Staff Picks – October 2015



Tom Houghton by Todd Alexander  $32.99rrp 

Todd Alexander’s novel exposes the life and challenges of the titular character Tom Houghton at two key junctures in his life. First, we observe him as a bullied Year 6 boy, living with his single mother and grandfather, struggling with his sexuality and escaping into a fantasy world of old Hollywood movies and growing obsessed with Katherine Hepburn and her older brother Tom Houghton Hepburn. Young Tom’s overactive imagination plants the seed for a plan he feels will help him be reborn, but results in haunting and long term disaster. In alternate chapters we see Tom now as a 40 something actor endeavouring to maintain healthy relationships with his adult daughter and ailing mother, coping with rejection from his gay lover, tackling his alcoholism (badly) but most of all, trying to reconcile his past. This novel totally absorbed me with its easy contemporary style, honest depictions of working class suburban life, awkward moments of blind innocence, and heartfelt scenes between young Tom and his friend Spencer or older Tom and his new friend Eddie. Unashamedly raw and unsentimental at times, we see egocentric Tom for all his foibles, flaws and heartbreak at both stages in his life. We feel his anxiety, his passion, his pain. It is a journey of a man coming to terms with how his overwhelming and all consuming desire to be someone else makes him lose who he really is, and puts him on the path of realising what it means to be a son, a dad, a friend and most of all, a man.  It is a captivating read with echoes of a confronting and heartfelt Chritos Tsiolkas  but perhaps with more self deprecation.



Given this that novel was awarded best Swedish crime book in 2013 and the first of a trilogy I jumped right in to get my scandi crime fix. Leo Junker, a suspended cop, lives in the same apartment where a young woman has been found dead. He takes it upon himself to unofficially solve the case, a case that will link to an incident from his past school days. The flicking from Leo’s past and present adds to the drama. This is perhaps slower paced than other crime / thriller books I have read recently, but I liked how it evoked an old fashioned style of unraveling the layers with plausible twists and turns. The other thing I really liked was the well described sense of place, visually conjuring up the characters and locations. The culprit won’t be so much as a surprise but more a focus on why which made this a different, compelling read.


The Boy On The Top Of The Mountain by John Boyne $19.99rrp

John Boyne is has done it again. The author of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is back with another story of a young boy during World War Two. The Boy on Top of the Mountain focuses on Pierrot, a young boy from France who finds himself living at The Berghof, the mountain getaway of Adolf Hitler. In the care of his aunt, the housekeeper, Pierrot must change his name and hide aspects of his past to keep himself safe. When Hitler takes a shine to him, Pierrot (now known as Pieter) begins to feel that he belongs, while the people around him, both at home and at school, begin to notice a striking change in his attitude. As Pieter grows and rises through the ranks of the Hitlerjugend, his actions begin to have dire consequences for those around him. As the war nears its conclusion, what will come of Pierrot, the orphan boy from Paris?
Boyne has a way of telling these stories that sticks with you – a clear voice, at times shocking and nearly always heartbreaking. The characters are mostly well defined and you find yourself feeling personally implicated as you see everything through Pierrot’s eyes. If you, like so many others, loved The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, you MUST give this one a go.


Island home by Tim Winton $39.99RRP hardback

If you’ve read any of Tim Winton’s fictional work you would have had a very sensory experience with the way he describes the Australian setting and the environments his characters inhabit and emerge from. As Australians that is something hard to ignore, particularly when it’s written with an honesty and visual truth from someone with an undying appreciation and admiration for it.
Tim Winton is back this year with a non-fiction ‘landscape memoir’ titled Island Home, an honest book about how the Australian landscape has shaped him and his writing. However, it is also about our relationship with the land, past and present, and how we need to give greater care to it. As the Australian landscape has its own history, its own memory, its own character, it shapes our own identity and sets us apart from other people across the world. But Winton also pays respect to the Indigenous populations of Australia, and controversially speaks out about the “confected sanctification” of Anzac Day. Whether someone has enjoyed Winton’s work or not, Island Home is a book that will fascinate people but also challenge their beliefs, and make them see an Australia worth protecting and fighting for as it makes up so much of who we are today.


Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy $17.99

Willowdean Dickson, Dumplin’ to her former beauty queen Mom, is completely fine being fat (not a negative term). She’s happy with the fact that she wears drawstring skirts instead of pants for her Harpy’s uniform; being a third-wheel to her best friend, El; and secretly crushing on fry-cook hottie, Private School Bo. She’s content with her life, until she starts having make-out sessions with Bo. Instead of getting that confidence boost when a crush likes you back, Will finds herself sunk in self-doubt and insecurity. In her quest to regain the confidence lost from her summer fling with Bo, she decides to join Miss Teen Blue Bonnet. With this, she inspires and alienates the people in her small Texas town.
Dumplin’ speaks to every one of us who have felt insecure and frustrated with ourselves – by the way we look, or the way we act, or because of the way we simply are, all insecurities brought about by social pressure and norms. It speaks to that side of us who looked for reasons to feel confident in ourselves. This book gives that to you and lets you realize that at the end of the day, we’re not made up by the labels society imposes upon us. I am me because of the experiences, values, and things that make up me. With its Texan charm, pageant mums and wonderfully confident fat girl at its helm, Dumplin’ sets out to spread positive body image and battle against heavier girl stereotypes, whilst dealing with insecurities, a messy romance, and a teen pageant competition to prove a point.

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