2018 Reviews


May

Afternoons with Harvey Beam bu Carrie Cox

Afternoons with Harvey Beam, Carrie Cox (Fremantle Press)
Readers will feel as though they already know Harvey Beam. He’s pretty much every middle-aged white male talkback radio host we’ve ever encountered on air! Harvey travels to his home town to be with his dying father, navigating fraught family relationships, old wounds, landmarks, and the chasm between his present life and what he left behind as a young man. On the face of it, this novel is a ripping good yarn with well-drawn characters, strong narrative and highly relatable experiences, and these factors alone will provide much enjoyment for readers. But Afternoons with Harvey Beam is so much more! The characters are rich and layered and whilst this may be Cox’s first novel, her career as a writer (journalism) is highly evident. The writing is exquisite – with a snappy, succinct and often hilarious turn of phrase, Carrie Cox will have lovers of literature in her thrall.


How to Win a Nobel PrizeHow to How to Win a Nobel Prize, Barry Marshall and Lorna Hendry, Illust. Bernard Caleo (Piccolo Nero)
When Mary stumbles across a secret club of time-travelling Nobel Prize winners, the stage is set for a whirlwind tour of history’s most exciting scientists. With co-author Professor Barry Marshall (one of WA’s real-life Nobel Laureates) by her side, Mary travels space and time to meet the ordinary people behind twelve of the world’s most important discoveries. This is a great read for 8–12-year-olds who are keen on history, science or adventure. Plus there’s humour, hands-on activities, and some really decent advice on how to win a Nobel Prize (which is also applicable to getting the most out of life).


Bush and Beyond Bush and Beyond: Stories from Country, Tjalaminu Mia, Jessica Lister, Jaylow Tucker and Cheryl Kickett-Tucker (Fremantle Press) 
These beautifully narrated and uniquely Western Australian stories have universal appeal. Genuine and heartfelt, they represent an opportunity to hear from voices not often heard. Readers will find reflections on culture distinctive to Aboriginal people in Western Australia, as well as common experiences: dealing with siblings, special times with grandparents, and toasting marshmallows. Brimming with humour and charm, Bush and Beyond captures a deep connection with natural surroundings and introduces Nyungar words relating to Western Australian wildlife. A great book for young readers, or families to share – mooditj! (good!)


Joao by John MateerJoão, John Mateer (Giramondo)
John Mateer is a poet who has travelled widely to work and play. In this series of sixty-two sonnets, he constructs an alter- ego, João, whose travels through literary and actual landscapes are abundant with eros, humour, disappointment, festivals, friends, and encounters with well-known writers. Although these sonnets contain fourteen lines, they are not classical. Instead they read as prose poetry, a form well suited to the sprawling exotic travels they describe. The final section of the book – Memories of Capetown – describing Mateer’s love of his birth land and his father, is particularly moving.


A Fortunate Life for Younger ReadersA Fortunate Life For Younger Readers, A.B. Facey (Fremantle Press)
Albert Barnett Facey’s memoir was first published in 1981, when he was aged 87 and just nine months before his death. It has since gone on to become a best-selling and award-winning Australian classic. Facey was born in 1894, started work at age eight, and by fourteen was out on his own working the first of many jobs in rural Western Australia. He survived Gallipoli and endured much hardship, adversity and loss throughout his life. Facey is a natural storyteller though he uses the simple language of a man who had no formal education and only became literate as an adult. The optimism and positivity that made him deem his life fortunate is evident throughout the narrative. Facey is often described as “an ordinary man” but his life story will be far from ordinary for contemporary children and it contains numerous talking points for discussions with their parents and teachers.


Lillian Armfield by Leigh StrawLillian Armfield: How Australia's First Female Detective Took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and Changed the Face of the Force, Leigh Straw (Hachette)
Meticulously researched and compellingly written, Leigh Straw’s Lillian Armfield: How Australia's First Female Detective Took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and Changed the Face of the Force must have one of the longest titles in Australian publishing history.  But it lets you know what you’re in for – and quite a ride it is too, with young Lillian pioneering the role of women in Australian policing and facing formidable female foes in the heady days of Sydney’s crime wars during the roaring ’20s and depressed ’30s. From runaway girls to fraudulent fortune-tellers to the seriously dangerous Kate Leigh, a sly grog and cocaine queen, Straw takes us on a genuinely fascinating and often surprising journey through Armfield’s long and ground-breaking career.  And what’s most satisfying is how Straw backgrounds each ‘episode’, providing social and political context, allowing the reader to more fully gauge Armfield’s significance. Recommended.


April

False Claims of Colonial Thieves

False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella (Magabala Books)
This is a powerful and heart-wrenching book that deserves a wide readership. In this dialogue of beautiful, strong poems, two accomplished poets share their ecological concerns about the devastation of land and culture in Western Australia due to colonisation, capitalism and the mining industry. A duet of voices, speaking with both tenderness and outrage, about the crimes against the Yamaji people, against the salmon gums and the salt-parched earth. Both Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella were raised in the Wheatbelt, and their personal histories about country create a commanding discourse that demands to be heard.


In the lamplightIn the Lamplight, Dianne Wolfer, Illust. Brian Simmonds (Fremantle Press)
A wonderful stand-alone story in its own right, this beautifully produced book from Fremantle Press is also the perfect conclusion to the war trilogy which began with Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. An excellent resource for history teachers, it covers major events in WWI history including the rise of the suffragette movement, the Spanish influenza pandemic and the close ties between British and Australian troops, all viewed through the eyes of young Rose O’Reilly. Rose describes the horrors and deprivations of wartime and admires the courage and tenacity of the wounded soldiers and the nurses who care for them. Interspersed with her poignant tale are diary entries embellished with actual photographs, historical documents, pressed flowers, letters, postcards and telegrams. Threads from the previous two books are seamlessly interwoven through the story and Brian Simmonds’ evocative charcoal sketches add depth and emotion alongside the historical artefacts. Highly recommended.


Alfred's WarAlfred's War, Rachel Bin Salleh, Illust. Samantha Fry (Magabala Books)
As a young Indigenous man with a thirst for adventure, Alfred George enlisted to fight in the Great War. Wounded in battle, Alfred was shipped home from France and went on to live as a homeless, itinerant worker. Despite having fought for the freedom of others, he was not afforded those same freedoms on his return – not classed as a citizen in his own country and unable to march with his comrades on ANZAC Day. This poignant debut picture book highlights the lack of recognition afforded our Indigenous servicemen on their return. Text and muted illustration convey the trauma of war gently for young readers while opening up the well overdue conversation about why it has taken so long for the bravery and sacrifice of our Indigenous servicemen to be honoured.


The Art of PersuasionThe Art of Persuasion, Susan Midalia (Fremantle Press)
Hazel is twenty five years old, unemployed, and has made ‘an ethical decision not to reproduce.’ Ethics are important to Hazel; she was raised by card-carrying leftist parents and door knocks for the Greens in Perth’s leafy Western suburbs. She also wishes the kind, dishy, and much older Adam would return her affections. Hazel’s best friend and flatmate, Beth, has found another girl she’d rather hang out with, and Hazel’s pedantry and love of Jane Austen cannot sustain her forever. In this smart, funny novel, Susan Midalia engages the reader with warmth and wit while never losing sight of the uncomfortable truths that haunt us as Western Australians. She writes about complicity and complacency, isolation and attachment, privilege and poverty, challenging us to consider what it means to live in our world as we do.


The Paris SeamstressThe Paris Seamstress, Natasha Lester (Hachette)
Switching between 1940s Paris and New York and the current day, The Paris Seamstress is both a mystery and a love story. Following seamstress Estella Bissette from Paris to New York, the story explores the empowerment of women during the war as designers, models and customers of a new kind of ready-to-wear fashion that reflects their liberation from old constraints and expectations. Estella’s Sydney-based granddaughter Fabienne begins to unravel her grandmother’s past, uncovering the sacrifices and determination that were needed to achieve her success as a leading designer ─ revelations that keep the reader engrossed until the end. Fans of Lester’s previous historical romances will recognise familiar hallmarks in this novel: meticulous research, beautiful descriptions, and passionate, independent women challenging the social conventions of their times to achieve their dreams. This is a satisfying and captivating story to lose yourself in.


March

You Belong Here by Laurie Steed

You Belong Here, Laurie Steed (Margaret River Press)
Jen and Steven meet at sixteen, marry at eighteen, and start a shared life. Initially their three children help glue a shaky relationship together but when the marriage finally disintegrates the siblings must face their adult lives in the shadow of family fracture. Laurie Steed’s wit, honesty and compassion shine through in this original, well-crafted first novel. Set mainly in Perth, this is a book about brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, trust, connection, disconnection, place, friendship, resilience,  and hope. It is funny, sad, sensual and deeply real.

 


Women of a Certain AgeWomen of a Certain Age, edited by Jodie Moffat, Maria Scoda and Susan Laura Sullivan (Fremantle Press)
This collection is lively, wise, and sometimes intensely emotional. With no discernible difference between previously published and unpublished contributors, readers embark on a journey starting with Charlotte Roseby – she was never meant to live this long, but now in her forties is "Still Here Still". Travelling through the decades, these women, our companions, offer varied perspectives including: the downshifting of gears from a big career; the experience of being a female Muslim politician in Australia; and Brigid Lowry’s funny and insightful account of navigating romance in your sixties. "Black Boxes" by Jeanine Leane is deeply affecting and compelling.The journey concludes with Liz Byrski’s moving reflection upon sadness in our daily lives. Grab a cuppa (or something stronger if you are so inclined) and settle in for a great read!


I Remember by Joanne CrawfordI Remember, Joanne Crawford, illust. Kerry Anne Jordinson (Magabala Books)
This poignant tale of an elderly lady recalling the camping holidays of her childhood is a nostalgic look at a simpler time in life. It would make a great discussion starter about “the olden days” especially for grandparents to share with their grandchildren, who are invariably fascinated to hear how they grew up. I Remember is a gentle reflection on a time before modern technology when a family holiday meant packing the car for a camping trip in the bush, sharing wonderful adventures, plus the odd scary moment, with a sibling, the family dog, and Mum and Dad. The softly coloured illustrations complement the sparse text beautifully, expressing the sense of freedom a bush holiday brings and capturing the Australian landscape perfectly.


The Hole Story by Kelly CanbyThe Hole Story, Kelly Canby (Fremantle Press)
One day, Charlie finds a hole. He puts it in his pocket but it doesn’t take him long to realise that this little hole is a big problem. So he sets about trying to find a new owner for it. Who could make good use of a hole? What about an arachnid and reptile salesman, a boat builder, or a seamstress? Poor Charlie doesn’t realise that the answer is right under his nose! The Hole Story, Kelly Canby’s latest offering, is a delight for readers young and old. A charming read-aloud picture book with soft, gentle illustrations that engage and amuse with puns and subplot, The Hole Story will have you discovering more each time you read it.


The Cowgirl by Anthea HodgsonThe Cowgirl, Anthea Hodgson (Penguin Random House)
Teddy’s family farm holds a number of secrets, including some buried underground in an old farmhouse. When Teddy's grandmother, Deirdre, engages an archaeologist to dig the house up, the secrets revealed shock everyone, with readers experiencing the emotional impact via evocative scenes of events from the 1950s. The Cowgirl is a heartwarming cross-generational story about rural women’s resilience, dreams and sacrifices, as well as the relentless labour and responsibility of farming life. In her second novel, Anthea Hodgson delivers on the promise she showed with her popular debut novel The Drifter and cements her place amongst the much-loved writers of contemporary Australian rural fiction.

 


If I Tell You by Alicia TuckermanIf I Tell You, Alicia Tuckerman (Pantera Press)
Alex Summers lives in a country town and she has a secret – she's gay. She has made a deal with herself that she won't tell anyone unless she's asked, but the question never comes. When a confident, out-and-proud new girl comes to town, Alex is forced to confront her desires and her fears, and finds that people don't always react the way she expects. This is a touching and strong first novel about being yourself and being different, and the importance of being true to yourself and those around you. This is a welcome addition to diverse Australian literature for young people.



February

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

The Rúin, Dervla McTiernan (Harper Collins)
Galway detective Cormac Reilly is about to reopen a cold case that has haunted him for twenty years. The image of two neglected children in a decaying mansion, their emaciated mother dead upstairs, has never left him. The cold case has links to the recent death of a young man ─ a case which the police are very quick to claim is suicide. Betrayal is at the heart of this unsettling, fast-paced, intricately plotted debut detective novel. Mystery, intrigue, complex twists and turns, police corruption, and Ireland’s dark history of child abuse ─ this atmospheric, seriously terrific crime novel has it all. The book is the first in a series from this Irish, now West Australian writer. We look forward to the next instalment.


Dustfall by Michelle JohnstonDustfall, Michelle Johnston (UWA Publishing)
Two doctors arrive in Wittenoom, 30 years apart. Raymond Filigree comes to the Pilbara town in 1966, while Lou Fitzgerald comes to it in 1997, when it is a ghost town. Both Raymond and Lou are running from personal and professional disasters that haunt them, in the same way the secretive town haunts its dwindling population. Michelle Johnston’s debut novel tackles themes of negligence, isolation, and corporate greed, all set against a backdrop familiar to most West Australians ─ the red Pilbara dust and the town of Wittenoom. Johnston’s prose is spare, lyrical and haunting, unfolding like the tragedy she describes so beautifully in this important and intelligent novel. The story of asbestos mining and what it did to the men whose lives were destroyed by it would make sobering reading on its own. In the hands of this poetic and gifted storyteller it becomes compelling and luminous.


The Secret Vineyard by Loretta HillThe Secret Vineyard, Loretta Hill (Penguin)
Loretta Hill has assembled a hugely entertaining cast of characters for her latest novel, The Secret Vineyard: harried single mother Grace Middleton; her three rambunctious young sons, Charlie, Alfie and Ryan; a troubled rock star; an enigmatic Frenchman and a square-jawed real estate agent. But not everyone in this frame is what they seem. When Grace unexpectedly inherits a vineyard from her deceased ex-husband, she is unwittingly thrust into intrigue and mysteries that she is increasingly determined to unravel. Grab a copy of this well-paced, highly entertaining novel, settle yourself under a shady tree and prepare to enjoy many hours in the company of Grace and co.


Lintang and the Forbidden Island by Tamara MossLintang and the Forbidden Island, Tamara Moss (Penguin Random House)
This is the second book in the fantasy series about plucky heroine Lintang and her swashbuckling adventures on the high seas. The Pirate Queen has failed to return as promised to collect Lintang from her island home. Instead, Lintang sets off on a risky and circuitous route to join her crew’s quest to discover what has happened to a missing ruler – and to also track down her missing friend. Tamara Moss has created a unique magical world packed with engaging characters, dangerous challenges, and terrifying mythical creatures – all further enriched with a lyrical invented language. Young readers will love immersing themselves in Lintang’s world and following her exciting adventures and discoveries. This wonderful sequel will have them eagerly anticipating the third book in the series.


January

The Water Bearer by Tracy RyanThe Water Bearer, Tracy Ryan (Fremantle Press)
Tracy Ryan is an award-winning poet whose latest collection, her ninth, is intelligent, challenging and deeply thought-provoking. Set across two hemispheres, Ryan’s themes are many: relationship with the land, with others, with the body, with ideas, with religion, and most of all with water - the beauty of it and the lack of it. Her language is elegant, spare, and deeply considered, a highly crafted mix of poetic and simple, of direct and elusive. These poems will withstand many readings, and will stay with you long after the pages are closed.

 


The Sisters' Song by Louise AllanThe Sisters' Song, Louise Allan (Allen & Unwin)
Spanning 70 years, The Sisters’ Song explores the relationship of Nora and Ida, two sisters growing up in rural Tasmania. Upon the death of their beloved father in 1926, their world is turned upside down. The Sisters’ Song, the debut novel for Louise Allan, is a triumph. Allan’s beautifully researched historical narrative is exquisitely detailed and you are emotionally invested in the two protagonists from the first chapter. Exploring themes of forgiveness, generational cycles of behaviour, sisterhood, and the bonds of family, the stories of these two sisters and their tumultuous relationship, set in the serene backdrop of the Tasmanian landscape, will be moving for any reader.


Suddenly One Somme by Fleur McDonaldSuddenly One Summer, Fleur McDonald (Allen & Unwin)
Fleur McDonald is one of Australia’s leading writers of regional fiction. Her portrayal of rural life, particularly for rural women, rings true for her readers. Suddenly One Summer features terrific and believable characters, a stunning setting, and compelling drama, all underpinned by a great mystery. The story centres around Brianna Donahue and the daily challenges she faces as a mum, a farmer, a daughter, a wife, and a neighbour. Readers will be quickly immersed in Brianna’s life and also in the activities of Detective Dave Burrows who is working on a mystery of his own. No spoilers here, though! Suddenly One Summer is a great read that you won’t want to put down.


Poetry a'Amour 2017Poetry d'Amour 2017: Love Poems, selected by Kevin Gillam, various contributors (WA Poets Inc)
The maturity of experience expressed in these poems is striking - tender words about marriage which endures or the welcoming of autumn love; memories of passion requited (and not), poignant contemplations on families separated by distance, and even historic loss, as in Paula Jones’ ‘Mrs Godwin 1945’. Here is the full gamut of human emotion, as with Gail Willems’ refrains in ‘Double Symmetry’: Let there be dance and then Let there be grace and finally Let there be sorrow. Collected as an attractive book, in which Beba Hall’s cover art is as recognisable as the names of most contributors, these poems transcend the purely personal.


The Way it WasThe Way It Was, Peter Forrestal and Ray Jordan (Margaret River Press)
This is a book that needed to be written before memories fade further and personal stories are lost for ever. The Way It Was brings together documentary evidence with the recollections of some of the pioneer winemakers from the Margaret River region. Peter Forrestal and Ray Jordan employ their own knowledge of the personalities involved, bringing to life the passion and excitement of early growers and workers. Sustained by their belief in the terroir, these people, their families, and others like them have achieved the international reputation of the Margaret River area as a premier wine-producing region in just fifty years. This is their story so far.


After the War by Leigh StrawAfter the War: Returned Soldiers and the Mental and Physical Scars of World War I, Leigh Straw (UWA Publishing)
Of the 32,000 Western Australian men who enlisted for World War I, only 23,700 returned home. Whilst we have ceremonies to commemorate the dead, our society struggles to comprehend and respond to the mental and physical scars, suicides, diseases, and fragmented families suffered by those men who returned from the war. Leigh Straw details some of these phenomenally moving untold stories of the veterans and their families. Having painstakingly trawled through newspaper notices, Straw also provides the horrific statistics of suicides of veterans as a result of going to war. This collection offers a valuable window into our history and these stories will hold a particular resonance for Western Australians.