Friday, 30 December 2016

Book Review: Today Will Be Different

Today Will Be Different
Maria Semple
Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2016 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

After the phenomenal success that was Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple found her way onto my list of go-to authors.  Her writing did that rare thing-- it made me laugh without making me feel like I was reading something that was going to rot my teeth.  I can still remember the way that it felt to be sucked into the world of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, right down to the fact that I played Monopoly with my family the evening after I finished it.

In the interim between these two books, I've read Semple's (then) hard to find debut, This One is Mine, which in my opinion was a better, edgier book than its Baileys' Women's Prize follow up, and watched all of television's Arrested Development, which Semple was involved in writing.

So when I heard that she had a new book out in 2016, you could say that I was excited.

The protagonist of Today Will Be Different is eminently relateable.  Eleanor Flood was once the head animator on a beloved television show called Looper Wash.  These days, she is mother to Timby (named by an autocorrect mishap) and wife to Joe, a surgeon who caters to sports stars and famous people who won't wait in the same waiting rooms as the normal folk.  The book, aside from a number of flashbacks, takes place over the course of a single day, beginning with Eleanor telling herself when she wakes up that today is going to be a better sort of day and she is going to be a better version of herself.  However, the best laid plans and all that, Eleanor's day turns out nothing like she had planned, beginning with the moment Timby's school rings to say that he has yet another stomach ache and needs to be picked up.

The thing about Today Will be Different is that I expected it to be funny but I think it would be more accurate to say that it is wry.  The cynical thoughts we encounter through Eleanor's first person narration are those which are familiar, be it the incarceration of trendy young Mums and ultra- PC private schools ala Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies or the very familiar indictment of people who wear yoga pants but don't actually go to yoga.  While this book is interesting and makes some great observations, it did not have the laugh out loud moments that I was expecting.

Perhaps that is because there is tragedy in Eleanor's backstory which makes her (unbeknownst to herself even) quite prone to bouts of low mood and ultra high self-criticism.  She seems to me to not be coping well at all, and yet she believes the things that are not going so well for her are due to failings on her part, rather than the fact that her mother died when she was nine, her father was an alcoholic bookie, and her sister married an emotionally manipulative man who separated two women who had previously been very close.

I was intrigued by the story of Eleanor's life before the today of the title, but the book never really lets you get close enough-- those parts of the story are told in third person, including, bizarrely, an anecdote about an altercation with a yoga teacher told by Joe.  I would have liked to have seen more of what happened, and more of a resolution of what came after the day of the novel, as these were the moments when there was a real sense of how low Eleanor had sunk in the time that had passed.

The high points of this novel were Eleanor's interactions with Timby, which were often full of surprising but realistic truisms out of the mouths of babes.

Go into this novel not expecting Bernadette, but expecting something a lot more real.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Book Review: The Woman on the Stairs

The Woman on the Stairs by Bernard Schlink
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2016 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

Bernard Schlink is most well-known for his novel The Reader, which admittedly, I have never read.  His newest novel, The Woman on the Stairs is a highly anticipated release, and tells the story of a painting which reappears in a gallery in Sydney after having disappeared decades before from the home of a German businessman.  Our narrator, an unnamed German lawyer, stumbles across the painting while he is in Australia on business, and feels compelled to track down the woman whom he is sure is the unnamed patron who has donated the piece.

He is right.  His searching leads him to Irene, both the subject of the painting and the woman who stole it, many years before, with the narrator's help.  She has placed the painting in the gallery in the hopes of luring both the painting's former owner and the painter himself to her secluded island home, to see them both one more time.

Schlink is a master wordsmith-- that much is apparent to me-- but as I read this novel I was struck by the fact that this simply wasn't enough.  The narrator tells the story in an odd, distanced fashion, which at times was blatantly repetitive, and which allowed me to neither feel as if I knew him nor his subjects.  For a novel which was inherently character driven, this proved to be a problem, as I realised increasingly that I did not care for any of the characters.  I was also frequently confused by the shifting between times, and the large tracks of text which were actually characters relaying stories about pasts of imagined pasts.  Indeed, the majority of the book's third act shows our narrator telling stories to Irene about what their life could have been if they had become a couple all those years ago.  While I believe the rules of writing are there to be broken, show don't tell does serve the purpose of allowing your reader to be in the moment with you as they read along, and that was certainly missing from this book a lot of the time.  I wondered if perhaps this was due to the book having been translated from German, or if perhaps this simply wasn't a book for me.

A small item of nitpicking too was the character's name-- when he discovers her whereabouts, Irene is living under her maiden name, Adler.  Yes, Irene Adler.  Which happens to be the name of a character from the Sherlock Holmes novels.  Sure, it could very possibly also be the name of a lot of people worldwide,but it leaves me to wonder if this was a deliberate reference.  If so, the similarity stopped there and I failed to see the point.

There have been so many books out lately which use the central plot point of a missing work of art resurfacing in an unlikely place-- to name a few I can think of Jessie Burton's The Muse which I enjoyed, and The Last Painting of Sara de Vos which I could not get into.  For such a well-trodden path, I think I expected more from this novel, but I would not be put off reading Schlink again if the subject matter interested me because he has certainly shown that he could write.

Overall, I found the lyricism of the prose beautiful but it wasn't enough to redeem a book which hung a fairly flat story onto the backs of mediocre characters.  Unfortunately this was not for me, and I have to disagree with the many readers out there who have been raving about this one.  I gave it 2 stars out of five.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Most Anticipated Reads for 2017... so far!

It's torture reading about all the books that are due to come out in 2017 when I can't go and read any of them straight away!  New books are always exciting, but for the last week or so, I've been keeping a list of the books that I'm keen to read when they're published next year.  Not surprisingly, the list is already quite long...

The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

This promises all the delicious social drama of a book by that other Moriarty lady-- the very famous Liane.  When four friends go on an annual holiday and decide to send each other letters revealing their secrets anonymously, it's all supposed to be a harmless game... until a fifth letter shows up, that is!  It sounds like the perfect weekend read and I can't wait.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Many, many moons ago a writer recommended to me that I read Tenth of December, which is a collection of stories by Saunders that I have never got around to reading, even though it sounded extremely good and it won all sorts of awards.  I think this is Saunders' first novel, and it's a historical novel about Abraham Lincoln.  I'm not normally into American history but this sounds very, very good...

A little taster from the blurb on Goodreads... On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. 

The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

A novel about a young woman who works for a company that helps clients connect with loved ones who have died... Obsession, the supernatural... yes please!  Plus, just look at that cover.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

I can't lie, I was initially attracted to this novel by its cover, which features the most amazing wallpaper I have ever seen, but I stayed interested because of the comparison one of the early reviewers made to Jeffrey Eugenides.

From the Goodreads blurb: After her mother's suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother's mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Lizzie Borden.  Comparisons to Burial Rites.  I actually have a proof copy of this so WHY HAVEN'T I READ IT ALREADY?

Sarah Schmidt has fictionalised the infamouse Lizzie Borden murder case of the late 1890s-- and like Hannah Kent with Burial Rites, the inspiration for the book seems to have come from an eerie, otherwordly compulsion...  Read more on Sarah Schmidt's blog if you dare!

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

I really liked Roxane Gay's collection Bad Feminist, so now I am keen to try out her short stories which seems to have a similar theme to my own but from a different cultural context.  Here's a little taster from the Goodreads blurb: A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the elder sister's marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July. 

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

This delighful debut tells the story of Anthony, who rescues things that other people seem to have lost or forgotten about, and his assistant Laura who finds herself tasked with returning these things to their rightful owners.  Aww.  I feel a tear jerker coming on.

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

Yes!  Finally.  I've wanted to read this since it came out overseas over a year ago but I stopped short of actually importing the hardback because who can afford that.

From Goodreads: A woman known only as A lives in an unnamed American city with her roommate, B, and boyfriend, C, who wants her to join him on a reality dating show called That's My Partner! A eats mostly popsicles and oranges, watches endless amounts of television, often just for the commercials— particularly the recurring cartoon escapades of Kandy Kat, the mascot for an entirely chemical dessert—and models herself on a standard of beauty that exists only in such advertising. She fixates on the fifteen minutes of fame a local celebrity named Michael has earned after buying up a Wally's Supermarket's entire, and increasingly ample, supply of veal.

Meanwhile, B is attempting to make herself a twin of A, who in turn hungers for something to give meaning to her life, something aside from C's pornography addiction. 

Trapeze Act by Libby Angel

I love books about circuses, plus I'll read pretty much anything Text Publishing puts out because they are so top notch.

This novel is about a young woman whose mother was a world-famous circus performer, worked out on her lout of a husband while on tour in Australia, and tried to settle down in Adelaide...  sounds great, right?  Hurry up January so I can find out!

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly (Text Classics) by Robin Klein

Ouch, my heart, it hurts from remembering how much I loved this book as a child.  I'd completely forgotten about it until I saw that Text were republishing a whole bunch of Robin Kleins as part of their legendary Text Classics range.  Nostalgia...

A Writing Life: Helen Garner and her Work by Bernadette Brennan

At last year's WA Premier's Book Awards I was totally starstruck at being in the same room as Helen Garner.  She's a legend and this book is an opportunity to find out how her brain works...

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

The author of The Historian has a new book coming out.  Of course I am excited!

Her Mother's Secret by Natasha Lester

If you don't hang out in the WA Writing Community, maybe you don't know how beloved Natasha Lester is, but the release of her fourth book this April will be a major publishing event and I can't wait!  Natasha has also very kindly agree to be the April Guest of Honour for the WA Authors Book Club, run with Westbooks and the State Library of WA, so put April 6th in your Diary and let me know if you want more details.  As for the book...

Armistice Day should bring peace into Leonora's life. Rather than secretly making cosmetics in her father's chemist shop to sell to army nurses such as Joan, her adventurous Australian friend, Leo hopes to now display her wares openly. Instead, Spanish flu arrives in the village, claiming her father's life. Determined to start over, she boards a ship to New York City. On the way she meets debonair department store heir Everett Forsyth . . . (Goodreads)

Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows

Another Perth writer, Deborah Burrows has now turned her pen to writing about the Blitz in London and boy am I excited!  I told Deborah that she could name a character after me if she wanted and so I shall have to read the book to find out whether she did or not...

From Goodreads: As death and destruction fall from the skies day after day in the London Blitz, Australian ambulance driver, Lily Brennan, confronts the horror with bravery, intelligence, common sense and humour.

Gwen by Goldie Goldbloom

I already have this ready to read, thanks to the lovely Claire at Fremantle Press.  The Paperbark Shoe remains one of my favourite reads of all time so I'm very excited to read this one.  Here's what Goodreads has to say:

In 1903, the artist Gwendolen Mary John travels from London to France with her companion Dorelia. Surviving on their wits and Gwen’s raw talent, the young women walk from Calais to Paris. In the new century, the world is full of promise: it is time for Gwen to step out from the shadow of her overbearing brother Augustus and seek out the great painter and sculptor Auguste Rodin. It is time to be brave and visible, to love and be loved – and time perhaps to become a hero as the stain of anti-Semitism spreads across Europe.

The Hope Fault by Tracy Farr

Another favourite of mine, I discovered The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt a few years ago and was totally gobsmacked by the amazing world created within its pages.  It was fantastic and I am sure this new novel from New Zealand's own Tracy Farr will be excellent too:

Iris’s family – her ex-husband with his new wife and baby; her son, and her best friend’s daughter – gather to pack up their holiday house. They are there for one last time, one last weekend, and one last party – but in the course of this weekend, their connections will be affirmed, and their frailties and secrets revealed – to the reader at least, if not to each other. The Hope Fault is a novel about extended family: about steps and exes and fairy godmothers; about parents and partners who are missing, and the people who replace them. (Goodreads)

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

Tell me something is perfect for fans of The Night Circus and I am there.

Goodreads says: Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen. 

The Woolgrower's Companion by Joy Rhoades

I refer again to The Paperbark Shoe, as that's where this book's blurb transported me.  I hope it's like that, but even if it's not I am still keen to read it.  There's no blurb up anywhere online so I'll leave this one as a bit of a surprise for you all...

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

I have lost count of how many times I have read Skating the Edge.  A new YA book by Julia Lawrinson is always a must-have for me as her words spoke to me when I was a teen and continue to do so now that I am a grown-up (hey, the numbers say so even if the behaviour doesn't!).  Here's what Goodreads has to say:  Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does; her best friend has stopped talking to her; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies by Jackie French

No cover yet.  (Shame, it will be lovely, trust me.)  This is a novel about four debutantes and the way their lives are changed by World War One.  I love Jackie French's historical novels and I just can't wait!

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

A non-fiction release from the author of Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel, All The Light We Cannot See, which chronicles his time living in Rome after winning The Rome Prize, and includes reflections on the birth of his twins.  Who knows, maybe he'll include the secret of how to win a Pulitzer and the Rome Prize while he's at it!

And I'd Do It Again by Aimee Crocker

I'll just let Goodreads speak for me on this one:

Aimee Crocker was an heiress to gold and railroad fortunes and a daughter of Judge Edwin B. Crocker (1818-1875), legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad, Justice of the California Supreme Court in 1865 and founder of the Crocker Art Museum. Her father was a brother of Charles Crocker, one of the "big four" California railroad barons. Aimee had a tale or two to tell. Aside from lavish parties, husbands and lovers, she traveled widely throughout Asia. She tells of escaping headhunters in Borneo, poisoning in Hong Kong, and avoided murder by servants in Shanghai. While away, she was christened Princess Palaikalani Bliss of Heaven by King David Kalakaua, the last king of Hawaii, and then Princess Galitzine when she wed her fifth and final husband, Prince Mstislav Galitzine. This is her autobiography, first published in 1936. 

I'm sure there will be many many more titles due out in 2017 which will catch my eye but this list was very long already so I will call it quits here.  What are you looking forward to reading in 2017?

Friday, 16 December 2016

Favourite Reads (2016 Edition)

I love seeing all the best books of 2016 that keep coming out-- the only problem is, with every list I read, my TBR (to be read) pile gets that little bit longer.

Read on for the books that I loved best over my 2016 reading year.  Click the titles to read my reviews.

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North  

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester

Waer by Meg Caddy

Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan

The Windy Season by Sam Carmody

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

The Historian's Daughter by Rashida Murphy

Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy

Our Tiny Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

What were your favourite books in 2016?  Let me know in the comments :)

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Highly Anticipated 2016 Books I Didn't Get Around to Reading

Earlier in the year, I posted a list of all the books I was really looking forward to reading on the website of the bookshop I was working at-- a bookshop which has since closed down, taking its website and my original post with it.  On the one hand, I am now saved from measuring how poorly I stuck to my guns on the books I wanted to read!  On the other, I'm now flying blind and so I am going to assume I knew about all of these books at the beginning of the year.

Reading can be a funny thing-- you're so keen on a book and it comes out, you buy it and then... huh, you're not in the mood to read it straight away and other things sneak up the TBR (to be read) pile.

Without any further to do, here is a list of GREAT 2016 Books that I'm still keen to read but haven't got to yet.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

It's sitting on my shelf and I will get to it soon.  This was definitely one which snuck up on me.  I'd seen the cover and I knew nothing about it, and then suddenly everyone on Youtube was talking about it and I HAD to track down a copy.

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I was so keen to read this that I had my Mum bring me back one from London-- it's since come out in Australia and I WILL read it in the next few weeks.  I hope.  

Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Today will be Different by Maria Semple

I loved Maria Semple's previous two novels, and I've also recently watched all of Arrested Development for the first time, which I believe she was involved in.  I am planning on saving this one for a time when I need a hilarious read.  

Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret. 

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

This debut novel was one which came across my desk and I could not pass it up-- lighthouses, Australian history-- it ticks so many boxes for me and I think it's a book which will have to come on holidays with me.  

Kate and Harriet are best friends, growing up together on an isolated Australian cape in the 1880s. As daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything, until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community. When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. But one moment in McPhail’s hut will change the course of their lives forever. 

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood - where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

There was a brief couple of weeks during 2016 when this book was all anyone could talk about and I was obsessed with getting a copy.  Yet once I had one, Uni got in the way and I forgot my keenness!  Another one I want to get to and SOON.  

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong. 

The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis

Anne Jaccob is coming of age, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. When she is taken advantage of by her tutor — a great friend of her father’s — and is set up to marry a squeamish snob named Simeon Onions, she begins to realize just how powerless she is in Georgian society. Anne is watchful, cunning, and bored.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

This was the most recently published of the bunch and I am hearing exciting things, like Ferrante comparisons!  I'm looking forward to a few good weeks of bunking down with novels like this one in the very near future.  

Two brown girls dream of being dancers--but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It's a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

That's all I'm willing to admit it for now, folks-- what didn't you manage to get to this year?  Share your books below in the comments.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Writing the Dream: A Serenity Press Anthology

Writing the Dream ed. Monique Mulligan
Serenity Press 2016 (I own a copy courtesy the publisher)

If I were to get a tattoo, I would get one that says 'Be The Tortoise'.

This is the title of a section in Guy Salvidge's essay 'Hard Travelin'' and it speaks to the importance of patience in any writer's career.  For many who pick up this book, the lessons that taught Guy and his fellow essayists this patience will be all too familiar.  Writing is rewarding and cathartic and beautiful and hard.  It is the overall message of Writing the Dream that despite how difficult it may be at times, it is important to keep writing anyway.

Local indie publishing house Serenity Press has embarked on its most ambitious project yet with Writing The Dream and they have been rewarded with a warm reception from the writing community in Western Australia.  Contrary to the twenty-four stories promised on the cover, Writing the Dream is actually a compilation of twenty-five personal essays on craft, on the path to publication, on personal heartbreak and many other aspects of what it means to be a writer.  Those included in the pages of the book are at various stages of their careers and publish across a wide range of genres, so there is something for everyone.  Perth readers will be no strangers to names like Natasha Lester, Deborah Burrows, Anna Jacobs and Juliet Marillier.  While other names may not be permanent fixtures on bookshelves (yet), each writer has something pertinent to share and their stories are relatable.  One of several 'aha' moments for me came from this line in editor Monique Mulligan's essay 'The Best Training Ground'

"I tried keeping a journal but it felt fake and shallow; I wanted my thoughts to be profound but something stopped me from sharing the real me, even on the pages of a notebook not meant for other eyes." (p.182)

While many of the stories were familiar to me-- such as the story of how Natasha Lester got her book deal with Hachette or the story of how Tess Woods came to write her first novel-- it was lovely to have these tales of real people realising their publishing and writing dreams chronicled in an anthology.  This is the kind of book which will be kept on shelves in offices to inspire and cheer up many a disheartened writer again and again.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Looking Up/ Looking Down

Last week I was featured in a guest post on Amanda Curtin's blog, Looking Up/ Looking Down.  The post was an update on a series from two years ago on WA Women Writers to Watch.  You can check out the original post here and read about the other ladies from the series.  My guest post is reproduced below.  

What a difference two years makes. 

Since I was featured as one of Amanda Curtin’s WA women writers to watch out for, a lot of things have changed.  Some of them were good changes—such as, for example, having short stories published in two anthologies.  My story ‘A Thousand Words’ was published in the UK in a collection called [Re]Sisters, and I was lucky enough to have a story called ‘The Sea Also Waits’ selected by editor Laurie Steed to be a part of the Margaret River Press Anthology, Shibboleth and Other Stories.  When I last wrote for this blog, I was about to begin my time as one of three Young Writers in Residence at the Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre—those ten days were probably some of the most productive of my life, and I managed to revise a whopping 40 000 words of Between the Sleepers, a historical novel set in Fremantle between 1937 and 1945.  Part of this residency was a consultation with Amanda Curtin on the first fifty pages of my book, and her guidance on some of the early issues in the novel have really helped me clarify its direction as a whole.  In early 2016 I began sending the novel to agents, and started work on another project: finishing my Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing and Publishing, which I took online at Deakin University. 

I currently have two writing projects on the go.  One is another historical fiction novel which I have tentatively titled The Turing Project.  It is the story of Clementine, a university student who throws herself into researching the wartime cryptanalyst, Alan Turing, after the suicide of her childhood best friend.  The novel alternates between Clementine’s story, set in the early 2000s and Alan Turing’s story, which many people may be familiar with now due to the film The Imitation Game.  This novel began its life as a NaNoWriMo project back in 2009 (National Novel Writing Month, where you challenge yourself to write 50 000 words in 30 days).  Writing about people who existed and whose stories are well known presents a challenge in itself, but I am enjoying throwing myself into this world and learning about my new characters.  My other writing project is a collection of short stories, which is currently titled Well-Behaved Women.  It so far consists of ‘The Sea Also Waits’ (from Shibboleth and Other Stories), ‘Dora’ (Highly Commended in the 2016 Hadow/ Stuart Award for Fiction) and ‘Miss Lovegrove’, which was shortlisted for the John Marsden/ Hachette Australia Award for Young Writers at the end of 2015.  I’ve been a fan of short story collections for a long time, and I hope that my collection can find a place in the incredibly high standard of collections currently being published in Australia. 

I mentioned that some of the changes were good, but some were also not so good.  For those readers who live in Perth, you may already know that my beloved Bookcaffe closed its doors at the end of June 2016.  While we’ve been seeing for a long time that the bookselling industry is changing, and that people are tending to buy more and more of their books at cheap online retailers, I never wanted to experience this downturn firsthand… but there I was, clearing shelves and adopting as many of the unsold books as I could so that I knew they would be going to a home where they would be read (eventually) and loved.  I still work in a bookish job—I am a sales representative at Westbooks, where I visit public libraries and make sure they have all the best new releases, and I am also doing freelance work such as teaching seminars at this year’s All Saint’s College Storylines Festival.  In general, despite some of the bizarre and depressing things that have happened this year, it seems like 2016 has been a year of progress for me, and one in which I have learned a lot about myself as a writer.  I think the most important thing is that I have finally taken on board a piece of writing advice that was given to me by Craig Silvey a number of years ago, something which has taken this long to become innate.  When I asked Craig what advice he had for someone who wanted to become a writer, his answer was something like this:  You don’t become a writer, you are a writer, every day, and in everything that you do.  That feels truer to me now than it ever has before, and I am just grateful to be putting my words on pages, never knowing if anyone will ever read them or not.  

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Book Review: Beyond Carousel by Brendan Ritchie

Beyond Carousel
Brendan Ritchie
Fremantle Press, 2016

This review may contain spoilers.  If you don't want to see spoilers about Beyond Carousel, get to your nearest indie bookshop, buy a copy, read it and then come back and talk to me about it in the comments.  If you've read it, or spoilers don't bug you, feel free to read on.

When we last left Nox, Taylor and Lizzy at the end of Carousel, they'd finally managed to make their way out of the shopping centre which had imprisoned them for eighteen months.  Now, living in a deserted, post-apocalyptic Perth with no power and limited clean water and food, they're starting to think that maybe they were better off where they were.  Still, outside the confines of the centre, the trio are slowly starting to piece together what may have happened to everyone else.  The arrival of a Danish filmmaker, Tommy, to the property in the Perth hills where the gang are bunking down alerts them to some strange coincidences.  First of all, they're not the only ones who were trapped.  And second?  They're not the only artists.  In fact, the art connection had begun to be revealed at the end of Carousel, but in Beyond Carousel, Nox and his friends (Canadian rock duo and twin sisters Taylor and Lizzy-- perhaps modelled on real-life band Tegan and Sara?) realise that all over Perth, artists from various disciplines have been sequestered in Residencies, only able to leave once they've produced something great.

So where to next, they wonder?  Lizzy wants to go to the airport, to solve the mystery of the Air Canada flight which roared over them while they were staring out of Carousel's domed ceiling.  Taylor wants to follow a girl she met on Boxing Day, a girl who Tommy says may be in the city.  Nox isn't really sure where he wants to go, but he doesn't want the group to split up.  Plus, now that Tommy's told them about the existence of someone known as The Curator, he thinks maybe he has a chance of finding out what really happened to everyone from his life before.

Set aside your sceptism about the possibility of Perth turning into a hotbed of artistic production in the current political climate, because the world created by Beyond Carousel is satisfyingly compelling.  Nox sees the world through a storyteller's eyes, and his doubts about the legitimacy of his position as one of the 'Artists' will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to create something.  There are more than just a few echoes of John Marsden's masterpiece Tomorrow, When the War Began in this book-- from the coming of age story set against a changed home landscape, to the importance of remembrance and writing things down, I found myself thinking of Ellie Linton more than once.  While the writing style in this book is a little more on the simplistic side compared to TWTWB, I think therein lies one of it's strengths-- this is not just a book for avid readers.  This is a book which reluctant readers will pick up and love and relate to.  It's a book about friendship, self discovery, survival and art.

Ritchie's descriptions of Perth are an added bonus for Perthians, as the characters take a tour of our home after the end of the world.  From the hills to the Burswood casino, to Victoria Park, to Cottesloe, Ritchie's descriptions (and Nox's observational skills as a character who is a writer) are spot on without being overblown.  From early on, Beyond Carousel has the feel of a more confident writer than the book which came before it, and I know we'll see great things from Brendan Ritchie in the future.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Book Review: Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout

Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout
Echo Publishing 2016

I was immediately fascinated by Le Chateau when it began to get coverage on a few Australian blogs and social media accounts the weekend before it was due to be released.  Previously, I hadn't heard a thing about it.  The premise was intriguing-- Charlotte, an Australian woman, is returning home to a French chateau in the middle of a vineyard after a head injury.  She is returning to a husband and a daughter that she doesn't remember, and the life she expected to fit back into doesn't seem to suit who she feels she is.  Add to the mix a highly manipulative mother-in-law who keeps hinting at some indiscretion that had been going on between Charlotte and the riding instructor from the next property over and the result is a novel which twists the best strands of a few genres together.  While Le Chateau could be said to be a romance, a thriller or a literary novel respectively, I think it's more accurate to say that it's the best of all three.

Ridout is a confident writer who doesn't feel the need to over-explain complex emotions to her readers and instead lets her highly intelligent heroine feel her way back into her own life alongside the reader.  It's nearly impossible to put this book down-- between the sexy, devoted French husband (who is not at all too good to be true) and the gripping whodunnit aspect of Charlotte trying to work out what really happened to her, Le Chateau had me turning pages for the good part of a couple of days.  It is no small accomplishment, either, that this novel does not stray into the territory of the cliched, because there are several aspects to the plot which have tripped up writers frequently in the past, such as the childhood girlfriend still hanging around, the vindictive mother-in-law, and the waking up from a coma trope in general.  Ridout uses her unique setting, and her intimate knowledge of it, to give her novel a concrete sense of time and place and this informs the characters, making them rich and realistic.

If you're a David Bowie fan, you'll also enjoy that this novel has a soundtrack of some of his greatest hits.  In my opinion, this just gives Charlotte and her author extra points for their excellent taste in music.

While some readers may be able to guess the solution to the novel's central mystery, there's just enough flavour to the book to ensure they'll probably never be able to guess it in it's entirety.

I gave this novel four stars.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Book Review: Love at First Flight by Tess Woods

Love at First Flight 
Tess Woods
Harper Collins, 2016 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

Image from Goodreads

Love at First Flight, the debut novel by WA-based physiotherapist Tess Woods was released as a paperback in August this year, but not before garnering thousands of fans all over the world as a digital release.  The novel follows Mosman Park GP, Mel, who appears to have the whole package.  She has a great job, is married to an anaesthetist who people frequently describe as a Greek God, two gorgeous teenagers, and lives in a big beautiful house in one of Perth's most elite suburbs.  Yet as the book opens, the reader is given a glimpse of Mel's inner life.  Something is missing.  She just doesn't know what it is yet.  

Then, on a flight to Melbourne to have a girls' weekend with her best friend Sarah, Mel meets Matt.  He's younger than she is, but the attraction is instantaneous and mutual.  As the plane touches down at Tullamarine, Mel releases that her entire world has flipped upside down. 

As the tag line for the novel goes, 'what if you met the love of your life and he wasn't your husband?'

Love at First Flight has hit the ground running, with the book not only being an e-book bestseller; it is also the first and so far, only, book that Harper Collins has printed after an initial digital only campaign.  It was the winner of the 2015 AusRom Today Readers' Choice Book of the Year Award.  But let's get one thing straight-- this is not your typical romance novel. 

When I spoke to Tess Woods on Wednesday night at the Bassendean Memorial Library, she was quick to point out that this isn't technically a romance novel at all.  According to those in the know, a romance novel is ALWAYS told from the point of view of the woman alone (this book tells the story from both Mel's and Matt's perspectives), they never have infidelity in them, and they always end in happy ever after.  Love at First Flight is what then?  In an age where the books which make the biggest splashes frequently borrow elements from many genres, pushing the boundaries of what has been published before, perhaps the distinction isn't even important.  What matters is that readers cannot get enough of Tess Woods-- and the good news is they won't have long to wait, with Tess hinting that her next book should be out mid to late 2017.  

As someone who tends not to read a lot of romance, and rarely ever reads books which are quite this racy (to put it lightly), I was caught up in the emotional complexity of this novel.  At it's heart, Love at First Flight is the story of Mel's awakening-- and of the difficult choices she has to make.  It is a moral story, and while some readers have been upset by the book's content, I found the plot to be not only realistic, it was profoundly moving at times.  

The two elements of the novel which were strongest in my opinion were the setting and the points of view.  Love at First Flight is a story which could have happened anywhere, but it happens in Perth and it happens in places I have been-- places which are not only recognisable at face value but feel authentic as well.  As for the narrators, I was struck immediately by how different the two voices were, and how real the male perspective felt.  

As a novel which takes all of it's punch from it's plot, this was a heartily enjoyable romp, and impossible to put down.  A Little Life it was not, but it was the perfect book to escape a busy weekend with and I can see why thousands of readers all over the world have connected with it.  

I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.  

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Book Review: The Historian's Daughter by Rashida Murphy

The Historian's Daughter
Rashida Murphy
UWA Publishing 2016 

I first met Rashida Murphy when we were both featured on Amanda Curtin's blog as WA Writers to watch. Not long after this, Rashida's book, which she had been working on as part of her PhD, was accepted for publication by UWA Publishing.  The Historian's Daughter came out in September of this year, and I was so excited to read it.

I was not disappointed.

The Historian's Daughter is the story of Hannah, a young girl growing up in India with a colonialist father whom she calls the Historian, and a Persian mother whom she adores, and calls the Magician.  She idolises her older sister Gloria, loves to read about 'the conquistadors', Englishmen who travelled to the Indian colony, and collects words.  Hannah's family life is crowded and not always satisfying to her, with numerous Aunties living under their roof such as Meher Aunty who is a greedy and selfish presence in Hannah's life, and the mysterious Aunt Rani, her father's only sister, who is locked in an attic room due to her unsound mental state.  She has a difficult relationship with her father, who is secretive and cold towards his children, and as she grows older, her relationship with her mother is strained by the Magician's increasing distance.  When Sohrab, the son of a Persian friend of the family, comes to live with them, the Magician spends increasing amounts of time with Sohrab, speaking to him in Farsi.  Then, one day, the Magician disappears.  Not long after that, Gloria too leaves home.

The Historian moves the family to Australia, where Hannah must navigate a new way of being in the world at the same time as she is growing into a young woman, all the while, missing her mother and sister.

It is hard to do justice to this beautiful novel, as the story is like a rich tapestry, with many different elements weaving together over time.  Hannah, the narrator, has an authentic, trustworthy voice, and seeing the world through her eyes felt comfortable, while at the same time, unfamiliar.  I felt her deep love for her older sister, as well as the rivalry between the two girls, as this is a novel which is just as much about family ties as it is about Hannah navigating her own identity.  The book is told in scenes which sometimes jump around through different points in the timeline, but Murphy's writing is so assured that I never once felt lost; I always had faith that the narrative would begin to make sense if I kept reading.  I was particularly taken with the descriptions of local scenery, such as King's Park, for their gentle clarity of description which never felt heavy-handed.

In the best possible way, I felt like this novel was harking back to stories which had come before it, like it was a literary tribute to the books which had shaped the author's and perhaps even the character's point of view.  While I think that to say a book is like a pure amalgamation of other books isn't strictly accurate, I would say that at different points in time, the book reminded me of Jane Eyre, the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The People Smuggler.  Yet at the same time, The Historian's Daughter is an entirely new and original work which is filled with a sense of its author's love for language and story, and this spoke to me.

Rashida Murphy represents a new voice on the Australian literary scene, and a very skilled one at that.  I look forward to seeing what she will write for us next.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Book Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

The Good People
Hannah Kent
Picador, 2016 (I own a copy, courtesy of the publisher)

When I read Hannah Kent's 2013 debut, I was supposed to be vacuuming my room.  But I was reading instead, and I was reading about dark, cold, Iceland, and by the time I had finished the book, I had climbed into my bed and pulled the covers up because my whole body felt frozen.  That was the power of that book.  Hannah Kent's writing had taken me to a place I had never even been.

Since reading it, and since it became a global phenomenon, I have seen Hannah Kent speak at the Perth Writers' Festival, and seen her give interviews on television.  There is no doubting that she is a thoughtful, intelligent writer who takes her subject matter seriously.  It should not be a surprise to anyone who has read Burial Rites that her new book, The Good People, is just as moving.

The novel tells the story of three women who set about trying to banish a fairy changeling which they believe has been left in the place of one of the women's grandson.  Nora Leahy has had a time of great misfortune, with her only daughter dying and then her husband, who was in good health, dropping dead at the sign of a crossroad.  To add to her woe, her daughter's boy Micheal has come to live with her, and rather than being the happy, thriving boy that he was two years ago when she saw him last, he is now a silent, wailing, cripple of four years old.  She keeps him hidden, to stop the wagging tongues of the village.

But after the death of her husband, taking care of the boy becomes too much for Nora and so she goes to an employment fair to seek live-in help.  There she finds Mary, a young girl who has seen a number of hard employers before and is determined to help her own family by working.  She believes that she is going to help Nora with looking after a child and with the churning of butter on her farm, but when she sees Micheal, and sees how malformed he is, she is shocked.  Yet, curiously, despite being kept awake by him all night, and having him wet the bed they both sleep in on the hearth, she comes to love Micheal in her own way.

Nance Roche, the village handy woman, practices herbal lore and when she sees the child she says that it is not Micheal at all, but a fairy left in his place. The three women bond together to try and have the fairy child exchanged for the real Micheal through a range of superstitious means.  Meanwhile, the village is being stirred up against Nance by the new priest, Father Healy, who denounces Nance as a kind of witch.

I read in another review of this book that Ireland at the time this book was set, 1825, was a tapestry, and that it was hard to say where religious beliefs and superstitions melded together.  Superstition is part of the culture and the setting of this book, and governs many of the lives of the characters.  There are rules about everything, about whether a woman who may be barren can enter the room where another woman is giving birth, about charms to curse people, about places where you should not go, lest you be 'swept' by the fairies.  Hannah Kent creates this emotional landscape very well, and it's part of the way she sets the scene.  This is a book which shows how Kent is growing more confident as a writer-- her creation of the landscape is far more subtle this time, and the language is musical and strong rather than poetic.

It was not until Mary came on the scene, however, that the book really took off for me, because it was through Mary's eyes that we began to see the doubt in what was going on.  While Mary too believed that Micheal had been swept, she felt a duty of care for the little boy she had been hired to mind, and as the outsider, she views the rising tension in the town and particularly among the women with a great degree of trepidation.

I enjoyed this book, and while I can see that it is a truly excellent book, I don't think it had the same effect on me as Burial Rites did-- but perhaps that is my own fault.  Perhaps this time, I knew to expect great things from Hannah Kent's storytelling.  I look forward to her next book.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Book Review: Katherine of Aragon- The True Queen

Katherine of Aragon- The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens Book 1)
Alison Weir
Headline Publishing, 2016  (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

Ever since I read Philippa Gregory's novel The Constant Princess, Katherine of Aragon has been one of my most admired historical figures.  We all know some parts of the story of Henry the Eighth and his ill-fated six wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.  But what we also know is that there are a lot of rumours about the time period which make for really interesting but really inaccurate dramas.  If anyone has ever seen The Tudors, that would be my case in point.

Tudor England was not just a haven of licentiousness and intrigue.  It was a highly political time, and also a time when religious belief was much more fervent than it is today.  Katherine of Aragon was sent to England to marry Arthur, Prince of Wales, who was the oldest son of the first Tudor King, Henry the VII and Queen Elizabeth of York, who was niece to the king he defeated to gain his crown-- Shakespeare's villain King Richard the third.  But not long after Katherine was wed to Arthur, he died of a sickness.  Katherine's family then planned to marry her to the second son, Henry, but political tides meant that she faced a long and uncomfortable wait before she could marry this boisterous and passionate prince who would one day be one of the most infamous kings in history.  She did eventually marry Henry but their union was not blessed with the sons which were of vital importance to securing the Tudor line.  Katherine and Henry had only one living child, a daughter who would become Queen Mary of England-- or Bloody Mary.  Henry, thanks to those at the court who would try to influence him, came to believe that the reason his marriage was not to be blessed with sons, was because his marriage to Katherine was offensive to God, citing a line from Leviticus which states that a man who marries his brother's wife will be cursed to have no living heirs.  He used this argument as the basis of his campaign to have Katherine put aside so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, and thanks to this process, he founded the Church of England with himself at the head, forcing England into a time of great religious persecution.

The history of this period is not little known, but it has been told in a myriad of ways and in varying degrees of truth, if such a thing can ever be uncovered.  It was therefore exciting to finally be hearing a version of the story told by historian, Alison Weir, who has written many factual accounts of English history, the Tudor period and the Wars of the Roses that came before it.

I enjoyed reading this massive volume immensely, but at times I did feel like the style of the storytelling, particularly in moments of exposition was a little closer to non fiction than to fiction.  This was particularly the case at the beginning of the book.  By the second part of the story I was racing along, caught up in what I was reading-- it was like revisiting an old friend.  Particularly considering so many of the more recent Philippa Gregory novels have not provided me with the excitement those early novels did, it was lovely to discover a new voice to add to this area of history I find so fascinating.  This is a long novel, but it needs to be so that you as the reader can get a real sense of how long and how hard Katherine fought to keep her conscience clear.  Though she was put aside by Henry the Eighth and ended her days in Kimbolton Castle, virtually in exile, I once read that she continued to make his shirts and to be a loyal wife to him even though he would not acknowledge her as such.  Weir makes the comment in her author's note that perhaps Katherine of Aragon is not the kind of feminist figure that we might look up to today, but for her time, she was quite remarkable.  As a woman, she had very limited influence over what happened to her, and she did what she could.  She looked up to her mother, Isabella of Castile, who was a formidable queen in her own right, and when Henry was in France waging war, it was Katherine who bolstered the forces at home to ward off invading Scots.  She was resourceful, loyal and virtuous, and if I were to be having a dinner party with any historical figures alive or dead, she would definitely get an invitation.

Katherine of Aragon is the subject of Phillipa Gregory's newest novel too, so I am reinvigorated to get my hands on a copy soon and spend more time in the Tudor period.  That should tide me over until March next year, when Goodreads tells me the next book in this series will come out, called Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession.  

What have you been reading lately?

Monday, 5 September 2016

What Elimy Read in August

I don't know what it was about August, but almost everyone I spoke to was busy, busy, busy.  August saw me spending one entire weekend escaping into book after book to get away from all the stress of uni and work and everything in between.  Without any further ado, here is what I read in August.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany and JK Rowling

A lot has been said about the new 'Harry Potter' book, which isn't a book at all but a rehearsal edition of the script for the new play currently on in the UK.  There are a few problems with the play, but this came into my life at exactly the right time.  A lot of things were changing and I felt unstable-- it was just the ticket to be able to escape back into the familiar world of Harry Potter, even if some things were just a little bit off.

The Muse by Jessie Burton

I loved The Miniaturist, which came out a few years ago and told the story of an enchanted doll's house in Amsterdam in the 17th Century.  I was really looking forward to reading this follow up from Jessie Burton, who is a very talented author.  It's been a while since I read this one, but I remember enjoying it at the same time as being a little fed up with the long lost painting discovered in an old house plotline-- it's everywhere at the moment!!!  (And shows no signs of slowing down, because there's a new book by Bernard Schlink due out in November which has this plotline too!)  The two voices in this book complemented each other nicely, and I enjoyed following the story along.

The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner

I borrowed this book from the library on a whim after seeing Ann Turner speak at the 2016 Perth Writers Festival.  Unfortunately, while I raced through this mystery, it just really didn't do anything for me.

The Windy Season by Sam Carmody

You can read my review of this book here.

Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

The early reviews for this book said that it would do for publishing in the 1950s what Mad Men did for advertising.  I don't know about that, but I really liked reading about the journeys of the three characters in this book.  Miles, Eden and Cliff are all trying to make it in the publishing industry in New York, but it's a tough world and one mistake can end in endless tangles.  I loved The Other Typist when it came out a few years ago, and while this one was slower going, I would recommend it to anyone who loves reading about New York.

Carousel by Brendan Ritchie

What happens when four kids are shut inside Carousel shopping centre for 18 months, while outside the rest of Perth seems to have disappeared?  This debut YA novel by Perth writer/ filmmaker Brendan Ritchie explores a dystopian timeline for a quartet of young artists who must use their wits to find a way out of Perth's biggest shopping centre.

You can see me interviewing Kate McCaffrey and Brendan Ritchie this Wednesday (7th September) at Mattie Furphy House in Swanbourne.

Saving Jazz by Kate McCaffrey

An interesting counterpoint to McCaffrey's debut novel about cyber-bullying, Destroying Avalon, Saving Jazz explores what happens when you make a mistake and it goes viral on the internet.  Jasmine Lovely and her peers let their actions get a little out of hand at a party one night, and the aftershocks will disrupt Jazz's life in more ways than one.  Told in the form of a series of blog posts, this book explores the terrible night when it all went wrong, as well as the process of putting things back together.  I enjoyed this book, and it brought back fond memories of Destroying Avalon.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

This was my book club book for the month, and actually a re-read (hooray!  I haven't been able to re-read anything for ages!)  This is the first Jackson Brodie mystery, but it's much more than a crime novel.  Kate Atkinson's prose demonstrates exactly why she is winning awards all over the place.  I loved this multi-faceted novel and it's wide-reaching cast of characters.

Bodies of Water by V H Leslie

I first heard about this novella through Jen Campbell's Youtube channel and I was excited when my local library ordered a copy in.  While the story had all the makings of an epic ghost story, unfortunately the execution just didn't match up.  This one wasn't for me.

That's all for this month! What have you been reading?  Leave me some recommendations in the comments below.

Until next month-- happy reading!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Book review: The Windy Season by Sam Carmody

The Windy Season
Sam Carmody
Allen and Unwin, 2016 (I own a copy courtesy of the publisher)

When Elliot Darling goes missing from a small West Coast fishing town named Stark, his family face a long and uncertain wait to find out what happened to him.  Only his brother, Paul, seems to go on searching for Elliot, and this search sees Paul move to Stark.  There, he takes on work as a deckhand on his cousin's fishing boat, alongside a philosophical German named Michael.  The town itself is in decline, with families who have depended on fishing to make their livelihoods for generations now facing smaller and smaller hauls each time they go out.  At the pub each night, Paul is faced with surly, sometimes frightening men, hardened by the life in Stark.  This is a world where methamphetamine, bar fights and biker gangs are not out of the question...  Paul's coming of age against this backdrop is a plot worthy of early Tim Winton, but is written with a hopeful tone which makes The Windy Season a joy to read.

Paul is a fully-developed and original character.  It is through his interactions with people, particularly through his childhood memories of Elliot, that we begin to see a picture of his world, from his home and childhood in Cottesloe, to his conflicted feelings about his parents and particularly his father, right to the filthy and roiling deck of his cousin's boat, where Paul struggles to hold onto his stomach.  His relationship with backpacker, Kasia, reveals much about Paul's lack of experience in matters of the heart, and the lost way in which he wanders about the world without his brother to guide him.  Over the course of the book, Paul is forced to find out what kind of man he will be, if Elliot's brother is not to be the only way he will define himself.  It is not an easy journey for him to take.

The story is told through Paul's eyes, interspersed with short segments in first person, which show a gang of bikies slowly closing in on our main characters.  While I found the change of point of view from third to first person a little jarring, these segments did give some perspective on the novel and its events.  Without giving away any spoilers, I enjoyed what these interludes revealed, but I also think the novel could have worked perfectly fine if these sections were taken out.

All this aside, I devoured this book in a single sitting, hardly moving for the entire day after cracking its spine.  The writing was sharp and fresh, and it was easy to see why Carmody was shortlisted for this piece in the Australian/ Vogel award the year that the prize was won by Christine Piper for After Darkness.  If the two books are anything to judge the future of Australian writing by, we are in for exciting things indeed.