Staff Picks – September 2016

September 2016

Natasha

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty $32.99rrp
AUSSIE FICTION

As a fan of Big Little Lies, I was rapt to see the advanced reading copy of this new novel by Liane Moriarty was a hefty 500+ pages. With a familiar topic to another favourite of mine, Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, the similarities of a family bbq incident thankfully ended there so I didn’t feel like I was reading a rehashed tale. At the beginning, we meet obsessive, organised Erika at the library book talk of her old friend Clementine, a mother and cellist, who is sharing the ramifications of an unknown incident but Erika abruptly departs when it becomes too much to bear because of her own blackout period during the event in question. Intercutting these present day events are chapters set on the day of the BBQ which we realise was an impromptu gathering of 3 neighbouring couples, more acquaintances than close friends, at the home of sociable Vid and his wife Tiffany. From here the secrets unravel in extended form to tease the reader about what really happened on that day and how all are coping in the present. Some may get frustrated by the constant allusions, but I like her ‘working backwards’ trademark, allowing the impact of events to slowly reveal themselves like life often does. What I also appreciate about about Moriarty’s books is how relatable they are as ordinary situations get turned on their head and that way she creates razor sharp characterisations. It’s also how minor details and characters at the start always play a larger role the more you get into the story. I loved her focus on how people’s ordinary lives of aspirations, secrets and reactions always have bigger ramifications than intended, and Moriarty’s vivid writing and easy structure made this the perfect comfort read for me after a very heavy novel (A Little Life) and busy times with directing my play. This is a layered story set in a identifiable contemporary setting, and most enjoyable.


 Mark

The Soldier’s Curse by Tom and Meg Keneally $32.99rrp 
HISTORICAL CRIME

I was inspired to read this book after hearing Tom and Meg speaking enthusiastically at the recent Byron Bay Writer’s Festival and I’m so glad I discovered this historical crime novel which is the start of a mammoth series, and signed up for a potential tv show. Set in mid 1800s, we meet Hugh Monsarrat a clever yet poor law clerk whose at first unknown crimes sees him sent as a convict to Australia but fortunate enough to get a position to do his time within Government House as a servant. When the mistress is found dead and the housekeeper is blamed, Monsarrat makes it his mission to work out what really happened and who is responsible to save his friend from the noose. With intercutting chapters on his past life and crimes, this story really evolves well with lots of description. This is a crime journey not a fast paced thriller, but I felt completely absorbed into this past world as it is incredibly well researched, and contains enough threats to be interesting including the vicious Captain Diamond. It also allowed a sneak peek into the indigenous dealings with white settlers in that early colonial period. Monsarrat is a likable protagonist because he is extremely intelligent but due to his lack of family wealth it has made him battle through life but always with a sense of justice and fairness. Recommended for those who want something freshly original in their crime reading.


Braiden

The Book That Made Me, edited by Judith Ridge $19.99rrp

With Indigenous Literacy Day on Wednesday September 7th I thought it suitable that I recommend The Book that Made Me this month, a diverse selection of personal stories and essays by acclaimed Australian, New Zealand and UK authors about the book(s) or stories that have influenced their ways of thinking and their individual journeys into the world of written or visual storytelling. The collection is edited by Judith Ridge and royalties from each book sold will go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.I could have chosen Jared Thomas’ Songs that Sound Like Blood, a book I reviewed earlier this year for Bookseller + Publisher about a young gay indigenous woman pursuing music, or even Cath Crowley’s much anticipated and long-awaited – and dare I say beautiful – Words in Deep Blue, a love story set in a secondhand bookstore about the power of words. But neither Jared Thomas or Cath Crowley would have literary awards to their names if it wasn’t for Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, which gave Jared ‘a deeper understanding of the futility of racism and an appreciation for those that actively attempt to address it’ (p127), or even Zigzag Street by Nick Earls, which helped Cath feel not so alone after a break up. Jared and Cath’s short and concise but emotive essays are only two of the many that can be found within this book.My personal favourites would include: Shaun Tan’s essay, in which he addresses the importance of readers as the co-creators of a world – ‘the principal director of an author’s screenplay and illustrator’s concept art’ (p54), as he so aptly puts; Bernard Beckett’s (NZ) essay about the power of children’s literature; and Jaclyn Moriarty’s weekly borrowing of Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger, which helped her young self have her voice heard, making people see the truth through the power of words. Each essay is insightful and written with an obvious passion and love for words and storytelling, which will connect readers even more so to these authors and illustrators in the most perfect way possible – through a book.


 Jess

One Bloody Thing After Another: The World’s Gruesome History by Jacob F. Field $17.99rrp
Historical Non-Fiction

As a history major I was pretty excited to discover this book: a book that summarizes, in chronological order, our murderous past? Yes please!
As I began this book I found the small descriptions followed up with simple diagrams to be quite beneficial, having that visual reference to look upon was really good to truly understand the brutality of our ancestors. It is organised in a way that takes the reader from continent to continent through the historical massacres and rotten kings that took place during the metaphoric journey.
Not only is this book full of fun facts to bring up at parties, but it also supplies a great historical backdrop to most of our most gruesome of past events. With many of the massacres and other tragic events, this book manages to provide both a brief summary of events but it also mentions the political and social status at the time- highlighting both the religion of the period as well as the type of monarchy there is.
Through reading this short book I learnt of monarchies and events that I previously hadn’t suspected of ever happening- such as the Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, who believed the best way to see if someone was guilty was to poison them and see how much they threw up- or the famous witch hunts, where if they drowned they were innocent.
This book not only reveals the ludicrous ideas and methods of punishment in our history but it also provides a short and easy read that helps you gain a lot of interesting information that you never thought you would have previously needed.


Steph

No Man is an Island by Adele Dumont $32.99rrp 
BIOGRAPHY

In her book No Man is an Island, Adele Dumont gives us an insight into what it’s really like for those living in detention, both on and off Australia’s shores. As a reader, we are able to observe from the inside, without twisted media coverage and secretive politicians. Dumont began her work at Christmas Island, before moving on to Curtin in Western Australia. Dumont teaches English to the men in these centres, some who have never even been to a proper primary school, let alone attended university. She offers us a chance to experience not only what it’s like to be a worker in these centres, but also a ‘client.’ Hearing some of the stories from the men she teaches is just devastating. The social, religious and political prosecution these men and women face would be enough to make any of us flee our homes.
Like all who have read this book, I strongly believe all Australians should. It really offers a different perspective on immigration detention, one that doesn’t paint these men and women as people just trying to ‘skip the queue.’


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