BOOK REVIEW: The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store (Jo Riccioni, Scribe)

italians_at_cleatsConnie is dissatisfied with village life and feels the smallness of Leyton closing in on her future, which seems to consist mainly of listening to village gossip while serving customers at Mrs Cleat’s store. This dissatisfying outlook changes with the arrival of the Onorati brothers: the swaggering entrepreneur Vittorio and taciturn artist Lucio. As the story moves between the brothers’ life in their war-torn Italian village and the post-war British community, it unveils the similarities between the two places. Life in one village mirrors the other, and hunting, gossip, religion and art are pivotal in both. Jo Riccioni creates some brilliant connective imagery in the creation of church murals and the death of animals both domestic and wild. Against the ravages of war a love story forms, subtle and gently brewing. The Onorati brothers are magnetic in their own ways. Their past is explored through the Montelupini chapters, which lay bare the perniciousness of village gossip and the horrifying impact of war on civilians. The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store is a rich debut novel. Riccioni weaves together romance and tragedy, and captures a vivid sense of history and place, in a story that is at once expansive and personal.

Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in Issue 4, 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Inside Trader (Trader Faulkner, Scribe)

InsideTraderBorn in Sydney—to a Ballets Russes ballerina improbably named Sheila and a larrikin silent-movie actor, John—young Ronald Faulkner earned his sobriquet after trading back his lost marbles for a whiff of his dad’s bathtub whisky. Now 86, Trader has hobnobbed for decades with the giants of the British stage, radio, TV and Hollywood screen, but began his career in wartime Sydney, where he was directed by Peter ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore’ Finch. Shipping out to London in 1946, Trader subsequently trod the boards with Gielgud and Olivier, kissed Vivien Leigh daily—twice if there was a matinee—and stepped into the shoes, if not the fur-lined codpiece, of Richard Burton. But after a decade of steadily making his name, Trader’s brilliant career went bung when stagecraft became passé and the concept of the untutored Angry Young Man became ‘in’. Happily, there are second acts, and Trader’s was borne out of the flamenco. He learned Spanish and travelled Spain, which eventually led to his later-life’s achievement: the translation of Spanish poet Lorca for the stage, for which Trader was decorated by the King of Spain. Pithy and sharp but without bitchiness, this book has theatrical anecdotes aplenty and displays a range from hilarious to melancholic.

Michael Kitson is an academic and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop. This review first appeared in Issue 4 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Stop Press: The Last Days of Newspapers (Rachel Buchanan, Scribe)

Stop Press Book CoverFrom her first job as a junior reporter at a local paper in New Zealand to her time as a subeditor at the Age in the early 1990s, Rachel Buchanan has had an intimate relationship with print media. In 2012, after a decade out of the newspaper business, Buchanan returned as a subeditor for Fairfax Editorial Services in New Zealand, joining a team created to take over the subbing of numerous Australian newspapers. The world of newspapers was being turned upside down: subediting was being outsourced, printing presses were shutting and many journalists, editors and printers had lost their jobs. What did this mean for the future of the industry? How much longer would people hold a printed newspaper in their hands? Buchanan travelled between Australia and New Zealand to answer these and many other questions, and has pulled together a fascinating history of newspaper production in both countries. This is a deeply personal and emotional account, but necessarily so; it is a story of people losing their professions and countries losing cultural cornerstones. Buchanan’s account could have benefited from more discussion about why these fundamental shifts are taking place: why are Australians and New Zealanders reading fewer printed newspapers? Why do media companies believe outsourcing is the answer? Nevertheless, this book fills a gap by telling the stories of the many people who have dedicated their lives to making newspapers.

Eloise Keating is news editor of Books+Publishing. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in August 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Trouble in Mind (Jenni Ogden, Scribe)

Trouble in MindLosing your mind, that quintessential ‘me’, even partially, through trauma, disease or disorder, frightens most people. Trouble in Mind is a collection of stories about people who have suffered just that—losing part of their mind. The stories are from patients that the author, neuropsychologist Jenni Ogden, has worked with over her career in New Zealand, Australia and the US. Ten of the 15 patients portrayed in this book featured in Ogden’s 2005 textbook Fractured Minds. However, Trouble in Mind is not a textbook. Ogden’s stories clearly and succinctly explain the medical conditions, and engagingly present the human side of each case in an empathetic and nuanced style. Whether talking about patients with brain trauma from car or motorbike crashes, rugby-induced concussion or suffering from diseases such Parkinson’s and Huntingdon’s, Ogden covers the personal, social and family elements that are often missing in clinical-based nonfiction written by doctors. In this respect Ogden writes with feeling, like that of psychologist Oliver Sacks at his best. This is an eminently readable collection of stories recommended for readers with either a specific, perhaps personal, topic of interest, or those curious about how our minds work in general.

Kevin Orrman-Rossiter is a freelance science writer, journalist, editor and reviewer. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in May 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Black Saturday at Steels Creek (Peter Stanley, Scribe)

Black SaturdayThe fires of Black Saturday in 2009 are a significant event in Australia’s history. But, as Peter Stanley writes in some detail in his book, 7 February 2009 sits alongside the other great fires of Ash Wednesday (1983), Black Friday (1939) and Red Tuesday (1898). Black Saturday at Steels Creek reflects on this history through a snapshot of one community that survived the 2009 fires, and continues to live with the aftermath. Stanley writes about the community of Steels Creek (a small area near Yarra Glen in Victoria) before the fires, and then takes the reader through the horrific hours when Steels Creek faced the Black Saturday fires with little or no warning from the authorities. As you might imagine, there are stories of tragedy, triumph and heroism. And at the heart of these stories is the central question: how does a community survive such terror and tragedy? For the most part the answers are positive, though more complex and challenging than you might expect. As a military historian, Stanley is interested in how war affects communities; he believes that fire is a kind of war and therefore has similar implications for a community. This is a terrific account of a terrible day, and of what followed. It is written with compassion and insight by Stanley, who has an eye for the micro (the voices of the people) and the macro (the scale of the fire, the geography of the location). The book also includes maps and photos of the region.

Annelise Balsamo is a freelance reviewer and English teacher. This review first appeared in the Issue 1 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Secret Lives of Men (Georgia Blain, Scribe)

TheSecretLivesOfMenMany adjectives have been used to describe Georgia Blain’s work, including evocative, powerful, atmospheric, haunting, rich, thought-provoking, skilful, uncompromising and finely detailed—all of which apply to this collection of short stories, Blain’s seventh book. To the mix I would add succinct and insightful. Somewhat misleadingly titled (although it is the title of the first of the 13 stories), The Secret Lives of Men is a series of vignettes exploring aspects of life in contemporary Australia. That said, the stories are in no way obviously political—rather, their Australianness is situated in the the easily relatable suburban contexts and pared-back prose. I enjoyed joining the characters mid-stream, and that Blain trusts the reader to quickly catch up with the intricacies of the plot. The stories that resonated most with me include ‘Just a Wedding’, in which a young bride is having second thoughts about her rushed nuptials; ‘Murramarang’, which examines failed friendships and finishes with a delicious twist; and ‘The Bad Dog Park’, where a man’s devotion to his unwell pet is severely tested. Blain’s clear and distinct voice provides the consistency and integrity for these moving tales—a rare treat.

Rachel Wilson is a Melbourne-based media academic and former bookseller. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 1 2013 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: High Sobriety: My Year without Booze (Jill Stark, Scribe)

High Sobriety‘I was the binge-drinking health reporter. During the week, I wrote about Australia’s booze-soaked culture. At the weekends, I wrote myself off.’ A senior journalist with the Sunday Age, Scottish-born Jill Stark had won awards for her drug- and alcohol-related health reporting. She had also been a binge drinker since she was a teenager. With her 35th birthday looming and after having welcomed 2011 with the mother of all hangovers, she begins a serious evaluation of her lifelong relationship with alcohol. ‘I am sick, in every sense of the word, of being drunk.’ Inspired by Chris Raine’s Hello Sunday Morning movement—an initiative encouraging people to take a break from drinking—she signs up for a three-month stint which morphs into an alcohol-free year. Drawing on a variety of sources including statistics, interviews with friends, medical experts and a range of ‘drinking experts’, Stark examines her own love affair with alcohol in its wider context of the drinking culture in Scotland and Australia. Why does drinking and getting drunk underpin every personal and professional activity from cradle to grave? Stark tells her story with courage, honesty and humour while making an important contribution to the debate about alcohol’s place in society.

Paula Grunseit is a freelance journalist, editor and reviewer. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Cat & Fiddle (Lesley Jørgensen, Scribe)

Cat_FiddleCat and Fiddle, winner of the 2011 CAL Scribe Fiction Prize for an unpublished manuscript, follows the scandals and fortunes of two connected families in rural Wiltshire. The Anglo-Bangladeshi Choudhurys provide colour and warmth as the mother tries to marry off her brood of three: Tariq, a former jihadist art curator grappling with his sexuality; shunned artist Rohimun with her ruined reputation; and baby Shunduri, the ‘princess’. The establishment Bourne family, together with wealthy Greek wife Thea, are renovating the ancient family estate, and also have their share of hidden skeletons. The characters in Lesley Jørgensen’s debut novel are vivid, albeit slightly caricatured, the dialogue is engaging and the vernacular convincing. This is a big, fat satisfying read, which will appeal to fans of books featuring intricate plots, family webs, rollicking love stories, multiculturalism (particularly with a sub-continental theme) and clashes between tradition and modernity, religion and culture. The depictions of Mrs Begum’s Bengali cooking are tantalising, as are the details of artist Rohimun at work with her oil paints, and the sumptuous descriptions of the Bangladeshi saris. I adored this sprawling, funny novel. This is highly recommended late-summer reading.

Joanne Shiells is a former retail book buyer and editor. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Holiday Murders (Robert Gott, Scribe)

The Holiday Murders is a new crime novel from Robert Gott, author of the ‘William Power’ crime novels as well as many children’s books. I hope it will be the first of many. The story takes place during Christmas 1943. Inspector Titus Lambert is head of the newly formed homicide section of the Melbourne police force. Two brutal murders have occurred and Titus, along with his young, inexperienced offsider Joe Sable and up-and-coming constable Helen Lord, are on the hunt for the killer. Featuring brownouts, war rations and the black market, The Holiday Murders brings to life a world not often written about by Australian fiction writers. Drawing on the political and social milieu of the time and name-checking some of Melbourne’s landmark streets and hotels, Gott’s story rings true—as well as being a real page-turner. It’s also a little grisly in parts. Fans of Kerry Greenwood, Sulari Gentill and any readers who like a little history with their crime will love The Holiday Murders.

Pip Newling is a freelance writer and former bookseller. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in October. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Rise of the Fifth Estate (Greg Jericho, Scribe)

The Rise of the Fifth Estate is a well-researched and engaging look at the world of social media and blogging in the context of the Australian political system, and author Greg Jericho (aka political blogger Grog’s Gamut) makes a convincing case that social media has been a positive force. The book opens with a comparison of how different media outlets—both ‘new’ (online) and traditional—have reacted to recent leadership spills in our major political parties, before presenting a snapshot of the current state of the Australian political blogosphere and twittersphere. Jericho also picks up on some of the important issues facing new media platforms such as the apparent lack of female voices in online political discussions, the increasingly nasty nature of online comments, and the ongoing battle between amateur and professional political writers. While the book’s casual tone might not appeal to everyone, its strength lies in the personal experience that informs it. Jericho has had first-hand experience of the battle between bloggers and the mainstream media: as Grog’s Gamut he is an avid blogger and tweeter (with close to 13,000 followers) and writes a weekly column for the ABC’s The Drum. The Rise of the Fifth Estate is an important contribution to our knowledge of how Australian politics and the Australian media operate, and is a book that all media professionals, and indeed anyone who is interested in politics and the media, should have on their shelves.

Eloise Keating is a journalist with Bookseller+Publisher. You can follow her on Twitter at @ellykeating. This review first appeared on the Bookseller+Publisher website in July. View more pre-publication reviews here.