Staff picks – July 2016

JULY 2016

Natasha

Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa $27.99rrp
AUSSIE FICTION DEBUT

One of the best things about being a bookseller is getting advanced reading copies and reading with no awareness of story or expectation except my rep saying I think you’ll like this. This debut novel by Sri Lankan born Aussie Rajith Savandasa came to extra attention to move up the pile after Toni Jordan told me that he had been a student of hers in a RMIT creative writing course and I am so glad she encouraged me to read it for its uniqueness and heartfelt family drama. I must admit, the opening was a little disorienting, reminding me of how I felt when I read Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger back in 2008 (which would then be in my top 5 that year and win the Man Booker) for this was a world and incident I knew nothing about – the Sri Lankan civil war of the 1980s. We gain insight into this pivotal time through five voices within one Sri Lankan family opening with the family servant Latha, and then turning to the young daughter Anoushka, her successful businessman yet distracted father Mano, her mother Lakshmi and her older hardworking brother Nirijian. The chapters are structured so we hear these voices multiple times, reminding me of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, and serving to seamlessly advance the story as well as that distinct advantage of allowing the reader into the internal motivations and responses of this fractured family. I liked this novel for its uniqueness, its insight and the distinctly clear individual voices of each of the family members – something that has become a bit of a modern trend and in this case, done very well. Give it a go!


 Mark

Remade by Alex Scarrow (BOOK 1 – NEW SERIES) $14.99rrp
TEEN/YA SERIES

Anyone who has asked me for advice on books knows I am a massive fan of the Timeriders series. Well, that author Alex Scarrow has a new one for those teens who have grown up and want something darker, meatier, scarier. Called Remade this book is for 13+ fans of Gone with its virus infecting premise. The story centres on two teen siblings Leon and Grace who have moved from New York to London, struggling to settle in when news comes of the virus from Africa. But when Leon gets a warning email from his dad and the virus hits London panic sets in. Finding themselves immune, they run away to safety trying to stay one step ahead in a ski resort and trying to work out where the virus came from so they can beat it along with other survivors. This three part science fiction book is addictive from the start, with a believable sibling relationship between the popular sister and shy brother who always look out for each other and trying to survive against unusual elements. I think this book is gonna be a huge hit.


Caroline

Error Australis by Ben Pobjie $29.99rrp 
ADULT NON-FICTION

Ben Pobjie has taken a great little puny title and run with it – run all over the place with it. Error Australis is full of all the things you thought you knew about Australian history, liberally doused in lashings of humour and irreverence. This book is a joy to read with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Covering all the prominent events that have shaped Australia as a nation: settlement, Ned Kelly, Federation, all the wars, including the one against the emus, and much more – Error Australis treats us to an engaging recap of Australian history. Sure, perhaps not everything happened exactly as Pobjie has proposed, but what kind of history would let the truth get in the way of a gripping yarn?
A must for fans of David Hunt’s Girt or Shaun Micallef’s The President’s Desk; or anyone who likes history and can have a laugh at it. I’d just be careful what you quoted if you’re writing an school paper on Australian history, perhaps check some other sources?

Braiden

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon $19.99rrp 10-14yo
YOUNG ADULT

It is without a doubt that Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow will end up on required reading lists or be chosen for reading circles. Fraillon’s novel will introduce a slew of books in the future for children set in or about refugee camps and the treatment of these marginalised people by the government. The issues concerning refugees and detention centres that Fraillon presents allows young readers to learn about the living conditions, the experiences and the heartbreaking plights of these refugees in a manner that is accessible, like John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Morris Gleitzman’s Once, and The Book Thief have done in the past for the persecution of marginalised groups in Nazi Germany and throughout World War Two.
Within a few chapters Fraillon’s novel gave a strong The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas vibe – Subhi, a boy born within the refugee camp, meets Jimmi, a girl who resides outside in the nearby town, and a friendship blossoms as they trade stories and teach each other, like how to read. This relationship provided hope and fun even in the darkest of circumstances and darkest of places. Despite how the story was told, simple to reflect how Subhi or Jimmi would tell it, I found myself getting distracted, but as I came to appreciate the writing I had to keep on reading to see how Fraillon will end this touching book and the beautiful relationship between the two children and their experiences that Fraillon has realised so very well. #loveozya

 Gabi

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith $29.99rrp 
ADULT FICTION

Paul Stuart, a prolific writer of food and wine, is in a slump. His girlfriend of four years has just left him for her personal trainer and he no longer has the willpower to finish his next book. But deadlines must be met and broken hearts must heal, and so, with a little push from his editor, Paul sets off to the idyllic town of Montalcino, Italy. However, as soon as Paul sets foot in Italy, everything seems to go terribly wrong. Paul finds himself thrown in jail for suspected car theft and then, just as quickly, is rumbling down the road to Montalcino in a rented bulldozer.
For me, the true centrepiece of the book was the vivid descriptions of the Italian countryside and the food and wine on offer. McCall Smith paints this incredibly detailed, yet not overloading, scene of a sleepy yet content Italian village where there are no secrets. For me, this seems to be something that is characteristically Italian, and I’m really happy that McCall Smith has captured its essence so well. Through his descriptions, you can almost feel like you are in this landscape with Paul and, for me, this was an incredibly relaxing and enjoyable feeling. Alexander McCall Smith seems to have perfected the art of quirky and is incredibly good at forcing his characters into situations that are just short of being unbelievable. This results in hilarious, laugh-out-loud scenarios that are thoroughly enjoyable to read.
However, this book feels just slightly under-done and, after reading the last page, I felt that I needed more closure. I feel like McCall Smith has created these incredibly charged and intriguing scenarios, just to stop them short of boiling point and let them peter out, resulting in me being incredibly frustrated and longing for this wild scenarios with which the book started.
All in all, this is a short and entertaining holiday-read, full of gorgeous descriptions of the Italian countryside and absurd scenarios.


 Jess

When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah $18.99rrp
TEEN 13+

I really enjoyed Randa Abdel-Fattah’s new story, When Michael Met Mina. An almost forbidden romance in modern day Sydney between a refugee and a boy whose father is a leader for “Aussie Values”, a political group that fights against the allowance of refugees into Australia. The book tackles a very controversial topic that is still fought over today, but the author has perfectly balanced the controversy with a romance that you can’t help but support.
Throughout reading the book I learnt new ideas and values held by both sides of the argument. The leaders of “Aussie Values” (Michael’s parents) initially came off as cool and collected, their ideas respectable and understandable. But as the opinion of Michael is influenced by his attraction to Mina and his exploration of the issue himself, we see the more ignorant and racist members of such a political campaign.
Mina’s story is moving, as we witness her attempt to fit into a leading private school after moving from a suburb dominated by multiple ethnic groups. Her struggles to fit in are the same as all new high-schoolers, but as we see glimpses of her past tragedies her character becomes a lot more deep and complicated. Her easy going humour and passions are easy to like, and as the reading continues it’s impossible to not think of Mina as a beloved friend.
This book was a fascinating and brilliant read, it talked about a complicated issue in a light that is easily understood. The characters are both complex and easy to relate to, it’s difficult to believe that they aren’t real members of society. I would recommend this book to anyone in a heartbeat; it is a story that creates a modern “Romeo and Juliet” in a cute romantic way that has less of an emphasis on the romance itself but the effect it has on the characters and their views on the world around them. #loveozya


Steph

Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle $26.99rrp (12th July release)
YOUNG ADULT 14+

After having not read YA stuff for a while, I decided to pick up new Aussie writer Sophie Hardcastle’s debut novel Breathing Under Water. It has been compared to the likes of John Green and Rainbow Rowell, so I thought it might be a half decent read. The novel takes place in an Australian coastal town and focuses in on Ben and Grace Walker. The novel begins with a somewhat common theme, as we see how Grace constantly lives in the shadow of her talented, amicable twin brother. At first the novel appears to be just another predictable YA plot, but as the novel progresses, we see that it is just the opposite. Breathing Under Water is a heartbreaking novel, that left me trying to hold back the tears as I sat on a crowded plane! It deals with many issues that are not only a part of adolescence, but also a part of life. Due to mature themes, I would recommend this novel to our older YA readers, especially those looking for a bit of a tear jerker! #loveozya


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