BOOK REVIEW: One Sunday (Pamela Allen, Viking)

9780670077656Such is the enduring quality of Pamela Allen’s work that, to this day, whenever my bathtub overspills, I picture Mr Archimedes jumping in and out of his animal-filled tub—like many others who have grown up with Allen’s books over the past thirty-odd years, I suspect. Her latest offering, about an elderly couple and their Sunday roast ritual, follows the gentler, more contemplative tone of recent worksThe Little Old Man Who Looked Up at the Moon and The Toymaker and the Bird. One Sunday, amid a raging storm, an old man calms his fretting wife: it’s Sunday and, no matter what, they will have roast lunch and visitors. And so they set about cooking their meal, until a surprise guest arrives. Very young readers might not grasp this book’s underlying sense of nostalgic longing and loss, but this tale of generosity, hospitality and hope—and the importance of keeping traditions alive—is accessible for readers aged from three years. Allen’s simple yet effective text builds tension, and conveys expectation and surprise in a way that’s ideal for reading out loud. It’s the illustrations, however, that truly captivate here. Surely some of Allen’s best, they capture her characters with empathy, intimacy and warmth.

Meredith Lewin is a Sydney-based freelance reviewer, editor and proofreader. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEWS: St Kilda Blues (Geoffrey McGeachin, Viking)

st kilda bluesFrom the winner of the Ned Kelly Awards in 2011 and 2013 for best crime fiction comes the third Charlie Berlin novel by Geoffrey McGeachin. Set in Melbourne against a backdrop of the swinging 60s resplendent with patchouli oil, peasant blouses and suede boots, detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin has been brought back out of exile after the disappearance of a teenage girl, the daughter of an influential and politically linked property developer. As Berlin digs deeper, more missing girls are uncovered. Berlin and his colleague Roberts are soon led into the underbelly of Melbourne: through the coffee houses, discotheques and photography studios all rife with drugs and nefarious characters with something to hide. As the investigation continues, Berlin is haunted by his own painful memories of being a POW in Europe during World War II and the murder of a young woman in Poland. As his past and present collide, Berlin faces some of the toughest questions of his career. From Kodak film rolls to foil-capped milk bottles, McGeachin has created a pitch-perfect sense of Melbourne in the 1960s. This is a terrific read with great plot twists, complex characters and a menacing atmosphere.

Sarina Gale is a freelance writer and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared in Issue 2, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Max (Marc Martin, Viking)

maxThis picture book tells an emotional story about the relationship between a cheeky seagull called Max and a fish-and-chip shop-owner called Bob. Max has become a friend to Bob, who feeds the bird chips from his store, which is located on an ocean boardwalk. Unfortunately, market forces play their part when, one summer, the nearby fun fair is dismantled. Customers no longer visit the boardwalk, the shops close down and Bob disappears. After waiting for days, then weeks, for Bob’s return, Max decides to fly over the city to search for his friend, until he once again sniffs that familiar fish-and-chip smell. Marc Martin has written a heartfelt story that encourages readers to love Max. To create his unique brand of illustration, Martin uses lino print, splatter paint and sponge textures within sharp stylised shapes, which he previously used in the brilliant picture book The Curious Explorer’s Illustrated Pocket Guide to Exotic Animals A to Z. This is an excellent book for children under five years.

Andrew Wrathall is Books+Publishing’s production guru and enjoys long walks on the beach. This review first appeared in Junior Term 1, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: A Country Too Far (ed by Thomas Keneally & Rosie Scott, Viking)

A Country Too FarFeaturing poetry, fiction, essays and opinion pieces, this themed anthology about the plight of asylum seekers consists of 29 deeply personal contributions from some of Australia’s most admired writers and thinkers. Inspired by the ‘public debate’ about asylum seekers in Australia, the aim of this collection was to strip away the myths and clichés and focus on the people at the heart of the matter—‘deeply traumatised refugees who have lost their countries, homes and families through disasters of every kind’. While by no means an easy subject to read or write about, the result is a treat for readers who are given access to a wide range of voices and approaches, including poetry from Dorothy Hewett, John Tranter, Les Murray, Judith Rodriguez, Judith Wright and Ouyany Yu; fiction from Christos Tsiolkas, Debra Adelaide, Gail Jones and Rodney Hall; and other pieces from Rosie Scott, Denise Leith, Thomas Keneally, Kim Scott and Arnold Zable. I wish I could mention everyone. This is highly recommended, particularly for those who enjoyed Affirm Press’ expat anthology Joyful Strains.

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

BOOK REVIEW: The Reef: A Passionate History (Iain McCalman, Viking)

The ReefThe unmatched size, diversity and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef makes it a true natural wonder, impossible for a single human mind to conceive of in its totality. In this ‘passionate history’, historian and author Iain McCalman explores the Reef through the human encounters, experiences and observations that have shaped our understanding of it. From the coastal Indigenous communities whose lives and culture were entwined with the Reef, to the subsequent waves of explorers, colonists, castaways, scientists and artists, these stories of discovery, survival and loss are often as colourful and treacherous as the Reef itself. Like the early explorers who sought to chart a safe passage through the Reef, McCalman’s narration expertly navigates the complex issues of exploration, colonisation, exploitation and conservation that are still facing us today. While Captain Cook may have seen the Reef as an impregnable natural ‘barrier’, we now know that coral communities are incredibly fragile and sensitive to environmental disturbances. Unsurprisingly, McCalman finds hope in the inspiring efforts of people living and working on the Reef, but one senses that the survival of the Great Barrier Reef relies on much greater action from all of us.

Richard Bilkey is the ereading content manager for Samsung Australia. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in September 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here

BOOK REVIEW: The Cloud Road: The Kingdom of the Lost Book 2 (Isobelle Carmody, Viking)

cloud roadThe Cloud Road is the second book in Isobelle Carmody’s ‘Kingdom of the Lost Book’ fantasy series for younger readers. After the events of The Red Wind, brothers Bily and Zluty are on the run. The mysterious rain of stones destroyed their idyllic home in the valley, and they have decided to flee, carrying what they can. Their friend Redwing flies with them, and Zluty keeps the strange metal egg he found in his pack. At Bily’s insistence, they have also brought the Monster, the wounded creature that Bily is fascinated with and Zluty can’t quite trust. The monster claims to know of a new place they can live, but first they must cross the White Desert and something they’ve never seen: the monster calls them ‘mountains’. On the way they meet new allies, encounter terrifying new enemies and begin to unravel the mysteries of the strange world they live in. Bily and Zluty are brave, curious and intrepid explorers. Carmody’s world-building remains first class, and the many mysteries of this world begin to unravel in this volume, adding a level of intrigue to the adventure. This is recommended for younger fans of fantasy tales.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in February 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: I’m a Dirty Dinosaur (Janeen Brian & Ann James, Viking)

dirty dinosaurIndependently and together, Janeen Brian and Ann James have produced many successful and award-winning picture books for young children. Both know how to appeal to children’s sense of fun, and how much they love to take an active part in the reading. Toddlers in particular love to join in the playful antics depicted in books such as this one, and never tire of hearing the same story over and over, which helps to develop their reading skills. So this book will be a great success at an early childhood level. It is about getting dirty and enjoying it—a pursuit all toddlers can relate to. It has action, repetition and rhyming text, and will be fun for young children to join in with. It has simple, uncluttered illustrations that focus on the main character, the mud and very little else besides a small bird, which adds extra interest. James uses ‘magic pencil, mud and watercolour’ for the illustrations, and she probably got very dirty in the process. This fun book could be successful as a prelude to bath time, urging reluctant bathers to dive right in. It is recommended for early childhood.

Margaret Hamilton is a former children’s book publisher. She now provides freelance publishing services and runs Pinerolo, the Children’s Book Cottage in Blackheath, NSW.  This review first appeared in the Junior Term 1 2013 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Love with a Chance of Drowning (Torre DeRoche, Viking)

Love with a Chance of DrowningAn urban 20-something Aussie girl gets on the booze in a San Francisco bar, chats up a soulful, handsome stranger, has more drinks and finds herself in his bed next morning. Months pass, they drift into a relationship, then the man (Argentinian Ivan) introduces DeRoche to his other love—a sound but aging ocean yacht named Amazing Grace. His ambition—obsession might be a better word—is to spend years at sea, escaping from the world and coming ashore as rarely as possible. DeRoche could hardly be a worse companion for him, being a sophisticated city girl with a serious water phobia, yet they fall so deeply in love that she resolves to conquer her mountain of fears and accompany him. Her book is the entertainingly told story of the three years the couple spend planning and executing their voyage, despite doom-saying friends and family, DeRoche’s inexperience at sea, storms and setbacks and Ivan’s almost slapstick ability to court accidents. The book is by turns gripping, laugh-out-loud funny, moving and uplifting. It races to its conclusion and gives tantalising glimpses of their life after Amazing Grace. Almost any reader with a sense of adventure or a desire to confront their fears should love it. This book was originally self-published under the title Swept, before being purchased by a major trade publisher.

Max Oliver is a Sydney bookseller and traveller. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Cuckoo! (Fiona Roberton, Viking)

Cuckoo is a little bird who doesn’t quite fit in or, more particularly, no matter how many ways he tries saying ‘cuckoo’, he cannot find anyone to understand him. So he sets out to look for someone who does. After several brave attempts at conversing with an array of animals (and you will find these in the brilliant endpapers), Cuckoo is no closer to finding someone to talk to, so he decides to enroll in Madame Sheep’s School of Excellence and learn the language of sheep instead. Despite his very best efforts, however, Cuckoo cannot make himself understood, nor has he heard anyone who sounds remotely like him. Exhausted, he flies up to the rooftops to find a quiet spot to sleep when, through the darkness, he hears a faint yet familiar sound. For all those readers who loved Wanted: The Perfect Pet and The Perfect Present, Fiona Roberton has triumphed again in writing a story about finding that special someone who understands us perfectly (although the ending may not be quite what you were expecting!). A joy to read for pre-school to early primary-age children who will also love the simple, cartoon-style illustrations and may even spot someone they recognise!

Hilary Adams works in an independent bookshop in Sydney and has studied the art of picture books. This review first appeared in the Junior Issue 3 edition of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine.View more pre-publication reviews here

BOOK REVIEW: On Warne (Gideon Haigh, Viking)

This book reveals two of life’s certainties: one, that Gideon Haigh is an outstanding writer, and two, that Shane Warne’s tabloid-fodder life is utterly compelling. Bring the two together and you have a success on your hands. In the succinctly titled On Warne, Haigh analyses Warne’s career highs and lows, and the cringe-inducing off-field incidents that many of us know so well. The latter include Warne’s extra-marital affairs, his flirtation with hair plugs, that hidden camera footage of Warne dancing in his Playboy underpants, his failed attempts to quit smoking, and those weight-loss pills prescribed by his mum. The result is a nuanced examination of—and insight into—the self-described ‘simple’ Warnie, a man Jana Wendt once said was ‘uncommonly easy to like and a little harder to explain why’. The account of the man is delivered alongside Haigh’s characteristically incisive analysis of his cricket. On Warne is a book for those who love cricket generally and Warnie specifically. It’s especially interesting for those who are confused and frequently infuriated by the man.

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, social media manager and sports fanatic. This review first appeared on Bookseller+Publisher website in September. View more pre-publication reviews here.