BOOK REVIEW: Floundering (Romy Ash, Text)

FlounderingFloundering, the first novel from Melbourne-based writer Romy Ash, is a dark and lyrical tale of a family reunion that unfolds against a bleak rural Australian backdrop. Tom and Jordy have lived with their gran since their mother, Loretta, abandoned them a year earlier; but now Loretta is back and she wants her kids. The three hit the road in Loretta’s rusted car, travelling long miles along lonely roads as they struggle to reconnect as a family. But Loretta has no money and no destination; she’s lost in more ways than one. When the trio arrive at a beachside caravan park, Loretta disappears again, leaving Tom and Jordy to fend for themselves. Like Jennifer Mills’ Gone, another recent Australian novel, Floundering explores the attempts of damaged characters to find their place in unfamiliar—and often unforgiving—emotional and literal landscapes. Written from Tom’s perspective, Ash’s novel deftly captures the fading innocence of a boy who witnesses more than he understands; what he leaves unsaid is as revealing as what he articulates. Floundering blends spare but elegant prose with a gripping plot and an assured sense of place. It’s an impressive first novel that heralds the arrival of a talented new voice in Australian literary fiction. It was previously shortlisted for The Australian/Vogel Literary Award.

Carody Culver is a part-time bookseller at Black Cat Books in Brisbane and a full-time PhD student. This review first appeared in the February/March 2012 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here. This book was longlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award.

BOOK REVIEW: All This Could End (Steph Bowe, Text)

All This Could EndI am in awe of Steph Bowe. Her second novel, All This Could End, is so confident and perceptive that it is difficult to believe its author is only 18 years old. Her outstanding evocation of what it is like to be ‘on the verge’ of adulthood demonstrates a degree of self-awareness that most writers achieve only with the benefit of hindsight. All This Could End is an adolescent romance with a twist: the girl, Nina Pretty, is part of a family of serial bank robbers. While Nina longs to be completely honest with Spencer, she knows that she must remain detached to protect her criminal family. Without diminishing the humour of this absurd scenario, Bowe makes it resonate with pathos. Her style has an introspective streak that emerges a little too strongly in the final 50 pages to spoil what might otherwise have been a tense and satisfying climax. By this stage, however, most readers will have become so attached to the characters that they won’t care. Sophia Pretty is a particular highlight; a pathological mother figure with a flair for emotional blackmail who, while exaggerated, is sure to have teenage readers everywhere nodding in recognition.

Samuel Williams is a creative writing graduate and a part-time bookseller at Mostly Books in South Australia. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion, Text)

This funny, feel-good take on Asperger’s Syndrome has been getting huge international and local buzz. It’s the story of Don Tillman, a 40-year-old professor of genetics at a Melbourne university who looks a little like Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockinbird. He also has undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, which manifests itself in obsessive organisation and amusing social faux pas. Don hasn’t had much success in love so he designs a questionnaire to help him find his perfect wife. It’s a bunch of quirky questions that just about everyone fails, sometimes in quite hilarious circumstances. When Don hands over the wife project to his best friend Gene he is sent Rosie, who is a total failure on paper but, strangely enough, seems to make Don happy. The subplot involves Rosie’s search for her biological father, which sends Rosie and Don on various madcap adventures, including a whirlwind trip to New York. This is the debut novel from Melbourne writer Graeme Simsion, which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2012. If you’re looking for something that has a serious message about Asperger’s Syndrome this is not the book. It sets out to be a cute-and-quirky love story and it delivers just that.

Melanie Barton is senior category manager at Bookworld.com.au. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Midnight Promise: A Detective’s Story in Ten Cases (Zane Lovitt, Text)

The Midnight Promise crashes straight into Temple, Corris and Chandler territory—just like the blurb promises. It involves a Melbourne PI, interlinked stories (if this worries you, just consider them TV episodes) and a trail of intriguing cases (based on fact) that accompany our hero’s best (or not) endeavours. Downfalls of lonely alcoholic PIs and cops can become a little tedious to the frequent crime reader, but there is enough warmth, self-awareness and chutzpah to keep this book on the right side of the genre. With merrily dark observations, the gumshoe metaphors are smokin’ and when things get occasionally purple (chimneys as infections anyone?), a whip-smart quip brings the focus back. In fact it’s the purity, lightness and knowing humour of these cracks that lifts these stories from good to ‘oh man, get me this guy’s next book now!’ Readers may find the latter third wavers a little in purpose and sharpness, but keep your guard up—there’s a body blow coming, and a final chapter that ends up exploding in your hands. You can recommend The Midnight Promise by the back cover—Text has it nailed.

Catherine Schulz is an indie bookseller, headquartered at Fullers Bookshop, Hobart. This review first appeared in the June/July issue of
Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Nine Days (Toni Jordan, Text)

We first meet the Westaway family through the character of young Kip, brother to Francis and Connie, son to a grieving mother Jean and a recently deceased father. It is 1939 in Richmond, Melbourne’s inner-city working-class suburb, and the growing conflict in Europe is moving rapidly towards war. As we meet the rest of Kip’s family—and in time we meet his children and grandchild—we discover generations of the Westaway family at key moments in their lives. Nine days will see different members of the family making life-changing decisions—and not all of them happy ones. The tragic fate of Kip’s sister Connie Westaway has repercussions for the family and its reputation for many years. The other character in the book is Richmond; from the streets of tiny weatherboard houses in the 1930s where everyone knew everyone else’s business to today’s cosmopolitan blend. This is a Richmond story, a Melbourne story and an Australian story. Toni Jordan has written a beautiful novel which captures the loves and fears of an ordinary Australian family through hard times and better times. It reminded me of Elizabeth Stead’s books.

Chris Harrington is the co-owner of Books in Print in Melbourne

BOOK REVIEW: Friday Brown (Vikki Wakefield, Text)

I don’t know whether it was icy weather or the sheer emotional tension of the story, but the night I stayed up to finish Friday Brown I was shivering. Every single character in this book is utterly fascinating, and their tangled relationships create so much force. Having lost her mother, Friday Brown falls in with a band of street children who are led by an unpredictable yet universally adored young woman called Arden. Arden’s furious intensity when she is angry, and charisma when she is calm, overwhelms Friday, and against her better judgement she stays with the band for too long. The immediacy of the street kids’ problems is not instantly apparent, but when Arden cracks, and the kids are thrown into a world solely under her control, it becomes evident how little power—physical or psychological—they have. Throughout the book, Friday is haunted by the ghost of her recently dead mother, and by a family curse—a long lineage of drowning. Set against an Australian landscape brimming with the gothic, and full of elegaic beauty and intelligent insights into the human mind, this is a stunning contribution to young-adult fiction, and one that will rate as highly memorable among both mature young-adult readers and adults.

Kate Sunners is a creative writing graduate and an ex-bookseller. This review first appeared in the June/July issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Fire in the Sea (Myke Bartlett, Text)

Sixteen-year-old Sadie is growing tired of spending her summer days lounging on the beach with her tedious cousins and her wants-to-be-more-than-a-friend Tom. She can’t wait to bid farewell to her grandparents (her parents are dead) and the dull life of her hometown Perth, and embrace the excitement and purpose that obviously comes with being an adult. Fortunately, Sadie doesn’t have to wait too long. After doing her best to save an eccentrically dressed old man from being beaten to death by some very strange looking assailants, Sadie finds herself the sole heir (conditions apply) to a huge old beachside house and its delightfully mysterious contents. From here the action really kicks off, with a storyline that involves rotting ancient sea monsters, minotaurs, gods, cults, end-of- the-world situations and an enigmatic and attractive bare-chested boy. What I enjoyed most about this book, however, was how refreshingly realistic the character of Sadie was. She wasn’t instantly an expert fighter, and right up to the end, she kept that innocent selfishness that all teenagers possess. Fire in the Sea is a magnificent tale, which young adults aged 13 and up (in particular, fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Percy Jackson) will enjoy reading. It was the winner of the Text Prize for young adult and children’s writing in 2011.

Dani Solomon is a bookseller at Readings Carlton in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the June/July issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Fishing the River of Time (Tony Taylor, Text)

Tony Taylor is a long-retired Sydneysider with a deep love of nature and a lifelong obsession with fly-fishing. He travelled widely while studying paleontology and petrology and teaching at universities and institutions in England and Australia. In 1968, at the age of 40, he found himself on the Cowichan River, in the southern part of Vancouver Island, just off the west coast of Canada. In May 2008, at the age of 80, he returned to the Cowichan to spend time with his eight-year-old grandson Ned, whom he had not seen since he was an infant. For Tony it is an opportunity to share the profound joys of fly-fishing and to reconnect with his family. While waiting for Ned to arrive Tony reflects upon his earlier trip and recalls times spent fishing and the people who shared his passion. For Tony, fishing had always been far more than a sport; he displays a deep knowledge of the history of fly-fishing and refers to the work of scientists and fishing writers throughout. His book is a reminder of the importance of nature and continuity in all aspects of our lives. It will appeal to readers of Robert Hughes’ A Jerk on One End and will make an excellent present for anglers and grandfathers.

Chris Harrington is the co-owner of Books in Print in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the Summer issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: A Tiger in Eden (Chris Flynn, Text)

This is the debut novel from Chris Flynn, founder of literary journal Torpedo and currently fiction editor at Australian Book Review. The book is narrated by Billy, a young man from the roughest part of Belfast who has ended up in South-East Asia, drifting from place to place and enjoying brief sexual encounters with backpackers. It soon becomes clear that Billy is on the run after something bad that happened back in Northern Ireland, and gradually parts of the back-story are revealed. After misadventures with a French mercenary in Bangkok, Billy takes himself off to a silent Buddhist retreat: experiences at the monastery and a subsequent drug-fuelled dance party mark a big change in Billy’s attitude. Tension rises toward the end of the book as we find out more about the pivotal, tragic event in Billy’s history, and there is a sense of dread, that something is going to happen. What does happen at the book’s climax is certainly unexpected, and some readers may well find it anticlimactic. Early publicity for A Tiger in Eden is describing it as a cross between Trainspotting and The Beach, which is simplistic but pretty accurate.

Tim Coronel is publisher of Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the Summer issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific (Tim Flannery, Text)

In search of critically endangered mammals in the Pacific, a young Tim Flannery spent much of the late 1980s exploring some of the world’s final frontiers, encountering killer snakes, corrupt officials, mountains of bat faeces and stories of cannibalism along the way. He tells his story with an infectious passion for the wildlife he studied, and also pays homage to the colonial explorers in whose footsteps he followed. Flannery, who is currently serving as chief commissioner of the independent Climate Commission, makes clear the impact of climate change on threatened species but avoids preaching. Indeed, Among the Islands is surprisingly funny at times, particularly when Flannery reflects on the often eccentric colleagues and predecessors who shared his passion for endangered creatures. This is the third book in a loose trilogy that includes Throwim Way Leg and Country. It is a rollicking adventure story that will entertain amateur zoologists young and old. By populating the narrative with interesting characters as well as fascinating creatures and spectacular environments, Flannery also keeps the story interesting for those without a deep interest in science.

Andrew Rankin is a former REDgroup employee. This review first appeared in the October issue of  Bookseller+Publisher magazine.