Staff Picks – October 2016

October 2016


Forty Autumns by Nina Willner $32.99rrp (Hachette Special release 11th Oct)

As a huge fan of Anna Funder’s Stasiland and someone who spent a whole day in the Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin back in 2000, my rep was right to give me an advanced reading copy of this memoir by Nina Willner. It is a fascinating true story about her family from the end of WWII forward and how life changed for them when Germany was divided by the Berlin Wall and they found themselves suddenly under control of the Communist Russians.
The writing style is easy and personable as Willner takes us back to her Opa and Oma (grandparents) who suddenly saw their German village taken over after the war. Her Opa having been a teacher was forcibly instructed to teach a new doctrine and her Oma tried desperately to deal with food shortages for her ever growing and hungry family. Nina’s mother then takes centre focus as she tries, at first unsuccessfully, to cross the border into Western control (this is before the Wall was erected) and then end up in America. As we come to Nina’s own part of the story we learn how after joining the army out of a sense of service in the 1980s her first major assignment would be, as fate would have it, to return to the homeland of her grandparents and go undercover behind the Wall. I honestly don’t read a huge amount of memoir but every time I strike upon a gem like this one (and like Reckoning and Stasiland in previous years) I am so glad to have been enthralled and enlightened about what times were like for other people in other places or times. Nina has a knack for the craft of storytelling, and what makes this all the more remarkable, is that it is all true!


Seven Signs Book 1: Skyfire by Michael Adams $7.99rrp 

Internet guru Felix Scott runs a Willy Wonka style competition called the DARE awards to find 7 talented teens that will be part of a televised showcase and offers a prize to learn from the best brains in the world. At the end of the six weeks they will win $1 million. A special worldwide pass in a super fast jet allows them to visit and learn about each other across the globe. Meanwhile all 7 winners receive mysterious symbols through a text message that will later link to a disaster which they realise only they have the skills to defeat before the next one comes and a clock shows it is reducing in time.
What I loved about this book was the range of different talents and international flavour of these kids which reveals how they all live differently. The emphasis on symbol deduction reminded me of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code’s book, with the time pressure cooker of the tv show 24. The fast pace, pageturning writing sucks you in and thankfully is only the first of 7 books, ending on a cliffhanger that will get you addicted for more. 10+


Darktown by Thomas Mullen $32.99rrp
Adult Crime

With cultural appropriation being discussed quite a bit following Lionel Shriver’s controversial opening speech at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival (and rightly so), I was hesitant to read Thomas Mullen’s Darktown. In 1948, a few years before the momentous civil rights movement, the mayor of Georgia, Atlanta decides to integrate the policeforce. Herein we follow WWII veterans Lucius Boggs, Tommy Smith and six other black men who become policemen. But despite wearing the uniform, they’re unable to make an arrest unless a white officer is present, nor are they given cars to patrol the streets of Darktown for which they are assigned, an area white cops couldn’t care less to keep safe. This is only the beginning of all the racial bigotry and hatred these men will experience. A drunk white driver, who turns out to be an ex-cop, crashes into a street light, a young black woman in the passenger seat. The white officers let him off, and a few days later Boggs and Smith find the young woman murdered, leading the two deeper into a city divided by race, into Darktown (properly “Sweet Auburn”) and into detective territory they will never be assigned to.
Darktown is a fictionalised crime drama based on real events and Mullen is unflinching in his portrayal of the cruel racial tension and biases rampant in post-war Georgia. It is upsetting. It is unsettling. The third-person narration could be timestamped as being written in the 1950s with the frequent use of the term ‘Negro’ to describe the black population – the writing made me completely uncomfortable and I was quick to skip the use of all the derogatory words; yet these literary devices forces readers to confront this bigotry, transporting them into the racist society of which the novel is set. Mullen made me angry and that was his intent.
Boggs, Smith and the other black officers are fully-realised individuals, and so too are the white characters believe it or not. I was emotionally invested in Boggs and Smith to succeed against the privileged white, yet equally wanted the white officer Dunlow and ex-cop Underhill to fail miserably for the pain and hate they inflict. The novel is as much relevant today as it would have been pre-civil rights and it is worth the read. With Jamie Foxx’s plans to executive produce and star in a television adaptation of Darktown the racial issues Mullen presents will hopefully create change and shine a light on an issue that still very much needs it, on an issue which still is fighting for change even to this day.


Magisterium Book 3: Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare $17.99rrp
Children’s Series

This series so far has been a major favourite of mine, so beginning this third book of the series there was massive expectation; especially since the last one ended with so many questions! I would see this book as Harry Potter meets Percy Jackson, as that’s almost exactly what it is. The story revolves around Cal, Aaron and Tamara (the favourite three) and how they deal with magical school and the murders and evil that continues to plague their lives at Magisterium.
But the evil may not be coming from outside the group but inside the three.
After finding out Cal’s past, the three attempt to negotiate whether Cal is truly evil or not. Even he is unsure. Is a past soul’s behaviours and opinions your own? Or is your soul not really who you are?
While trying to calculate Evil Overlord points and prevent more murders from happening within the school, the reader is captivated within the three’s lives. That’s why when the shock betrayal happens, you are as devastated as your favourite characters.
I absolutely loved this book. THE ENDING!! While it is a great twist end to the book, I need more, I am desperate to find out what else happens. My favourite characters are trapped in a situation that I would never have guessed happening. All my worst nightmares are happening to my friends and I can’t help but thirst for more. An amazing read that should captivate even those that don’t usually read. 9/10


The Good People by Hannah Kent $32.99rrp 
Aussie Historical Fiction

After finally reading her novel Burial Rites, I was very excited to hear Hannah Kent was releasing a new book. The Good People is set in 1820s Ireland and follows Nóra Leahy, who is burdened with the loss of both her daughter and husband in the same year. Nóra is left to care for her grandson Micheál, a boy who cannot walk or speak. Nóra chooses to hide the boy from the Killarney community, afraid of the gossip that may arise regarding his abnormal nature. Along with the servant girl Mary, the two seek help from the only person in the valley that may be able to help- old Nance Roche, who is said to consort with the ‘Good People.’
Based on somewhat true events, Kent has written an intriguing novel, which focuses not only on daily life in Ireland, but also on the possibility of this higher power. Despite starting off a little slow, Kent delivers a novel that keeps the reader guessing, as Nóra and Mary try to heal Micheál of his ‘illness.’ The Good People is a very refreshing take on historical fiction and gives the reader an authentic insight into Irish society at the time.


The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín $19.99rrp 
Young Adult

Ireland is nothing like you imagined in Peadar Ó Guilín’s newest young adult novel The Call. Cut off from the rest of the world, Ireland faces an ancient enemy, the Sidhe, who have returned to enact their revenge for being banished to a grey and sickly netherworld thousands of years before. Fourteen year old Nessa is at a training camp designed to prepare students for when they are “called” to the land of the Sidhe. Arriving naked and alone when taken, the next twenty four hours is spent being hunted, only to reappear either dead, physically grotesque or mentally traumatised three minutes later in the real world. Only the strongest, cleverest and luckiest make it back alive and Nessa, crippled by polio as a child, has convinced herself that with enough determination she can survive.
What I loved about our heroine is that she is not only fiercely independent and incredibly strong, but embraces her disability and refuses to see herself as disadvantaged. Watching as all her classmates get “called” Nessa determines to have no emotions or attachments, fearing they will interrupt her training. Despite this she is undoubtedly loyal to Megan, a feisty red head whose attitude always lands her in trouble, and Anto, who reminds her of the Irish poetry she loves. While the novel was undoubtedly grim, the stories of friendship, love and determination prevail over the despair of a dystopian Ireland.
Weaving Irish folklore with fantasy and horror I was unable to put this book down, finishing the whole thing in a single setting and leaving me questioning who the real enemy really is. Both addictive and disturbing, ‘The Call’ is an exciting beginning to a new YA series.


The Witches of New York by Ami McKay $32.99rrp (25th Oct release)
Adult magic realism fiction

The Witches of New York follows Beatrice Dunn, Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St Clair, three women who run a tea-shop in 1880s New York – and who just happen to possess magical powers. However, their abilities can’t solve everything – resentful husbands, sinister preachers, and darker supernatural forces –  and they’ll have to depend on each other to survive.
One of the fun things about this book is that it really plays with the idea of a “witch”. Eleanor mixes herbs to remedy illnesses, and by today’s standards Adelaide is nothing more than a talented psychologist who can use people’s “tells” to read their past and future. They are, however, labelled “witches” amongst the fear of women’s empowerment and the suffragist movement. Author Ami McKay’s other novels (The Birth House, The Virgin Cure) often make a point about “girl power”, and this new book is no exception.
This is an impeccably researched novel, with historic events such as the erection of Cleopatra’s Needle interweaving with the characters’ world, which really grounds the more supernatural themes of the story.
The Witches of New York is a fairly light, playful fantasy which would be perfect for anyone who wants to get into the genre but finds some of the heavier titles such as the A Song of Ice and Fire series a bit intimidating.
That said, there is definitely a lot of magic in this novel; we get our fair share of charmed rabbit feet, “dearlies” who bestow witches with prophetic dreams, talking ravens — and even a tongue-in-cheek broomstick.

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