writingWA Love to Read Local book reviews2019 reviews


March

Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlayCatch a Falling Star, Meg McKinlay (Walker Books)
If the mark of a great book is that it makes the reader laugh, makes them cry, makes them think, and teaches them something new, then Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlay ticks all the boxes. Set in 1979 around the time when Skylab - one of the world’s first space stations - was falling to earth, it also brings history to life in a most accessible way and the book readily lends itself to class study in schools. From the very first page the reader is drawn into Frankie’s orbit and begins sharing her worries and feelings of confusion as she negotiates the delicate time between a carefree childhood and the responsibilities of adolescence. We explore Frankie’s relationships with friends, her feelings about her absent father, her fears for the future and her loving concern for Newt, her science-obsessed younger brother. Peopled with funny, warm, realistically drawn characters the book delicately explores themes of grief, friendship, families and loss and seamlessly brings to life an overlooked period in Australian history.


The French Photographer by Natasha LesterThe French Photographer, Natasha Lester (Hachette)
Drawing inspiration from the life of pioneering photojournalist Lee Miller, this latest offering from Natasha Lester illuminates the challenges faced by female correspondents during World War II, taking readers to the frontline with fresh perspective. The story moves seemlessly between the 1940’s life of model-turned-photojournalist Jessica May and that of art-handler D’Arcy in 2005. Real characters and events are woven throughout the narrative, effectively highlighting the double standards of the period and the struggles faced by women to advance into male-dominated roles and remain there. In her sympathetic exploration of war, relationships, and women's changing roles across the decades, Lester's voice is relevant for readers beyond just the historical fiction genre. And, as her readers have come to expect, she keeps the mystery unfolding to the very last page.


The Scholar by Dervla McTiernanThe Scholar, Dervla McTiernan (Harper Collins)
Dervla McTiernan’s second novel is another thrilling ride that fulfils the promise of her debut, The Rúin. DS Cormac Reilly has only recently been taken off cold cases when his partner Dr Emma Sweeney calls him in distress late one night, thus involving him in a sensitive, high-profile case he wouldn’t usually have been assigned. Emma has discovered the body of a young woman in the deserted carpark near the medical research laboratory where she works. Cormac’s team suspect the victim is the brilliant young outcast heir to a powerful pharmaceutical company – a company with close links to Emma’s work. He discovers that the actual victim, the heir, and others they investigate are not who they purport to be, causing him to question whether his personal connection to the case has impaired his objectivity and judgement. With its well-drawn characters and gripping mystery, The Scholar cements the author’s place amongst the most exciting new crime writers.


Rodney by Kelly CanbyRodney, Kelly Canby (Fremantle Press)
Following on from the success of The Hole Story, Canby continues to stimulate imagination and abstract thinking with her latest picture book about Rodney, the tortoise. Rodney engages young readers with the concept of perspective: it’s all about how we look at things. Life’s shortcomings may feel oppressive, but Rodney illustrates how it’s all a matter of point of view. Exercising our imagination, thinking playfully and seeing the glass half-full, are all useful tools for building resilience. Canby’s naïve, colourful illustrations are fun and convey these relatively deep ideas with whimsy and playfulness.


Arthur's story by Keith L DevenishArthur's Story, Keith L. Devenish (self-published)
The treasure of finding family heritage can never be overrated. Arthur’s Story is the account of one man and also a collection of facts that those in pursuit of local history will be interested in. Most notable are the differences in the world that was and the world we live in now as we follow Arthur through war, family, and above all farming. With roots reaching back to the burgeoning new city of Perth, here is a good catalogue of family history still intact. With images from a lost era, this book is a brief tribute to the families that grew our young state and a reminder that tough times really do make the man.


February

Slice Girls by Joan Arakkal

Slice Girls, Joan Arakkal (Ventura Press)
Technological advances have put paid to the days when it was advantageous to be male in the field of orthopaedic surgery.  Unfortunately, attitudes have not similarly progressed. Meet Joan Arakkal – mother, daughter, sister, wife, researcher and passionate orthopaedic surgeon. She is the epitome of what anyone would want in their surgeon – highly qualified, demonstrably competent and moreover, kind and committed to the very best patient care. Yet, the cartel-esque local surgeons took extraordinary measures to reject this brilliant woman. Slice Girls documents Joan’s journey from a young woman in India through to the present day in Perth, and despite the gross injustices contained within its pages, one cannot help but feel great joy in knowing her. For hers is a story that is rich in cultural connection, community and compassion. Slice Girls is storytelling at its very best.


Driving Into the Sun by Marcella PolainDriving into the Sun, Marcella Polain (Fremantle Press)
Marcella Polain's debut novel was the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize shortlisted novel, The Edge of the World, published by Fremantle Press in 2007. Driving into the Sun is her second novel and it is set in Perth in the 1960s. A beloved father drops dead on his way to work, leaving behind complex family dynamics; an inattentive wife, a pre-adolescent daughter and another, younger, daughter, all of whom must adjust to life without their provider. Henrietta the mother, Orla the daughter, and Deebee the toddler deal with the absence of their father and husband while negotiating a suddenly uncertain world with strangers lurking at windows and an aunt from Ireland offering joys they can only dream about. Privileging the child’s point of view, this warm, tender and lyrical novel is full of fragments, absences, unknowing and inexplicable mysteries that are never entirely explained. Marcella Polain’s thoughtful storytelling needs to be read slowly to absorb its shifts, descriptions and interiority.


Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja by Kylie HowarthFish Kid & The Lizard Ninja, Kylie Howarth (Walker Books )
Bodhi is stuck on a boat with his marine-biologist dad, his underwater-photographer mum, and the skipper’s prank-playing daughter, Emely. Emely gives Bodhi a green smoothie with disgusting secret ingredients (sea cucumbers and jellyfish). This results in some graphic vomiting, after which Bodhi and Emely find themselves overboard and stranded on a small island. The upside: the green smoothie has transformed Bodhi into FISH KID! Using Bodhi’s new-found powers – speed swimming and breathing underwater – Bodhi, Emely, and a marine iguana sidekick must find a way back to the boat. They also have a chance at thwarting a sea-cucumber poacher. This is the first book of a new series and includes fun grayscale illustrations and bonus fact pages about marine creatures. Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja is a humorous page-turner and highlights the fragility of the world’s marine environments.


Lucky and Spike by Norma MacDonaldLucky and Spike, Norma MacDonald (Magabala Books)
Readers of Norma MacDonald’s earlier picture book Spinifex Mouse will love this latest adventure. Lucky and Spike are on a search for food in the desert. Once out of the burrow, danger is everywhere for these spinifex-hopping mice. They dart around the feet of people dancing to the hum of a didgeridoo, and narrowly escape a feral cat and an owl. Lucky and Spike find seeds and shrub roots as they race each other home. MacDonald’s illustrations are soft and appealing and show readers the Pilbara landscape from a nocturnal animal’s viewpoint. The creatures’ eyes are especially interesting. There’s a note from the author at the back of the book about the impact of feral cats on Australian native species. MacDonald tells a good tale, and Lucky and Spike is perfect for sparking conversations about habitats, introduced species, and food chains.


January

A Diamond in the DustA Diamond in the Dust, Frauke Bolten-Boshammer (Simon & Schuster)
In the popular field of contemporary memoir, Frauke Bolten-Boshammer’s story stands out. From her childhood in Germany, to her nomination for the Telstra Business Women’s Awards in 2001, Frauke’s life is full of incident, tragedy and triumph. In Sue Smethurst’s retelling, she stands out as an enterprising woman of fortitude, resilience and good humour. Initially appalled when her husband Friedrich Bolten tells her that the family, with three young children, will be moving to a farm in Kununurra, she grows to love the northwest of WA. Through Friedrich’s suicide only three years after that move, her second marriage to Robert Boshammer, the birth of two more children, the death of her son Peter, and her gradual establishment of what is now a world-renowned jewellery business, Kimberley Fine Diamonds, Frauke is undaunted. This is a modest celebration of a remarkable woman, her family, and the environment that becomes her home.


TraverseTraverse, Tineke Van der Eecken Wild Weeds Press
A new book by Belgian-born Australian writer Tineke van der Eecken, Traverse is a mix of travel narrative and personal memoir. Married to geologist husband Dirk, Tineke has relocated their family to many new locations. With Dirk away for months at a time, she juggles the demands of family life. On a visit home from a survey trip to Madagascar, Tineke feels Dirk has become distant.  Uncovering the reason for this, and in an attempt to save her twelve-year marriage, Tineke decides to accompany Dirk on his most demanding trek to date. During the 350-kilometre expedition, Tineke wins the confidence of the team, and along the way she captures a written and photographic record of the physical terrain.  Many times during the trip Tineke pushes to the limits of her levels of endurance, but at the same time she discovers her personal strengths and, ultimately, a path forward for herself and her family.


Where the River RunsWhere the River Runs, Fleur McDonald (Allen & Unwin)
For readers who love rural fiction, Fleur McDonald’s latest offering, Where the River Runs, is a must-read. The story follows the journey of Chelsea as she returns home to the family farm with her four-year-old daughter Aria. Chelsea has recently quit her career as a concert pianist and her homecoming is tense. As Chelsea’s story unfurls and she navigates her new life in a small community, we encounter some terrific characters, including a past favourite, Detective Dave Burrows. Without giving too much of the plot away, Where the River Runs is a compelling family drama with a good dash of romance and murder mystery thrown in.


Filthy FergalFilthy Fergal, Sigi Cohen, illust. Sona Babajanyan (Yellow Brick Books)
What do you do when you are the filthiest and most repugnant thing in town? So much so that the rats leave town and the Mayor proclaims your stench as a problem requiring “fifty crates of super-strength detergent”? You set off to find a place where you can belong. Filthy Fergal is the follow up to Cohen’s highly successful debut picture book, My Dead Bunny. Matching clever rhymes and an obvious love of all things grotesque, Sigi Cohen delivers a stinky character who embraces his uniqueness despite what others think. Sona Babajanyan’s illustrations enhance the murk and filth of the narrative, resulting in a story you will want to fully embrace yet possibly follow with a quick hand sanitiser afterwards.