2016 Reviews


December

Extinctions, Josephine Wilson (UWA Publishing)
Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions, winner of the inaugural Dorothy Hewett Award, is an exciting sign of the quality of writing coming out of Western Australia. Beautifully nuanced in its characterisation, the novel follows Frederick Lothian, a retired Professor of concrete, as he slowly reaches a point of self-knowledge, recognising the cost of alienating oneself from life and loved ones. Wilson’s prose shifts seamlessly from playfulness to moments of painful intensity. The inclusion of images at key moments adds a poignancy and depth to Fred’s obsession with objects, and Wilson’s rich scene-work builds into a powerful portrayal of the realities of family life. This is wonderful writing.


The Whip Hand, Mihaela Nicolescu and Nadine Browne (Fremantle Press)
This impressive collection of short stories is eclectic and engaging. Each story is beautifully crafted and offers an emotional journey. 'The Whip Hand' refers to the person who holds power and throughout, these stories compel us to ponder the notion of power and control. In them we meet a vast range of characters – a stripper thumbing a ride in Midland, an abused wife on a farm, cleaners with big dreams, a child with a terrible secret, and a young woman embarking on prostitution in an empowered way … or possibly not? An interesting theme that emerges in several of the stories is that of parental influence on our lives. Grab a copy of this book before you head off on holidays!


Elemental, Amanda Curtin (UWA Publishing)
This stunning novel is entirely deserving of this month's reissue. This is what our reviewer said following its initial publication in 2013:
Amanda Curtin’s second novel, Elemental, is both demanding and utterly engrossing. As an old woman, Meggie Tulloch records her life story for her granddaughter. Born into the harsh environment of a small fishing village in north-east Scotland, where women’s lives are ruled by men and men’s by the sea, she escapes to the Shetland Isles to become a ‘gutting girl’, then marries and emigrates to Fremantle. The sweep of this narrative, organised in three parts, ‘Water 1891-1905’, ‘Air 1905-1909’, and ‘Earth 1910-1932’, with a Coda, ‘Fire 2011’, is impressive and the historical detail fascinating. Absolutely not to be missed.



Son of the Sixth, Richard Ellicott (Self-published)
In Son of the Sixth, first-time author Richard Ellicott riffs on the folklore concept that seventh sons of a seventh son have special powers. His gripping fantasy novel is set in a world where sixth children hold special powers, and those unsanctioned are hunted and executed by the tyrannical rulers of the land. Following three generations of the same family, the main characters flee in a quest for safety only to discover even greater evil and danger. With well-drawn characters and an intriguing and suspenseful storyline, this is a great holiday read – and one which young adults will also enjoy.


November

The Tercel Bird, Yann Toussaint (Hallowell Press)
These poems happen in their own sweet time. The lineation is assured, with a great attentiveness to sound moving through lines; take for example the effect of ‘Flying slowly in dissolute flocks’. Although slim, The Tercel Bird contains universes, along with sensitivity to deep time. Its deft coordinates track between Albany, Morocco, a walk along the Thames. In it one finds a world of candles rather than chandeliers, a blessed slow moving world in which there is time to watch a young kestrel learning to fly. The reading experience is utterly enhanced by the fine press practices of Hallowell Press.


The Woman Next Door, Liz Byrski (Pan Macmillan)
What happens to decades long friendships when neighbours move away?
How can friends help elderly neighbours navigate the physical and mental challenges of old age?
What kind of life is possible after the children have left home?
And what if your partner wants to move on to retire somewhere else before you do?
In this engaging and warm Liz Byrski novel The Woman Next Door, Joyce, Helen, Polly and their partners enter a new era of their friendships, redefining their relationships, and finding out just what it is that can add meaning and creativity to this phase of their lives.


Love in a Sunburnt Country, Jo Jackson King (Harlequin)
Love in a Sunburnt Country is a heart-warming collection of real life love stories set in rural and remote Australia. Published by Harlequin, known for their popular rural romance fiction (or ‘hen lit’ as it’s been called), the book's settings include remote stations, mountain ranges, and wide open plains in times of drought, fire and rain, and a cast of characters (from opal miners and cattle station owners, to nuns and pastoralists) as unique as the flora and fauna of the Australian bush. Jo Jackson King reveals in these eight true love tales that truth is certainly stranger than fiction, and just as romantic.


My Silly Mum, Monique Mulligan (Serenity Press)
My Silly Mum transports us to a time in our lives that most people can relate to - when we are embarrassed by everything our parents do or say. What child wouldn’t cringe when mum dances with the vacuum cleaner or forgets their name? Who wouldn’t roll their eyes with frustration when mum leaves her phone in the freezer and loses her glasses…again! Children will laugh out loud at all the silly things mum does and mums will relate to a mother facing the challenges of parenting in the modern world, in this fun and ultimately poignant story.  Supported by the colourful and humorous illustrations of Veronica Rooke, My Silly Mum demonstrates that although our parents can frustrate us at times, the unconditional love they have for their children overrides it all.


Captain Sneer the Buccaneer, Penny Morrison & illust. Gabriel Evans (Walker Books)
Captain Sneer the Buccaneer is full of bravado but when the going gets tough he relies on his crew and familiar comforts for reassurance. The illustrations are clues to this chap’s vulnerabilities but also describe his appealing bluster and liveliness. The rollicking rhymes punctuated with a surprise refrain foretell the appearance of Captain Sneer’s mum, whom Captain Sneer rescues, whether she likes it or not. The telling illustrations set in seascapes, murky pirate ship interiors, and mysterious caves amusingly reveal the soft underbelly of this pompous little character. This story invites swashbuckling participation and singing along.


October

Westerly 61.1, Various contributors (Westerly Centre)
The latest issue of Westerly, guest edited by Steve Kinnane, is a reminder  of the power and importance of stories in maintaining and renewing culture. A celebration of Indigenous writing, 61.1 includes new writing across all genres and from a variety of known and little-known writers. Proud in its cover art by Bella Kelly, Westerly 61.1 asserts its place in Western Australian literary culture. Notable contributions include Tara June Winch’s story ‘The Yield’, Kim Scott’s non-fiction piece ‘Both Hands Full’ and the poem ‘Sap Clot’ by Alison Whittaker (Tender! Horror! // Thrice upon the shore comes the violence). Katinka Smit’s debut story ‘Behind the Line’ is similarly impressive in its portrayal of cultural ambivalence.
The personal stories of less well-known writers also point up the strengths of Indigenous voices and the personal challenges that have been surmounted. Two joyous vignettes by young boys from Mulan in the Tanami desert, Bella Kelly’s daughters recounting their mother’s life and art, and Doris Eaton’s ‘Giveaway’ story are three such examples. Now in its 60th year, this latest Westerly must be among its most notable. A collection of stories, reviews and essays that reminds all readers that the west of Australia has a long indigenous past, a continuing present, and a future.



between white, Josephine Clarke (Mulla Mulla Press)
The second poem in this debut collection from Josephine Clarke concludes with the lines: Don’t let in / any forgetting. This may well be the poet’s credo. Her poems are rich with remembrance and detail. While her simpler pieces are observational, setting out scenes much as a painter might, others wade into the swamplands of family and relationships. Here Clarke’s artistry is most in evidence. Candour and raw emotion are delivered with startling economy in the title poem, a mother-daughter piece (we rub scars into each other) and the equally naked work ‘This Smile’. In twenty poems, Clarke reveals herself as a poet to watch.


Small Things, Mel Tregonning (Allen & Unwin)
It can take one small thing to cause a crack, then a few more to tear you apart. It can take a few small things to isolate you and make you feel that you don’t belong. It seems a small thing, but if just one person takes notice, the cracks can start to mend. It can take a small thing to bring you back and give you hope. This exquisite graphic novel by Mel Tregonning is a heart-breaking, yet ultimately hopeful, insight into the need we have to belong in the world. The breathtaking black and white illustrations beautifully encapsulate what it is like to feel isolated and broken. This book is both moving and uplifting, and a ‘must read’. Set aside a small moment of your time to read Small Things. You won’t regret it.


Old Scores, David Whish-Wilson (Fremantle Press)
Set in Perth during the 1980’s Old Scores, the third novel in the Frank Swann detective series, is a book with a heartbeat. The text pulses from the pages at an escalating rate, building tension and suspense as the story hurtles towards its surprising resolution. Frank Swann’s Perth is a city steeped in corruption at every level, from bikie clubhouses to the houses of parliament, and a complex web of relationships involving politicians, police, businessmen and bankers must be artfully navigated if Swann is to save himself and protect others he cares about. Old Scores confirms Whish-Wilson as a master crime writer with an unrivalled gift for examining and depicting the culture of the 'wild west'.


The Historian's Daughter, Rashida Murphy (UWA Publishing)
Gathering memories from childhood to adulthood across India, Iran and Australia, the historian’s daughter, Hanna, pieces together silences, observations and events to make sense of her life and find truth. Why did her loving mother who she calls ‘the Magician’ abruptly walk out of her life? Why does she feel animosity toward her father ‘the Historian’? Author Rashida Murphy equips her narrator with the required strength to deal with shock and tackle issues of family, trust, culture and migration in this rich work of fiction. Having spent her own childhood in India, Murphy is adept in describing India’s vibrant culture through descriptions of food, characters and family and positioning it in an Australian context.


The Smuggler's Curse, Norman Jorgensen (Fremantle Press)
This swashbuckling tale offers a kid’s-eye view of life on the high seas when young Red Read is sold to some smugglers led by the notorious Captain Bowen. Setting out from Broome, we follow Red’s adventures as he learns the ropes as the new and very green ship’s boy aboard the Black Dragon. There are some great characters in the crew of The Black Dragon where trouble is never far away, be it fierce storms, foreign armies, Singaporean gangsters or ship wreckers. Jorgenson’s storytelling is gripping, action-packed and at times bloodthirsty – kids will LOVE it! The action is nicely balanced against the Captain’s ethics and his tender care of young Red.


Beyond Carousel, Brendon Ritchie (Fremantle Press)
In this much anticipated sequel to the YA novel Carousel, musicians Lizzy and Taylor and writer Nox are finally free from their sheltered and isolated ‘residency’ inside Carousel shopping centre. They have emerged into a decaying and dangerous city populated only by artists, a few others spared by ‘the Disappearance’ and vicious packs of dogs. As they navigate the challenges of the new reality, they also search for answers - and possibly even a portal back to the old world. Nox realises that his survival depends on finding his voice as a writer and believing in himself as an artist. This novel is a fascinating commentary on an arts world that has lost its soul and on finding meaning, purpose and understanding through art.


 

September

Two Sisters: A True Story, Ngarta Jinny Bent, Jukuna Mona Chuguna, Pat Lowe and Eirlys Richards (Magabala Books)
Ngarta Jinny Bent and Jukuna Mona Chuguna grew up with family members in the Great Sandy Desert region of North-west Western Australia. Their fascinating stories, Ngarta’s ‘A Desert Tragedy’, told to Pat Lowe, and Jukuna’s ‘my life in the desert’, written by her in their original language, Walmajarri, and translated by Eirlys Richards, record a way of life now past. The book also includes beautiful reproductions of the women’s paintings of their desert homelands, photos, and Lowe’s description of the Walmajarri diaspora, as well as notes by Lowe and Richards about how they worked with the sisters. This is a book to treasure.


Shibboleth and other stories, ed. Laurie Steed (Margaret River Press)
Since its beginnings in 2011, Margaret River Press has had a partnership with Margaret River Arts to publish the best stories from the annual Margaret River Short Story Competition, also inaugurated in 2011. This, the latest collection of 24 stories selected from the Australia-wide entries, is a particularly fine one. From the opening, winning story, ‘Shibboleth’ by Jo Riccioni, to the last, winner of the Southwest Prize, ‘Theo’ by Phil Sparrow, every story is different and all are compelling. A collection to dip into and return to time and again, this volume testifies to the strength of the contemporary Australian short story. Don’t miss it!


Brobot, James Foley (Fremantle Press)
Sally Tinker is the world’s foremost inventor under the age of 12. So when she realises her baby brother Joe has numerous design flaws – no volume control, toxic waste leaking from chassis – she knows just what to do. When you build your own Brobot, you can correct those pesky defects and throw in a cupcake oven for good measure! But does Brobot really have everything Sally needs in a brother? And what happens when the remote goes haywire and an out-of-control Brobot sets his sights on Joe? Award-winning author/illustrator James Foley turns his hand to the graphic novel format with rollicking results. Young readers will laugh out loud at Brobot’s antics, delight in the detail-packed illustrations, and find themselves wondering whether some ‘flaws’ need fixing after all.


Troppo, Madelaine Dickie (Fremantle Press)
Penny is a young woman searching for more in life than an unsatisfying job and a not-quite-right relationship in Perth.  In short, she wants to feel ‘alive’. Her new job combines two great passions: surfing and Indonesia. At the outset, warning bells sound as the back-story around Shane, her new boss, comes to light. Penny’s journey has it all - romance, danger and intrigue - and readers will find themselves quickly involved in the story with its interesting and well-drawn characters. Dickie’s depiction of community life in Indonesia is exquisite and readers with first-hand experience of the islands will find themselves smiling and nodding throughout. This book is as good as a holiday!


 


Gold Rush: How I Made, Lost and Made a Fortune, Jim Richards (Fremantle Press)
Gold Rush is a thoroughly entertaining and informative autobiography by a British geologist, Jim Richards.  Now settled in Perth, Richards takes readers on a rollicking journey around the world, chasing the gold as a young man in the tropical jungles of Central and South America, Indonesia and Laos with varying degrees of success along the way. The narrative is compelling and enjoyable to read with several hair-raising situations that keep the pages turning. Anyone with an interest in world travel and a passion for adventure will love this book. Grab yourself a copy and settle in!


August

The Windy Season, Sam Carmody (Allen & Unwin)
This page-turning mystery about a missing person, drug-running and violence is also a moving coming-of-age novel in which seventeen-year-old Paul confronts the challenges of family, arduous physical work and bourgeoning sexual desire. Set in the fictional West Australian coastal town of Stark, the novel’s visceral evocation of the ocean reveals both the perils of life and the possibility of transformation. Through the use of clipped, gritty dialogue and the subtlety of what remains unsaid, The Windy Season presents an emotionally powerful exploration of guilt, damaged masculinity and the struggle to overcome the painful distance between those we hope to love.



From Hell to Hell, S. Nagaveeran (Writing Through Fences)
From Hell to Hell is both lament and plea. S. Nagaveeran is one of 65 million people displaced from their homes worldwide, and one of thousands incarcerated by the Australian Government. In these 36 poems, he deals with privation and injustice, cutting to the heart of the detainee’s daily torment. Time and again, he begs to be heard: Let my cry and my voice come to you. Nagaveeran’s despair sometimes has the finality of a suicide note, yet we also glimpse the resilience of the human spirit: Weeping and mourning / sucks my strength, / takes all brightness / from my eyes /… / Yet / my heart still pounds hard. This second book from the Writing Through Fences project offers readers an affecting insight into the human cost of inhumane policy.


The Worst Woman in Sydney: The Life and Crimes of Kate Leigh, Leigh Straw (NewSouth Books)
In her biography of Kate Leigh, author Leigh Straw challenges the notion that women who pursue a life of crime are victims “in need of rescuing”. On the contrary, her portrait of Leigh is of a tough woman who led a tough life, relying on her wits and business acumen to take her to the top of the Sydney gang world of the 1920s and 30s. Despite periods of incarceration and a deadly turf war with crime rival Tilly Devine, Leigh never flinched from her chosen path. Whether she is a character to be venerated or abhorred (or something in between), Straw’s depiction is of a capable, fearsome leader – who just happened to be wearing a dress.


Saving Jazz, Kate McCaffrey (Fremantle Press)
In Saving Jazz, the lives of Jasmine Lovely and her friends are destroyed after a sexual assault at a party goes viral. The narrative takes us beyond the immediate aftermath of the assault and shows its long-term consequences, as well as the complicated moral landscape Jazz finds herself traversing. The novel deals with gender relations, the power of the internet, and personal responsibility in a comprehensive and compelling way; this is a book that will keep you up all night and keep you thinking for weeks afterwards. Saving Jazz is McCaffrey's most powerful book yet, and it deserves to be widely read and discussed.


Lily in the Mirror, Paula Hayes  (Fremantle Press)
Lily Griffin is a smart, introverted girl who enjoys all things dark and mysterious. When she discovers the magic mirror in her grandparent’s house, it’s like a dream come true. But when she investigates further, her magical journey of self-discovery and growth takes a very unexpected turn. Lily in the Mirror is entertaining junior fiction that explores serious issues in a lightly humorous manner. Hayes’ conveys the sensitive reality of a grandparent’s dementia through a child’s innocent and buzzing curiosity. Young readers are sure to relate to and enjoy Lily’s character as she learns how to embrace life.  A great junior novel for children who love mystery and magic.


Pandamonia, Chris Owen, illust. Chris Nixon (Fremantle Press)
PAN.DA.MO.NI.A (pan.duh.moh.nee.uh) noun informal
Complete and utter chaos, often following the disturbance of a blissfully sleeping panda
He may look cute, cuddly and harmless, but the warning is clear… just don’t wake the panda whatever you do. Pandamonia, the latest offering from Chris Owen, is a feast for the eyes and ears. Ears? This is a book that simply must be read aloud as it is filled to the brim with wonderful rhymes, alliteration and exquisite vocabulary that will engage and entertain any child. The delightful text is supported by the sublime illustrations of Chris Nixon, the turning of each page demonstrating a more and more chaotic palaver at the zoo. So you have been warned: “…don’t wake the panda whatever you do!”


July

The Sound, Sarah Drummond  Fremantle Press
Sarah Drummond’s The Sound is an excellent contribution to contemporary narratives of the colonial frontier. Complex in structure and style, marked by a ceaseless impulse for movement, it is brilliantly evocative of the coastal landscapes it wanders. The novel is focalised through Wiremu Heke, an Otago man working his way along the southern coastline of Australia in search of revenge. Joining sealers, he finds himself involved in acts of violence perpetrated against the Indigenous peoples of the coastline similar to those he is attempting to redress. His internal struggle of guilt and denial is well wrought, with hope for redemption emerging through the structural frame—brief segments in first-person from the perspective of Wiremu, which combined reveal a decision to act. A beautiful and provoking read.


Forgetting Foster, Dianne Touchell (Allen & Unwin)

It came on slowly, his dad’s forgetting. Like a spider building a web in a doorway.


At seven years old, Foster Sumner loves the things a boy loves: toy soldiers, the beach, his Dad’s wildly inventive stories. But his father’s stories are changing, and so is he. When Foster’s father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, people tell him “It’s nothing for you to worry about” but with Foster’s voice guiding the narrative, the absurdity of such platitudes is quickly laid bare. Told in Touchell’s trademark lyrical yet punchy prose, Forgetting Foster is a moving portrayal of the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the family system, told through the at-once confused and clearsighted eyes of a child. Unflinching and beautifully written, Touchell’s third novel cements her reputation as a fine writer for young adults.


The Shark Caller, Dianne Wolfer (Random House)
The Shark Caller is set in Papua New Guinea and uses a sprinkling of Tok Pisin, the native language of the Islanders, to gradually immerse the reader in this solwara (saltwater) tale. Izzy is mourning the death of her twin brother Ray, then discovers that her home island and family need her help to restore the balance of the reefs and ocean. So she must face terrifying challenges to meet her destiny as a shark caller. A vividly created underwater world with lyrical snippets from the point of view of the mako shark, a warmly supportive family, and quotes at the beginning of each chapter, all come together to make this absorbing story nambawan.



Steve Goes to Carnival, Joshua Button & Robyn Wells (Magabala Books)
Steve Goes to Carnival is a glorious celebration of friendship, music and, quite simply, the love for life. Steve is a music loving gorilla who lives at a zoo in Rio de Janeiro. His best friend is Antonio the zookeeper. Together, they enjoy sitting back and listening to jazz on the radio. One night, Steve is missing his friend Antonio and decides to let himself out of his cage and the zoo gates to look for him. Wearing a hat for disguise, he catches the tram into the city where it’s carnival time. Lively music pulses from the text and art of the collaborative team of Button and Wells. Their vibrant textured illustrations of people in motion capture the raw energy of Rio’s carnival. A whimsical picture book for all ages.


Boomerang and Bat, Mark Greenwood,illust. Terry Denton (Allen & Unwin)
Many Australians enjoy a sporting yarn but, until now, not much has been told about the ‘real first eleven’, an all-Aboriginal cricket team who, in 1868, defied the authorities and journeyed across the world to take on England’s finest cricketers. Wearing caps featuring a boomerang and bat, this team of unsung sporting heroes entertained and impressed the English crowds with their cricketing prowess, only to return home without any real acknowledgement of their achievements. Mark Greenwood has a talent of bringing history to life for young readers and his story-telling works well with Terry Denton’s detailed and engaging illustrations; highlights are the world map on the inside cover that details the voyage undertaken by the team and the portraits, with mini-biography of each player, on the inside back cover.


June

This month, to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of Fremantle Press, we dedicate our review section entirely to a selection of recent Fremantle Press titles.

Still Life with Teapot, Bridgid Lowry (Fremantle Press)
Brigid Lowry’s Still Life With Teapot is a thoroughly engaging blend of memoir, fiction, poetry, and reflections on, among other fascinating subjects, creativity, ageing and Zen. It’s wise but not self-righteous; zany without being gimmicky; deeply personal but never self-absorbed. What impels this exuberant and sometimes very moving book is the desire to live simply and to seek the joyous in ordinary experience. It’s a particular pleasure for anyone interested in making – whether it’s a poem or a nourishing bowl of soup, darning old clothes or helping to create a sustaining sense of community. Everything matters for this keenly observant writer, whose skillful use of words makes everything matter for her readers.


The Magnificent Life of Miss May Holman, Lekkie Hopkins (Fremantle Press)
The little known story of the talented May Holman is brought to life by Lekkie Hopkins, whose account of Australia’s first female Labor parliamentarian from 1925 through the 1930s is both engaging and informative. The book is attentive to Holman’s personal story and social milieu as well as her political contribution, weaving the personal and political threads together in an illuminating account. The reader learns about Holman’s efforts to improve working conditions for south west timber workers, as well as her campaigns for education and health reforms and for the wellbeing of women and children on the local and international stage. A much-loved figure, Holman died tragically at the peak of her career. Hopkins' book ensures Holman’s life and achievements are brought out from the shadows of history to receive contemporary recognition.


The Newspaper of Claremont Street, Elizabeth Jolley (Fremantle Press)
The beautiful hardcover republication of Elizabeth Jolley’s second novel, which established her as a new and unique voice in Australian writing, is one of the first two in Fremantle Press’s ‘treasure’ series. The series is a celebration of their 40 years of publishing and this voume will indeed be a treasure for lovers of Jolley’s work as well as a perfect introduction to that work for new readers. The ‘newspaper’ is Weekly, who lives in one room in Claremont Street, cleans for many of its residents, and collects and dispenses gossip to the street from the corner shop. She is an unforgettable character, and the book’s extraordinary ending is equally so.


Riddle Gully Secrets, Jen Banyard (fremantle Press)
Pollo di Nozi is back with her best friend Will in the third instalment in Jen Banyard’s Riddle Gully series. Mayor Bullock is up to his usual hijinks and in Riddle Gully Secrets we meet some interesting new characters – Ash, Twig and Dan. The story is action-packed and once again Banyard deftly creates several layers within the plot that will give readers pause for reflection on some key themes around belonging, greed and looking at things beyond their face value. This book is a great read for children at home and also for any teachers (Y4-8) looking for a terrific classroom project with free curriculum-linked notes available for download.


 

Burn Patterns, Ron Elliott (Fremantle Press)
Introduced in this compelling, fast-paced crime novel is Iris Foster aka The Fire Lady – a classic, fabulously flawed, female protagonist. Iris is attempting a relatively quiet life as a therapist at a city psychology practice; her past work and fame as a profiler of arsonists has lost its appeal. But a brazen bombing at a school sees the police requesting her services again. She reluctantly complies and becomes central to the investigation to catch a serial arsonist – and then becomes a suspect herself. With the tension, pace and stakes escalating, Iris becomes obsessed with solving the case. Iris is razor-sharp and an impressively astute judge of character who also makes some terrible decisions. She is entertainingly acerbic but also damaged and fragile. Here’s hoping this thrilling ride isn’t the last we go on with her.


I Love Me, Sally Morgan & Ambelin Kwaymullina (Fremantle Press)
“I am me. Who else would I be? I love, love, love me!”
I Love Me is the latest offering from mother and daughter team Sally Morgan and Ambelin Kwaymullina. It is an infectious celebration of embracing your uniqueness, exulting in your physicality and loving yourself inside and out! This beautiful self-affirming book is brimming with colourful illustrations, rhythm and rhyme. Engaging on every level, I Love Me is a triumph and will leave your child jumping for joy and smiling from ear-to-ear.


May

Waer, Meg Caddy (Text Publishing)
Werewolves might seem like well-trod ground for Young Adult fiction but debut author Meg Caddy puts a fresh spin on things in this accomplished novel. When young ‘waer’ Lowell finds a girl washed up on the riverbank in their peaceful valley, trouble isn’t far behind. For the girl – Lycaea – is also waer, and is being hunted by blood purists who threaten the survival of everything Lowell holds dear. A compelling tale set in a unique and intricately drawn fantasy world, Waer – for all its shapeshifting and paranormal protagonists – is at its heart concerned with relationships and family, with how we connect both to others and to the deepest parts of ourselves. This assured novel marks the arrival of a fine young writer.


A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, Natasha Lester (Hachette Australia)
Natasha Lester’s latest novel, A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, is set in New York’s dazzling age of affluence and jazz, where Evelyn Lockhart is working against the odds to become the first female doctor of her generation. Evelyn seeks a greater purpose in life than that prescribed by her family and finds herself embroiled in the glamorous nocturnal world of the Ziegfeld Follies as a means to pay for her medical studies. But will her ambition to become an obstetrician stand in the way of winning the heart of the man she loves? Lester’s historical romance is written with the charm and eloquence of Austen and Alcott, in what feels like a classic, reinvented for the modern age. A highly recommended read.


The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper, Terrizita Corpus and Maggie Prewett (Magabala Books)
Inspired by the old lighthouse in Broome, The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper is a beautiful book for young children ideally suited for reading aloud. Terrizita Corpus introduces readers to a range of delightful Australian sea creatures with alliterative names such as Cassius the crab and Trev the turtle. On a stormy night when the Lighthouse Keeper is busy lighting the gigantic lamp, this cheeky band of creatures finds a warm and cosy place to take shelter…grumpiness ensues!  Maggie Prewett’s illustrations are luscious and vibrant and will undoubtedly provide inspiration to young readers to whip out the crayons to create their own versions of the sea creatures.


Stories from Suburban Road, T.A.G. Hungerford (Fremantle Press)
This exquisitely designed collector’s edition is one of the first two books in Fremantle Press’s new ‘Treasures’ series of re-published WA classics. First published in 1983, these autobiographical stories capture the well-known author’s boyhood in semi-rural South Perth during the 1920s and 1930s. Nostalgic even at the time of first publication, these evocative tales now offer an intriguing record of their time: an era of free range childhoods full of adventure and challenges; of a now barely recognisable physical landscape; and even of vanished attitudes and language. With beautiful writing and fascinating history combined with such superb presentation, this is indeed a book to be treasured. 


The Garden Wanderer, Julie Kinney, photographs by Freedom Garvey-Warr and Chris Gurney(Margaret River Press)
Adding to its unique catalogue of books that probe aspects of Margaret River's environment and culture, this lastest title from Margaret River Press takes the reader on a journey into twenty of the region's lushest and most impressive gardens. The selection of gardens showcased here – a mix of both private and public, some formal, others seemingly free-form and eclectic in the range of plants featured – demonstrate the sensitivities and passions that locals have brought to their personal interventions in nature. With beautifully rendered images throughout, The Garden Wanderer will inspire and delight. An ideal gift for the gardener, or wanderer, in your life.


April

Yassmin's Story: Who Do You Think I Am?, Yassmin Abdel-Magied (Penguin Random House)
In this exuberant memoir, 24-year-old Yassmin introduces herself as a ‘Muslim woman, founder of a youth-led organisation, former race car Team Principal, Sudanese-born member of the Arab-African diaspora, Queenslander, boxer’, a doer and thinker whose aim and ability is to be ‘useful’. Yassmin has packed more into her young life than most of us manage in a lifetime, and already achieved a formidable national and international public profile. The book is more than a story of growing up and migrant achievement: it’s funny, socially and culturally insightful and demonstrates a mature level of self-awareness. And it’s a terrific read.


All That is Lost Between Us, Sara Foster (Simon & Schuster)
This latest novel from Sara Foster could be described as a thriller with a difference. Set in the ruggedly dark and beautiful Lakes District, All That is Lost Between Us is a compelling story about a family in crisis. What makes it so compelling and different to other thrillers is that many readers will identify its themes and characters. Parents Anya & Callum are drifting apart from each other and from their teenagers, whilst the teenagers grapple with peer pressure, identity, love and the all-consuming internet. Great characters and scenery combined with a pulse-racing plot, this book is difficult to put down!


Magrit, Lee Battersby (Walker Books)
Nine-year-old Magrit lives in an abandoned cemetery with her friend and advisor, Master Puppet. Her world is small and insular – even Master Puppet is a creation of her own making, having been built from bones and graveyard junk – but it is home and she loves it ‘with the fierce love that comes with complete possession’. But the life Magrit so carefully curates is disrupted when the stork drops a baby into the cemetery. In defiance of Master Puppet’s warnings, Magrit takes the baby under her wing, setting herself on the path to a heartbreaking discovery. This beautifully written, thought-provoking novel serves up a deliciously spooky tale for young readers, and in doing so poses some big questions – about truth, acceptance, and the stories we tell ourselves.


Spring is a handsomely produced collection of photographs and illustrations showcasing a variety of gardens created by Perth garden designers Jenny and Neil Delmage. Inspired by their travels through Europe exploring both public and private gardens across France, Italy, Switzerland and England, Spring highlights the similarities between these European gardens and the couple’s own design style. Organised into three sections focusing on ‘Colour & Texture’, ‘Form & Design’, and ‘Mood & Lifestyle’, Spring effectively communicates the potential to enhance lifestyle through garden design. If you are planning a formal make-over for your own garden, you're bound to find inspiration in these pages.


Chip, Kylie Howarth (Five Mile Press)
Chip, the seagull, LOVES to eat chips and it does not matter what kind: fat, skinny, sandy, crunchy, even hot and spicy chips! Chip will eat the lot. When Chip is banned from Joe’s Chip Van, Chip and his friends decide to work together to take back control of the situation. They concoct an ingenious plan to get back on Joe’s good side and ensure a plentiful supply of their favourite meal. Kylie Howarth has created a fun and engaging tale that takes you along on a ride that will have you soaring, diving, rolling and falling with even the most hungry of seagulls; along with a subtle message at the end.


Eagle, Crow and Emu: Bird Stories, Jill Milroy & Gladys Milroy (Fremantle Press)
Eagle, Crow and Emu: Bird Stories is a wonderful collection of bird stories by Indigenous mother-daughter team Gladys Milroy and Jill Milroy that explore the themes of friendship, bullying, selfishness, forgiveness and individuality within engaging plots. The collection also contains endearing drawings to introduce each story that will engage young children. Wonderfully written, and involving plots that contain flightless birds and flying snakes, this little collection will be sure to engage young children with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures as well as teaching them lessons about greed and being selfless.


March

Ahead of Us, Dennis Haskell (Fremantle Press)
In this beautiful, restless book, which charts the loss of his beloved wife to cancer, Haskell is at the height of his powers both formally and emotionally. Unsentimental, direct and intimate, these poems have a rhythmic rightness that is satisfying and disarming by turns. This is not only an open dialogue with ill luck and chance conducted in a brave and secular way but also a dialogue with other poets, past and present. Echoes of Tennyson and Hardy haunt the pages of Ahead of Us, as do those of contemporary Australian poets who have meant much to Haskell. If there is deep grief here then there is consolation too. Poems written to his sons and grandchild in the aftermath are surely some of the tenderest in the collection.


Seeing the Elephant, Portland Jones (Margaret River Press)
Shortlisted for the 2014 T.A.G. Hungerford Award, Seeing the Elephant is Portland Jones’ debut novel. The complex narrative moves between two time-frames and settings: present day Perth and the mid-1960s in the highlands of Vietnam. Minh, the primary narrator, suffering in his 60s from cancer, is overwhelmed by memories of the past. Frank, an Australian soldier in Vietnam to recruit and train men from the local hill tribes, is the other narrator. A deep friendship between the men develops while the terrible events of the conflict between north and south Vietnam escalate. Political and personal dramas unfold in this compelling novel, which is both tragic and life-affirming.
Download writingWA's Book Club Notes for this book here.


Leaving Elvis and other stories, Michelle Michau-Crawford (UWA Publishing)
Leaving Elvis and other stories is a collection of short stories that follow each other in chronological order. These stories chart the lives and perspectives through three generations of a wheatbelt family starting with Len, freshly returned from WW2, spirit broken. Len’s own tragedy is seamlessly woven through the lives of his family and into future generations. The final story told by his granddaughter both closes the generational circle and yet leaves us with more questions. Michau-Crawford’s writing style feels akin to breathing  - the stories, characters and their landscapes are so beautifully drawn, you’ll feel like you know them. A superb read!


Many Hearts, One Voice, Melinda Tognini (Fremantle Press)
While today we recognise and compensate for the pain and sacrifice of war widows, many people don’t understand the hard fought battles undertaken by the early members of the War Widows’ Guild in defence of their rights. Many Hearts, One Voice is a social history that charts the formation and activities of this group, with a particular focus on the Western Australian branch. Battling male politicians with entrenched views about compensation, representation at memorial services, and access to subsidised health care, the courage, service and fellowship of these women shines through. Readers will also enjoy wonderful vignettes from the last 70 years of Perth’s history.


January-February

Something Wonderful, Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair  
(Penguin)
“Well blow me down,” says Dad. “That really is something wonderful.”
When living on a farm, there are always chores to get done. For Sam that can be difficult when there are many wonderful distractions: feathers to chase, trees to climb, and things to pull apart and put back together. A rainy day and a shed full of possibilities allow Sam’s daydreams to show their true potential. Raewyn Caisley’s insightful and gently told narrative is supported by the soft, dreamlike illustrations of Karen Blair. Dedicated to ‘all the creative thinkers’, Sam’s story will inspire and empower the dreamer in us all.


The Grass is Greener, Loretta Hill  
(Random House)
The Grass is Greener follows the adventures of best friends Bronwyn and Claudia. Young, educated and beautiful and yet miserable in their respective lifestyles, they decide to swap lives for a year. Bronwyn leaves her frantic life as a lawyer in Perth, opting for a role in Claudia’s family winery down south, whilst Claudia secures a position as a lawyer in a prestigious firm in Perth in pursuit of her ambitions. With mayhem aplenty, liberal doses of romance sizzling beneath the surface, complicated family dramas to be navigated, and a rambunctious dog, The Grass is Greener is a fun, lively and most enjoyable read.


Purple Prose, Edited by Liz Byrski & Rachel Robertson  
(Fremantle Press)
Purple Prose is an exquisite collection of personal stories and reflections by fifteen women writers. Edited by Liz Byrski and Rachel Robertson, who are also contributors, this collection offers diverse writing styles and topics drawn together through a colour: purple. Some stories are deeply moving, most notably Natasha Lester’s 'The Things I Cannot Say' and then there’s a good dollop of quirky historical, delightful and hilarious anecdotes. Amanda Curtin’s account of unexpected audience participation in 'Towards Metamorphosis' will have orthotic sandal wearers justifiably fearful as festival season approaches. Grab a copy and read a story each day – you’ll be inspired, stimulated, tickled, and will even learn a thing or two about pigeons!


Westerly: Volume 60.2  
(Westerly Centre)
Westerly has been publishing new writing from Western Australia since 1956, providing a smorgasbord of poetry, short stories, literary criticism, and polemic. This volume offers a wonderful mix of gems and surprises that will provide something for any reader interested in serious literature. The poems are particularly lovely. Of note are Elizabeth Smither’s poem on cats at night, Shane McCauley’s reflection on detaching from a long spell at the beach, and Carolyn Abbs who meditates on the empty bedroom of her recently deceased nanna. The literary criticism is also interesting and fascinating, particularly the piece about Albert Facey on his experience of war.


Slings and Arrows: 50 charmingly irreverent and sometimes piccante poems, Glen Phillips   
(Platypus Press)
Glen Phillips, whose many poetry publications have entertained generations of readers, is characteristically both playful and thought provoking in this generous new volume. As an example, ‘Lake Visitants’ , a response to the Gormley installation at Lake Ballard, captures the double sided nature of Philips’ poetry. Walking towards a ‘mimi manikin’, the poet stumbles over a long buried fence, its ‘prone posts’ reminiscent of ‘long ago prospectors perished’ there. Finally, the ‘entrancing’ ideas induced by the mirage of the lake overwhelm him, and he ‘Stagger[s]/all the way back while I still have strength’, deeply affected but still mocking himself.


Panorama; Western Australia, Simon Nevill   
(Simon Nevill Publications)
Panorama is a coffee table book with 'benefits'. From gentle to wild and rugged, from dawn to dusk; every region of Western Australia is knowledgeably covered in its many glorious pictures (though not all 'great', which the author admits, each is certainly a gem in its own right) and the thoughtful and characterful text which is also remarkably informative. As an added bonus, reading between the lines will give a mini portrait of the author and an insight into his bush travels. A great gift or a book to help you plan – or remember – your travels in the largest state in the world.