choosing a favourite child. But I have to confess to a slight affection for Tears of the Moon as it was the book that broke me out in hardback and international sales. And it was a deliberate strategy to find a mainstream and male audience and change the perception of me being a writer of romance fiction.

Which book has been the hardest to write?
The one I’m writing now! I face each new book with trepidation and insecurity, I never feel complacent and the more successful you become and the more you write, the greater the pressure. But equally I do it because of the passion and fulfilment that I only find from writing.

What has inspired your latest novel?
I’ve always loved opals, and I first visited the opal fields in the 1980s and decided I wanted to spend time in this strange word and write about it one day. I’ve been going to Lightning Ridge for many years and I saw how the industry was changing and decided this was the year to explore the lure and obsession that draws people to this different lifestyle and isolated community. It’s also about women’s friendship. The bonds and special connection and emotional support women draw from each other. This book explores the relationship between three women of differing generations who find themselves in the remote and wonderful opal fields.

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.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Very Bad Book’ (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan Macmillan)

Is there anyone left who doesn’t know Andy Griffiths? I seriously doubt it. One of Australia’s funniest, zaniest and most popular children’s authors, he has sold over four million copies of his books worldwide and won more than 40 Australian children’s choice awards. In The Very Bad Book, Griffiths again teams up with illustrator Terry Denton to produce his latest work of naughtiness. I absolutely loved this book. It’s crammed full of so much nonsense that I couldn’t help but giggle over the very bad jokes, very bad short stories, very bad poems and of course, very bad illustrations. The Dog Poo Family makes an appearance, as does The Very Bad Teacher, The Very Bad Dog, Killer Koalas from Outer-space and Blood Sucking Grannies covered in Gravy, to name a few. If the title of this book isn’t enough to grab a young reader’s attention, the format—with illustrations scrawled across every page—will surely do it. In particular, readers who don’t want to be bogged down with pages of text will enjoy the lively mix of cartoons, snappy jokes and poems, and slightly longer stories. Griffiths and Denton cleverly recognise that the temptation to read something ‘a bit naughty’ is quite a drawcard among young readers, particularly the reluctant kind. This is an explosive, very bad read!

Sharon Athanasos is a freelance reviewer and former bookseller. This review first appeared in the 2010 Term 3 issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher.