Staff Picks – April 2018

April 2018



Holly Ringland’s novel The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a confidently assured story that seeps under your skin and takes hold of your heart. Beautifully structured and written in an quiet unfurling manner, it’s hard to believe this is a debut, but that’s what this compelling coming of age novel is, which is going to be perfect for fans of last year’s mega hit Sofie Laguna’s The Choke or one I loved back in 2011, Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s Language of Flowers.
In this Aussie set novel the first half opens with young abused 9yo Alice, finding solace in books and nature and trying to understand the world around her, as brutal and confusing as that can be sometimes. Raised on an isolated farm property with an unpredictably moody and violent father, and home schooled by her sweet caring garden loving mother, Alice immediately garners our empathy. Thankfully, the descriptions of her dad’s violence are not graphically depicted – more cleverly describing his family’s trepidation and fearful anticipation of his outbursts. When Alice uses a rare chance alone at the property to venture into town, your heart breaks at her lack of awareness of her own filthiness, how bakeries and traffic lights work, and the simple joys of borrowing books from the the shire library. Typically though, it doesn’t come without a severe price. Such an endearing character has you gobbling up the pages as she journeys through these experiences and it was great to see her not being overly precocious or too worldly, given her isolation and young age. When a sudden accident sees her orphaned and then staying with her paternal grandmother June the book switches both place and mood – here, Alice learns to live with lots of adults in a flower farm respite for women fleeing their own difficult situations. We sigh with relief that Alice is finally able to live a life without fear, and appreciate the different skills of the women around her, and the beauty and meaning behind the flowers grown on the farm. Subsequent characters such as June, Twig, Candy etc all add important layers and information without being heavy handed in moving the story forward. But it will be her love for charismatic Dylan and the revelation of a family secret that will see the theme of domestic violence and family neglect once again rear its ugly head that the now adult Alice will have to grapple with. To say more would spoil discovering the choices and outcomes- both good and bad that Alice will make.
Ringland’s structural choices show astute care to compellingly move Alice’s story forward without sacrificing eloquently evocative passages about the surrounding landscape and meaning of flowers. Alice’s journey draws you in and never lets go thanks to great pacing, revelations and a gorgeously warm heartfelt message.  This is a novel about real and flawed humans, sometimes who are not able to find their own voices or truth but thankfully when words fail it can be said with the language of flowers. It shocks and hurts at times, but the very best books do I feel and leave you with a resolution at the end that is most satisfying and wanting to hug or be hugged.



If not for strong praises from readers I trust, Mira T. Lee’s debut novel Everything Here is Beautiful may have flown right past me, like a butterfly in the wind – and that would have been a travesty. Because Lee’s unique exploration and examination of immigration and mental illness, laid out bare on the table and dissected, is unparalleled and moving. How mental illness impacts the relationships with those we love and our own sense of identity is written wisely and sensitively, and matters of family, distance, dreams and belonging only make matters more difficult.
Two sisters seven years apart, Miranda and Lucia Bok, move with their mother to the U.S. following the death of their father in China and have to navigate their new culturally different lives as Chinese-Americans. As adults, in the midst of falling in love and chasing after different desires – Lucia, the younger, more spontaneous sister, marries Yonah, “a one-armed Jew” and responsible, head-strong Miranda moves to Switzerland with husband Stefan – their mother dies. This event stirs a madness within Lucia, voices, and she impulsively decides to move to Ecuador for the younger Manuel, an undocumented immigrant, who’s living conditions and life aren’t exactly better off. Unfortunately, due to a lack of understanding about her illness and familial support, Lucia slips further into her psychoses and Miranda, feeling responsible, desperately tries to help her.
The relationship of these two sisters is some powerful stuff, heart-wrenching. We are taken across time and the Americas, and between point of views and states of mind, to experience the onset of Lucia’s first symptoms, which had gone unnoticed initially, through to recovery and relapse. While Lucia struggles to come to terms with it, she is determined to not be defined by her schizophrenia and ultimately tries to discover where she belongs.
Reading this the title may seem like a lie, and yes it’s quite earnest and almost tragic, but through it all there is genuine humour, beauty and compassion, between characters and within the writing. No debut is honestly without imperfections, but Everything Here is Beautiful is a solid debut and I expect some great things to come from Mira T. Lee.



Anita Heiss has compiled an anthology of stories from around the country that illustrates what it was and what it is like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia. Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities sit alongside those from newly discovered writers of all ages. Contributors include writer Tony Birch, actress Miranda Tapsell, AFL footballer Adam Goodes, feminist commentator Celeste Liddle, and many, many more. The writings vary from fiction, non fiction and poetry.
This collection is a heartbreaking representation of the damage racism and discrimination has had and continues to have on the first peoples of this nation. Despite the challenges they come up against, the contributors to this collection are resilient and persistent in sharing their stories and calling out widespread injustice.  Many are adamant on a narrative where their people are thriving and not just surviving. Every Australian, regardless of their history, should read this collection of unique voices from around Australia.



The conclusion to the Illuminae Trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff surpassed all possible expectations. The new duo we follow in this book is pharmacy intern, Asha Grant, who is captured on the planet Kerenza VI, working and silently resisting in the hopes of surviving the invasion. In contrast, Rhys Lindstorm, has been allocated as the new technician for the BioTech team on the Kerenza, unaware of the situation on the planet before deployment, Rhys finds himself standing with a side that has previously committed mass genocide, frequent civilian murders and all sorts of brutalities. The tensions between these two opposing sides is volitale, with Asha ready to revolt and Rhys doing all he can to save her; it definitely an interesting combination to read.
All this is paired with the communication between the previous books characters; Kady Grant (Asha’s cousin), Ezra Mason, Nik Malikov, Hanna Donnelley and Nik’s little cousin, Ella, all make a big appearance in this book. They are travelling back to Kerenza VI in the hopes that they’ll be able to steal the jump-portal and travel back to their homes.  This creates a parallel between the invaded planet’s perspective and the perspective of their potential rescuers. Allowing the reader to see the two sets of characters slowly come together, unbeknownst to them. This also really increases the tensions, as only the reader seems to know what is happening; but even then, we are forced to puzzle and plan and evade as much as the characters are.
The set-up of this series is still one of my favourite parts of it; with the book being made up entirely of messages between characters, voiceovers documenting what is happening in surveillance videos, and so many other forms of written communication. This unique set-up is different to anything I have read before and I absolutely love it. I am devastated to say goodbye to this series, but have enjoyed every moment of this journey. It has been tense, violent and sad at times, but overall these characters highlight the strength of human perseverance and emphasis that there is always something to fight for.
For those looking for something different, but also fans of Michael Grant, Maze Runner and Hunger Games will no doubt eat this one up as well. 10/10

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