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TINMAN BY SARAH WINMAN – $29.99 (HACHETTE)
I am a huge believer that big books are not always the best. Sometimes sharp, clear writing can pack a punch in half the length – and that’s the case with Sarah Winman’s latest novel, Tinman. Having read and loved her two previous novels When God Was a Rabbit and A Year of Marvellous Ways, I knew I was in for a literary treat. But also true to form – this new one was starkly different from her other two – proving that Winman can lend her imaginative mind to a variety of styles and story occupations. Here in about 200 pages we meet Ellis in his mid 40s, drinking lots and working night shift as a coping mechanism for his grief at the loss of his wife Annie 5 years before. But soon we realise this grief runs deeper as he also misses his close childhood friend Michael whose vibrancy and daring ignites the lives of those around him – but will also cast darker shadows later as more is revealed.
Winman’s gentle weaving prose reveals snapshots of Ellis’ younger years, the troubles with his father, the arrival and friendship of Michael, his passion for drawing, his mother Dora’s love of art – especially a precious art copy of Sunflowers by Vincent VanGogh and the tragedy of his mother’s death and how it steered his life in a different direction. We hear a range of characters through (un-punctuated) dialogue come in and out of his life – colleagues at work, next door neighbours like student Jamie, Mr Khan or Mabel from his past and indeed his father and stepmother Carol from the present. Each tale works like ephemeral vignettes yet all collide together to illuminate how Ellis got to where he is now, how he tackles his present and what he might do in future. I read this novel in just two days and loved how it unfolded beautifully, and absorbed me into this trio’s heartfelt tale of love, friendship and regret. it was the perfect book for my mood that weekend, cosied up in bed, dogs on my lap and feet, cup of tea nearby and the sun streaming through the trees outside the window. Bliss.
FATAL MISTAKE BY KAREN M DAVIS – $29.99 (Simon & Schuster)
This is book 3 in the Lexie Rogers series but the first I had read and definitely think it was okay as a standalone as there was enough flashback detail to catch me up on anything important. It follows Sydney detective Lexie Rogers in the undercover world of bikies and drug dealers. When a street bombing kills bikies and cops, Lexie has added pressure on her undercover work as well as some suspicions that one of her own is perhaps a traitor. I loved the Australian context of this series – travelling from Sydney to Byron Bay. Davis’ descriptions and authentic unravelling of events was spot on, and not a surprise as she herself is a retired NSW Detective Constable. And lurking in the background there was a creepy killer intent on getting back at Lexie which gave the book a sense of increased tension. Great to get have another Aussie author writing crime fiction that deserves wider exposure and fans – of which now I am definitely one.
Ruben by Bruce Whatley (Scholastic) $29.99rrp
As soon as I opened to the first page of Bruce Whatley’s Ruben I was completely in love with this extensive and imaginative picture book. Simple graphite pencil illustrations flood this 90-page picture book, aided by beautiful words to convey a young boy’s survival in a futuristic derelict city, a kid who dreams of escape – or, at least, used to. But what is most interesting about Whatley’s work to me in this particular book, which is different to Whatley’s previous work on Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat series or Fire/Flood/Cyclone for example, is that most of the Block City illustrations were modelled, staged and lit in 3D by Whatley and then the exported frames were used by Whatley as reference for the illustrations we see in the book. It is the process behind the making of Ruben that has caught my attention as much as Ruben’s adventure in Block City itself, both beautiful in their individual ways.
Shaun Tan, Mel Tregonning and Brian Selznick fans will embrace Ruben, Whatley’s biggest and most imaginatively complex and artistic story
THE WITCHING HOURS: VAMPIRE KNIFE BY JACK HENSELEIT (Hardie Grant Egmont) $16.99rrp
Jack Henseleit has re-created the classic vampire novel and morphed it into a fantastic beginning of a new series for kids called the Witching Hours, book 1 being The Vampire Knife. With evident Dracula influence, this book centres around the brother and sister duo of Anna and Max as they move around the world following their father’s work and study. This time they travel to Romania, the city of Transylvania, where wicked creatures lurk and dark tales speak the truth.
When Max is taken unexpectedly in the middle of the night, it is up to Anna and her friend, Isabella, to help rescue him from the creature with the glowing white eyes. This adventure has aspects of horror and monsters that will delight those that enjoy a little scary in their reading. The characters focus on the delight of new experiences and adventures as they face the impossible and become heroes themselves.
I really enjoyed this book, the monster was an unexpected creature, dressed and described in ways that were both fascinating as well as a little haunting. Anna takes on the classic elder sister role, that (being the oldest sibling) I completely identify with. In the beginning Anna begins a story that potentially could scare her little brother, but in the end we see a brave girl willing to sacrifice a lot to protect him. I can definitely see great potential for this book, with the ending highlighting that this is just the beginning in the adventures of Anna and her new vampire knife. I simply can’t wait to sink my teeth (pardon my pun) into the next installment of the adventure. 10+