Murder in Mississippi by John Safran
During the shooting of his popular Australian TV series Race Relations, John Safran interviewed, stayed with and then played a humiliating prank on well-known Mississippi white supremacist Richard Barrett. The prank never aired due to threats of legal action, but a year later Barrett was stabbed to death by a black man. Ever the opportunist, Safran salivated at the chance to return to Mississippi to cover the trial and write a true crime novel in the tradition of In Cold Blood.
Interviewing family, friends, white supremacists, Police, politicians and the killer himself (the charming and terrifying Vincent McGee) Safran squeaks with glee when he learns that this may be not just a race crime, but a homophobic one too.
But then the trial takes an unexpected turn, and Safran realises that his burning desire to write a particular type of book are at odds with his self-critical style of reporting, he can't pin down the truth because everyone got a different version of events, and he has completely entangled himself with the people he's interviewing and must now write himself into the story.
Safran's intelligent and hilariously self-deprecating voice shine brightly from this book. If you enjoy Safran's TV and radio antics, then you will enjoy his first endeavour into true crime writing.
Why be Happy When You Could be Normal?
by Jeanette Winterson
Winterson is a unique and much lauded British novelist, and she has spared none of her talent in crafting this moving and intelligent autobiography.
Adopted as a baby into the Winterson family of Accrington, Lancashire to be the only child of a fanatically religious and unloving Mother who often told Jeanette “the Devil led us to the wrong crib” and a timid Father who would not protect her.
Despite her tough upbringing, which included being Exorcised for fancying other girls, and forever feeling unwanted, Winterson's passion for writing and reading (which her mother forbade, consequently burning all the books in their house), her love of life, and drive to live her own life is inspiring.
Written in non-linear time and covering the most personal and emotional moments of her life, including her upbringing, her young escape to Oxford and her quest to find her biological Mother. I particularly liked when Winterson paused to philosophise on nature vs. nurture, anger, sexuality, feminism, literature and most of all love.
I am enamoured with Winterson's optimism, personality, openness and wonderful writing, this book was an absolute pleasure to read. Highly recommended.
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
Christos Tsiolkas', Barracuda, tells the story of Danny Kelly, who as an adolescent is driven by the desire to win gold in swimming at the Olympic games. After being admitted to an elite private school on a swimming scholarship, Danny struggles to fit in, his mixed Scottish/Greek heritage and working class background contributing factors isolating him from his peers. Focusing all his energy into an intensive training regime, he gradually gains acceptance on the back of his athletic prowess, earning the nickname 'Barracuda' and a reputation as a fierce competitor. The glory from his accomplishments, however, is short lived, Danny seeing all that he has been working towards slipping swiftly away from him, propelling him on a path of self-destruction.
The novel is fragmented into two key interwoven narratives, one centered around his teenage years in Melbourne detailing the discipline and sacrifice of both Danny and his family in the pursuit of his dream. The other is focused on the aftermath of this period during adulthood, where the repercussions of certain events from his past, having greatly strained the relationships with those around him, are dealt with and slowly reconciled.
Barracuda is a searingly beautiful novel covering the themes of family, friendship, identity, sexuality, success and also failure. At times quite confronting, Tsiolkas has delivered a bold storyline, resulting in an unforgettable written portrait of modern Australia.
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
Galbraith had received very positive reviews for this debut crime novel, that is until J.K. Rowling was reluctantly outed as the true author. Her attempt to have the novel stand on it's own merits are admirable, and I believe it would have (but obviously with a lot less media) because it's a highly entertaining whodunit with a unique and gritty protagonist.
A troubled and stunning model falls to her death, the police assume suicide, but something's not right. Enter Cormoran Strike, a talented but wounded war veteran turned private detective who is so broke he's just days from being homeless. What follows is a compelling tale of greed and conspiracy, with plenty of danger and financial and class discrimination thrown in.
The characters are rich and interesting, the crimes and their motives are despicable (but not too gruesome) and the narrative and it's obligatory twists are expertly plotted, this is a very satisfying read. Recommended.
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
This very little book, has the heart and atmosphere of one much larger. Johnson has successfully distilled what feels like a huge, sweeping great American novel into a novella, with not a word out of place, and despite it's size, I don't hesitate to call this gorgeous novel an epic.
It's the beginning of the twentieth century and we follow the life of Robert Grainer, a labourer (and for much of the novel a hermit) in the harsh American West. You can almost smell the blood, sweat, sorrow and determination Grainer gives to survive, both physically and emotionally. The aging of his strong, scarred and ultimately deteriorating body beautifully reflect the life of the land around him, which is torn apart and rebuilt continuously by human progress and ruthless natural disasters.
Train Dreams is a pleasure to read, highly recommended.
ALL THAT IS by James Salter
If you like stories about the USA this is a novel for you. All that is is Salter’s first novel in 30 years and has been greeted with great anticipation.
The novel follows the post-World War 2 life of Philip Bowman, a white, cultured, east coast middle class American who navigates the 1950s, 60s and 70s through a career in editing and most importantly through many relationships with women of varying ages and social classes. It’s hard to sympathise with Bowman but as a panoramic view of the American middle class society in the second half of 20th century it’s hard to beat.
All The Things You Are by Clemency Burton-Hill
A New York Times journalist loses her job and her fiance but finds love with an American Palestinian, travels to Israel where she becomes embroiled in Palestinian politics. Told against the backdrop of her Holocaust survivor grandmother and an Israeli uncle dubiously involved in Palestinian movements. A real page turner!
The Undertaking by Audrey McGee
A Brilliant first novel about WW2 telling of the lives of a Nazi sympathising, yet ordinary Berlin family, deluded by Hitler but well-aware of the difficulties of daily life, and an ordinary German soldier who finally ends up in Stalingrad facing the severity of Russian winters, POW camps and the futility of war. Brilliantly realised characters and giving real insight into what war was like for Germans and the plight of the Jews being referenced but not dominating.
Bone Ash Sky by Katerina Cosgrove
A beautifully written book full of evocative characters and intergenerational stories. This is the tale of an American journalist who returns to her homelands to discover the past. Set amongst Lebanon and Armenia, Anoush Pakradounian finds two sides of the truth in the war-ruined countries of her ancestors. The story builds across time and brings Anoush into the present day. Her views on war, truth, death and ultimately, her family, are tried in each memory of the past. If the beauty of this literature does not win you over, the wonderful story will.
The Humans by Matt Haig
Having just solved the unsolvable mathematical riddle - a solution that will profoundly effect the human race and technology forever - Professor Andrew Martin suddenly stops being Professor Andrew Martin, physically he's unchanged, but he is now repulsed by the sight and smell of other humans, doesn't understand the point of clothes and is on a mission to destroy any evidence of his discovery.
Has he gone mad, or is this an intervention by an advanced alien race who believe humanity is not mature enough for the technological advances to come?
We follow the journey of the new Andrew Martin, as he becomes sidetracked from his mission, and explores the wonders of cheap peanut butter, wine, sex, love, and how they're intensified by finality and our mortality.
This is a clever, funny and touching novel about what it is to be human. Recommended.
The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits
Julia Severn, is a gifted student at an elite school for psychics, so gifted that her mentor Madame Ackerman launches a psychic attack on her, causing a slow deterioration of her body and mind.
Upon fleeing the school to recover, Julia's talents are called upon to find a missing person, and throughout the course of this time as an astral detective, she meets, amongst others, The Vanishers (a service helping people disappear and assume new identities), a controversial (and likely homicidal) cult video artist, and learns that everything she thought she knew about her absent mother may be false.
Honestly, summing up the narrative of this story briefly is near impossible, it has many twists and turns, and at times there is a thick cloud of confusion around what is happening, which is reflective of Julia's mental state throughout the novel. I didn't find this discouraging however, as Julavits uses such unique and inventive prose, and with it explores themes of female competitiveness, self harm (both mental and physical) and grief.
If you like your fiction weird and gritty, then I highly recommend this intelligent and very different novel.
The President's Hat by Antoine Lauren
This delightful novel moves quickly along following indeed the President's hat. Our main character Daniel Mercier finding himself one evening without his wife and child treats himself to a bachelor evening at a very expensive restaurant. He is even more delighted when he finds himself seated very close to President Mitterrand, who forgets his hat. Daniel fights a short moral dilemma but ends walking out of the restaurant with the hat on his own head. The hat becomes empowering and changes Daniel's life but he loses it. The story follows the hat.
A wonderful twist completes the story with an upbeat. A pleasure to read.
THE BURGESS BOYS by Elizabeth Strout
This is another great tale from Elizabeth Strout. Family problems bring the force of the family together to help the Burgess boys’ sister whose only son, a socially sidelined child, commits the crime of throwing a pig’s head into the entrance of a mosque. The fearless and highly successful lawyer Jim, also the eldest child of the family takes control while the large hearted and generous natured Bob supports him and Susan, his sister in his own quiet and comforting manner. Susan struggles with her own life and the difficulty of dealing as a single parent with her son. The pressure of the case and of living closely after many years of separated adult lives leads to the airing of family grievances and issues. Cracks appear, history is revealed and the truth becomes unbelievable.
Well worth reading.
The Memory Trap by Andrea Goldsmith
The Memory Trap is the story of Nina who, at the instigation of her divorce, begins a journey that weaves her past into the present. Travelling across many countries, national monuments (such as the Eiffel Tower) are the anchors in this book and are given an iconic love in this book. Nina, as a divorced woman who returns to her home town of Melbourne, is just another in a long line of literary women who are simply ungrateful with their lot in life. If discontent is something you relish, you should enjoy this story with its neatly tied up ending.
Ugly by Robert Hoge
I don't want to tell you all what to do but I love this book so much that if you are holding it proceed to the counter and part with your cash immediately.
When Robert was born in suburban Brisbane in the early 70's his parents were uncertain if they would take him home. He was born with a facial tumour that severely distorted his facial features and malformed legs. In and out of hospital his entire young life Robert decided against any further surgeries at the age of 13.
He knew he would always be different and he accepted he would always be judged. More important than the way he looked is his fine intellect, huge heart, wicked sense of humour and loving family.
A fine storyteller, this book deserves a wide audience.
Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson
The story begins in the Australian summer of 1971, Mr Wigg is still grieving the loss of his wife a few years earlier and tending to her rose garden while he maintains his orchard on what's left of the family farm after part of it was sold to pay his daughter the share she demanded that has caused an estrangement.
Mr Wigg follows the same routines he has for years, he preserves his own jam in an already well stocked pantry, cooks his own meals and without fail nurtures his fruit trees even though his body may be telling him its time to slow down. He resists his sons desire for him to move closer to the city as the farm keeps his soul strong when the body is continually reminding him that he is no longer a young man.
This book celebrates a simple but beautiful life and Mr Wigg and his joy in the everyday minutiae reminds us of the little things that should be cherished.
The Round House - Louise Erdich
The story of ‘The Round House’ takes place within a Native American Ojibwe community in North Dakota. Following the assault and attempted murder of his mother, thirteen year old Joseph sees the normality of his family life shaken apart.
Complications of conviction arise as a result of the crime having been committed on the grounds of the titular building, the ceremonial Round House, which sits within a complex patchwork of land divided into tribal, federal and state territories.
The failure of the justice system sees Joseph and his friends go in search for the perpetrator seeking retribution and justice for the horrific crime. Through comradery and friendship, the surrounding community and extended family come together to heal seemingly irreparable wounds.
Featuring characters from her previous novels, ‘The Round House’ is a memorable read and a most deserving winner of the US National Book award.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
‘We Need New Names’ is the fictional debut novel from NoViolet Bulawayo, expanding on her Caine Prize winning short story ‘Hitting Budapest’. It begins following the plight of ten year old Darling, who lives in a shanty-town called ‘Paradise’ in Zimbabwe amidst an environment of violent political unrest. With no school to go to and left to their own devices, Darling and her friends spend their days playing games and stealing guavas to satiate their ever present hunger.
The dream of escaping their impoverished living conditions for foreign lands comes true for Darling who is sent to live with her aunt in the United States in Detroit, Michigan. The country of abundance, however, turns out to be vastly different to what she imagined it would be. Experiencing displacement in the new land and struggling to fit in in unfamiliar territory, Darling finds herself longing for familiarities from home.
Bulwayo’s unique style of writing is refreshing, exhibiting a rawness and vibrancy through rhythmic language in the descriptions of grave situations and events told from a child’s perspective. A highly original and excellent debut.
Joyland by Stephen King
College student Devin Jones has come to work at Joyland for the summer, a carnival style theme park, one of the last of it's kind, with rigged skill games, rickety Ferris wheels and creepy ghost trains.
This is essentially a coming of age story, but as you might expect from Stephen King, it's also a ghost story and murder mystery. The story is narrated by Jones in the current day, a writer recalling times past, but I couldn't help feeling like it was King himself nostalgically recalling his youth sweating it out in a giant dog costume and coping with his first broken heart.
I enjoyed this story much like I enjoy cotton candy, it's sweet and very enjoyable, and while it won't change your life, sometimes these quick simple pleasures are just what's needed.
The Chef by Martin Suter
Set amidst a backdrop of world events such as the financial crisis within Europe, Obama’s election and the civil war in Sri Lanka, this is the story of Maravan. Maravan has sought asylum from his homeland of Sri Lanka within a Tamil community in Zurich. Through a series of circumstances, he forms a business partnership with Andrea; hapless waitress and streetwise businesswoman. Maravan, who is schooled in the art of Ayurvedic cooking, creates potent dishes for clients who want to “spice” up their life. As the business begins to compromise Maravan’s values, he seeks a path to un-complicate his life and fulfil his wish of love and family.
Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche
When the Australian Torre De Roche finds herself in a San Franciscan bar, talking to a handsome Argentinean man, her steadfast ideas on how to spend her year abroad begin to dissolve. Falling in love can make people do crazy things! Soon enough, Ivan convinces Torre to join him in his long held life-dream and sail the Pacific ocean. Torre, a worrisome sea-sick girlfriend, embraces her fears and commences a beautiful south pacific adventure through remote destinations. Written with the right dose of self awareness and humour, this is a great story that reinforces the virtues of taking a risk to allow great things to evolve. The tale of Torre and Ivan and their boldness for living life fully, is inspirational.
Lexicon by Max Barry
A fast paced, darkly humorous and quirky thriller with an underlying warning about privacy and manipulation.
Behind the scenes lurk a secret society using words as powerful neuro-linguistic weapons to shape governments and manipulate the world for their own diabolical purpose. The most gifted of these agents are 'poets', experts in bending the will of those around them but when one of them stumbles across a dangerous secret, all hell breaks loose.
Barry's writing is fluid and thought provoking, exploring the way language shapes the way we think and act while keeping the reader on the edge of their seat hungering for more.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
The book spoke to me about the way people relate to each other and the choices people make about how they live their lives. This is obviously affected by what choices are presented but in the end, it is up to the individual to take or pass up those choices.
Nora made some hard choices early in her career but then appears to have stalled. This “failure” to achieve what she had hoped for seems to have devalued what she has achieved in her own eyes. She is then presented with the rich chocolate cake of the Shahid family and lives vicariously through them in person for a year and at a distance for several years after, until the denouement which stimulates the angry rant and offers salvation.
I liked the multiple layers and the various literary allusions, and in particular the ruthless single-mindedness of the artist and the idea of the Skandar’s discipline; the idea of ethics and history and the different ways a story can be told. I think the structure of the book was superb.
The Son by Philipp Meyer
‘The Son’ by Philipp Meyer, is a gripping multigenerational family saga detailing the history of the McCullough family, from the mid 1800’s to the present day. Set against the backdrop of the American southwest, the novel follows the stories of three family members; the Patriarch, Eli, also known as ‘The Colonel’, his son Peter, and his great-granddaughter, Jeanne Anne. The narratives centered on each are weaved together throughout the book seeing the family story unfold as the novel progresses. Beginning with the kidnapping of Eli and his brother by the Comanches, through to the events surrounding the empire of wealth built by his descendants as a result of the acquisition of land and oil, the storyline keeps its momentum from start to finish.
At heart ‘The Son’ is a chronicle of the history of the State of Texas, expertly told by Meyer through cleverly crafted narrative voiced by an interesting ensemble of characters. Covering the conflict for land ownership, wealth and power, graphic descriptions of brutality and violence seep through the novel, reflective of a bygone era.
One of the most captivating and exciting reads I’ve come across this year so far, ‘The Son’ does not disappoint, possessing all the makings of a classic novel. I was hooked from the beginning to the very last page.
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
The Orphan Master's Son is an extraordinary tale of survival, identity and devotion. It's sharp prose, darkly farcical humour and self aware narrative, creates a reading experience that is emotionally engaging, thought provoking and uniquely entertaining.
The dystopian landscape of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, in which the novel is set, provides a fertile ground to tell an Orwellian story of resistance, and explore notions of truth, freedom and the individual under the bizarre and horrific dictatorial power structures of Kim Jung-il.
Raised in a North Korean orphanage, we follow Pak Jun Do through his many state determined roles [covert operative, diplomat and national hero among them] as he traverses the heights and depths of this paradoxical society in pursuit of his liberty and his love, the revered actress Sun Moon.
Brutal and poetic, tender and absurd The Orphan Master's Son is an outstanding and profoundly moving work of fiction that leaves much with the reader.
Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux
Nicholas Slopen remembers his life to date, the love of his children, and his wife's betrayal, but what he doesn't recall is dying in a traffic accident months ago, and what of this tattooed and scarred hulk of a body he sees in the mirror? It bears no resemblance to the mild mannered academic he should see.
What follows is a creepy story of literary fraud, Frankenstein-esque Soviet science experiments and the quest for something approaching immortality.
The complex narrative could easily have been confusing, especially as it calls on the reader to make a significant perspective shift late in the novel, but Theroux balances the narration expertly into a page turning, gritty and emotional exploration of language and identity.
I highly recommend this exciting and bizarre thriller.
Harland's Half Acre by David Malouf
In rural Queensland, the Harland family have claimed, lived and lost the family land. Frank Harland, sent away from the family at a young age, commences his reclamation of the land from within his own nostalgia for the place. As he evolves from boy to man, he revisits what is distant and lost to him through the art of drawing. Sketching memories of the past allows Frank to become a renowned artist and winning back the family's land is his driving force. This is a beautifully told story; a dreamy prose of words that sometime have more impact than the narrative as a whole. While it favours description over dialogue, Malouf allows you to feel the isolation Frank experiences from his birthplace, his family and his community as he drifts through a career of circumstance as an artist. Malouf hits common ground here revisiting similar themes to his previous work. Originally published in 1984, this wonderful book has seen a recent re-release and will satisfy readers who enjoy well written and evocative stories.
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes’ latest literary offering is divided into three parts, combining historical account, fictionalized event and personal memoir. Barnes highlights the unpredictability of life in his written contemplation on relationships, from the factors and events bringing two people together and the joy experienced, through to the immense sorrow felt when circumstances unexpectedly change. Connecting stories of 19th century balloon travel and photography with love and grief, Levels of Life is beautifully written and deeply moving in its heartfelt honesty. Highly recommended.
The Fields by Kevin Maher
The Fields by Kevin Maher tells the story of 13 year old Jim Finnegan, the youngest child and only boy in a large, Irish Catholic family household. Set in Dublin in the mid 1980s, the book sees the adolescence of the lead character coming to an abrupt end following the arrival of the new Parish priest, Father O'Culigeen. Whilst dealing with ongoing abuse and a terminal illness in the family, Finnegan is able to find happiness amidst the turmoil with the older, Saidhbh Donohue. The two begin an intense relationship, which despite the joys of first love, is not without its troubles.
Maher manages to mix humour in with the heavy themes of the book. The comical accounts of chaotic family life offer moments of most welcome respite from the confronting subject matter. An impressive fictional debut, The Fields is a well written and engaging read.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Russell's previous book Swamplandia! is one of my all time favourites, so I was very excited to get my hands on this new book of short stories, a format in which she is extremely accomplished.
From young enslaved women evolving into silkworms to produce silk for their empire, to seagulls meddling with people's fate by stealing small but crucial items from their lives, onto US Presidents who find themselves trapped in the bodies of horses, what sound like fantasy stories are really nothing of the sort, Russell has a wonderful ability to weave together reality and the bizarre to produce something both richly funny and devastatingly sorrowful.
Some stories are stronger than others, but I really love and empathise with her young characters whom are innocent, fragile, and strong at once.
She is such a talent, capturing me with her sense of place and time like few writers can and I'm savouring for more already.
Wool by Hugh Howey
A beautifully crafted dystopian world of conformity and corruption, Wool follows the journey of Juliette on her way from mechanic to sheriff within a post-apocalyptic underground silo.
Wool began as a series of novellas independently published online and went on to became a major success scoring Howey a six figure book deal.Howey still retains the exclusive online rights and recently sold the film rights to 20th Century Fox.
With a refreshing plot that strays away from traditional conventions as each layer is revealed, Wool is a thrilling read full of twists and turns and a triumph of self publishing.
How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid’s third novel is a wonderfully engaging tale of one man’s pursuit of wealth in an unnamed burgeoning Asian country. Written in a narratorial style and loosely modelled as a get-rich / self-help book, it is a surprisingly warm and poignant story, which swims against the melancholic nature of the events that unfold. However what makes this book a true pleasure is Hamid’s exceptional and innovative approach. Using skilful and well-honed brevity in his writing, we are able to bear witness to a life unfolding through success and failure, love and loss. This economy Hamid utilises in not elucidating every detail, instead using key events to enable the reader to join the dots, shows a respect for his audience that works to great effect. Highly recommended.
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
I think I'd like to be Jon Ronson's friend. He's funny. And paranoid. And anxious. Traits which become charming and entertaining when applied to his work as a journalist. In The Psychopath Test, Ronson finds himself with the power to spot a psychopath. There's a list. A list of questions to ask an individual to determine whether he or she fits the psychopathic mould. Armed with this list, and the correct skills to use it, he finds himself on a mad-capped journey involving charmers and narcissists. He meets a man who faked insanity to avoid a prison sentence and is now stuck in an asylum, unable to convince his captors that he is, in fact, normal. He spends time with prominent Scientologists who are determined to expose the institution of psychology and its players for the fakes they are, and finds himself siding with them. He learns of experimental curing methods from the 70s - one which involved trapping dozens of psychopaths in a room, all tripped out on hallucinogens, learning to love each other; another allowing a patient to throw her faeces around in a basement as her unique form of therapy. And inevitably, Ronson finds himself questioning his own sanity. You will too, probably. But never fear, as Martha Stout, psychologist and author, assures Ronson, "if you're beginning to feel worried that you might be a psychopath, if you recognise some of those traits in yourself, if you're feeling a creeping anxiety about it, that means you are not one." Good to know.
Benediction by Kent Haruf
Some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read. This is a novel about mortality, lost opportunities and family - those we are born into and those we create. This is a simple story but Kent Haruf is such a remarkable writer that you become so immersed in the characters and their respective sorrow you grieve along with them. The novel pivots around the terminally ill Dad Lewis, being cared for at home by his wife of fifty years and their middle aged daughter. A younger son has detached himself from the family years before and as death approaches his father has to deal with his regret about never really accepting his son. Set in a small community where everybody cares for each other, this novel will remind you about the fragility of life. A must read.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The main character of this historical Icelandic tale is a murderess. While she awaits her death penalty she is placed with a farming family who are more than reluctant to have her under their roof and surveillance, within reach of their two young daughters. As Agnes, the murderess slowly reveals her version of the events that led to her conviction, Kent gradually teases out the relationships and characters in this amazing true story. This intriguing story is a page turner.
RELEASE DATE: MAY 2013
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell
This is another great novel by Maggie O’Farrell. Perhaps it is even better than “The Hand that First Held Mine.” When the patriarch of the family vanishes one morning, Gretta calls in the family to help find him. Each member has their own life issues and problems and each one’s problems are slowly revealed. Their characters are complex and interesting. Put together again in their adult life the children are exposed to and have to deal with the same issues that they escaped from when they left home, as well as their current relationships. The writing is brilliant, engaging and clever. Not to be missed.
Mutton by India Knight
India Knight (Sunday Times Journalist) has written another hilarious semi autobiographical novel.
Clara Hutt the heroine of Knight's previous novels (My Life on a Plate and Comfort and Joy) is 46 and suddenly has the sad realisation (that many of us 40+ women do) that builders no longer whistle at her as she walks by. This is further exacerbated by the arrival of her friend Gaby from LA who has magically* turned the clock back. Should Clara join suit or face the aging process with good grace...
This is a witty treatise; a blast against the ridiculous confusing messages given to adult women on the cusp of middle-age. It is caustic, scabrous and every so often you will hit a line so funny and true it will make you gasp out loud.
(see - botox, lifts and fillers)
TIGERS IN RED WEATHER BY LIZA KLAUSSMANN
Set in the post war world of Martha’s Vinyard in the 1950’s this slow burning novel draws you into the gin and tonic world of the bored and wealthy. Klaussmann creates credible and fascinating characters as her story reveals by separate narrative the inner complexity of the five main characters. Tension erupts when someone is murdered and suspicions abound. This intriguing novel is compelling reading.
THE HONEY GUIDE BY RICHARD CROMPTON
Listed as the First Mollel Mystery this thriller moves the reader through an exciting and unputdownable story. Set in Nairobi in 2007, Mollel, a single father and retired police officer now dragged back into a strange case of murder. This novel is as fascinating for the way it reveals the real life of Kenya as well as the complex murder trial. A really good read.
-RELEASE DATE MARCH 2013
May we be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
A.M. Homes is undoubtedly the American author you have not read but you really, really, really should. May We Be Forgiven is her latest novel, and it is a work of searing honesty and brilliance. As is her forte, AM takes us into the heart of American life and explores the dynamics of a family crisis. When Harry's brother George has what can only be described as a monumental nervous breakdown, he is thrown into his very own. How he reacts to the decisions he must make and the people who surround him is a caustic commentary on contemporary life. You might not love the characters and you may not care for their actions, but you'll be completely blown away by Homes' stunning way with words.
Gaysia by Benjamin Law
I am a massive fan of Benjamin Law's writing and to my utter delight, Gaysia doesn't disappoint. Told with his trademark wit, Law chronicles a tour across Asia's LGBTI scene, from Indonesia through to India. I was equally entertained and schooled - much of the plight of this maligned minority was new to me. While there was much laughter as Ben describes gay resorts of Indonesia, I couldn't help but burst into uncontrollable tears over the stories of sex workers in Myanmar. A daring, wonderful work that I urge everyone to read. Simply outstanding.
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Back to the seventies, the Cold War, Communism and spies, in this novel the beautiful and academic Serena Frome is subtly led towards a career as a spy for MI5 by her lover. Her love of literature makes her very suitable for a mission named Sweet Tooth. To be a spy she must trust no-one and certainly must not fall in love. Can love survive with the truth or with deceit or not at all?
This is another finely crafted and engaging story from a superb story teller.
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
It will come as no surprise to anyone that war poet Kevin Powers has written a lyrical and heartbreaking debut novel. While novels about soldiers are a dime a dozen, this particular tale stands out for its apolitical stance and achingly real characters.
Young Private Bartle makes a commitment to the mother of a fellow soldier that he should not, and then he and his friend Murph are thrown headlong into the horrors of the war in Iraq, and their experiences there will have repercussions they could never have imagined. The most strikingly memorable novel I have read in years.
How Music Works by David Byrne
I should never be allowed to sing or play music, just ask anyone who has experienced a night of karaoke with me. However, I am a sucker for a decent music bio - musicians fascinate me - their minds a crazy maze of creativity that I want to know my way around.
How Music Works is less a biography and more a celebration of all that is musical. Here David Byrne, much lauded musician in his own right, explores the origins and techniques behind the sounds we all love to hear, wherever you might be in the world. Fascinating and inspiring, even a tone deaf amateur can appreciate this beautiful volume.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
WARNING: Do not read this book if you have difficulties expressing emotions, there will be tears.
This memoir by Will Schwalbe is one of the stand out books of the year for me, it is truly a beautiful book for all bibliophiles. When his mother is diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer, Will accompanies her to many of her appointments and it is in hospital they commence their book club.
They are very honest and and candid when discussing the books and
through their conversations they come to rediscover things about each other. Their love of books unites them and helps to draw them closer through a very trying time. Will's mother Mary Anne was an amazing and inspirational woman and as you learn more about her you will probably begin to question elements of your own life. I look forward to many more books from this beautiful writer.
The Dinner by Herman Koch
Funny, riveting, very well written (and translated) but mostly EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE.
With a theatrical structure (divided into courses: aperitif, main, dessert etc.) Koch takes us to a pretentious restaurant with the Lohman brothers and their wives. After some painful small talk and posturing with their waiter, they must discuss the truly horrific things their children have done together and just what they are going to do about it.
The less I say about the story, the more you will enjoy it, but suffice to say, it's all about character development, and it ain't pretty.
Interesting issues such as nature vs. nurture and the boundaries of parental love are touched on, but mostly I gobbled this book up because I had to know what was going to happen next, this is one of those fabulous 'one sitting' reads. I can't wait for his other novels to be translated.
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura
The Thief is an interesting book, a sort of existential Japanese crime noir with a nod to Camus. The title character is a solitary pickpocket who steals for the art of it as much as for self survival. As he becomes entangled in others' lives he finds he is also no longer completely independent and is being led to a dangerous climax. An intriguing look at the dark side of Japan that kept me turning pages till the very end to reveal the thief's final fate. As a existential crime noir novel of course it is never going to be that simple.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
by Jennifer E. Smith
Sometimes love is inevitable, addictive and utterly brilliant! Cheers to one of those times! This book is a whirlwind of romance and passion, set over twenty-four MASSIVE hours. It is an undeniably dangerous read resulting in a very late night and tired morning, but as the saying goes ‘I regret nothing’!
Hadley is claustrophobic and in an airport. Hadley is going to meet her new stepmother for the first time at her wedding. Hadley is seeing her father for the first time in over a year and is ready to cry. There is no chance for a good trip… is there?
Oliver is cute, funny, a gentleman and British. Oliver is sitting next to her for 24 hours in a plane. Well? Everything changes.
True love could be sitting next to you…
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
I liken reading this novel to scratching a big juicy mosquito bite, satisfying yet disturbing, indulgent yet masochistic, so wrong but sooooooo right.
In The Flame Alphabet speech and words, in fact all forms of human communication have become toxic. A single uttered word repulses you, rotting you from the inside out. The only ones immune are children, whom relish in their new found power, stalking the streets in gangs, spouting speech on hapless, terrified adults.
So the search for a cure or a non-toxic alphabet begins, contamination zones are erected and quickly social, moral and ethical boundaries become horrifically shattered.
Artfully skating from absurd-ism to antisemitism, the fantastic to the festering, Ben Marcus has written a unique novel that reeks of genius.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Hig has forged an enviable life in the American Rockies, everyday he flies his 1956 Cessna with his best friend Jasper (the hound) by his side. He has unlimited fuel, tends his healthy veggie garden, fishes and hunts deer. The trouble is, Hig is living in the viral apocalypse. Everyone he loves is dead and he lives alone with the cantankerous ex-soldier Bangley, who relishes in killing the Mad Max-like packs of despicable gangs who roam the countryside with a thirst for blood.
After a brush with brutal death, Hig has had enough and takes to the air in search of a mysterious radio transmission. He doesn't have enough fuel to return and his only hope of survival rests with the reluctant compassion of strangers.
Despite the dystopian setting, this book is an ode to humanity, Hig's stubborn love of nature and the simple pleasures of life in the face of adversity is beautiful and endearing. Recommended
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
Embark on the adventures and failures of Yunior, once again, in Diaz' latest collection of short stories. Beautifully written with sprinkles of spanglish and reeking of Latino culture, these tales focus on the breaking points of various relationships surrounding Yunior and his family.
Since first reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao I've been a huge fan of Diaz' unique voice and this latest collection doesn't disappoint
Packing an enormous hit to the heart strings, This is How You Lose Her traverses a sea of loss, heartache, regret and hope with complex characters bursting from it's pages while maintaining a humorous edge throughout. Definitely in my top 5 for 2012
HHhH by Laurent Binet
Laurent Binet’s debut is a wonderfully engaging and surprisingly charming non-fiction narrative. Part WWII adventure, part historical homage, part travelogue and part writer’s process, Binet effortlessly weaves all these factors to make a glorious and emotional re-telling of an incredible true tale of heroism, villainy, courage and catastrophe
At the centre of this story is the planned assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the so called “Butcher of Prague”, upon where a Czech and Slovak team of resistance fighters execute a plan of such daring in the face of the growing Nazi occupation of their homeland, as to become legend.
What makes HHhH so enjoyable is the clear dedication and respect that Binet delivers in the telling, evident in his anxiety with accuracy, his fear of characterisation or forgetting the nameless, this combined with his skilful prose and likeable personality make HHhH a definite standout of 2012.
- Wilbo Baggins
Delicacy by David Foenkinos
I read this book AFTER seeing the film, I don't think that has ever happened before. I felt so moved and intrigued by these characters that I wanted more details of their idiosyncrasies and relationship. Natalie is a very beautiful young French widow, deeply grieving her handsome French husband (note to self: when out running look both ways for oncoming traffic). She is so fragile (both emotionally and physically) that everyone tip toes around her with fear and concern. One ordinary day (about 3 years after her husbands death) Marcus, a colleague she has paid little to no attention to before, enters her office and interrupts her daydream. In a state of semi-consciousness she silently walks up to him and kisses him passionately. He is the physical polar opposite of her husband (to say he is pushing above his weight is an understatement) and all of the people in her life are shocked by her sudden attraction to him. The key to their relationship is that he can make her laugh and he reminds her that life is better shared with the people we love. A beautiful, twisted, humorous love story.
The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa
This biographical novel by Mario Vargas Llosa takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century as it follows the life of Roger Casement, a British consul, who is sent to report on the truth concerning atrocities being committed against the natives in Congo.
Llosa’s strong and fascinating account of the ongoing struggle that Roger, a moral man of conscience undertook to change to improve the situation for the natives is an engaging story. The different areas that he is sent to, reveal an endemic practice of cruelty by the white planters over the natives in order to harvest the latex. Roger’s continual attempts to reveal these inhumane practises as well as the problems with handling his own sexuality make a compelling and fascinating story.
The story commences with Roger in a London gaol facing the death sentence.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
I’ve read all of McCarthy’s books and this one is my favourite. He doesn’t go overboard with dense and archaic vocabulary (as in Suttree), or too far with descriptions of violence (as in Blood Meridian) Here he strikes a perfect balance mixing his unique poetic realism style with memorable characters that move fast through a chase plot, the genre falling somewhere between Western and crime thriller.
Thanks to the three main characters, the reader is entertained with witty dialogue and the distinct and engaging behaviour, and seem to perfectly compliment each other. The villain, Chigurh, has a strong moral code while still blasting innocent people in the head with an air pistol. Moss, is a man whose life-changes after he stumbles upon a drug bust gone wrong.
My favourite Sheriff Bell contrasts the complex and dark Chigurh by letting us inside his private thoughts via interior monologues. One moment admiring his wife, next he’s contemplating the nature of evil by comparing the recent crimes to his father’s bygone era, where decent ethics had ruled the land. A bitter-sweet man who feels beat by the rising tide of drug-related violence. Set on the Texas and Mexican border further heightens these social/political tensions.
McCarthy’s characters interact with one another in such an entertaining way and he uses geographically specific dialect to allow us to realize even more of the world he has created.
The Coen Brothers’ brilliant adaptation of the book still leaves me thinking McCarthy just can’t be beat. His ability to write concise and stark prose still manages to find moments of humour, and he does it all on an old typewriter! This book is a thrilling, dense and thought-provoking read.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
I’m sure this will be my book of the year even though it’s only August. I’m not sure about the Catch 22 reference, I think it may be faster paced and actually an easier read, but, it is as powerful and funny, and it resonates and affects your thinking about war and these young men that fight it. I like this quote from Fountain’s editor, “This book has disrupted and unsettled my assumptions exposed my prejudices. It’s a rare book that can do this and make you laugh, too.” And it does these things brilliantly. I think this is one of those books that will be read for years, if not generations, to come.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My prediction: This book will be the hands down psychological thriller of the year, even if you are like me and rarely read thrillers,
YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PUT THIS BOOK DOWN. I kept hearing so much hype about this book from other booksellers that curiosity got the better of me but then I had to put my life on hold for a few days as nothing was more important than reading how this story would pan out. I was even tempted to turn to the last page when I was about a third of the way through, the suspense was killing me!
This is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, from the outside a seemingly happy couple about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. When Amy goes missing the police immediately suspect Nick (hey, it's usually the husband) .We learn the story of their courtship and perfect life in Manhattan but when Nick is retrenched and Amy's parents lose a lot of money in bad investments they return to the small town where Nick grew up to spend more time with Nick's mum who is terminally ill. As you read the book you start to question; where they really happy, how well did Nick really know his wife, what is Nick hiding from the police, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHAT IS GOING ON?? Suffice to say, the film rights to this book have already been sold and the author is on the verge of the big time. Read it then tell everyone around you to read it too.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
My theory about why vampire fiction is so popular: hot sex. After reading ADOW it is impossible not to fantasize that every tall, dark and handsome man you pass on the street is a honest to goodness vamp who will lure you back to his lair for aforementioned hot sex. But I digress, back to the book. The book is set in the world of academia and the main character Diana comes from a long line of powerful witches. She has tried to distance herself from the magical realm but when she discovers an ancient manuscript in the university library she unwittingly becomes embroiled in a battle with other witches, vampires and daemons. This book is an addictive saga and fear not you will race through the 688 pages. Part paranormal romance, part historical saga this book is a cracking good read.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Walker’s debut novel posits the worldview of a child with the occurrence of an unexplained global disaster. The Earth is slowing on its axis, rendering havoc on the external and internal worlds of the inhabitants of our planet. As the hours of day and night stretch, and with the unwillingness to cede normalcy, life goes on.
Through Julia, an eleven year old girl, we are exposed to the effects, both subtle and direct, this grinding calamity has on her immediate life, friends and family. While simultaneously, though in limited detail, exploring the macrocosmic effects both environmentally and socially.
Melancholic and introverted in tone, with a pace that matches the foreboding backdrop of imminent doom, The Age of Miracles is an easy and engaging read and well suited to fans of young adult fiction.
- Wilbo Baggins
Woolgathering by Patti Smith
‘Woolgathering’ features a collection of short autobiographical pieces by the intriguing and multifaceted artist - musician, poet, photographer and author - Patti Smith. It was originally published by Hanuman books as a part of a series of small format publications, released in the 80s and 90s, showcasing the written work of many well known and influential artists, writers and poets. The new hardcover reissue by New Directions has the inclusion of additional written pieces, as well as photographic imagery by Smith, which is found interspersed throughout the text.
Recalled memories, gleaned from her childhood and years spent in New York, are presented as beautifully written pieces of dreamy, poetic prose. Smith’s evocative descriptions provide a strong sense of place, people, object and experienced emotion. As a fan of both her music and photographic work I enjoyed it immensely.
Barack Obama by David Maraniss
A quest for the physical and emotional DNA of Barack Obama... almost as elusive
as the search for The Higgs Boson.
A fascinating, exhaustively researched study destined to become a classic political biography of our time and a worthy successor to Maraniss' Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of Bill Clinton.
Obama's search for his identity is revealed as not just black and white, Kenya vs Kansas, but a confluence of the innate intellect, empathy and sheer will power of a true citizen of the world. A man with a sense of destiny fuelled by the squandering of his father's talent by alcohol and ego and his mothers' tolerance, compassion and drive to live a worthy life.
Ultimately however it is between the lines that the real worth, satisfaction and endurance of this biography is realised. Obama's philosophies and strategies find a ready parallel in the lives of everyone in this rapidly evolving universe.
The Mountain by Drusil Modjeska
The Mountain is Drusilla’s first venture into fiction. She draws from her own experience of life in Papua New Guinea in 1968 when independence and a new university are the main issues of the time. Into this background a new couple arrive to study the art and culture of the mountain tribes. Rika and her husband are a young newly married couple who arrive in New Guinea to study art and the culture of the mountain tribes. Rika forms friendships with a diverse group of young people involved in the university and town. Drusilla weaves a complex and intriguing story of love and deceit and the birthing pains of a country striving for independence. This is a very worthwhile and enjoyable read.
The J. M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society by Barbara J. Zitwer
This is a delightful and enjoyable story that launches an independent and romanticly disappointed Joey Rubin , a New York architect into the beautiful and conservative Cotswolds area of England. She is to restore the house of J M Barrie, the famous author of Peter Pan. Her long time friend Sarah helps her initially to settle in but Joey soon discovers the J M Barrie Ladies Swimming Society. Meeting these older ladies of experience and wisdom becomes a life changing catalyst that is the beginning of something new and complicated.
Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander
Shalom Auslander has penned in Hope: A Tragedy, not only an absurdist and darkly comic tale of startling wit, but a commentary on the burden of history, the affliction of guilt and the futility of optimism.
Our gluten intolerant protagonist, Solomon Kugel, moves with his wife, son and ailing Holocaust “survivor” mother to a rural farmhouse, only to find their new home to be inhabited by a long thought dead symbol of the 20th centuries darkest time.
Auslander brilliantly executes the navigation of philosophical, existential and cultural identity meanderings of a very bleak nature, while simultaneously delivering laugh out loud hilarity.
This book may offend some, but the deft rendering of the characters, situations and observations keeps it clear of crass sensationalism whilst unquestionably pushing the envelope of absurdism.
- Wilbo Baggins
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
This book is a fantastic read – one of my recent favourites. The cleverness of Perlman’s plot as it weaves in an intriguing set of mysteries is the first draw card, making it hard to put down. I also warmed to the many characters, particularly Lamont an African American wanting to triumph over his difficult past and find his daughter. His relationship with aging Holocaust survivor, Henryk Mandelbrot, is completely absorbing and once again, asks us to think about the importance of story to comprehend often difficult life experiences. The horrors of Henryk’s past are dealt with honestly and with insight. A thoroughly engrossing novel.
The Man Without a Face by Masha Gessen
Wondering what's been happening in Russian politics for the last decade or so?
Masha Gessen's impressively researched biography of Vladimir Putin is a fascinating place to start.
Documenting the rise of the former KGB agent from political obscurity to Prime Minister and then President virtually overnight. Putin garnered great popularity in Russia as an Iron Fist and internationally as a progressive democratic beacon, while simultaneously dismantling democracy, crushing dissent and propagating corruption.
Gessen weaves an engaging first-hand portrait of Russia's flirtations with democracy and the rise of dissent in recent years. With the recent return of Putin to the Presidency, this book gives a fascinating and disturbing back story to what is sure to be a tumultuous ongoing political saga in Russia.
KIDS & TEENS
How They Met by David Levithan
How They Met is wonderful story about love and about all kinds of love. Levithan has created eighteen separate but equally varied and magical tales that may not overlap by characters or places but intertwine amazingly together. There’s everything from the completely infatuating adoration of a first love, to the utter terror and paralyzing fear that comes from the transition of friend to lover, or to the struggle to stand up for your yourself and for the ones you love, eloquently and beautifully captured in this incredible novel. With this marvelous and original story collection Levithan shows that love is a varied, complicated, addictive, challenging and a wonderful thing. This novel is light and lovely so reading it was pure pleasure.
Age: 12+ Rating: 9/10
Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
Zac and Mia, follows the journey of two teenage cancer patients as they struggle with the challenges both in and out of a cancer ward. Written from both children’s’ perspective it is an engaging, unbelievably realistic read with such raw, genuine protagonists. Zac is calm and kind while Mia is perpetually angry and feisty, in the outside world they would never be friends. But in hospital there are different rules – especially when everyone else there is your grandparent’s age. Set in and out of the hospital Zac and Mia is a powerful (not too depressing) novel, perfect for fans of John Green’s the Fault in Our Stars. The base of the novel is friendship- often tentative, ignored and depended upon. Unlike in many novels things don't ‘magically’ fall into place at every turn, both of the characters are humanely flawed and this makes their friendship both believable and enthralling.
The novel isn’t really about cancer. Cancer is how they meet and the battle they face but it isn’t the focus or the point of it. Zac and Mia is about friendship, love, struggle and finding ones strength in others. Beautifully written, it is easily one of the best books that I have read this year.
For ages 12+ (but enjoyable for all)
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
I love Leonard Peacock. Occasionally a character comes along that tugs at your heart so hard you wish you could physically, magically enter the pages of the book to rescue them. On the day of his 18th birthday Leonard plans to kill his former best friend and himself. First there are four important people he wishes to see and leave with a gift. The book charts the day that may be Leonard's final. Left to raise himself while his fashion designer mother lives the high life in New York, his closest confident is an elderly next door neighbour he watches old Hollywood movies with and most of their conversations are direct dialogue from Bogart movies. Being a teenager can be nightmarish, particularly if there are so few people around that love you. Leonard is a sensitive bright soul that exists in the heart of every teenager and if that hunger for love is not tended to the fear and sadness can overwhelm us. This book will be made into a movie, read the book and remember the good people at O&F told you about Leonard first. This book may be classified as Young Adult fiction but it's for readers of any age.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
WARNING: This book will break your heart. This novel is classified as Young Adult but a good story is a good story and an author of this calibre deserves to be read by all.
Though written by Patrick Ness, the original idea for this story is by Siobhan Dawd, who died before she could write this book. I almost feel like her grief is written among the words on every page of this novel. I sobbed with pain as if the characters were people I truly knew. This is 13 year old Connor's story and that of his terminally ill mother and his recurring nightmare. At 7 minutes pass Midnight the monster calls. The monster insists he can help Connor by the sharing of three stories. This novel is harrowing and beautiful and will be with me always.
The Diviners by Libba Bray
The Diviners is a gripping, sensational read that presents a completely new story, a historical fiction with about 1 000, 000, 000 twists and constant thrills. A young adult fiction unlike any other I’ve read! Awesome! Fabulous! Frightening!
Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City and she couldn’t be happier about it. New York is the city of shopping, fame, actress and movie palaces! Evie has found her place with the glamorous Ziegfield girls and loves the thrills of the rakish pickpockets. However she has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."
Although maybe Will isn’t as crazy as everyone thought, maybe just maybe he’s right. When a series of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. But Evie has a secret, a mysterious power that could save her if it doesn’t get her killed first.
A brilliant book of peril, romance, exploration, mystery and horror, that will keep you clued to the coach.
Recommended for 12+
- Katie McGregor
Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil
Hilarious. Romantic. Geeky. Moving. Beautiful. Life in Outer Space is utterly ravishing. This is geeky at its greatest. Keil has created a life so believable but incredibly captivating.
Sam Kinnison is an intelligent boy, an obsessive-war craft player, a fan of horror movies and generally a geek. However he is perfectly happy being so. He has his few fine friends, the computer room for lunchtime and a life free from the trouble of girls, well at least until Princess Lea turns up.
In comes the Camilla Carter. She is beautiful, popular, caring and for some absurd and unexplainable reason she wants to befriend him. Obviously this leaves Sam shell shocked and distracted, which was not part of his plan.
A fabulous novel about a movie geek and the dream girl he refuses to fall in love with.
For ages: 10+
Rated: 9 ½ / 10
- Katie McGregor
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S King
This dark, humorous, stunning novel shows the effects of bullying and a child’s way of dealing with the pain. A brave endeavor brilliantly pulled off. It is a jaw-dropping combination of both realism and imagination.
Lucky Linderman is sick of the pain, is sick of the torment, is sick of how no one notices or at least pretends not to, he is sick of his turtle mother and his non-existent father. If it weren’t for his secret he wouldn’t be here. Constantly under attack from Nader McMillan’s relentless bullying Lucky needs an escape. This is his secret… in his dreams he escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Lao with his Grandfather. Here Lucky is a hero, a brave warrior. But dreams don’t last forever and there comes a time when every person must face their demons.
This powerful novel about taking a stand will grip your heart and never let go.
Rating: 9/10 - Recommended: 10+
- Katie McGregor
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Part coming-of-age tale, part mystery, “Liar & Spy” takes place in contemporary Brooklyn and revolves around a seventh-grade loner and misfit named Georges. Georges and his family have to move from their home after his father loses his job as an architect and the family sells their house to make ends meet. His mother is working night shifts as a nurse and Georges finds himself living in a new apartment building with a cast of eccentric neighbours.
He is struggling at school as his best friend drops him in favour of the popular clique but he finds a new friend in the apartment building when he joins the Spy Club. This book is funny and heart warming and thought provoking.
Recommended for boys and girls 9-12 years.
Blue by Pat Grant
Pat Grant brings us a beautifully illustrated tale centred around localism and xenophobia. Set in the small beach side town of Bolton, Blue follows three kids who wag school to go surfing and check out a dead body. They're not a particularly nice gang of kids but Pat Grant gives just enough insight into their lives for the reader to see part of themselves. As the story develops we learn of the arrival of blue skinned aliens and their struggle to assimilate against the will of the unwelcoming locals.
The illustrations are bold, filled with fluid lines and visual metaphors.
Inspired partly by the Cronulla riots Pat Grant explores Australian nationalism and immigration while weaving an adventurous story of adolescence.
Blue is a playful comic with a very serious core. Recommended reading and viewing!
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
What if you only had one day to live? Would you change something? Fix any regrets? Fall in love?
Samantha Kingston has it all and she knows it. So what if she has hurt a few people in her time, everybody does. So what if she is occasionally selfish, it’s that or be a loser. There is nothing else she could want and her future is bright. That was until she died. Forced to that one day for eternity, she realizes that maybe there was something she had been missing.
This heartbreaking debut novel will leave you speechless, soaking in its magnitude. Lauren Oliver is a god of young adult literature. Before I Fall will stay in your mind long after you read the final page. You will never forget.
Recommended for 10+
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
‘Love, the deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.’
The future world is one of prosperity, where you are safe from the deadly disease. Lena is thrilled in this new world, counting down the days to her immunity. She longs to be free from such evil, free from love.
In a world where love is despised, where children are no more than a responsibility and marriage is just a mutual agreement between two parities, everything is perfect. Really, is it? Lena is waiting for the day when she is cured, but then she does the unthinkable. She falls in love.
Delirium is an incredible dystopian fiction and a heart-wrenching love story.
Recommended for 9+
- Katie McGregor
The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George
Becca knows what you’re thinking and until now she was using it against you. She is on the run from her abusive stepfather and she has taken sanctuary on Whidbey Island. Things were spacing out and she was finding her place, but when a boy was found next to dead heads begin to turn.
This action-packed novel will leave you thirsty for more. Although it takes a while to get into it, once you do you won’t look back. Wonderfully written and contains incredible description. The Edge of Nowhere is a mesmerizing novel!
Recommended for 12+
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kandare Blake
Dangerous. Breathtaking. Brutal. Merciless. Spectacular. This book is all that and more. Kendra has woven her characters into a magnificent, ghostly web. Her words so picturesque that they feel real.
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat, hunting for the dead.
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into her deserted Victorian home. When Cas enters her home, she, spares his life.
The story is a gut-wrenching, gorgeous, heart-breaking, tortured love story. Basically it is just your average-boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story.
- Katie McGregor
Someone Else's Life by Katie Dale
BRILLIANT! This book is a roller-coaster ride! With so many ever-changing surprises and discoveries you are in for the ride of your life. This book only gets better as it goes along. If you aren’t immediately interested from reading the blurb, take my advice and read it anyway! You will be pleasantly surprised!
Rosie Kenning’s mother (Trudie) is dying, slowly losing contact to her daughter due to Huntington’s disease, leaving Rosie orphaned. Alone and lost, with the prospect of inheriting that fatal disease herself, Rosie is searching for answers on how to continue. When she discovers that Trudie wasn’t even her mother to begin with. Filled with the pain of losing her mother, but also finding a new one she begins to track down her biological mother, changing her life forever.
When faced the dilemma of finding a new home but destroying the lives of others or remaining alone, what will Rosie chose? Selfish and happy or selfless and alone? Only one thing is certain:
One Secret Can Change Everything!
- Katie McGregor
The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne
Another standout book for 2012 is marketed at children but I refuse to let them have all the fun, this book is stupendous and deserves to be read by a very wide audience. Barnaby is born into the very normal, very dull nondescript Brocket family. From the moment he is born it is obvious Barnaby is quite different. He defies the law of gravity, shoots out the birth canal and floats immediately to the hospital ceiling! His parents are mortified and ashamed and they attempt to keep him away from the prying eyes of the public as much as they can. One day Barnaby's mother decides the family would be better off without him and punctures a hole in his heavy backpack that allows him to float away. Barnaby has the most amazing adventure, meeting people just as unique as him on the way. Reminiscent of the great Roald Dahl this is a book to be treasured.
Silhouette by Thalia Kalkipsakis
This book is a whirlwind of dancing, passion, ambition, sex, drugs and celebrity. This is unlike any dancing book you have ever read. It’s shows the tough world behind the incredible performances you go to see at theatres. Scarlett Stirling has put every last drop of her energy into her training and is going to be the next dancing superstar. But then she begins to play a dark game.
When the competition is everyone around you and temptation risks all you have, you must stick to the rulebook, but can you? But in a world when one mistake can destroy everything, how do you stay on top? This book is full of raw emotion and was an absolutely beautiful to read. It is wonderfully written and absolutely stunning for dancers and non-dancers alike.
Recommended for 13+
9 ½ /10
- Katie McGregor
Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks
By Ellie Phillips
Sadie Nathanson spends her life trying to survive the excruciating embarrassment of simply existing. It’s hard enough being a bit of a shrinking violet within a loud and outspoken extended family, but the unexpected card from ‘Dad’ on her 15th birthday is the last straw. As ‘Dad’ was an internet sperm-donor, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is a bad joke, probably set up by her ex-best-friend Shonna. But it starts Sadie wondering – just who was her father? Is he the cause of her worry crinkle? What would happen if she tracked him down? So she decides to do just that. With help from her nerd cousin Billy, his friend Nodding Tony and a regular dose of ‘Haironomics’ (Sadie’s own hairstyle-related philosophy system), they uncover a lot more than they bargain for...
Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks is an insightful, hilarious and purely awesome novel. It is filled with action and is surprisingly gripping. Recommended for people ages 10+.
- Katie McGregor
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Why We Broke Up is a young adult book about the complicated nature of teenage relationships. With its quirky illustrations and thick glossy pages Daniel Handler's book is unconventional for many reasons. One is its telling by a male from a female's point of view, something done surprisingly well. In a letter from Min to Ed the book details why they broke up and all the complicated reasons that contributed. The characters of Why We Broke Up are unorthodox and for this reason the reader is drawn to both. Min and her mental rambling and movie references and Ed with his bravado and humour make for enticing reading. Their relationship and lives are filled with passion and flaws making this book very accessible to teenagers and anybody who has had to love and let go.
Age recommendation: 13+
When We Were Two by Robert Newton
When We Were Two is a heartwarming adventure about two children who search for their Mother. The journey they make and bravery of the oldest child in leading his brother though the unknown will create a sense of incredible awe. The pain and the weight of guilt the oldest child feels opens your heart and makes you wish you could comfort the boy. The innocence and simplicity of the youngest will make you cry and cry and fall in love. Journeys like these don’t come around every day! This book tells the dark side of the world from a child’s point of view and will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.
Rating: 8 ½ out of 10
- Katie McGregor
The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda
For those of you who love the Hunger Games and for those aliens out there who don’t this is the perfect book for you. Only a few of us humans remain, all of us surrounded by vampires longing to stick their teeth into our flesh and we are kept hidden in a glass dome, barley alive. But Gene, a human, has managed to survive capture, pretending to be one of them. Things start to go wrong when he is chosen to kill humans in a live hunt and then drink their blood. Action, drama, blood and a little romance make this a book you will devour, every last sentence, every last drop. Age: 11+ Rating: 9 ½ out of 10
- Katie McGregor
Changeling by Philippa Gregory
Magic, witchcraft, innocence, guilt, good and evil. In the year 1453 whispers are running wild about the end of the world. Lady Abbess is trapped in a nunnery when her sisters begin to have strange visions and bleeding wounds. She is believed to be responsible, a witch. When Luca comes to investigate, things start to get VERY interesting. This historical fiction is a whirlwind of adventure, injustice, magic and excitement.
- Katie Mcgregor
The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
Written by a T.V personality from the well-known program, Glee, The Land of Stories is a twist on the fairy tales that we have all grown up reading. When Alex and Connor’s father passes away their life fills with sorrow, also as their mother has to increase her work hours to support her family. When their grandma visits for their birthday she gives them a spectacular present, a large book called ‘The Land Of Stories’ that contains the fairy tales that have been read out to the twins throughout their life. Discovering that the book acts as a portal, Alex and Connor find themselves in an alternate world where they encounter witches, wolves, princesses and evil queens. Wanting to come back home, the twins race against the clock to find the ingredients to the wishing spell, the spell that has the ability to return them to their home. As they uncover the secrets of this enchanting land they discover even more about themselves. The Land Of Stories is an enthralling book that keeps you wanting more. I recommend this book for children age 9+.
Wonder by R.J Palacio
August Pullman is an ordinary kid. The only problem is he does not have an ordinary face. Since he was born he had severe facial abnormalities and had been treated differently to normal kids. He has been subjected to numerous surgeries and has been home-schooled to avoid the cruelty of others. August has remained sheltered by his parents until they decide to make him do the hardest thing someone like him could do. Attend middle school. Even though his father says it will be “Like a lamb to the slaughter”, August finds friends in the unlikeliest of places. This book is amazingly written and is narrated by different characters with certain links to August. This book is solely about belonging and unfair judgment. I strongly recommend Wonder for children between the ages of 10-12.
Punchlines by Oliver Phommavanh
I strongly suggest that you read this book as soon as you can. It’s very good and very funny. Johnny Khamka is a seriously weird boy who discovers that he could be a VERY good comedian. But as Johnny draws closer to the State final his jokes get lame and unfunny. Will Johnny win the State final or will the other comedians overpower him? I liked the way Johnny narrates the story because he makes it so entertaining and uses funny language.
- Jager (aged 9)
Blood Brothers by Carole Wilkinson
This book is brilliant. Tao a monk of the Yinmi monastery finds himself confronted one night with a glowing green dragon. Tao reluctantly allows himself to be pulled with the green dragon Kai into the dangerous world of bloodthirsty barbarians, deadly dragons and sacred treasures. This book has made the Dragonkeeper series even more renowned for its cleverness, exciting adventures and its creative ideas. I think the author Carole Wilkinson has created a true masterpiece. You can enjoy this marvelous book even if you have not read the others.
- Eli (aged 11)
Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness
A phenomenal dystopian series set in a world where human colonists have settled on a distant planet, Chaos Walking follows Todd's journey as his world starts to collapse and he learns everything he thought was true was a lie. Viola, his counterpart, is a newly arrived settler who discovers the atrocities first hand and must adjust to this incredibly harsh environment while navigating her relationship with Todd and the people of this world. Along their path Todd and Viola are faced with increasingly difficult choices and their decision will often come back to haunt them.
This is a wonderful set of books that deal with many philosophical questions of race, slavery, oppression and at its heart, good and evil. Ness deals with good and evil in a very mature way making it as confusing in the books as in real life. Often the heroes and villains will show traits of both while committing heinous atrocities or acts of compassion and this humanises each character in a remarkable way. As the story unfolds you begin to see how hatred and desire for power has warped each characters perception and how much the settlers have strayed from their original goals.
Chaos Walking is a powerful series that creates an overwhelming desire to page turn into the wee hours. If you haven't picked this up yet, do yourself a favour and buy all three at once!
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
The first thing that comes to mind about "Midwinterblood" is that reading it was a pleasant surprise. With a seemingly cardboard set up the author manages to innovate in strange and original ways, one being the use of a technological device called the ”OneDegree bumper”. This idea seriously impressed me even separated from the book. The main premise of "Midwinterblood" focuses on the boundaries of a love that lasts forever. It explores this through the main character of Eric Seven who has lived many lives and in each one has loved the same woman. In a twist of fate they are not always born as lovers but as mother and son or brother and sister. An original slant to the story line. Told in reverse from June 2073 until a “time unknown” slowly through the course of the novel you uncover the events that have plagued these two ‘immortal souls’. "Midwinterblood" is an eerie story, dark and full of sinister suspense. Brimming with tension this short novel devours you from the first page drawing you in with its unorthodox take on “love re-born”.
Recommended: ages 14 and up Rating: 8.2/10
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
It is always interesting to read a novel that has received so much hype and generated such wildly opposite responses. Readers fall into either the Lovers or Haters camp. After finishing "Imaginary Girls" I can safely place myself on the side of those who loved it. Fair warning, this book is not for everyone. It is confusing and riddled with many chilling and frightening elements. And while this might be a turn off for some people, Nova Ren Sum presents it in a way that mesmerizes and captures the audience all the way through. The intention of this book is not to tuck you in at night with a warm cup of milk bidding you sleep. It is to shock you and it is to scare you. Told from the perspective of Chloe the novel focuses on the relationship between her and her older enigmatic and wild sister Ruby. It starts off one dark night at a party where, after a dare from Ruby, Chloe swims across a reservoir of water and, in its murky depths, comes across the cold body of a dead classmate. After this Chloe is sent from her home town - to the unhappiness of Ruby who will do anything to get her sister back. And when she returns home two years later things are certainly not as they were, the truth, an illusive object, now shrouded in death. Dark and twisted "Imaginary Girls" is a revolutionary book about the complicated and dangerous bonds of sisterhood.
Recommended: ages 15 and up - although depending on taste could be suitable for younger audiences.
Switched: BK.1- Trylle Trilogy by Amanda Hocking
Switched is a magical, superb book. It features magic (obviously), magical creatures and trolls (which due to this book are coming into fashion, watch out vampires!). Switch will captivate you and ensure its pages keep turning. It’s a mystical novel of romance and lies. The main character, an awkward, strange female teenager (no, not all teenagers are like that), with a dark past, becomes an acquaintance of a mysterious, young adult who has a habit of appearing in her bedroom at night. Soon she’s off with him, traveling to find the truth of her past. Hurry up and read this book before everyone else does, because Switched has true awesomeness and is going to be big!
For ages 10+ Rating: 8/10
- Katie McGregor
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Romance, ladies or men for that matter, has arrived. When strong, protective, superhuman and plainly gorgeous Gale (sounds good already right) falls for Emma, who thinks she’s human, a forbidden romance unfolds and this time it isn’t because the boring human might be murdered, bitten by her vampire lover (thank god), no this is much more serious. Generations of people are relying on them not being together. If you’re ready (which you should be) to fall in love, cry and then fall in love some more then this book is perfect for you!
Suited for people aged, anything, okay fine, 10+ 9/10
- Katie McGregor
10 Futures by Michael Pryor
If you love a book with drama, action, comedy and suspense. A book that makes you think and ponder then this is the book for you. I was so engrossed that I stayed up many nights just thinking about some possible futures. The main two characters are kind, daring, interesting and very believable. This book points out some of the problems with today’s society and how it could change. 10 Futures is a book with just that, 10 possible futures in which two consistent characters remain. So how would you go if artificial intelligence ruled our lives, there was extreme rationing due to overpopulation or a massive plague that wipes out most of humanity? Read up to find out 10 Futures will leave you speechless!
- Katie McGregor
Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter
This book is phenomenal; I was gobsmacked with not only the brilliance of the series but also how action-packed, thrilling and emotional this book in particular was. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, for real this time. The use of spies, humour, action, emotion, boy-drama (vital) and mind-blowingness blends together into the young adult girl fiction of the year (well so far). So if you are thinking (or even not thinking) about reading this book, well screw your head on, rush out to the store/library and have a mental fit until you have this book in your hands, because it really book changing. But make sure you have tissues right next to you and are NOT in a extremely public place, cause you will be crying, laughing, smiling, crying hysterically again and then really tired the next day, when you haven’t had any sleep from reading this book. Recommended for people (girls mainly) 8-100000000000 years old. Rating: 9.5/10
- Katie McGregor
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
Is it too early to declare BOOK OF THE YEAR??? Don't look at this book as a young adult fiction title, this is simply a superb book. Having read two previous brilliant books by John Green I was giddy with excitement when I unpacked this book.
Hazel is a 16 year old cancer patient, frustrated that her mother insists she attends a cancer survivors group for teenagers. Hazel rarely communicates within the group but to herself she describes her initial diagnosis with thyroid cancer at 13 (three months after her first period) as like: Congratulations! You're a woman. Now die. At group she meets Augustus who has lost a leg to cancer, and they forge a strong friendship as he tries to convince her they are destined to be together. Yes, this is a funny bookabout cancer but it is in very safe hands with this author.
WARNING: somebody may die and you may sob uncontrollably and you may never be able to forget these characters. This is a book you will want to reread and you will insist everyone you know reads it. This is truly a book we will be talking about for a long time.
Mini Bonus Review:
I agree with Natalie, this book is excellent, and heartbreaking. The central characters are teenagers, but I would be reluctant to call it teen fiction, it's themes of life, love and loss are universal and beautifully portrayed.
Apothecary by Maile Meloy
The Apothecary is a fantastic book told about the period after the end of World War II. Janie comes from Hollywood to London because of the U.S government. Almost immediately she becomes friends with the Apothecary’s son, Benjamin. Then the Russian spies arrive taking the Apothecary and leaving Janie and Benjamin to find and recue Benjamin’s dad and guard the mysterious book, the pharmacopoeia. Along the way they use some of the book’s magic potions, escape from their Latin teacher Mr. Danby and travel on a boat all the way to the waters of Russia to contain an atomic bomb, all with the powers of the Pharmacopoeia. I would recommend this novel to anyone over the age of 10. You will find it is one of the most clever and exciting books you have ever read.
-Eli (aged 11)