Jan Goldsmith and David McLean
2017 books - A year of books reviewed from the Published or Not Team.
Book Group recommendations from Jan
*Award winning author Sofie Laguna has another young character telling unsympathetically about her life growing up on a farm with only her pop and his chooks as company in The Choke. When did you do the “oh no” moment?
*There are 5 stories in different times and different places but linked by certain characters in Michelle de Kretser’s, The Life to Come. What each chooses to believe from their own memories allows for wry humour.
*Their father requests, in his will, for his adult children to deliver letters he has written. What will they learn about him, and themselves, makes Parting Words by Cass Moriarty a good discussion book.
*A young girl goes missing – where, why, how are unanswered until she is found many months later. How does she deal with it? How does this affect her family before and after. What is the job of the media? The Way Back by Kylie Ladd
*Another great psychological thriller by Anna George, The Lone Child is written about two very different women coping as single mothers.
*Mothers of daughters take note! Take three girls is by three YA writers Fiona Wood, Cath Crowley and Simmone Howell. They give voice to three teenagers who are forced into a friendship and learn about each other and themselves. Every school should have a Wellness Program!
Travelling to different parts of Australia to find yourself seems to have been a theme in many of the books this year
*Tess Evans writes about a close and caring farming community until a new business comes to town and a stranger with romantic interests in The Ballad of Banjo Crossing. Why has Jack McPail come?
*Alex Miller has written his fictional autobiography. His life as a stockman and farmer, his life as a husband, lover and son but especially his life as an author, makes The Passage of Love an interesting read.
*The town of Mululuk is further on from Cooper Pedy, why did its bridge collapse? Is it the only thing that needs rebuilding? Cassandra Austin writes about broken relationships and a broken bridge in All Fall Down.
*Is the desert in the middle of Australia really dead? Is it a good place for grieving? Or is that where you really find your own heart? A novel of friendship and understanding, The Crying place by Lia Hills.
*When your parents are dysfunctional and too old to continue on the family farm, what does an only son, returning from a professional job in a city overseas, do to cope? In Wedding Bush Road by David Francis.
*Monica McInerney’s The Trip of a Lifetime is about a grandmother who takes her Australian daughter and granddaughter back to Ireland to find herself.
Going back in time there is Australian historical fiction with good research
*Lisa Bigelow writes about how wives cope with their hopes and dreams through WW2 and how they dealt with war’s outcomes in We That Are Left.
*Rachel Leary modelled Bridget Crack on a Tasmanian bush ranger living a mostly unjust life in a brutal landscape 200 year ago.
*2014 Tasmania and 1487 France are linked through two women’s love of herbs in the Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning
And a most beautifully illustrated biography by Louise Wilson about her great aunt, Margaret Flockton; Australia’s first botanical artist
The Good girl of Chinatown by Jenevieve Chang is an autobiography about the difficultly of dance, family, marriage and identity especially if the dance is Burlesque.
Some books with a little bit of truth but a lot of fun to read
The Scandalous life of Sasha Torte by Lesley Truffle – a romp of a book set back Tasmania’s past with delectable pastries and incorrigible characters
A mother/daughter story where the mother whose serious circus attributes were better than her parenting skills in The Trapeze Act by Libby Angel
Sunni Overend wrote a sexy story of love, food and finding a man who knows how to fix a car and make pastry in The Dangers of Truffle Hunting.
Some books are broken up by chapters, Vivienne Kelly has divided her story into the Hawthorn football matches of the 1985 round, matching these with the breakdown of a family in The Starlings.
Emma Viskic has her deaf investigator following more murder and mayhem in And Fire came Down a follow on from her successful Resurrection Bay
Maree Coote has cleverly illustrated two books for ‘mind-growing’ kids. The subjects are art, told through the skills of a spider’ Andy Webb: Artist and in architecture with a bird wanting a perfect nest, in Robyn Boid: Architect.
And DAVID’s Books …
And yet another year of reading drifts into memory. I managed to interview the Vogel winner, Maria Pericic, about The Lost pages and renew acquaintance with A S Patric, the recent Miles Franklin winner anout his latest book, Atlantic Black. Sally Abbott won the Richell Prize for an emerging writer for, Closing Down. This contrasts with self- published authors, Klaas Kalma – Distant Echoes and Rebecca Rosengrave - Gumtree Gargoyles. Smaller publishing houses were also represented; Wilkinson Publishing for Phillip Adams – Insights and Reflections, The Slattery Group for Konrad Marshall’s Yellow and Black, Finlay-Lloyd for Phil Day’s, A Chink in the Daisy Chain and the media teachers’ association for Judith Buckrish’s, Acland Street. I even talked to Frank Moorhouse about his essay on the writer’s life in Meanjin and discussed the Melbourne Writers’ Festival with one of the organizers, Jessica Alice.
There were dark tales; Jock Serong’s, On the Java Ridge, The Girl in Kellers Way by Megan Goldin, The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey, Down The Hume by Peter Polites and City of Crows by Chris Womersley.
There were personal accounts. Ouyan Yu used the experience of his Chinese forebears in Billy Sing. Jenevieve Chang recounted elements of her life in the world of burlesque. Bram Presser traced family history in The Book of Dirt and Mark Baker’s, Thirty Days, was an insight into mourning.
Adolescent fiction found voice in Bren MacDibble’s, How to Bee, Steph Bowe’s, Night Swimming, Vicki Wakefield’s, Ballad for a Mad Girl and Gabrielle William’s, My Life as Hashtag.
The topical issue of domestic violence found voice in Rachel Williams’, Siren, while Some Tests by Wayne McCauley used the confusion of the medical world as its basis. Mark Brandi’s, Wimmera addressed sexual abuse and its repercussions.
From the Wreck by Jane Rawson had an historical foundation as did Dennis Glover’s, The Last Man in Europe. Wilder Country by Mark Smith looked at the not too distant future while Lois Murphy’s, Soon, riffed on a well known historical event in Australia’s past.
If that wasn’t enough, there was also the quirky; Daniel Cohn’s, Disappearing off the Face of the Earth and Iain Ryan’s noir novel, The Student, along with short story collection, Sherlock Holmes – the Australian Casebook. There was also Two Steps Forward jointly written by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist.
All in all, a very full year of reading.
And EUAN’s Books …
This year I joined the Published Or Not team and had the privilege of interviewing more than a dozen authors.
* There were many highlights but the first one that comes to mind is Bernadette Brennan’s book A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work. A highly readable analysis of all the published works (so far) by one of Australia’s great authors.
* For sheer audacity with language, it was hard to overlook Daniel Findlay’s debut novel Year of the Orphan. An Australian dystopian fantasy that rises above the pack.
* Melanie Cheng achieved the near impossible by having a collection of her first short stories published, titled Australia Day. On reading Melanie’s powerful stories, it was obvious why her collection had won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in 2016 for best unpublished manuscript.
* Cassie Lane’s tell-all autobiography How to Dress a Dummy was a lively and brutally honest assessment of the world of modelling from an insider who has experienced huge success at an international level.
* Alan Brough’s second novel for younger readers, Charlie and the Karaoke Cockroaches, was filled with humour and fun. Highly recommended for Santa stockings.
* Stuart Kells delivered a compelling book for book lovers about the great libraries of the world, starting from ancient times, aptly titled The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders.
Another feast of books awaits in 2018!
Jan Goldsmith and David McLean chat with authors each Thursday at 11.30am.
‘Published or Not’ is on podcasts at 3cr.org.au/publishedornot
David’s year in full.
I started with fairy tales. Mary Parker’s ‘Fairy Tales Written by Rabbits’ was one of the self published works with Ken Fox’s ‘Cassocked Savage’ being the other.
Adolescent fiction featured Leanne Hall’s ‘Iris and the Tiger, Kimberley Starr’s ‘The Book of Whispers’ and David Metzenthen’s, ‘Dreaming the Enemy’. Zana Fraillon’s ‘The Bone Sparrow’ was set in a detention centre giving it immediacy. And survival was the key on ‘The Road to Winter’ by Mark Smith. Kate Mildenhall took us back to early Australia in ‘Skylarking’.
There was poetry with Georgia Arnott’s partial biography on Judith Wright and Ellen van Neerven’s collection, ‘Comfort Food’.
Curiosities abounded. Nick Richardson looked at an historical football game in ‘The Game of their Lives’. Barry Jones took on the best of music and literature in ‘The Shock of Recognition’. Our own 3CR projects coordinator, Juliet Fox, talked about a book celebrating 3CR’s 40th birthday. Lisa Dempster came in again to talk about the Melbourne Writers Festival and Duncan McNab gave us the low done on Roger Rogerson in the book of the same name.
Leigh Hopkinson took us into the world of striptease in ‘Two Decade Naked’ which was just one of the memoirs we looked at. We shouldn’t forget Brett Pierce’s account of his time as an aid worker in ‘Beyond the Vapour Trail’ or Hugo Race’s life as a musician in ‘Road Series’. Ruth Clare’s account of the effect of the Vietnam War on her family was compelling in ‘Enemy’. Catherine de Saint Phalle revealed her unique and curious French upbringing in ‘Poum and Alexandre’. Lee Zachariah’s account of recent political goings on in ‘Double Dissolusion’ was also a means by which he addressed his own marriage break up.
Romance snuck in of both a literary and conventional kind. Mark Lamprell took us to Roem in ‘The Lover’s Guide to Rome’. Luke Devenish was a bit more historical in ‘The Secret Heiress’. C.S.Pacat, of course, continued her homoerotic approach in ‘Princes Gambit’ which was the third installment in the Captive Prince trilogy. Christine Well’s, ‘The Wife’s Tale’, was set in both the present and the past making it an intriguing approach to the genre.
There were some heavy literary hitters. Tom Keneally took on the Catholic Church in ‘Crimes of the Father’. Hannah Kent spoke about her latest work, ‘The Good People’. Nick Earls had a collection of novellas – Gotham, Vancouver, Venice, Juneau and NoHo. There was, of course, ‘The Last painting of Sara de Vos’ by Dominic Smith and Arnold Zable’s ‘The Fighter’. And ‘We Ate the Road Like Vultures’ by Lynette Lounsbury was intriguing. In the mix was the Vogel award winning ‘The Memory Artist’ by Katherine Brabon.
Robert Gott and Zane Lovitt gave us crime in ‘The Serpent’s Sting’ and ‘Black Teeth’. Olga Lorenzo had us intrigued by a child’s disappearance in ‘The Light on the Water’. David Dyer took us on to the deck of the Titanic in ‘The Midnight Watch’. The goings on behind the scenes in The Hotel du Barry by Lesley Truffle amused. Strange things, of course, took place on a ship to Antartica in the satirical, ‘5 Ways to be Famous Now’, by Maurilia Meehan.
We were given an Asian perspective in Isabelle Li’s collection of short stories, ‘A Chinese Affair’ while Michelle Wright’s collection, ‘Fine’, gave us touching insight into the lives of ordinary people.
All in all, it was an exhausting year of reading.
Australian authors JAN read through 2016.
Do you like a popular read or a challenging read? Liane Moriarty is continually on the NY best seller lists. She has Big Little Lies being made into a movie by Nicole Kidman. Truly Madly Guilty takes place in a suburban back yard and you don’t really learn about the ‘incident’ that changed the lives of 3 couples until half way through, but your interest is certainly held. Charlotte Wood has won the Stella Prize and shared the Prime Ministers Prize for The Natural way of things. A much harder read as you may need to discuss the ending and the even the beginning. Why are the women in jail? What is their crime?
Novels that use Melbourne as a setting – and have a bit of crime
Grand Slam by Kathryn Ledson mixes tennis, sponsorship, espionage and humour and takes place during the Australian Open in Melbourne. Is grandfatherly George’s action of kidnapping 5year old Rory a crime? Mercy Street is a story of love and consequences by Tess Evans. Our Magic Houris the lit up rainbow in Richmond and also the title of Jennifer Down’s book about the grief associated with suicide.
Tania Chandler’s, Please Don’t leave me Here was set in Melbourne but her follow up thriller Dead in the water has isolation as a factor in the Gippsland Lakes area.
Other books set further away than Melbourne, but still a bit of crime!
When the murder victim is young and beautiful there is a lot more media attention and how does this affect her not so young or innocent sister. Emily Maguire tells a story of unreliable media coverage, outcomes and grief in An Isolated Incident. On a university campus in the country, before mobile phones, some students have murder on the curriculum in All Those Perfect Strangers by Aoife Clifford. Sue Williams has her fish and chip shop owner and detective solving another murder in Dead Men Don’t Order Flake. Holly Throsby has written about Goodwood, a small town where everybody knows each other but nobody knows why two people disappeared.
Fiction….with some well researched facts….
From Palm Springs to outback NSW in A Distant Journey gives Di Morrissey the ability to spin a yarn with the wool industry at its heart. The Science of Appearances moves from Kyneton in the 1950’s to Melbourne and its artist scene around St Kilda. How is life different for twins and why are they apart? Jacinta Halloran mixes a little genetics with a little history. Fiona McIntosh has based her book in York, the home of chocolate making and written about The Chocolate Tin which was sent to an English soldier and the intrigue and romance that evolved from finding it. Australian writer Kristel Thornell fictionalised what may have happened with Agatha Christie when she went missing for 10 day in On the Blue Train.
More fact than fiction
While Hannah Kent was researching Burial Rites she came across the trial of another woman in Ireland in 1825, more poverty and cold in The Good People. David Carlin spoke about 2 very different books – The Abyssinian Contortionist a true story about an Ethiopian performer who ran away from the circus to seek asylum in Melbourne.
David Carlin also coedited The Near and Far a collection of writing from 21 Asia-Pacific authors. Why did 17 Australian women, with culturally diverse backgrounds, all defy the dutiful daughter tradition? Their stories make upRebellious Daughters. True crime is mixed with creative fiction in the 12 mini biographies by Laura Elizabeth Woollett in The Love of a Bad Man. The High Places by Fiona McFarlane has characters questioning the mystery of their life with great opening lines, for example “When I began my study of the colossal squid, I still believed in God”
And something very different
The Museum of Modern Love is a fictionalised account of the people who came to watch the performance artist Marina Abramovic by Heather Rose. A second hand bookshop where people are encouraged to write in the books is the setting for Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley. Meditation needs practice and Rebecca Ryan gives short exercises for achieving this inMindfulness for Mothers…and a good laugh with Our Tiny, Useless Hearts which has farcical humour in the suburbs. Toni Jordan has wonderfully written a comedy about love and marriage with people in the wrong beds.