Books in Print

independent Australian bookselling since 1988

13 Nov 2011

All That I Am by Anna Funder

Hamish Hamilton
9781926428338

A fantastic read. Germany in the 1930s: left-wing political opponents of Hitler and the Nazis are under threat of death or deportation to the newly established concentration camps. Ernst Toller, poet, veteran of the Weimar Republic’s government, and political activist, is a wanted man. Dora Weiss, feminist and socialist, is also wanted by the authorities under the Nazis’ control. Together and separately they try to maintain a political opposition to the increasingly violent regime of Adolf Hitler. Eventually they are forced out of Germany to England, where they continue their activities against the regime in Germany, before Toller leaves for the USA. Their separate, tragic fates are recalled by Dora’s cousin Ruth, now a frail old woman living in Sydney, who was both an observer of events and of Dora’s ceaseless involvement in the political activities of the German refugees. A beautifully written novel of political and emotional commitment and betrayal in threatening times. 


BiP staff review by Chris

15 Sep 2011

Midnight In Peking by Paul French

Penguin


This book provides the hat-trick of good “midnight” reads for me, starting with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil then Midnight in Sicily and now Midnight in Peking. They all fall outside my preferred reading but I enjoyed them nonetheless. This is not to say that I’m going to plunge headlong into true crime but Paul French’s writing is certainly compelling. His subject matter is the gruesome murder of a young Englishwoman in Peking in 1937. His purpose is to present his understanding of how it came about and why no-one was brought to justice. The star of the book is Peking herself and the tumultuous period of her history.

BiP staff review by Sue

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal


Hachette

While I can’t be as effusive as Marcus Zusak in his praise for this book, I certainly enjoyed it. For me, the strength of it lies in the dialogue and how the characters of Willy Blunt and Judith Toomey take shape during the course of their interactions with each other. They are memorable for the fact that they demonstrate the pure luck of finding an easy companionship as a mainstay for a good life.

BiP staff review by Sue

12 Aug 2011

Kate Grenville reads from Sarah Thornhill





This powerful novel will enthrall readers of Kate Grenville's bestselling The Secret River, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Sarah Thornhill is available in September. Call or email to pe-order your copy.

8 Aug 2011

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness


Walker Books

In June Patrick Ness was awarded the Carnegie medal for his young adult novel Monsters of Men, the third book in his Chaos Walking series.  The two previous books - The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer - were shortlisted for the prestigious award in 2009 and 2010.

Patrick Ness @ Books In Print
His latest novel is based on the ideas and illustrations of Siobhan Dowd, an author whose premature death prevented her from writing the story herself.  Ness never met Siobhan, even though they shared the same literary editor.  Even so, after Dowd's death from cancer, aged 47, in 2007 he was asked to take the idea she'd been developing for her fifth novel and write it himself.

The result is A Monster Calls, the story of 13-year-old Conor who is coming to terms with his own mother's battle against cancer.  "I would normally say 'no' to turning someone else's idea into a book," admits Ness. "But the idea was so strong and so vivid that I never felt like I was completely fabricating something she didn't want.

6 Aug 2011

The Age Book of the Year 2011

The shortlist for the 2011 The Age Book of the Year awards was announced today, populated with new names and old favourites published by a mix of independents and multinationals.  There are 3 prizes awarded for fiction, non-fiction and poetry.


    


Fiction - Lovesong by Alex Miller; Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey; The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy; Summertime by J M Coetzee; Come Inside by G L Osborne. 

Non-Fiction - The Lost Mother by Anne Summers; Listening To Country by Ros Moriarty; Ten Hail Marys by Kate Howarth; Flying With Paper Wings by Sandy Jeffs; Otherland by Maria Tumarkin.

Poetry - Taller When Prone by Les Murray; Authentic Local by Pam Brown; Wimmera by Homer Rieth; A Whistled Bit of Bop by Ken Bolton; Pirate Rain by Jennifer Maiden. 

The winners will be announced at the Melbourne Writers Festival (25 Aug - 04 Sept)

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks



Read Books In Print staff review by Sue.

27 Jul 2011

Man Booker Dozen

The 2011 Man Booker longlist includes books by four first-time novelists, one former Man Booker Prize winner and two previously shortlisted writers.


Our pick is Snowdrops by A D Miller.
Read staff review by Sue.


Also on the list - The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes; The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst; Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman.  Click here to see the full longlist.

Wish Your Were Here by Graham Swift

Picador

I can't endorse this book enough.  If not simply for the beauty of the writing but also for the way Swift chews over the choices facing his characters - a bit like a contemplative cow chewing its cud.  Dairy farming is at the heart of the story, and the chain of events that lead a farmer's son to turn back on his birthright.  In this context, it is a testament to the struggling of many against the crippling blows of mad cow, as well as foot and mouth disease.  Not that this is laboured, for above all, the book offers a deft exploration of the ties that bind us.

BiP staff review by Sue

Five Bells by Gail Jones


Vintage

It's not often that you finish a book and decide to reread it straight away.  This is what I have done with Five Bells.  I found the structure intriguing and wanted to review how her four main characters may have glanced off one another when they converged on Circular Quay one fateful Saturday.  I first visited the area at a very young age and have been held in its thrall for  most of my life.  It is this setting and on this day that we get to understand her characters and the 'baggage' they bring to the quay.  Not only did the setting strike a chord with me but also a little gems like this: "People have too little faith in modest conversation, she thought, and in what was known but remained silent or impossible to express.  The veneration of small sentences, or a gesture, or even a single word; this was the fabric of civility, the basic social contract.  One could die without it."  Food for thought in today's world.  I loved this book. 

BiP staff review by Sue

28 Jun 2011

2011 Miles Franklin Award winner

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
Picador
9780330404235

That Deadman Dance is a story about the early contact between Europeans and Indigenous Australians, set in and around Albany. In October 2010, reviewer Toni Whitmont spoke to Scott in about his novel.

Many readers will be unfamiliar with the history of early contact between the Noongar and the Europeans. Is this a work of fiction, or are the events and characters based on known facts?
That Deadman Dance is a work of fiction, but one that is inspired by, and that draws on, specifics of the early history of a region—in this instance, the area in and around the town today known as Albany, Western Australia. I see the novel as a sort of ‘analogue’, drawing upon a reasonably specific history in order to tease out the possibilities in the interaction between Noongar people and Europeans, and—perhaps—to suggest possibilities still latent today. Crucial to that inspiration is the Noongars’ confidence, innovation and inclusiveness, as well as their willingness and ability to appropriate and use European cultural forms and transform them within their own traditions.

Does the ‘Dead Man Dance’ exist?
Not as described here. It has its origins in a military drill performed by Marines on a beach along the south coast prior to colonisation that was transformed into a Noongar dance. There’s an ambivalence in the name: on the one hand, Noongar people may initially have thought the new arrivals were not fully alive or human—djanaks: devils or ghosts, perhaps—thus, ‘dead men’. On the other hand, the adaption of that dance may have been the ‘beginning of the end’ of a way of life, and thus for the novel’s central character Bobby, and his community, an ending. Bobby may be a ‘dead man’. However, since he does not die, is it only a dance learned from ‘dead men’, and one among other examples—like perhaps this novel—of forms explored and played with as ways of expressing place and identity. New cultural forms always have consequences, sometimes good and sometimes bad.

This book seems to be about forging an identity and finding your place in a changing world. Given your Aboriginal ancestry, does this reflect your own journey?
Given my Aboriginal identity, the novel explores how we can connect an ancient heritage, its strengths and weaknesses, to contemporary existence. I’m interested in finding empowering ways of carrying that past into the present, in ways that are not only reactive and reductionist. I’m not sure that the story is a reflection of a journey, as such, rather it’s about finding possibilities and potential in history—in positing alternatives. I am interested in story rather than polemics, in agency and resilience, and in ways that literature might function politically, but also subtly.

In recent years some exceptional books have been written about early contact between Aboriginal and English people, such as Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and Richard Flanagan’s Wanting. That Deadman Dance is rooted in the soil and sand of coastal south-west Western Australia. How important is the notion of place to our understanding of these stories?
I can’t speak for the others, but I believe and hope it is [important] in the instance of That Deadman Dance.

You have spoken publicly about the Australian neurosis concerning identity, race and history. Are we any closer to laying these ghosts to rest? 
Listening to diverse voices and other stories, having courageous conversations and respectful dialogues will help us all heal. I’m not sure we need to ‘lay those ghosts to rest’. Sometime they may need to be listened to also.

This interview first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Read Toni Whitmont's book review here.

3 Jun 2011

Two Greeks by John Charalambous

University of Queensland Press

Harry Stylianou is an angry man, driven by a conviction that the world is not a safe place and that no one and nothing can be trusted. Since his arrival as an immigrant from Cyprus he has married an Australian woman, Carol, and has fathered two children, Angela and Andy. He has moved his family to Hampton, away from Melbourne’s Greek community. His anger encompasses work, life in general, family, neighbours and ‘Greekness’. Carol waits for the implementation of no-fault divorce legislation so that she can escape from her domineering husband. It is left to Andy to form a bond with their new Greek neighbour, Mr. Voreadis, who becomes an important figure for the ten-year-old boy as he provides worldly – and particularly Greek – wisdom for the youngster to digest. Concern over the attempted anti-government coup in Cyprus in 1974 finally brings about a meeting between Harry and their neighbour, and it is through Mr. Voreadis and his love of dancing that a temporary peace breaks out. However, in time the Stylianou family is destroyed from within by Harry’s limitless fury. John Charalambous has written an intimate story of the destruction of a family, played out against the suburban and migrant cultures of the 1970s. An overwhelming sense of missed opportunities leaves the reader wondering what might have been…


BiP staff review by Chris

The Moment by Douglas Kennedy

Hutchinson

There is always a moment when you choose whether to place your trust in the one you love. I have been a fan of Douglas Kennedy for a few years now; The Moment is definitely his most accomplished book yet.

Thomas Nesbitt is a recently divorced writer of travel books living a solitary life in Maine. When a parcel arrives for him from Berlin, he is transported back to his first visit there 25 years prior when he was young and ambitious. Hoping to immerse himself in the life of the divided city, he funds his stay by writing scripts for a free radio station which broadcasts to East Germany. There is introduced to a young political refugee who is working as a translator. Thomas and Petra fall head over heels in love, which sounds really cheesy, however the succinct, gritty writing makes it anything but.

BiP staff review by Leonie

7 May 2011

Past The Shallows by Favel Parrett

Hachette

I was pleasantly surprised to discover one of my former (Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing) classmates’ novels in print. My admiration increased immensely when I read Past the Shallows; it is, quite simply, breathtaking. In a small community on a forbidding stretch of Tasmanian coast, brothers Harry and Miles’ lives are ruled by the sea. The shadow of their Mother’s death hangs in the air; questions remain and, although Harry was too young to remember the accident, Miles is beginning to piece things together. Through the eyes of the two boys, the reader is taken on a poignant and unexpected journey. Beautiful, tragic and highly evocative in it’s portrayal of the ocean, the author’s sparse prose hits just the right notes; never too much information nor too little. Past the Shallows is a story that lingers long after reading. You will feel compelled to tell your friends about it; lend it to them; give it as a gift! Although I had access to a ‘free’ copy, I will buy this novel (not least to support the publication of new local authors, but) because it’s a ‘keeper’; something to treasure and re-read. Highly recommended.

BiP staff review by Penny

The Precipice by Virginia Duigan

Vintage

I grabbed this book purely on face value - i.e. the jacket and the title which conspired to make me think I was in for a dark tale full of drama and suspense. I was, however, unprepared when the crunch finally came. This is mainly due to Dugian's skill at lulling us into a false sense of security amid the idyllic landscape of the Blue Mountains. She also distracts us with convincing characters. Her main character, Thea, is so comfortable in this environment that when she leads us to the actual precipice, we simply marvel at its beauty. Thea had planned for the perfect retirement dream home. This was not meant to be, though, and we learn from Thea's Journal, as well as her conversations with near neighbours and close friends how this dream evaporated. Circumstances and lessons learnt lead to the dramatic climax. It is Thea's story and the strength of the book is in her narration. Well worth reading.

BiP staff review by Sue

The Legacy by Kirsten Tranter

Fourth Estate

Kirsten Tranter's first novel, The Legacy, is a worthy inclusion in the Miles Franklin longlist. As someone who grew up in Sydney and lived in New York for 8 years, she is well able to give a local feel to these twin settings of the story. At its heart there is a compelling mystery - what indeed happened to Ingrid whose unexpected inheritance plunges her into marriage with a New York art dealer. At first her friends back home struggle to cope with her departure but when she disappears on 9/11, they fear for the worst. There is a Brideshead Revisited feel to the early part of the book which is a perfect couterpoint to the mounting tension that follows. Tranter's own experience of New York at this tragic time adds weight and insight to her tale.


BiP staff review by Sue

23 Apr 2011

Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn

Jonathan Cape

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book. I do not pretend to be a cricket buff, but the game is presented as a cornerstone of English life via two of the main characters who are champions with the bat. The tock of runs scored in county cricket resonates as background noise to the plot lines. This is counter-balanced by the relentless thunder of mortar encountered during service in World War I. Service and its accompanying obedience are themes cast in unfavourable light through the shocking casualties of war. They are also called into question by the suffragettes whose increasingly militant movement is unsettling the status quo. So, the background is a particularly tumultuous time in history and the characters are particularly believable in their attempts to navigate their course through it.

BiP staff review by Sue

12 Apr 2011

2011 CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist

The Children's Book Council of Australia today announced the 2011 Book of the Year shortlist.

Among shortlisted titles are

The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett
The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood
Just A Dog by Michael Gerard Bauer
Vioet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot by Anna Davis
The Red Wind by Isobelle Carmody
Toppling by Sally Murphy
The Deep End by Ursula Dubosarsky
Noni The Pony by Alison Lester
Mirror by Jeannie Baker
My Uncle's Donkey by Tohby Riddle
Drawn For The Heart : A Memoir by Nicolas Brasch
The Return of the Word Spy by Ursula Dubosarsky

The full shortlist can be viewed here

Winners for each category will be announced on Friday 19th August.

2011 Orange Prize Shortlist










The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
Great House by Nicole Krauss
Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson
Annabel by Kathleen Winter

24 Mar 2011

Those Who Come After by Elisabeth Holdsworth

Picador
9781405040501

Born in the Netherlands just after World War II, Elisabeth Holdsworth spent her early life in the south-western province of Zeeland before migrating to Australia with her parents in 1959. She completed her education in Melbourne. Holdsworth is an essayist, poet, and writer of short stories and reviews, and has been published in Best Australian Essays, Heat, Southerly, Island, The Monthly, Mattoid and Transnational. She won the inaugural ABR/Calibre prize for her essay An die Nachgeborenen: For Those Who Come After, which was published in the February 2007 issue of Australian Book Review and later broadcast on ABC radio. Elisabeth lives with her husband in Goulburn, NSW.

Read an excerpt of Those Who Come After

Pulse by Julian Barnes

Jonathan Cape
9780224091084

Love Julian Barnes!  Based soley on Arthur & George, I might add.  So, I fell on Pulse, only to waver at the prospect of it being a collection of short stories.  This is not an aversion of mine but a proven reluctance among our customers.  Should I spend time reading it, only to find I had trouble convincing others to do the same?  Well selfishness prevailed - to be rewarded with gems.  There's something in each story tying it to the notion of 'pulse'.  I love the dinner party series, being hugely reminiscent of nosh-ups we all share.  I have read all of the stories twice which is the best thing about short stories - it's so much easier to revisit them.

Books In Print staff review by Sue

2011 Indie Award Winners Announced

Australia's independent booksellers have announced The Happiest Refugee the winner of the Indie Book of the Year Award 2011.


Individual category winners are

Best Fiction | Bereft by Chris Womersley (Scribe)
Best Non-Fiction | The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do (Allen & Unwin)
Best Debut Fiction | Rocks In The Belly by Jon Baure (Scribe)
Best Children's Book | Mirror by Jeannie Baker (Walker Books)

2 Mar 2011

Snowdrops by A D Miller

Allen & Unwin
9781848874541

The fact the A D Miller was the Economist magazine's Moscow correspondent from 2004-2007 and that he travelled widely across Russia and the former Soviet Union adds an air of authenticity to this his first novel. 
He filters his familiarity through his main character Nick, an English lawyer, who acts on behalf of a consortium of western banks lending money to developers in Russia. Nick has enough Russian, enough cultural sensitivity and enough disenchantment with his old life in England to fancy finding himself in a permanent relationship with a Russian. Herein lies the nub.
What makes the book memorable for me s the wat the story is told, or more precisely, the way Nick tells it. He is about to be married and had decided to come clean to his intended and give a written account of his time in Russia. In doing so, Miller has created a powerful and poignant narration. The starting point is, "I smelled it before I saw it." As this follows the definition of 'snowdrops' in Moscow slang as being the corpses that come to light in the thaw, you could be forgiven for thinking you're in for a typical thriller. This novel has much, much more to offer.

Books in Print staff review by Sue

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Fourth Estate
9780732289225

Caleb's Crossing is typical Brooks with a great story being richly told. I'm sure the purists would criticise her for tinkering with history, but she's not an historian, she's a novelist with a nose for a good story. Who could blame her for taking a local's interest in her surroundings and through her craft try to encourage a broader appreciation of their significance.
Martha's vineyard is her stomping ground and that of Caleb, though they are separated by hundreds of years. She is Australian born and drawn to this heartland of modern civilisation while Caleb, an American Indian, is born to it. His crossing refers to his education at the hands of the Pilgrim Fathers.
A key player in this conversion is Bethia Mayfield who narrates and chronicles the story of Caleb's new life from when they first meet in the wilderness to his untimely death. Brooks captures the harsh reality of this new world for all concerned. It is a memorable book and as with her previous works gets you to think outside the confines of her artifice.

Books in Print staff review by Sue

27 Feb 2011

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean

Hachette

Yes, I was drawn to this book by the cover! It jolted my memory to a dress that I can remember my mother wearing when I was very young. It was a special dress - made for dancing - and it almost had its own persona. This is at the heart of The Secret Lives of Dresses.
During the course of the story, our heroine undergoes a transformation from a devotee of the cargo-pants and t-shirt wearing brigade to a vintage dresser. The turn of events leading to this involve a story of loss, obligation and love. The clothes are the magic thread binding the story which deftly contrasts the notion of just pulling on any old thing to the power of dressing. However, the novel has nothing to do with 'power dressing'
It made me reflect on the absolute joy of pulling on something that actually fits and actually suits, and how rarely this happens 'off-the-rack'. My mother made all her own clothes and knew how inspirational fabric can be. I found the ideas behind the story inspiring and it made me nostalgic for the style of the vintage era - though maybe not for corsets!

Books in Print staff review by Sue

visit Erin McKean's vintage fashion website

18 Feb 2011

The Happiest Refugee : A Memoir by Anh Do

Allen & Unwin
9781742372389

**Update - The Happiest Refugee is the winner of the 2011 Indie Book Of The Year

Love of family and a belief that anything is possible are two of the themes of Anh Do’s book. He learnt many positive lessons from his father, who seemed able to deal with any problem, even rescuing two of his mother’s brothers from a re-education camp by impersonating an officer and later masterminding the escape from Vietnam of 40 relatives and friends. Even when his father descends into alcoholism and violence after a catastrophic business failure and then leaves his family, Anh can still tell his father’s story with love and respect, realizing that his love for his father will outweigh his father’s faults. Anh’s dedication to his mother, brother and sister and the realization that his parents gave up everything for their children’s future is at the core of everything he does. His own hard-earned success as a comedian and actor take second place in the book to his life with his wife and children. Public response to the book was amazing. As soon as people heard Anh being interviewed on ABC radio they came rushing in to buy the book. It was the strongest response to any author’s radio interview that I have experienced. A truly inspiring read.
Books in Print staff review by Chris *****

Mezza Italiana: An Enchanting Story about Love, Family, La Dolce Vita and Finding Your Place in the World

by Zoe Boccabella
ABC Books
9780733329548

Zoe Boccabella grew up in Brisbane, in an Anglo-Italian family. Her father’s Italian family had strong links back to ‘home’ and Zoe was constantly being reminded of her Italian heritage. However, this was ‘Joh’s’ Queensland in the nineteen-seventies and eighties and Zoe was taunted at school as a ‘wog’ and Italian food and culture were openly derided. Consequently Zoe tried to adapt, ‘not to stand out or be different’. It is not until she is in her twenties, travelling around Europe with her boyfriend, that Zoe can bring herself to visit her family’s home village of Fossa, in the mountainous Abruzzo region. After years of denial Zoe immediately realizes her emotional link to the house, in which her family has lived for several centuries, and her Italian ancestors. What follows are wonderful descriptions of relatives and other villagers, the countryside and the food – the Abruzzo produces more superb cooks than any other part of Italy. When an earthquake strikes Zoe describes the strength of the villagers to endure yet more hardship. This is a beautifully written memoir full of characters and places which will appeal to the literary traveller, to people who already love Italy and to all those intending to visit.

Books in Print staff review by Chris *****

The Sparrows Of Edward Street by Elizabeth Street

University of Queensland Press
9780702238758

Elizabeth Stead takes readers into the hard, grinding world of a New South Wales Housing Commission Camp for the homeless at the end of 1948. The three remaining members of the Sparrow family, widow Hanora and her two teenage daughters Aria and Margaret Rose, have been evicted from their lodgings after Hanora’s brief career as a kept woman ended with her lover’s appearance in the divorce courts. Father Sparrow had already suffered death by feline when he was run over by a Council van full of stray cats. Hanora takes up residence in a disused military camp, at 19B Edward Street, in one of eight hundred huts made of fibro, corrugated iron and rough timber; boiling in summer and freezing in winter.
The younger sister, Margaret Rose, the ‘Colonial Royal’, is embarrassed and humiliated; in her sister’s words she has ‘never coped well with life overturned’. Hanora is overcome by events and exists in a haze induced by various pharmaceutical products. Aria, who is the narrator of the novel, is the older sister and it is she who takes on responsibility for her family. She is a fixer and is sparrow-like in her manner: she loves her namesakes as ‘brave, scavenging little creatures’ but ‘sly as crows and with the hearts of savages’. It is not long before Aria starts to organize some of the camp’s more helpless residents; she always finds time to help others regain their confidence and self-respect. She also has a habit of saying exactly what she thinks, which often gets her into trouble, but she won’t apologize: ‘I’m not sorry’ is her catchcry. A trickle of money comes from Margaret Rose, who works as an apprentice to a milliner and Aria, who gets by as a ‘bottom-of-the-ladder’ photographic model; her physical assets are employed to ‘love’ a variety of commercial products. She does not believe in lost causes; when things get desperate for the Sparrows, it is Aria who puts her pride and reputation to one side to fight for a better future for her family.
The Sparrows of Edward Street is a wonderful novel about family relationships, about overcoming hardship and the strengths that people can gain from pulling together to beat the odds. It also provides an insight into the lives of those left damaged and poor in the years after World War Two. This is a story told with great humour; you will never look at a sparrow in the same way again.

Books in Print staff review by Chris *****