Staff Picks – May 2017

May 2017


INTO THE WATER by PAULA HAWKINS – $32.99 (Doubleday Publishers)


Like most fans of Girl on the Train, I was excited to read Paula Hawkins’ new novel Into The Water. It is a well paced mystery set in the modern day which centres around the apparent separate suicides of Nel Abbott and school girl Katie Whittaker in the town lake called The Drowning Pool which Nel had been documenting the history of much to the ire of certain town residents. Spinning off from these tragic events are the reactions of 10 affected townspeople which cleverly adds to the intrigue and variety, and increases the tension when we realise that there might be a more sinister edge to the deaths than first thought. Nel’s troubled daughter Lena’s rebellious voice is strong and clear whilst Nel’s estranged sister Jules returns to her childhood town with surprise and dismay that she allowed the rift with her sister to dwindle for so long. A series of well placed flashbacks also fill in gaps of town gossip and motivations including why the miscommunication between the Abbots lead to their fallout as younger teenagers.
Investigating these incidents is out-of-towner Erin Morgan working alongside lead detective and local resident Sean Townsend – this combination allowed key information to be explained in a creative manner as Erin came to realise the quirks and history of the town. Another key voice is elderly medium Nickie Sage who provides spiritual links to those who have gone into the water willingly or not through flashback illuminations of the targeted and affected women including Libby back in 1679, Anne Ward in 1920 and Lauren in 1983. We also hear intermittently from Katie’s anxious brother Josh Whittaker, her grieving mother Louise Whittaker, ageing patriarch and ex Police Captain Patrick Townsend, his daughter in law and school Principal Helen Townsend and likable but secretive school teacher Mark Henderson. All these perspectives slowly build the picture of events and hint that they all know more than they let on, adding to our curiosity and compel us to read on.
My only criticism would be a lack of distinct adult voices/language use at times, nevertheless,the success of the novel lies in the intricate webs of revelation, collusion and secrets from unexpected allies, the strong dialogue exchanges which show us events rather than tell us and totally relatable, likable characters. And the best part was the unexpected last two pages! It is an addictive read and shows that there will be more interesting writing to expect from Hawkins in the future.
The initial link from 2014 to to a chateau in 1487 France are some recipe scrolls found inside copper pots given to Pip by her mother by way of her great aunt Margot who had spent many childhood summers in Europe. As we venture back 500 years in time, we see the use of these pots for the wedding day of Lord Boschaud. Our focus on this day is the other central female protagonist, Artemisia. Quoted as being an old (unmarried) hag who bleed 7 years ago, she is seemingly destined to forever be a cook in the estate of Lord Boschaud since being taken under their wing when she was orphaned in infancy. However, her childhood friendship and schooling with her lord and master sees her promoted to kitchen record keeping  – something not approved of by certain Abbots because she is a woman. Her cleverness with figures leads her to suspect wine barrel pilfering, but will be hard to prove due to her position. Alongside this story, is the romantic thread of attracting the attention of spice dealer Andreas who is enchanted by this “Mother of Herbs” and we see how their relationship over the previous year has blossomed to love and plans of marital union but not without opposition, drama and danger. How Artemisia’s story evolves is fascinating and completely unpredictable and shocking in its finale.
Having two periods could cause confusion, however here the shifts are seamless and easily understood. Both worlds are sumptuously and visually described to include interesting details on daily life in the modern oceanic and wine world, foraging in the hills of Macedon where Pip’s parents reside, and modern day Europe. This is contrasted beautifully with the intricate nature of medieval household roles, and the importance of gardening, herb and food in the running of a medieval estate. Both women, though 500 years apart, are grappling with the constraints placed on them by others, as well as finding a smooth course to true love. They have two unique voices and the dialogue was especially realistic in both worlds. It is a fascinating alive book that really traverses time, place and considerations so well. Strongly recommended for those who want to be swept away into two lives – so different to our own and yet familiar in so many ways.


EXO BY FONDA LEE –  $24.99 (Scholastic)


Earth has been colonised for over 100 years by an alien race and humans are now deemed terrorists. Head of the Exo army is Donovan Reyes who is also the son of the Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government. We learn that alien technology allows for  their bodies to be hard to kill, and also to heal quickly.
The action centres around Donovan out on a routine patrol which goes wrong and sees him abducted by the human terrorists who want to end alien control. When they realizes Donovan is the son of Prime Liaison they think they have a bargaining chip to win their cause. But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. The fate of human kind rests on Donovan’s survival; if he dies it could start another war.
I loved the original concept  of this alien invasion novel and the classification of humans as ‘terrorists’. This switch alters how we perceive the ‘other’ and allows for some more complex action and thinking making it more than just a simple action novel. There is a sprinkling of a love story but definitely will appeal to guy and girl readers because it is unexpected, dangerous and with engaging multifaceted characters. 13+


Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, edited by Danielle Binks (HarperCollins) $24.99rrp

Young Adult

Having been involved in the #LoveOzYA grassroots campaign, a book like this would have only been a dream. But now it’s here, the book is out… an anthology of engaging and beautifully told short stories that celebrate Australian young adult literature. Edited by blogger (and now literary agent) Danielle Binks, Begin, End, Begin comprises of stories by fantastic Australian YA authors Alice Pung, Will Kostakis, Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Ellie Marney, Jaclyn Moriarty, Michael Pryor, Gabrielle Tozer and Lili Wilkinson, all of which are diverse in genre, in story and in character, from space and time travel to contemporary and everything in between, some entirely original while others have strong connections to the authors’ previous books. Themes of new beginnings and hopefulness run rampant throughout them all – but most importantly, this collection is about Australian adolescence.
It’s difficult to choose a favourite from this anthology – and I won’t try. But regardless of your age, gender, race, sexuality and nationality, whether you exclusively read young adult literature or stay far away from YA, you will find a story to love. You will gain a greater appreciation for Australian YA and you’ll come to love Oz YA as much as I do, as much as #LoveOzYA supporters do. Don’t miss out on this one!




The Israel-Palestine conflict is very complex, and even though I know its basic beginnings, my knowledge is very limited. Nir Baram has written a book that not only explains some of the history behind the conflict, but also one that gives voice to the multitude of perspectives. In addition to informing my knowledge of the subject, A Land without Borders also led me to pose many new questions. Nir Baram grew up in Israel, and is quite familiar with the history of these lands. Baram journeys around East Jerusalem and the Westbank, for a year and a half, hoping to talk to many people about their views on the conflict. Baram talks to ex political prisoners, Jewish settlers, Palestinian–Israeli citizens trapped behind the separation wall, and even children, who experienced the war in Gaza, firsthand. Despite his heritage, Baram takes a very neutral stance towards the issue, and presents the challenges faced by both groups. There is no bias, and definitely no suggestion of who is wrong or right. Suggestions for the solution to this conflict are diverse, with many still unsure how the future will play out. This text is sure to inspire curiosity in anybody, how will the two groups move forward? Baram writes with compassion and clarity as he guides the reader through this complex reality. A must read for 2017.



Adult Fiction

Ginny Moon By Benjamin Ludwig introduces a fresh character that hasn’t been often explored; a 14 year old girl with autism who has been adopted into a new “Forever Home” and is expecting a new baby sister. But the impact of her birth home and past is evident within the present Ginny, with her dislike of men, yelling and obsession with babies, it becomes clear that Ginny has had a rough and difficult childhood. But when Ginny’s “Baby Doll” leaves the past and enters the present, the new home collapses. With the threat of un-adoption, constant visits to the therapist and attempts to get herself kidnapped, Ginny Moon is a complex and unique character to read.
I absolutely loved Ginny, I found her view of the world to be an interesting and different read. Her small quirks paired with adults’ inability to understand or trust her leads to a sense of sympathy and compassion towards Ginny.  When the situation gets tough within the novel, the naivety and innocence of Ginny contrasts with the seriousness of the situation. Therefore, as the reader, we get the perspective of both child and the adults that seem to always be at least two steps behind. An easy and interesting read that explores a perspective I have never read before. Ginny Moon is wholly unique and the exploration of special needs children within the adoption system is a complex and fascinating social issue to read about. I couldn’t put it down, with the thought process of Ginny at my fingertips, I couldn’t stop wanting to know more about this girl and more of what she plans to do. An absolute must-read. 9/10




Bone Gap by Laura Ruby opens with brothers Finn and Sean O’Sullivan who, after their mother abandons them, live alone in a gossip-ridden town by the name of Bone Gap. Eighteen-year-old Finn is seen as a pretty boy who has his head in his clouds, never meeting anyone’s eyes, while steady stoic Sean is the town’s hero. Everything changes when they find a strange, beautiful girl named Roza in their barn who seems to have appeared out of nowhere, and then everything changes again when she disappears just as mysteriously months later. Finn is the only one to have witnessed her leaving – he sees her kidnapped, but whenever he tries to describe the man’s face he finds he cannot. The suspicious town members slowly begin to turn against him, thinking he must be hiding something about Roza’s disappearance. In the sticky summer holidays, watched on by never-ending cornfields, Finn must either keep looking for Roza or accept that someday, everyone leaves the O’Sullivan brothers.
‘The Bone Gap’ is a dreamy, whimsical young adult novel with elements of magic realism that may appeal to fans of The Raven Cycle, Six of Crows or The Diviners might also enjoy the touches of magic in Bone Gap. It’s about a girl trapped in a magic tower, and another girl who sticks her bare hand into a beehive to make a point, and scarecrows, and an ownerless mare by the name of Night, and sleepwalking sidekicks, and brothers who keep hurting each other without meaning to.  It’s hard to grasp onto a linear plot which can make it a challenging read, but a really rewarding one once you can piece together your own interpretation of events. Ruby treats themes of beauty, objectification and love in such a subtle, beautiful way, and the writing is lush and engaging without ever straying into purple prose. Recommended for readers 15+.

<< Back to main page