2017 Reviews


The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry,
eds John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan (Fremantle Press)

Edited and with a long and informative Introduction by two of Australia’s leading poets, this large, beautifully presented volume is a must for all readers of WA poetry and a wonderful introduction for those with less knowledge. It’s a ‘historically based anthology’, but as the Introduction explains, the greatest concentration is on the post-Second World War period. The choice of poets is broad, including many Indigenous writers, those of non-English speaking backgrounds, and those born or living outside WA, but connected to the State. It’s both ‘diverse and fluid’. And the selection of work has been similarly well informed, with each poem chosen being one the editors ‘respect, like or consider relevant to the historical overview’ of the volume. There is wide recognition of earlier survey anthologies, and the editors’ concern with environmental issues and those of ‘belonging’ in its broadest sense underlies the Introduction and many of the choices made.  Enjoy this valuable collection for many years.

Border Crossing, Caitlin Maling (Fremantle Press)
Whereas Caitlin Maling’s first volume of poetry was firmly rooted in Western Australian soil, her second reads more like fragments in a travel journal. Ranging from Houston and Monterey to Malaysia and Vietnam, Maling reminds us that — as Neil Finn wrote — you always take the weather with you. Some poems, like the wonderful ‘California’,  are lyrical narratives capturing felt recollections of a particular moment in time. Others are powerfully direct, while still others work through wild juxtapositions, like a roll of adventitious snaps that reveal a photographer’s soul. Border Crossing may not always be melodic, but will resonate with many.

Frame, AK Alliss (Atlas Productions)
Frame is a fast-paced cyberpunk thriller set in the near future in a world of omnipresent danger: decimated by climate change, with creeping totalitarianism, and subjected to daily occurrences of “McTerrorism”. Hannah, working as a content producer for a social media celebrity, notices a tie to a terrorist organisation hidden in an image she is manipulating. This sets her on a journey to confront the truth behind her husband’s death, and to unravel the real force behind a global conspiracy. Raising questions about celebrity culture and the increasingly dominant role of technology in every aspect of our lives, Frame is topical and prescient. A hugely enjoyable genre-bender from an exciting new voice.

History Mysteries: The Lost Explorer",
Mark Greenwood (Penguin Books)
One in a series of four gripping stories of little-known yet fascinating Australian events, The Lost Explorer leaves you eager to read more. Before disappearing, Leichhardt, an 1840s migrant, achieved remarkable accomplishments in exploration, naming rivers, plants and animals never previously seen by Europeans. Mark Greenwood lays bare the historical investigation process, including quotes from journals, photographs, maps and newspaper cuttings of the day. Mark’s humorous, lean storytelling would have been enjoyed by his namesake, Mark Twain, whom he quotes: ‘Australian history … is so curious and strange … It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies.’

The Drifter, Anthea Hodgson (Penguin Books Australia)
A new addition to the rural romance genre, Anthea Hodgson’s debut novel The Drifter is an easy and enjoyable weekend read. Local readers will identify with its WA Wheatbelt setting - the sheep farm, the colloquial language and the typical country town rituals. After a life-altering event, young and carefree Cate Christie escapes to her great aunt Ida’s farm to deal with her demons. During her self-imposed exile, she meets the mysterious squatter Henry, who is hiding a few secrets of his own, and discovers she has much to learn from her aunt about life and about love.


Hooked on Herring, Jacqueline Hagan (Margaret River Press)
Over the past five years, Margaret River Press has produced a range of books that are as pleasurable to hold and to look at as they are to read. The latest of these is the beautifully designed, hard-back publication Hooked on Herring. It's surprisingly joyful to explore a cook book that celebrates one specific ingredient - in this case, the versatile and flavorful herring - and in these pages you will discover many mouth-watering recipes that have been collected by the author during her years of travel. The recipes are interspersed with anecdotes from her travels and presented on the page within a design aesthetic that is both contemporary and nostalgic. Hooked on Herring is a book destined to become a staple in your kitchen.

Return of the Dinosaurs, Bronwyn Houston (Magabala Books)
“Imagine if dinosaurs came back to Broome! What would they do?”
Inspired by the ancient dinosaur footprints that can still be found along the Kimberley coastline, Bronwyn Houston takes the reader on a lighthearted and fun-filled exploration of how dinosaurs would enjoy Broome life in the modern age. Would they go to the movies? Frolic on Cable Beach at sunset? How would they cope with the planes and tourists? This whimsical fancy is beautifully offset with fun, brightly coloured illustrations accompanying “tongue-in-cheek” reactions by the dinosaurs as they navigate their way through the sights of Broome. Children will enjoy the dinosaurs on their escapades and the reactions of the locals to them being there. There is fun to be had by all in Return of the Dinosaurs.

Writing the Dream, various contributors (Serenity Press)
Twenty-four writers, some well known, others less so, published in a wide range of genres, contribute to this anthology. Their varied accounts of how they realised the aspiring writer’s dream of being published are followed by five tips for those who follow that dream. While there are no surprises, they provide timely reminders: read widely and attentively; stick to a writing routine; find a good writing group/editor/agent; and so on. Most importantly, keep writing! Guy Salvidge passes on Harry Crews’ advice: ‘Put your ass on the chair.’ Full of interest, this is a book for  both writers and readers.

On Aspiring: Journey Beyond Courage, Wendy Campbell (The Glastonbury Company)
On Aspiring is Campbell’s ‘heart on sleeve’ memoir of her quest to overcome deep-seated psychological fears and significant physical health issues to achieve a personal goal – to reach the summit of one of New Zealand’s premier technical climbs, Mt Aspiring. While much of the book is given to the story of 'before' and 'after', readers with their own personal experience of climbing are likely to respond most strongly to the passages describing Campbell’s challenging time on the mountain. On Aspiring is ultimately a book that will resonate with readers who are seeking motivation in their own lives and who are open to finding inspiration in the determination and success of another.