Fiction

The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith

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Martin Embry, a uni student has persevered in requesting Claude Ballard for an interview about his famous movie “The Electric Hotel” of which there are no known copies. Claude agrees finally.
In 1985 the Lumiere brothers are demonstrating their forty six second moving film, the first ever to be projected so that groups could watch, a ground breaking improvement on Edison’s Kinetoscope. Claude is transfixed, smitten with the impact of this revelation, his life changed forever.
Dominic Smith’s new novel is an historical and fascinating story of the birth of the movie industry told through the life and love of Claude. It takes us through the tortuous pain of love, creation, business and the war.
I found this book fascinating from both an historical perspective and loved it through its characters. A great story.

- Barb

The Force by Don Winslow

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Sergeant Denny Malone can't remember when he crossed the line, but he knows there's no going back. It's a familiar moral conundrum; still the manner in which it is lived (and suffered) through by Malone over the course of this brisk and rivetingly visceral book makes Don Winslow's 'The Force' essential reading for crime fans - or indeed, anyone curious about the genre. Even in a crime fiction landscape already packed with grizzled, taciturn dudes, Malone carves a lonely path. Lacking the cunning of a Bosch or Rebus, Malone aproaches obstacles with the subtlety of a human battering ram. And yet, in contrast to the superhuman capacity for violence and emotional detachment exhibited by a Jack Reacher-type hero, Malone is capable of genuine human relationships. Indeed, it's these relationships (particularly those between Malone and his fellow cops - his second family) that give rise to the moral questions that drive the action. Many reviewers have drawn comparisons between this book and Mario Puzo's classic mafia-themed novels. The comparison is apt, if only because it raises the question of how the members of a particular moral tribe (whether this applies to the crooks or the cops) attempt to justify their actions as a necessary means of 'protecting their own'. As Winslow's book shows, such justifications can only go so far; at some point, the things we do to protect others from the consequences of our mistakes risk alienating us from those same people entirely. Will Denny Malone heed this lesson before it's too late? Pick up a copy and find out!

- Dan

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

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Ulf Varg is a detective. Smart, revered by his peers, and owner of a lip reading dog and a light grey Saab.
In the Department of Sensitive Crimes, McCall Smith, considers, through Ulf, the idea of bringing ‘…to the surface the things that are below the surface’.
For those unfamiliar with Scandinavian literature, and culture, McCall Smith paints a picture of a way of life that, while existing within the same system about which we whinge, is characterised by values of equality, horizontal social fabrics, and community. Its a place that seems like that of a by-gone era. Against this backdrop, and many philosophical musings, Ulf finds simple pleasures to content him in his post-divorce life. He listens carefully. He respects the values and concerns of others, even when it pains him. And finally, he carefully dissects the uncertainties and perplexities of the world around him, one sensitive crime at a time.

- Ben

Down the Hume by Peter Polites

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Mesmerised by his abusive boyfriend and addicted to the drugs he steals from the aged care home where he works, Bux is stuck in a rut.  

This gritty, queer, drug-addled noir isn't what you'd call a pleasant read, but it is a deeply satisfying exploration of Sydney's darker recesses. Down the Hume will appeal to fans of Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard, and pairs well with a knowledge of Sydney and its inhabitants.

This is an excellent debut from a promising young Western Sydney-based author.

- Jacob

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

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Black Leopard, Red Wolf is nothing like Game of Thrones. You might say that Black Leopard, Red Wolf is to Game of Thrones what Game of Thrones is to Harry Potter - but the truth is that it's operating in a different sphere. 

The first book in Marlon James' Dark Star trilogy does not allow for lazy reading. It is dense, delirious, expansive, and compelling, spinning African mythology into dark, violent, embodied writing.
If you've found popular fantasy lacking, in its writing or in its conventions, this may be the book you've been waiting for: assured, capacious, adult fantasy. I still don't quite know what to make of this book, and that, I think, is exciting.

Like Neil Gaiman said: 'Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the kind of novel I never realised I was missing until I read it.'

- Jacob

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

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Space opera like you've never seen it before.
Becky Chamber's excellent debut novel represents a broader shift in the narrative priorities traditionally associated with science fiction. It revels in character rather than action (though there's a fair bit of that too), and develops an episodic slice-of-life quality in an thoughtful, well-drawn universe.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a great place to start or develop your relationship with sci-fi, and it's the first in a series of three tangentially related novels.

This is one to read, savour, and throw to your friends.

- Jacob

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

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Boys Swallows Universe takes you deep inside 1980’s Brisbane underworld.
Eli and August Bell are remarkable boys, with knowledge and courage well beyond their years. Dalton beautifully contrasts what is an incredibly difficult and violent upbringing with an overwhelming sense of loyalty and love for family and friends. Each character is wonderfully thought out, all with their own unique adversities to overcome.

A crime novel where the ‘bad guys’ are actually the good guys, and in the end, the good guys will always win.

This book is truly gripping, one I really didn’t want to end. My favourite book of 2018!

- Bella

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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This book is without a doubt, one of the quirkiest books I have read in a long time.

Keiko is a middle aged Japanese woman who is unmarried, has no children, and has worked at the same convenience store for the past 18 years. She tries hard to change her lifestyle to fit with the 'normal' Japanese woman, however fails repeatedly. The writing is full of dry humour and pushes boundaries of what is socially acceptable. Murata crafts the perfect novel for anyone who has ever felt like they just don't fit in.

The conclusion she reaches is that being happy and comfortable is far more important than being normal – a message I think everyone can do with being reminded of.

- Bella

Cedar Valley by Holly Throsby

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Holly Throsby’s ‘Cedar Valley’ is fantastic. 
Benny Miller knows very little about her mother. With her recent passing Benny moves to Cedar Valley in an attempt to uncover more of the woman’s mysterious and intriguing life. On the day she arrives in town, an unknown man dies in the Main Street. An investigation begins, and the town work together to find missing pieces to solve the puzzle.  

The mystery of Benny’s mother and the unidentified man run parallel throughout the novel. Through many twists and turns Throsby weaves these two stories together, eventually coming to an excellent and unexpected ending. 

- Bella

First Person by Richard Flanagan

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In these times of Trump's ‘fake news’, this is an eerily relevant and sobering story of how self-deception can so easily lead to the deception of others.

Flanagan weaves his fascinating story against the backdrop of the life of a writer, his family life and struggles, friendships and the powerful and controlling influence of a con man who moves all the goal posts. 

- John


Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Normal People is Irish author Sally Rooney’s highly anticipated second novel.

A love story of sorts, Rooney beautifully crafts the complex relationship between wealthy, unpopular Marianne and working class, well-liked Connell.
The novel follows the two characters on-again-off-again relationship as lovers and friends, from high school to adulthood. Each character seemingly switching places with the other throughout, between self-confidence and certainty to unsettling detachment from themselves and their life.
Rooney cleverly explores difficult aspects of the human condition - vulnerability, self worth, power, identity and learning how to love and be loved. Each concept is thoughtfully brought to life through these two extremely special characters, and it is with great ease that one becomes invested in their story.
The novel is gently paced but the overwhelming drive to uncover more of both characters’ inner psyche and a compelling desire to discover whether or not their timelines will ever align and allow them to truly be together, makes for a gripping read.

Normal People is by no means a 'normal' love story. What it is, however, is a stunning exploration of what it means to be human, and the power of love to change and heal lives.

- Bella

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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An aristocratic man of tradition and erudition is confined to hotel-arrest in Russia’s etropo. The country’s decades of horror affect the outside world. The man of luxury and freedom must now live out his days in an attic - with a whole world to be discovered and encountered in the hotel: An abandoned girl, a willowy actress, an austere party ‘comrade’.

This story has a ‘coming of age’ feel to it: The gentleman must become a man - if he is to survive his confinement. The gentleman must master his circumstances, or be mastered by them.

In stark contrast to outside Russia’s failing people experiment, the gentleman will learn that one does not need to influence the course of history, but instead rise to the challenges of caring for a child.

The story is read with a constant smile, as one surveys the many lessons and heartaches that frame themselves from life’s intrusions of beauty. The smile glints and spreads with every witty and heartfelt conversation, with the many characters, and at every chapter of this wonderful book.

Guest Review by Adam 

 

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

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This is a fast-moving social commentary on three women from three differing areas of today's society colliding. There is Emily, former assistant to Miranda Priestley (and yes, Miranda does have a great cameo piece) who is now a stylist-turned-image-consultant troubleshooter. She is being pushed out of her job identity by a millenial and her use of social media where the number of followers you have determine your wordly status (think Kardashian). Emily is also going through somewhat of a crisis in her long distance marriage. Then there is Miriam, an old friend of Emily’s, a high-powered New York lawyer who traded it all in for life in the very upmarket suburbs and more time with her family, but can she deal with the suburban hierarchical lifestyle that depends solely on how much money you have and the compulsory daily uniform of LuLulemons which does not correlate well with any intake of carbohydrates?Joining them is Karolina, a former supermodel married to a would-be politician and hands-on step-mother to his son who is abruptly and quite horrifically sidelined by him in favour of a younger more politically-connected partner.

This is a very 2018 story that I read straight through as it grabs you immediately, then horrifies you with how the media can be manipulated - by a power-hungry man to destroy a woman, and then further manipulated by Emily to rehabilitate her image in the media (so many correlations that can be thought of here) whilst Miriam works on the legal angles and worries about her husband’s faithfullness. And then combine this with the strange lives that people live with too much money and not enough accountability both in suburbia and the city. The minutiae of suburban life is nothing new and nothing has really changed over the decades, apart from what was previously hidden from public view now being exposed by technology and the media. The story is nicely resolved at the end and is a very enjoyable read - Highly Recommended.

- Ann
 

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

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In a world full of fictional crimestoppers who are little more than thinly-veiled superheroes, Jackson Lamb (the former MI5 operative at the heart of Mick Herron's dazzling new series of spy thrillers) is a welcome breath of stale air. Where a character like Jack Reacher despatches multiple enemies per page, often with improbably lethal efficiency, Jackson Lamb is content to let the fight come to him - or better yet, to avoid it altogether. In fact, if there's anything improbable about the character of Jackson Lamb it would have to rest with the question of how one man could be so cynical, sarcastic and flatulant, and yet so endearing. Already wildly popular in his native Britain, author Mick Herron is fast becoming a favourite with crime readers all over the world who can appreciate a bit of old-school grit with their crime fiction. Comparisons to the great John Le Carre are not without basis, but where George Smiley's deadly skill-set was often concealed behind a facade of genteel restraint, Jackson Lamb slips under the radar for other (less savoury) reasons. The bottom line: underestimate either one of them at your peril.

A must have for lovers of old-school spy fiction. The good news is, once you finish, you can move straight onto the remaining two books of the trilogy!

- Dan

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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A novel that is at once sweeping and achingly intimate, Pachinko follows several generations of a Korean Japanese family throughout the 20th Century. The glue that holds the narrative together is Sunja, who at age 16 falls pregnant to a married man and ends up marrying a kindly Christian minister who moves their burgeoning family to live in Japan with his brother and sister-in-law. They did not know then that they faced poverty, decades of relentless prejudice from the Japanese and a political climate that would prevent them from ever returning home to Korea.

Sunja's choices, made at such a young age, cast a shadow over her family's future. By the time we leave her in 1989, we are so familiar with the texture of her life – we have felt her shame and regret, her grief, her uncertainty as well as her sureness, her pride and joy, her contentment – that it becomes hard for us too to step out from that shadow.

- Kate

The Hoarder by Jess Kidd

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The Hoarder is a mysterious novel of superb characterisation, excellent wit and deceptive wordplay. Maud Drennan, a psychic carer faces the task of helping the cantakerous Cathal Flood clear out his grand home in West London. Flood has scared off past carers and lives with a menagerie of cats, a fox, endless jumble and a few ghosts of the past. Soon Maud finds herseld trying to uncover the mystery surrounding the house and its inhabitants, aided only by her agoraphobic landlady Renata and a legion on unhelpful ghostly saints.

- Kate Menday

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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I'm jealous of people who get to read this novel for the first time. My first time was one of the most memorable reading experiences I've ever had. 

The novel alternates between two perspectives. Nao, a 16-year-old girl living in Tokyo and contemplating suicide, is writing a diary to demonstrate all the reasons why her life is no longer worth living but also to document the extraordinary life of her beloved great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. Ruth, a writer living on the Pacific coast of Canada, finds a Hello Kitty lunch box washed up on shore and, inside, Nao's diary. It's a few months after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Ruth becomes obsessed with Nao and desperately tries to find out what happened to her. Meanwhile, in the past, Nao carries on with her bitter-sweet everyday life. Ozeki masterfully plays with time, fact and fiction to create a story that is immensely satisfying.

- Kate

Autumn by Ali Smith

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Autumn, the first post-brexit book to emerge, is a poetic exploration of love and loss amidst political disarray. It is a meditative novel that effortlessly drifts between the dreams, memories and present-day realities of its two main characters, Elizabeth and Daniel. A deeply humanist book, Autumn delves into the hopes and fears of its two protagonists as they work their way through a politically divided Britain, (simultaneously adding healthy doses of art-history and philosophy along the way, in typical Smith fashion).

Autumn is the first in Ali Smith’s seasonal four-part series, and can be read as a stand-alone or alongside her latest offering Winter. Deeply relevant, and beautifully composed, Autumn is a must-read for anyone and everyone grappling with the current changing climate.

- Alex

All That Man Is by David Szalay

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Can all that one is - all that one's life amounts to - be captured in a single moment? It seems impossible, and yet, with his most recent novel, David Szalay has accomplished something almost as unlikely. He has managed to build a series of seemingly unrelated stories around those equally rare moments at which it feels as though something deeply significant - something life-altering - is at stake; those moments at which the very idea we have of ourselves and what we are capable of is either confirmed, or irrevocably shaken.

The problematic nature (to put it lightly) of contemporary masculinity has been the subject of much debate in recent times, and rightfully so. What this book helps to remind us of, however, is the absolutely crucial role for challenging and ambitious fiction for such discussions. Clear-eyed and merciless in its depiction of male shortcomings, Szalay's book is nevertheless full of empathy for its flawed - but recognizably human - characters. What sets this apart from the typical 'man-in-crisis' novel is the length Szalay is willing to go to to uncover the hidden corners of its protagonists' inner lives.

Bitterness, pathos and a hint of transcendence combine to make 'All That Man Is' essential reading.

- Dan

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

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Ruth is 30, her fiance has left her for another woman and her brilliant academic father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. At a loose end, she acquiesces to her mother's suggestion that she move back in with her parents to help care for her father - but only for one year. The novel chronicles this year in spare vignettes, interlaced with records from a journal Ruth's father kept while she was growing up.

Khong's prose demands to be re-read and relished. This novel may be slim but it is jam-packed full of achingly beautiful observations about family, love and uncertainty, balanced perfectly with a shrewd sense of humour that made me smile throughout.

- Kate