Staff Picks – June 2015

JUNE 2015



This translation from French writer Jean-Paul Didierlaurent evokes the same charm and quirkiness you felt when reading Elegance of the Hedgehog and The President’s Hat or viewing the indie cult film Amelie. At a mere 193 pages it seems compact yet evokes such delight as we follow Guylain Vignolles, from his daily train travel where he reads out loud to his carriage to his detested workplace at a book pulping plant for discarded books where he slyly steals the performance ‘skins’. Bullied as a child for his name (ugly puppet) and battered by his workplace, he has voluntarily become invisible, retracting into solitude to become someone who talks more to his pet goldfish than anyone else. Strangely, he doesn’t realise how his train readings are “a breath of fresh air who, for the duration of the twenty minutes, journey, allowed [others] briefly to forget the tedium of their lives”. Yet all this changes when he finds a USB stick with a diary on it and eventually develops a crush and  seemingly impossible quest to find its owner; lavatory attendant come writer, Julie – another lonely soul waiting her Prince Charming. The novel is captivating for its the unique settings, the anthropomorphic descriptions of the pulping shredder as almost human, a Thing to be feared and despised, as well as the beautifully crafted and crazy side characters like elderly sisters Monique and Josette, his tormenting boss Kowlaski, the annoying psychopath Brunner or his theatrical workmate Yvon Grimbert. As well as Julie’s aunt whose fabulous auntologisms deserve a book of their own! But more than this what really is quite endearing and affecting is how universal the themes are; the humdrum of life, the interconnectedness and similar habits of people, and the way Guylain evokes all sense of humanity in the way he cares for his friends, for books, and yes even for his goldfish. His tender friendship with his alcoholic and permanently injured friend Guiseppe, legless after an accident involving the shredder, is really touching. In a time when FAT books seem popular (and I have loved many of them), it is nice to escape into the warm coziness of this story and have a chuckle. The succinct writing, vivid scenes (“when Guiseppe cooked it was the whole of Italy that landed on your plate”), and charming characters ultimately allow you to appreciate the ordinariness and wonders of everyday life, and marvel at the impact of writing and books.



I haven’t read Gone Girl or Girl on a Train but they have been read hot and Natasha has enjoyed both of them so I thought I would read this one as it was claimed to be a similarly addictive kind of thriller read. And thankfully, it was! It’s a well written pageturner that grips you right from the start, where filmmaker Catherine moves house and picks up a book that seems eerily familiar – it is her life. We follow her trail of deceit from her husband and trying to work out who has come to get her from her past. Simultaneously we follow writer and widower Stephen Brigstocke who has published the book. Their worlds collide and secrets uncovered. Ultimately, it is the flashbacks to the past mixed with the present that adds an interesting dimension with strong thrilling writing that appeals.




Aldo Benjamin is the MOST unlucky guy you could know. His best friend Liam is a failed writer, turned cop who eventually sees Aldo as the goldmine of a muse that he truly is. In time, it turns out that Liam is not the only one for whom Aldo Benjamin is a muse, and inspiration, a curse? Told in turn by both Liam and Aldo, Quicksand is basically the story of Aldo, an ordinary guy, who on the one hand is desperately encouraging his ship to come in, while on the other plotting exactly how he will depart this world. Failing (for the most part) at both, of course.
Full of funny and irreverent lines, my copy is full of dog eared pages marking quotes that I will probably end up writing on the fridge or something. Steve Toltz has very Australian voice, thankfully without any hint of the cliché. There are conversations in this book that I swear I have had at some point, possibly after a vino or three.  I loved the constant references to Artist Within, Artist Without, a book written by Liam and Aldo’s high school teacher, Mr Morrell. Sometimes Toltz would get away from you, and a short quote from the book could get it back on track, the way a comedian can tie a rambling set together with just a couple of words. At times I found the book a struggle. It seemed to drag and plotline would go off in different directions, or alternatively stand completely still. I wouldn’t say there were any specific ‘slow’ parts, however I did become increasingly aware of how long I was taking to read it.  I think I liked Quicksand. I am exhausted but I am still thinking about it. It absorbs you, prepare for that.



We get asked quite a lot in store for gifty travel books about Australia or Melbourne/Victoria, so it’s exciting that Thames & Hudson will be publishing 360º Australia, alongside 360ª USA. In a chunky format with 700+ pages of photographs of breathtaking landscapes and wildlife, as well as an equal amount of information on the country and their people, you are sure to find your favourite places and perhaps even motivate you to plan an adventure across the USA or scheme a roadtrip across Australia with the information provided within. If you are looking for a gift book for an international friend that covers the entire country – our red desert centre, the Outback, the wonders in the water, and the skylines and iconic landmarks – 360º Australia would be a fantastic choice.




The Lost Swimmer is the perfect book to go on a blind date with – don’t read the blurb, because I’m going to be the friend that sets you up and gives you the critical info. (This will not end in a disaster blind date story, I promise.) Also, the blurb is vaguely spoilery, and The Lost Swimmer is one of those books that you just need to let set its own pace and come at you.
Rebecca Wilding is a successful archeologist and scholar, and Head of the School of Classics and History at Coastal University. It is a position fraught with politics, as she battles the manipulative, two-faced Dean of Arts to protect her valued staff members from ruthless budget cuts. The stress is compounded by the discovery of a few irregularities in the school’s finances that seem to implicate Rebecca in fraud, and which turns out to be just the tip of a very dangerous iceberg. As Rebecca struggles to clear her name, she keeps the university’s investigation a secret from her husband, whom she knows is keeping secrets of his own: one of which, she is convinced, is that he is having an affair. Besieged by shadowy betrayals at work and at home, Rebecca finds herself stuck in the middle of a web of secrets with no idea who she can trust with what information. With each turn of the screw her desperation and paranoia – as well as the reader’s – increases, as she tries to hold onto her belief that everything will work out and she can fix her troubles with both the university and her husband.
The Lost Swimmer pulled me in very quickly; everything about it seems very real, from the fresh urban Australian setting, to Rebecca’s clashes with her toxic boss, to her fear and hurt wondering if her husband is having an affair, to her earnest and restless desperation at having been unfairly implicated for fraud. This is a book with impact that will linger in your thoughts after you’ve finished it.



One True Thing is an engaging story centred around the world of politics and filled with a relatable characters. Author Nicole Hayes draws the reader into current, relevant and topical issues, such as the media, its treatment of women in politics, and the effect of negative coverage on families, making this both a relevant and thoughtful read.
Frankie is the sixteen-year old daughter of Rowena Mulvaney, who, after being elevated to the position of Premier of Victoria by her party, is running to be the first elected female premier of the state. Other than this, Frankie is your average teenage girl: she’s into music, hangs out with her friends, is crushing on the cute new guy in school, and is in a band – No Politics. Frankie knows everyone is watching her, waiting for some embarrassing moment they can post online, and this grows more acute as the election campaign begins – anyone with a phone or a camera can be a ‘reporter’.
Frankie’s life is turned upside down when photos showing the Premier with a younger man surface and rumours start to fly. Suddenly every move Frankie and her family makes is on show, under scrutiny and everyone seems to know more about her life than she does. One True Thing is an all-encompassing tale of truths and untruths, perception versus reality and how to not go “Amanda-Bynes-Twitter-Melt-Down-crazy” when life hands you so many lemons you could create your own brand of lemonade.



Upon first picking this book up, I had no idea what to expect. I was simply intrigued by the cover. The story is told through Jena, one of the seven girls chose to tunnel into the mountain to find the harvest, known as mica.  As the chosen seven, the girls each get a share of mica: a valuable power source savoured throughout the town. However this privilege comes at a cost, with the girls having to maintain their slim figures in order to tunnel. These methods, starting at birth, can include anything from wrapping limbs and strict diet measures to even breaking and resetting bones.  Jena is pleased with her ranks as the leader of the seven, until she starts to discover the real truth behind this ‘regime.’
I thought it was very interesting how McKinlay flipped around gender norms, emphasising the importance of having a girl/being a girl as opposed to having or being a boy.  The girls were able to tunnel and do just about anything the boys could, one character suggests. McKinlay opens up a new world of adventure and mystery, diverging away from the usual themes we see in most kids’ series. I was certainly very pleased with A Single Stone, and am interested in what McKinlay will deliver to us next.