Staff Picks – July 2017




Hauntingly tragic, this debut by Aussie Mark Brandi made it to the top of my pile after I met him at the Indie Qld conference earlier this year. Split into three sections that get darker as it progresses I found the characters completely engaging, and the writing really raw and authentic. In Part 1 we meet Year 6 friends Ben and Fab as they live in a country town (Stawell East) in the 1980s and experience all kinds of regular childhood capers including yabbying, crushes, schoolyard bullies and family dynamics. However, there is an immediate darker edge to events with Fab’s violent father, a suicide of a neighbourhood girl and a new bloke that immediately gives you the creeps – Ronald Bellamy. The brilliant tension that builds to the end of part 1 guarantees you to read on – but the answers to that time period will not be quickly answered as we jump 14 years forward in part 2 and now see how Fab is faring and no word of Ben. In part 3, secrets are revealed, the boys’ friendship is revisited and answers given – though thankfully and yet heart-breakingly it doesn’t sell out with cheesy reunions. This realistic gritty storyline takes us into uneasy territory of child abuse and words left unspoken but the writing is so compelling, and the characters so alive that you want to read on and see how these two mates will fare. This novel has been sold as Jasper Jones meets Mystic River. I guess I can agree with that but to be honest it holds its own as a new irascible voice to watch in Aussie fiction.



Child Series

Tash handed me this book when she got back from the Indie Qld conference. Not sure what she was trying to tell me bt I loved it and laughed myself silly from start to finish. Max’s teacher Mr Armstrong finds poo in the storeroom closet and gets unfairly blamed. Sure he is often naughty but this time he swears it wasn’t him. To get his revenge he decides to run for class president and ropes in friend Hugo to help him. His nemesis Abby has her own plans for leadership. Hilarious, never boring, and an authentic school setting makes it fully accessible to so many different kinds of readers. The illustrations are comic in style  – reminded me at times of the Flinstones. Best suited 8+





Aussie Short Stories

Last year Melanie Cheng’s short story collection Australia Day won the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, the same prize that kick-started the careers of Australian bestselling writers Graeme Simsion, Maxine Benaba Clarke and Jane Harper. Australia Day is a smart and balanced perspective on what it means to be Australian, a panorama of contemporary multicultural Australia that explores each and everyone’s desire to belong.
I tend to gravitate more to long-form narratives, however after falling into the short animated film sphere due to my studies I have come to appreciate and respect short-form storytelling – Australia Day is a pure example of why, entertaining yet compellingly thought-provoking. I was absorbed in the stories of the individuals Cheng writes about, people of varied age, wealth, education, status, race, religion, occupation and masculinity, and the circumstances that test their relationships and limits, their families and cultures, the costs and benefits connecting and belonging has in their lives. In one story a young mother from Beirut, suffering from loneliness after immigrating, hopes to form a friendship with another mother as their children play together; in another, a young medical student from Hong Kong who recently acquired his Australian citizenship worries the dairy farming family of a woman he likes won’t accept him; and in ‘Macca’, Dr Garrett goes the extra mile to make sure her patient Macca cleans up and staves off alcohol so he can do good by his daughter who shares the same first name as her.
Australia Day may not reach the same popular height as previous winners’ books, however if Melanie Cheng’s voice and characterisation is anything to go by as experienced throughout these fourteen short stories, Cheng has an exciting career ahead as a novelist and I will definitely be following her for years to come. This collection is a celebration of our diversity – I implore you to read it!



Adult Biography

Brodie Lancaster’s feminist and pop culture inspired memoir, was intriguing from the very beginning. I was hooked within the first eight pages, as Lancaster spoke truth after truth. Despite becoming more personal as the book progressed, Lancaster was still able to engage the audience by discussing relatable everyday experiences for both men and women. This is not only an enjoyable read, but also a pretty easy read. Before I knew it, I had sped through the whole book. Lancaster writes with empathy, and encourages this quality in her readers too. Her writing style is refined and very expressive, leaving the reader feeling a lot of different emotions upon reading. I particularly enjoyed her references to pop culture film, TV and literature, as she conveyed different ideas throughout the book. This was definitely a feel good read for me, but also one that made me think a little harder about my own circumstances. Make sure you pick up a copy in store!





Young adult

I don’t think I have ever been left this heartbroken by a book before. The ending is both shocking and intense; I am still coming to terms with it.
Cassandra Clare has really done it again: a fantastic set of characters, complicated and twisty plot, fantastic and beautiful world full of tension and division. A world affected by hate, a government full of fear, the division between Downworlders and Shadowhunters is bigger than ever; with relations being delicate and volatile. A new group dictating hate is rising within the Clave, and it is up to the Blackthorns to stop it. If their plate wasn’t full enough, they have to defeat the new uprising of sea demons, prevent Annabel’s return, and at the same time raise six children together without adult help.
I absolutely love this series, and this book is so far one of Cassandra’s best. It is full of the classic Cassandra Clare tension with forbidden romance, love triangles and strong female protagonists. I was entranced and absorbed into the world of faerie and Shadowhunters. The intense setting gave background to complex and interesting characters. I absolutely adore the Blackthorn children and their relationship together, the closeness of the twins and the leadership of Julian, are complex and beautifully done.
Kit Herondale is slowly becoming a favourite, with his sass and naivety, it is easy to see that he will be a crowd favourite in books to come. The old characters from previous series also make a return, with a brief glance into the lives of Jace and Clary; as well Alec and Magnus. The mingling of old and new characters creates the perfect balance and nostalgia of the past and curiosity towards the future.
The ending though, was really a punch in the gut. An intense and terrific end that really leaves me hungry for the next book.

<< Back to main page