What We're Reading 

Find out here what we are reading and what we think of it. Sure, we're in the business of selling books, so we are not going to dwell on the books we loathe, but we hope the opinions you'll find here are a touch more unfiltered and genuine than what you'll read on the back of the jacket.   

If that's not enough, don't forget we have regular columnists in David, Morgan, Janice, Louise and Sonia. Gleebooks - where our bedside tables do the hard yards to help preserve yours. 


August 2019

 - Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Chloe Groom: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill—It’s very rare, in my frantic life, that I re-read a book, but Dept. of Speculation is an exception. My most recent reading of JennyOffill’s thin gem of a book was probably my sixth, and I’ll be very happy to go back and read it again. It’s quite simply the clearest depiction of the constant compromise of adult life I’ve ever read. That makes it sound depressing, but it’s also one of the funniest, self-deprecating novels I know. It has none of the annoying cockiness that so many self-referential authors display (Franzen; Safran Foer; other people whose names aren’t Jonathan) and yet there is clearly so much of Jenny Offill in this book. In the first part, the protagonist speaks in the first person and through a series of very short, unconnected but overall chronological vignettes we learn about her life as a creative writing teacher, her marriage to the host of an obscure music show, and her hilarious, very realistic struggles with parenthood. (She also offers tit-bits of general knowledge that you’ll find yourself wasting hours trying to verify. In part two the protagonist has become ‘the wife’ and the narrative switches to the third person. A family emergency, which for mystery’s sake I won’t describe, has driven her at least partly towards madness. Whereas in part one, she was so much more than a wife, in part two she feels defined and depressed by that role—this second half is a deconstruction and reconstruction of a family in a beautiful, complicated way. I first read it close to five years ago when I was in the very early stages of parenthood. Every moment of love and pain rang true. Yet this is not just a book for parents. Offill’s understanding of relationships of all kinds is spot-on, and her images will stay with you forever. Please read this book. It’s very short, it’s truly wonderful, and you won’t regret it. (Offill has a new book coming out in 2020 called American Weather which tells the story of a librarian-cum-fake-shrink who finds herself drawn into the polarised world of left-wingers worried about extreme weather and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilisation.)

Stef: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong—Ocean Vuong is a celebrated young American poet and this discipline shines through when reading this, his first novel. His prose is so perfectly nuanced, capturing our often conflicted emotions,  especially when it comes to love,  love of our family,  friends and lovers. The book is written as a letter from a son to a mother who can’t read. The letter writer, Little Dog, is in his late twenties and his epistle unearths a family history that begins in Vietnam before he was born and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known. Vuong draws on his family’s migrant experience, his difference in a new land.  He explores his sexuality and the barriers he must break down. His observations of the passing of time, change in seasons and of life and death are truly poetic. If you only read one book this year,  make it this one—it is so raw, so powerful and so beautiful.  Andrew: This debut novel from the author of the acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds is wonderful. Narrated by a young Vietnamese immigrant to the USA, Little Dog, written as a letter to his mother Rose. Whether it is  napalm and gasoline infused descriptions of seventies Saigon or the heady acetone drenched backdrop of a nail bar in middle American—(the work that Rose scrapes by on)  Vuong’s writing is immediate and raw, startling and corrosive.  Definitely worth checking out, and absolutely a writer to watch.

Roger: Prompted by the release of Big Sky ( Kate Atkinson’s new novel in the eccentrically brilliant series featuring ex soldier, ex cop, now nearly ex private eye, Jackson Brodie) I took advantage of a recent holiday at son’s family’s  house in beautiful Bermagui to get stuck into the backlist of Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series of novels. I first fell in love with Atkinson’s writing when I laughed out loud at her first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and I had read and loved the first Brodie book, Case Histories, when it came out in 2004. But somehow work and personal pressures had kept me away from the three subsequent books featuring the lovable Jackson, victim (or Influencer?) of fate. And now there was this fifth coming out—so I had to catch up. And what an exciting ride it is. Good characters, irony and comedy galore combined with tragedy on steroids in fast moving, zanily coincidental but emphatically believable plots, ( What is the plural of ‘Deus ex machina’?). What more could you want in the modern British novel. They stand alone, but the best way to read them is in order as Jackson struggles and sails through adversity and good fortune adapting  himself to the changes of life and society.  We need someone to publish a book The Jackson Brodie Novels and Philosophy.)
If you want to catch up we have two early books in the series: Case Histories and Started Early, Took My Dog in stock at the special price of $12. And of course Big Sky

in stock at the special price for $29.99.

July 2019

 - Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Andrew: The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith—Dominic Smith has produced a wonderful follow-up to his bestseller, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, with an international adventure seen through the eyes of a brilliant silent film auteur.  Smith has that wonderful juggler’s skill of keeping all the balls in the air with his fiction. He effortlessly uses social and historical research across a range of locales (this one opens in a seedy dive of a hotel in fifties Hollywood, but then zig zags from 1890s Paris, to a vaudeville addicted New Jersey to battlelines of the First World War), and he conjures up engaging characters in a matter of sentences. Throw in a knack for moving plot along at a cracking pace, and a consummate knowledge of his subject, and you’ve got a singularly good fiction writer of the William Boyd ilk. I was delighted by the cameo appearance of a late nineteenth century Tamarama too—if you don’t know why Wonderland Avenue is named as such, I implore you to Google it! 

Stef: The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades—This is the sequel to The Woolgrower’s Companion, but can be read as a stand-alone. I’ve been glued to my armchair finishing it this morning—it’s not normally my genre, but I really wanted to see if Rhoades could follow up with a good sequel to Woolgrower’s, and she has. It’s 1948 and Kate Dowd is running Amiens, a sizeable sheep station in NSW. The cards are stacked against her—estranged husband Jack wants an outlandish amount of money to walk away from their marriage and keep her honour intact; the neighbouring farmer who has neglected his property and put both properties at risk is sowing seeds of doubt about Kate’s farming and fire protection management; a disgruntled former property manager is out to seek revenge; not to mention the local policeman, bank manager and store owner, come volunteer fire Captain—who all disapprove of Kate as a landholder; plus the Aborigines Welfare Board, who are threatening to dismantle Kate’s household by removing either Daisy, Kate’s domestic, or Pearl—Daisy’s daughter and Kate’s half-sister. What a thrilling read! Drama, plenty of tension and a touch of romance—just enough to keep hope alive. Due for release in August.

Jonathon: Clear Bright Future by Paul Mason—A call to arms, for a new radical humanism, inspired by Aristotle, The Enlightenment and Marxism. Mason has a similar diagnosis of our present to alt-right figures like Jordan Peterson: postmodernism and the chaos and disorientation, he argues, it has lead to. The coming age of AI and machines that may well control us—that some already call for our surrender to—is the fire behind Mason’s plea for a return to an ethics based on global, human-oriented goals. Some great analysis of the present moment here; and some interesting takes on Marx’s legacy—and the legacy of humanism.

David M: Careful He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliott—
I am ashamed to reveal that I have only just caught up with this Australian classic. With superb control of narrative voice and flow, and a wonderful ear for language, thought and feeling, a compelling story that is guided to its satisfying conclusion. Careful, don’t miss it.

Jack: The Porpoise by Mark Haddon—Oh dear, one of those compulsive novels that turn the stomach, break the heart and create an urgent need to witness violent retribution. Is that a recommendation? Nervously, yes...

Judy: Milkman by Anna Burns—Swept into a divided neighbourhood in 1970s Northern Ireland on a tide of rich English Irish prose—think Eimear McBride meets Anne Enright—that is the experience of reading Milkman. Years of violence and local warfare drives people crazy. But precisely what sort of crazy? Well this is the novel that will take you to scenarios to rival Samuel Beckett. How walking-while-reading puts a person beyond-the-pale. How attracting the ownership intentions (otherwise called ‘romantic hostilities’) of a Renouncer Official—Milkman—can mark you out for death from Renouncers and The State alike. How working assiduously on your skills of not being present, being non-responsive, eats away and hollows you out in bizarre ways. How looking at, and seeing, a sunset is probably subversive. The book is frightening, so disquieting, and outrageously funny. Our narrator is known to us only as ‘maybe–girlfriend’, sister-in-law, daughter, older sister to ‘wee sisters’, and yet I was so drawn to her. She is a deeply compassionate survivor along with her community of ‘people of the rumour’.

June 2019

 - Thursday, May 30, 2019

Morgan: Walking on the Ceiling, Aysegul Savas  Like Crudo, The Friend and Asymmetry, this is also an auto-fiction about a young woman writer and her friendship with an older male writer. Set in Paris and Istanbul, Savas, a Turkish author, examines her difficult childhood in Istanbul and her troubled relationship with her strange, nervous mother as she walks the streets of Paris with her friend. Beautifully written, warm and compassionate, this book is also a sad indictment of what is happening to the beautiful old city of Istanbul as the government razes much of it down in the name of progress.

John: The Library Book by Susan Orlean is the story of a devastating fire in the main Public Library in Los Angeles. Orlean, of course, makes it about far more than that. It’s about the role of the library in society, the eccentric early librarians, the fire itself and the devastation it caused when 700,000 books were destroyed. It’s also a true crime story and the story of the person who may have started the fire. As if this wasn’t enough, there is also Orlean’s wonderful prose.... plus 

Rivers of London Series (Books 1 to 6)  by Ben Aaronovitch—These books have been something of a guilty pleasure. Over the past few months I have read the first six novels and thoroughly enjoyed them. Ben Aaronovitch  blends police procedural and contemporary fantasy. With a nod to Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde and J K Rowling these plot driven tales are great entertainment.

David M: The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey—A medieval mystery, as the blurbs say. But much more than just that. Cleverly structured and convincingly involved with the lives of the people, the beliefs and the world view of the time, this novel has at its heart crimes and failures which are as profoundly significant today as they were then. Only now it’s not just a single village we’re talking about.

Andrew: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo—This book—a work of non-fiction due for publication next month—has a massive buzz about it.  From Leigh Sales to Elizabeth Gilbert, it seems it could  well prove to be the book one needs to have an opinion on this year. And, well, I don’t quite have an opinion... yet. Basically it is the emotional and sexual lives of three women—broken up and then interwoven chapter by chapter—portrayed by Taddeo with an almost shocking vociferousness. She has no qualms about projecting herself into the point of view of these women; she gets under their skin more readily than one could imagine possible. Whilst it is bound to polarise readers, what lifts the book well above being a sensational pot boiler is that Taddeo writes exceptionally, startlingly,  well.  I am not far in but I have found myself in equal measure both transfixed and discomforted.

Victoria: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is a multilayered story: A family of four on a road trip from New York to Arizona in search of the history of the Apaches. On this road trip, the family pack seven archive boxes with their favourite or important things— which reveal themselves throughout the book. Alongside this story of family dynamics is the story of thousands of Mexican children being smuggled across the US border which is being documented by one of the parents. Fascinating novel and extremely well written. I have not read Luiselli before—and Lost Children makes me want to read more. 

Jonathon: Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead—A book about facing the ghosts in our past; what we want to but cannot forget. Whitehead fictionalises the true story of a Florida juvenile prison during the US civil rights era, showing the brutality inflicted on children there and tracing its consequences decades later. He powerfully contrasts the idealism of those inspired by MLK with the pragmatism of those not yet ready to trust hope. I particularly enjoyed his snapshots of New York City and the way he ends this story—somewhere between sweet and bitter. (due in July)

Stef: I Built No Schools in Kenya, A Year of Unmitigated Madness by Kirsten Drysdale—is a surprising and often laugh out loud tale of how Kirsten Drysdale found herself caring for an elderly white man with dementia, in Nairobi, Kenya. At times you wonder who has really lost the plot - Walt, the dementia suffere; Marguerite, Walt’s 2nd wife, who is seen as a threat by her step-daughter; or Fiona, Walt’s daughter, micromanaging Walts’ care from her home in the UK. Not to mention the carers, who have to manage every minute of Walt’s waking day—from arranging his clothes in reverse order to help him get dressed to substituting Ribena in the wine bottle so Walt can still enjoy a glass of wine with his meals. As Walt’s dementia worsens the Symth household more isolated and more crazy.  Kirsten finds herself on a crash course on managing dementia and toxic family dynamics; and observing British Colonialism and the social and racial attitudes of the master of the household; and discovering a deep affinity to Africa.

May 2019

 - Thursday, May 09, 2019
David:  Underland: A Deep Time Journey  is thrillingly ambitious, and important. This is a journey through ‘deep time’, traversing myth, the spread of geological time across the aeons till the present day. Rich in scientific and historical detail, it is still an extremely personal narrative, written with Macfarlane’s trademark lyricism, and full of extraordinary anecdotes of his own travels in the ‘underland’ (the catacombs of ancient Paris).   

Morgan: I was hugely impressed with Miriam Sved’s A Universe of Sufficient Size which is partly based on Sved’s grandmother. It is the story of a group of young Jewish mathematicians in Hungary before the war who would meet at a park to discuss their latest work—now that they are banned from attending the University. The story is told as Eszter’s daughter, Illy in Sydney in 2007, reads her mother’s diaries and begins to understand what a brilliant and complex woman she really is. The narrative jumps between contemporary Sydney and pre-war Hungary and post-war Brooklyn and ends with a fantastic twist. A fascinating story beautifully told.
Steve: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather—In 1848 two French, Catholic priests—Jean Marie Latour and Father Vaillant—are sent to New Mexico to establish a diocese in a country where the Faith has slumbered for centuries. Published in 1927, Willa Cather (1873–1947) had written about, visited and worked in the Indian villages of the Southwest for a decade before she wrote this book. The title may arouse expectations that are not met. The Archbishop’s death—solitary and peacefully contemplative in the land he has grown to love—is only one incident in the series of events, none of which are given much dramatic weight. Some reviewers declared it not a novel at all. The unobtrusive style and structure made the book hard to classify. Replied the author: ‘Why bother? I prefer to call it a narrative.’ A narrative of serene language and timeless simplicity. A masterpiece.

Jack: Lanny by Max Porter—An intoxicating book akin to flicking a radio dial end to end and hitting on a chant, a fable, a warning and a folkloric hymn. Tune into its frequencies and Max Porter will put a spell on you.

Victoria: Fusion by Kate Richards—This is a weird but compelling story about four people (well...you could say three as two of them are conjoined) living on the fringes of society for different reasons—but they care for each other as no-one else will. It raises questions of difference and love and dependency which is woven through a haunting tale. A well written first novel by this Australian writer.


Jonathon: You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian—Hell yes! This is such a fun feminist horror read. Roupenian is something like an edgier Sally Rooney, writing on sex, dating and relationships. Lots of the stories have a horror element, like the creepy take on gaslighting in The Matchbox Sign, or simply they present some horrific aspect of toxic masculinity, as in Cat Person. I read many of these stories either gleeful or worried that they were all too familiar. Loved it.

Andrew: Vietnamese-Australian author Nam Le is the author of an acclaimed short story collection, The Boat—the title story of which remains one of the most powerful and heartrending stories I’ve ever read. Its portrayal of refugees escaping from the Vietcong by boat is gut-wrenching, and has remained a moral touchstone for me in relation to the plight of refugees. I’ve been waiting eagerly for a decade for his debut novel, but, in the meantime, am delighted that he is publishing an appreciation of On David Malouf,  for Black Inc’s Writers on Writers series this month. Which is my rather lengthy explanation of why I’ve decided to pick up The Great World by David Malouf. This would have to be one of Malouf’s finest novels. I’m a little over halfway through but am finding it enthralling. It has so far flitted consummately from the Hawkesbury River, to a depression era Strathfield mansion, to the Burma Railway, to a raucous postwar Darlinghurst Road, and as such must be one of the great novels of Sydney, and of World War Two. Malouf’s prose soars in its realism one moment and swoops effortlessly into the metaphysical with the poeticism and precision of a bird of prey.

John: Set mainly in Paris and Israel, A Long Night in Paris by Dov Alfon is a great international thriller. When an Israeli citizen is kidnapped and later found murdered at Charles de Gaul airport an overworked French detective is joined by an Israeli ‘investigator’ Colonel Zeev Abadi who is in fact from one of Israel’s most secret intelligence agencies, Unit 8200. The chapters are short and pacey with the author sharing information as the story unfolds. Who was the target of the abduction and murder? Who are the assassins? The motivation of various key players slowly becomes clear—some acting in their own interest others are acting on behalf of the State. Bureaucratic rivalries and politics continually interfere with the investigation making it a perfectly believable scenario in the era of Trump and Netanyahu. A terrific page turner!

Viki: At the moment I’m relaxing with a read of Ben Elton’s new book Identity Crisis—an entertaining Gordian tangle of identity politics and #everything. So far Elton has managed to traverse every convoluted iteration of the identity debate without sounding like a whining old white guy, and I love the concept of England hopping on bandwagon and opting out of Great Britain - someone's sure to hashtag it and run. Elton’s book brings to mind an Australian book I really enjoyed last year—Ken Saunders' 2028. If you haven’t read it, this often laugh out loud (and to my mind entirely plausible) solution to our tax cuts for votes Australian democracy might give you some relief from the 2019 election carpet bombing. The other book I have open is Brian Phillips’ collection of essays, Impossible Owls. What a fantastic writer. I give you Phillips on Prince Charles: ‘He has the bearing of a man who has fought bitterly, with the tooth and claw of detachment and protocol, to survive the immense good fortune into which he was born...There are men who command a room with their presence, men whose vitality bullies the air. Charles compels attention through a mechanism inverse to this, a king of charismatic absence: Reality warps toward his titles as toward a reluctant black hole.’ This is from an encyclopaedic essay about the Queen that will satisfy many a The Crown viewer.

April 2019

 - Friday, March 29, 2019
Stef: If you love historical fiction, look no further than Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. From the very first page to the last, it is storytelling at it’s best— and storytelling is just what you’ll get when you stop by for a drink at The Swan, the local inn, set on the banks of the river Thames, in the village of Radcot. The Radcot village drinkers gather at The Swan of an evening, for a drink and to share a story. But the night of the winter solstice delivers a story that they would tell and retell for years to come. Shaped by the ebb and flow of the great river, this tale brings a stranger carrying a young child, seemingly dead, to their door. Miraculously, the child, a girl of around four has wakens and breathes again. But who is she? And who does she belong to? Three families come forward to claim to the child, but who is telling the truth. That is where you come into it dear reader—listen carefully as they each lay bare their own story in this atmospheric novel, brimming with mystery and intrigue.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton—Fiona Barton sure knows how to craft a real page turner. The Suspect is the third thriller featuring investigative journalist, Kate Waters. Two teenage girls are missing. They are on their first overseas holiday. It should have been a great adventure but it has turned into a nightmare. Can Kate Waters discover the truth behind the missing girls’ dream holiday in Thailand? Written in short bursts from different perspectives,this adrenalin fuelled thriller will keep you guessing to the very end.

Jack: The Collected Stories by Grace Paley—I saw my ex-husband in the street. I was sitting on the steps of the new library. Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married for twenty-seven years, so I felt justified. I’ve always thrilled to that opening, so it’s a quiet joy (in a Grace Paley kind of way) to have her funny and passionate short stories at gleebooks. Cherished by Lorrie Moore, George Saunders, Joy Williams, Nathan Englander, AM Homes—and the occasional bookseller! Her story, Goodbye & Good Luck, is similarly affecting: I was popular in certain circles, says Aunt Rose. I wasn’t no thinner then, only more stationary in the flesh. The thrill is now yours...

Andrew:  Deer Reeder: First may I say, sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox! So don’t rite or spel perfect. 
I’ve just finished the sublime fable Fox 8 by George Saunders  which as you can gather is narrated by Fox 8 himself.  It is a short story that you can knock over in half an hour but the smart little hardback presents the story with line drawings by Chelsea Cardinal that suit the funny-sad prose beautifully. Whilst it is chock full of wry jokes, and Saunders’ trademark clever language play, this story of environmental carnage ultimately packs a heavy emotional punch. I’ve also just started the short story collection You Know You Want This by Kirsten Roupenian—another 2019 Sydney Writers’ Festival quest. One story, Cat Person, has garnered the distinction of being the New Yorker’s most shared article of the digital age. It is indeed a doozy. A blowtorch taken to the subject of dating in the age of the text message, it is a swirling, nauseous, rollercoaster of a story.

Judy: Outline, Transit & Kudos by Rachel Cusk—I recommend reading this group of three one after the other. It will be worth your time. They are written as episodes, conversations and encounters between a working author and the people she meets going to book festivals, conferences, creative writing classes, and in the process of renovating her house. The form she has chosen is revelatory and exhilarating—it becomes something of a high-wire act. She writes beautifully, deftly—I found myself re-reading passages for sheer delight, and the joy of seeing with her clear eye things strange, funny, threatening. The three books hang together as an edifying whole. Indicative of the boldness of the author is the final scene in the final book. After all has been said and done, she throws all the balls up in the air again concerning the major theme of the novels: the power struggles between men and women. It’s a stunning last episode.


Stephen: The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris ($23, PB) The subtitle says it all. Medical pioneer Joseph Lister (1827–1912) ushers surgery into the modern era with his use of antiseptics, sterilization of medical instruments and the necessity of personal hygiene. Before Lister, medical surgery was a charnel house of blood, dirt and infection. Victorian operating theatres were known as ‘gateways of death’. Post-operative infection mortality rates were so endemic in hospital wards that it was named ‘hospitalism’. Fitzharris narration of scientific progress in the brutal and bloody world of Victorian surgery is engaging, informative and gruesomely entertaining. Footnote: Joseph Lister did not invent Listerine, but it was inspired by his antiseptic techniques.

Jonathan: The First Bad Man by Miranda July—A brilliant, celebrated debut novel from the performance artist and filmmaker. Ultimately a warming story about loneliness, friendship and shaking off pasts that no longer serve us. This book will take you on a wondrous, hilarious journey. July also includes a witty commentary on Feminism in the late 20th Century in the women’s group that Cheryl Glickman works for. Just great.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff—A stunning re-evaluation of capitalism in the digital age. It is not so much that we are the products of ‘free’ social media apps, but that we are the raw materials of a distinct mode of production. Zuboff traces the invention of a world without privacy or personal sovereignty, where social media platforms turn our inner lives into grist for their mills. Scary, but also hopeful for push back. Zuboff writes beautifully, to boot.  

Viki: I’ve just overdosed on Trumpian America reading Richard Cooke’s ‘chronicle of American decline’, Tired of Winning, in one gulp—a very intelligent and highly readable outsider view of the ‘United’ States, with essays ranging from gun culture to the 1968 Democratic National Convention and its unintentional creation of Nixon’s ‘silent majority’ and the ‘Southernisation of the Midwest (quoting Norman Mailer—the Yippies’ ‘demand for all-accelerated entrance into a 20th century Utopia’ represented the ‘destruction of every saving hypocrisy’). An invigorating collection. 

On a less depressing subject, I’m planning a trip to Europe at the end of this year’s magazine and have started a related reading tour of London. First Peter Ackroyd’s doorstopper biography of London, followed by some of Iain Sinclair’s explorations in and around London’s fringes—but this week I’ve been on a side trip to Roman Britain with Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Roman Britain trilogy (this lead from another travel research related book, Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins). The first in the Sutcliffe series is The Eagle of the Ninth, which I’ve already ripped through. This is ‘childrens’ literature from an era when books for children were less compartmentalised, and the boundary between children's and adult fiction less defined. Sutcliffe uses a poetically descriptive pen without florid overuse of adjectives, capturing a sense of another time and sensibility, while at the same time keeping a tight rein on the narrative tension—the race for the safety of the Roman wall at the end had me on the edge of my seat. It’s writing that children can aspire to.

March 2019

 - Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Stef: The Aunts’ House by  Elizabeth Stead— Set in Sydney, 1942. Angel Martin,  just 11 years old and recently orphaned, is settling in at Missus Potts’ boarding house.  Angel is an unusual child, who perceives the world around her through music and colour, and is often thought of as a strange child—not quite right in the head. She may be a little unusual but there is nothing wrong with her ability to read those around her and find her way in the world, and she is determined to have a different life than the one fate has handed her. Stead has created a world of eccentric characters and captured the time, place and unsophisticated society with both naivety and charm. (due out in April).

Also I found John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky to be perfect summer reading. He has created a wonderful malevolent tale of one man’s ambition to achieve his long held desire to be a prize winning author of international acclaim— no matter the cost to others. The book had me squirming uncomfortably from start to finish,  as the story unfolded with aspiring author, Maurice Swift trying any manipulation or manoeuvre to get his story published. A deliciously dark exploration of ambition and greed.

Andy: The Friend by Sigrid Nunez—The premise of The Friend was (for me) immediately captivating—a New York writer living in a small apartment is obliged out-of-the-blue to adopt the mature Great Dane of a suddenly deceased friend. The blurb suggests it is a meditation on loss and loneliness and so of course, my heart all aflutter, I began it thinking  the book was going to be some sort of heart warming tear-jerker. A sort of highbrow literary Marley and Me. I think my false expectations put me on the wrong footing with the book for a while; it is well worth the read but it a spiky, discursive, measured and contemplative little affair, and it spends as much time wryly examining the art of writing, literature and academia as it does dwelling on canine companionship and animal intelligence.  There is a bit of the autofictive about it, and it reminded me a bit of the Rachel Cusk trilogy in its clever, playful, voice. And, yeah, whilst the book is much much more than this, there is a bit of cute dog observation in it too.

Sophie: Right Amount of Panic: How women trade freedom for safety by Fiona Vera-Gray—Based on Vera-Gray’s research and women’s real experiences, this book details the largely unnoticed “safety work” and energy women put in to avoid sexual violence everyday. Written in an accessible and thought provoking manner, a book to be read by all genders to understand how rape culture and the threat of sexual violence effects women’s everyday enjoyment of the world. Gaysia by Benjamin Law—Law’s humour and wit makes this often sad and troubling journalistic style exploration of Asian queer culture a fun ride the whole way through. From the ladyboys of Thailand to the fake marriages of China, this book gives an insight into how queer cultures are resisting, thriving and surviving in countries that aren’t always forthcoming in their acceptance. An insightful read.  

Morgan: Zebra, a collection of stunning short-stories and one novella. The latter is a small tour-de-force written with a dead-pan humour about an imaginary female Prime  Minister who is sent a Zebra to live in the extensive gardens of, one assumes, the Lodge—or maybe it’s Kirribilli House, or more probably,  a fictional garden. And it’s in this garden that a strange and remarkable friendship is formed. In Festive Food for the Whole Family, a woman has a hideous Christmas Day catering to everyone’s dietary needs and peccadilloes only to realise certain betrayals are going on behind her back. Adelaide’s writing is  marvellous—there’s not one bad story in this collection and not a word out of place. She manages to juggle a wry humour with pathos and intellectual rigour.   

Louise: Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. An extraordinary book. Set in an inhospitable camp site in Northumberland, Silvie, the narrator,  is there with her mother and father, as part of an archaeological, pre-Roman life re-enactment. The family are there with a group of university students and their professor. From the very beginning a sense of dread pervades the story, although how that dread will manifest is kept just out of sight by the author. Silvie’s father is a piece of work—an extremely abusive man who has managed to persuade his family to submit to his bizarre wishes, but someone with enough credibility to team up with professional archaeologists who actually listen to him. The expression ‘the banality of evil’ came to mind the whole time I was reading this, but Sarah Moss created enough suspense to keep me reading—her spare but vivid descriptions making the story come alive in a really compelling way.

February 2019

 - Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Jack: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday  ‘Love is volatile. Recalcitrant. Irrepressible. We do our best to tame it, to name it and plan for it and maybe even to contain it between the hours of six and twelve, or if you’re Parisian five and seven, but like much of what is adorable and irresistible in this world it eventually tears free of you and, yes, sometimes you get scratched up in the process.’  For lovers of Rachel Cusk, Sally Rooney and Jennifer Egan....between the hours of eight and one.

Jonathon: Golden State by Ben H. Winters—In a future California, telling a lie is a crime and honesty holds society together. Or does it? And what about metaphor? Winters’ detective Laszlo Ratesic moves through a procedural frame to eke out the edge where the story that a society tells itself begins to fray, burn, or simply adjust with the needs of the powerful. A political meditation ripe for our post-factual times.

Janice: The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott—A young Irish immigrant finds it impossible to carry on and turns on the gas. The fire that ensues sees Sister St. Saviour, an old nun, appear in the damaged apartment and take over the lives of the widow and her unborn child. Thus, Sally becomes the convent child, growing up in the basement, playing while Sister St. Saviour does the ironing. Sally becomes involved with the work of the nuns, visiting the poor and feeding hungry. She goes to school and is influenced by her teachers to join them. Whether this will happen or whether an action of Sally’s makes this unlikely, we shall see. I like Alice McDermott’s Irish catholic family novels. She is a wonderful writer, her description of the New York slums is vivid and disturbing. I found the nuns, Sally and her mother, very believable, each trying to do the best they can under very difficult circumstances.

Judy: Mythos by Stephen Fry¬≠—What a pleasure to be told these tales by the amusing and erudite Stephen Fry! It’s all here, from Chaos to Prometheus, with many informative and hilarious footnotes. Zeus’ radiance as a young man almost painful to look upon is footnoted thus: ‘As is often the case with extraordinarily attractive people. It is incumbent upon us to apologize or look away when our beauty causes discomfort’. The pleasure of the narrator infuses the whole enterprise of Mythos.

John: Simon Mawer’s Prague Spring  skirts the border between literature and thriller. As the title suggests it is set during the historic events, 50 years ago, when the communist government of Czechoslovakia relaxed the restrictions on individual freedoms only to be crushed by the Soviets. The events are seen through the eyes of a young English couple, students from Oxford University, and a British diplomat and his Czech girlfriend. It tells their stories and their stories become intertwined with historical events. Wonderfully told and very deftly resolved. Highly recommended.

Andrew: The Wall by John LanchesterThe Wall is quite a departure from Capital,  Lanchester’s previous novel—which was a kind of contemporary Dickensian beast, based around a rapidly gentrifying south London street. It was fat and meticulously observed and very very current. The Wall couldn’t be more different. It is a lean and spare 200 odd page novel that I flew through. Set in a dystopian Britain in the very near future (a bit like Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go). Britain has built an almost impenetrable wall around its entire coast, manned by a national guard, made up of young men and women on compulsory two-year stints. I will admit I was a bit impatient with this book for the first couple of dozen pages; I don’t love speculative fiction, and I found the climate change and refugee themes initially so obvious and blatantly telegraphed that I was about to give it up—but I’m really glad I didn’t. The plot kicks in with a series of enthralling voltas, and the tedium of life on the wall is replaced with incipient terrors every which way. It becomes a corker of an adventure horror novel that ultimately crams a lot into its relatively few pages; and manages, too, a real melancholy profundity. It is a real page-turner and where Capital tended to get bogged down with verbosity I think this sparer form suits Lanchester really well. 

Morgan: I love nothing more than discovering a new writer—new to me, anyway—and was bowled over by Valeria Luiselli, a Mexican writer who lives in New York and whose latest book is the utterly astonishing Lost Children Archive. In it Luiselli counterpoints two journeys—that of a couple, both sound archivists who, with their two precocious but funny and lovable children, drive from New York City to Arizona. The husband and father (no-one is named for reasons that don’t escape me but do annoy me) is researching the last of the Apache (much interesting history here) while the woman, a Mexican like the author, is trying to find her way in to a project about the thousands of children who travel alone, through dreadful hardship and uncertainty, from Central America through Mexico to the United States. A deeply intelligent, politically prescient and topical book, it is also one in which the prose swoops and soars and holds you in its thrall. In her skewering of the human condition, Luiselli reminds me of Siri Hustvedt, that other brainiac New Yorker.  Lost Children Archive is out this month and I can’t wait for you all to read it.

Morgan: Also out this month and highly recommended is the sixth and last book in Steven Carroll’s Glenroy series which chronicle a suburban Melbourne family from the early 20th, to the early 21st Century. In The Year of the Beast, WW1 and the rise of the suffragette movement provide the background to the story of the brave and resilient Maryanne who defies social mores to keep her illegitimate baby Vic—father of Michael, who the central character of the rest of the Glenroy series. Beautifully written, the book circles back and around the other novels and characters in the series but can be read on its own. The six books in the Glenroy series, along with his four books based on T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, is  a remarkable body of work—which, despite several literary awards and shortlistings, has not wide enough a readership.  

Steve: As the apparently lone (almost?) Gleebooks staff member who does not read a lot of crime fiction/thrillers, it may stop the presses to announce I thoroughly enjoyed Christine Mangan’s Tangerine ($23, PB). Set in 1950s Morocco, a timid English wife, Alice Shipley arrives in Tangier in tow with her unpleasant husband who has married her for her fortune. He disappears daily into the city, while Alice remains afraid to venture out much at all. Then Lucy Mason, her one-time best friend and college roommate shows up unexpectedly. Estranged for years over a mysterious college incident, Lucy’s sudden reappearance and her determination to introduce sheltered Alice to the delights of city are told in chapters that alternate between the two women’s points of view. The past and the present unfold. As does Lucy’s darkening obsession with Alice and her increasingly manipulative, suffocating friendship. This book reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s unique Ripley thrillers. I found myself thinking that the sweltering, claustrophobic atmosphere of the tale combined with the lush, vivid descriptions of Tangier itself would make an equally enjoyable film—and it turns out that Scarlett Johansson has already been cast in the role of Alice in a forthcoming production.  

 Also recommended is Nicholas Thomas’ Discoveries: The Voyages of Captain Cook ($25, PB). This finely written account covers all of the three voyages, ending in Cook’s death in Hawaii in 1779. No mere chronological travelogue—there are plenty of those—this is a freewheeling narrative which often sees the author step into the historical account himself and relate his own experience. Thomas highlights incidents that illuminate the two-way encounters of Pacific islander and the Europeans.

Staff Favourite Reads for 2018

 - Friday, November 02, 2018
David M: For me, it’s The Overstory by Richard Powers. Make no mistake. This is political literature. It is about trees and humans and the fate of the planet. It is a poetic call to arms. It is brilliant. No matter what theory prevails at any given time, I have always tended to think that good literature is potent in that it can at least influence our moral compass. I would like to believe that great literature will always influence us for the better. We have one decade left to avoid catastrophic climate change, and even the head of Shell has said that we need to plant the equivalent of another Amazon rainforest immediately. I read The Overstory before it was shortlisted for the Booker, and I am writing this on the day before the winner is announced. With luck, millions more will read it now. And do something worthwhile. ($33)

Tamarra: My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen—Lily Allen delves deep into her personal life in My Thoughts Exactly—she’s frank and brutally honest and doesn’t bother to sugar coat the good or the bad. Allen discusses her music, excess drug and alcohol use, and her mental health. She talks candidly about her chaotic childhood, the breakdown of her marriage, the ugly side of celebrity where men took advantage and of loss and grief. Respect to Lily for being so honest—it’s an engaging insight, and at odds with the woman who is often seen as brash and outspoken. She is smart, witty and wise, talented and beautifully flawed. ($35)

Louise: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje entranced me. Its shadowy, extraordinary characters, the crepuscular settings in both the English countryside and London, and the detailed, imaginative plot, all written with grace and clarity. A very literary thriller, a war book, and a love story ($30). The Only Story by Julian Barnes is also a memorable love story, but a heartbreaking one. The author’s exquisite writing is somewhat at odds with the harrowing but compelling story of two people taking a road less travelled. Very affecting. ($30)

Judy: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid—Saeed and Nadia must exit the life they are living as their city is destroyed around them. They find a door to scramble through and enter upon a new existence—via Greece to England & beyond. Their struggles, their resilience, their relationship engage us completely and yet the perspective afforded by the author is large, poetic. He tells us, through this fantastic novel, that we are all displaced, all lurching through doors to other lives—even the woman who lives her whole life in one place as the neighbourhood transforms utterly around her. To be alive on this planet is to be moved along. ... ‘and we too will be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, & our shared sorrow’.... A moving, intriguing and generous book full of great characters & encounters. ($20)

Stephen: Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu and How It Changed the World by Laura Spinney—In 1918, a unique, mutating influenza virus, later to be called the Spanish Flu, arrived in France from Kansas. It became a pandemic that in three global waves between 1918 to 1920, infected 500 million people—a third of the world’s population—and killed between 50 to 100 million people worldwide. It surpassed the death toll of both WW1(18 million) and WW2 (60 million) and probably the two combined. Yet how many people today have even heard of it? Laura Spinney’s engrossing book is a scientific detective story of the origins, the course, the human response and the legacy—a century later—of the worst pandemic of modern times. It’s also a moving narrative of individual human tragedy on a worldwide scale.($23)

Morgan: White Houses by Amy Bloom

— A superbly written novel about Eleanor Roosevelt and her long-term companion and lover ‘Hick’, a journalist who covered the Depression and politics in a time when that was unusual. Written in Hick’s compelling voice, this beautiful novel interprets real people in the real world but rises above the ordinary to become all art ($28). I also loved Asymmetry, a debut novel by Lisa Halliday—written in seemingly unrelated sections, the fun is in working out how in the end, they do relate. A book about writing and fame and the modern world. ($28)

Andrew: I was gloriously stunned by Rachel Cusk’s Kudos (the conclusion to her Outline trilogy). Her babushka doll stylistics were an absolute eye-opener ($30). Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair was published late last year, but I read it over the summer and it is so consummate that it floored me ($19). But if I have to choose one book for the year it is The Only Story by Julian Barnes—this short novel packs a sucker-punch that had me reeling ($33).

James R: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid—I’ve wanted to read Hamid for a while, and finally got to it with Exit West. The story reads like a modern blend of Graham Greene and Paul Coehlo—weaving magical realism through an otherwise familiar world. As Saeed and Nadia escape the religious conflict that devastates their home, they share moments of fear, anger, and tenderness in the face of the unknown. It was a moving and (surprisingly) sweet journey, told without sanctimony or artifice. ($20)

Tatjana: All About Saul Leiter—Originally published to accompany a retrospective in Tokyo 2017, this book presents the photographer’s work in the best way. Of course it covers his much loved colour photography but also included his b/w photos, fashion magazine spreads, paintings and overpainted photographs. He was a master of composition, managing to layer information into photos that may at first sight look simple. His work is genius in its simplicity. ($40)

Scott V: The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin—Not only my best read for 2018, but my best non-fiction read for many years. The story of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, and a group of magazine writers who would become pioneers of investigative journalism. An amazing read for anyone in the least bit interested in US history ($35). As for fiction, Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton was a revelation. Not only a well-written page turner, but a journey back into Australian 1980s suburban culture. Set to become a classic. ($30)

Scott D: British/American historian Bernard Lewis wrote his entertaining and eventful memoir Notes on a Century at age 95. He reflects on a lifetime of engagement with the Middle East, first as an Orientalist scholar at the University of London and later as an academic in the United States and occasional adviser to Western governments and their allies in the Middle East. He knew personally many of the key players in the region during the last century and relates an endless store of surprising and frequently amusing anecdotes of political gamesmanship, misunderstandings and lost opportunities. While it cannot claim to be great literature Lewis’s memoir succeeds in putting a human face to the region’s years of conflict and to provide a historical framework on which to build a lasting peace. ($30)

David G: Julian Barnes has always been a prodigiously gifted novelist, although I’ve not always loved his work, as it shifted through genre and subject. But, for me, the last four books Sense of an Ending, Levels of Life, The Noise of Time, and now, The Only Story, show us a writer at the peak of his powers, and focused on what truly matters. The Only Story is, put simply, about love (what other story is there, in the end?) and it is bleak and uncompromising tale—but so beautifully, poignantly told that it has stayed with me, all year. As has Tim Winton’s gloriously distinctive and heartfelt The Shepherd’s Hut. I don’t know another writer who can match him for an Australian landscape and the predicament of survival within it. His books should be required reading for all of us. ($34.99)

Jack: There are several books still echoing in rooms at my house: Last Stories, by William Trevor ($30); On Kate Jennings by Erik Jensen ($18); If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin ($27); Endure by Alex Hutchinson ($33); The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner ($33); The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand by Geoff Dyer ($108). One book in particular, to quote Louis MacNeice, left the walls dancing over and over with its shadow: Reading With Patrick, a memoir by Michelle Kuo ($30), a Harvard graduate who volunteers for a temporary job at the Teach for America program based in Helena, Arkansas, in a high school ‘decrepit and accountable to nobody’. Two years after she leaves Helena, a former student, Patrick Browning, is jailed on a murder charge. Kuo abandons her law career, moves back to Arkansas and teaches him to read and write while he awaits trial. She brilliantly examines the effects of race, class, poverty and privilege. And observes of Patrick that ‘he had come so far, but what struck me then and for many years afterward was how little I had done for him. I don’t mean this in the way of false modesty. I mean that it frightens me so little was required for him to develop intellectually—a quiet room, a pile of books and some adult guidance’.

James P: Less by Andrew Sean Greer—The Pulitzer Prize winner ticked all of the right boxes for me this year. There was something about Arthur Less’ odyssey of avoidance; punctuated with hilarious and profound moments (often simultaneously) that sang to my reader’s heart. I still catch myself daydreaming about certain scenes and the extraordinary cast of supporting characters who are all so vivid in my mind. ($20)

Jonathon: Two books particularly stood out this year. First, Lynne Ramsay made Jonathan Ames’ You Were Never Really Here into a startlingly spare film, which pointed me to the book. Ames’ curt thriller draws the psyche of an American veteran bent on purging his emotions, leaving him a hollow hired bludgeon specialising in rescuing children kidnapped into the child sex trade. You can imagine how that goes. But Ames’ asides on American society push this from pure grime to some sort of gravity. Second, Ronen Givony’s celebration of Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy provides a wonderful history of the comically pious punk scene of the early 1990s, giving an indispensible orientation for today’s alternative rock music, where hitting the mainstream is celebrated and the mainstream appears more like the do-it-yourself world than ever before. ($20)

Sally: The Lost Man is another great crime story from Jane Harper—perfect for summer reading. Like her first, The Dry, it’s redolent of the Outback—this time a huge cattle property in western Queensland. While it does have a murder at its centre—and a bizarre one at that—it’s more a gripping psychological thriller about the extended family who run the station. You can almost feel the heat
and dust. ($30)

Victoria: I have two favourite books that I read this year. I loved The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton. No other writer writes about the Australian landscape or it’s characters, like him in my opinion. It is narrated by fifteen year old Jaxie, which is a powerful drive throughout the novel. He is on the run and alone in the harsh western Australian desert until he meets Finton MacGills who lives in the middle of nowhere in eponymous Shepherd’s Hut. Why is he there? Winton always leaves his reader thinking and this book stayed with me for a long while afterwards ($34.99). The other book I loved was published last year but I only got around to reading it this year—and that is Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. Set in modern day London with its terrorism and prejudice’s—it was brave and sad and uncomfortable and wonderfully written. ($20)

Lynndy: Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee—This is the sort of story that lingers ever after in your mind; the sort of book that in 30 years’ time bookshop customers will open their enquiry with ‘I want a copy of a book I read when I was a kid; can’t recall the exact title but I absolutely adored it and read it over and over again...’ The further into this book I read, the more slowly I did so, wanting to stay with and savour the story of Lenny and her younger brother Davy whose gigantism progressively forces him to become isolated from the outside world. The siblings experience much of the world vicariously through the weekly issues of a Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia, and Lenny, as family chronicler, allows us to engage with everyone who intersects with their single parent family. Set in the 1970s, Foxlee’s novel is populated by slightly offbeat characters and warm humour. What’s to like about this book? Everything! ($20)

Viki: I found Michael Lewis’ new outing, The Fifth Risk ($39.99), not only a great read, as are all his books, but, despite the rather bleak picture he paints of a Trump ‘government’, I also found it truly inspiring. His portraits of people who give their lives and talents to the less well remunerated and certainly less celebrated life of public service (only ever noticed when something goes wrong)—working for the common good rather than opting for the outrageously overpaid and generally rapacious corporate sector—are enough to encourage a late life leap into the bureaucracy before it’s all been sold off, or farmed out to high-priced consultants. I encourage parents to give this to their kids in the hope it inspires them likewise. While still on the subject of hoping for the future—I also really enjoyed the new Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered ($29.99).

Ingrid: Beautifully written, and carefully structured Sally Rooney’s Normal People is a contemporary coming of age love story. Marianne and Connell attend the same school, but come from very different backgrounds and families. The reader gets to know them as they navigate their friendship and relationships through the final year of high school to University in Dublin and beyond. ($30)

Janice: First, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Well, Eleanor is not even remotely fine, rather she is a bit of a mess. With no friends at work or at home, she spends her week days alienated from her colleagues and spends her weekends drinking vodka. She lives a life of endless routine, wearing the same clothes to work every day, eating the same lunch. Then something happens, and Eleanor discovers a new way of living, one that brings friends, hope and happiness ... and a dog. Loved it. ($25)
Second, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. This is a joy of a book. Keiko is a convenience store worker and she loves her job. She loves having everything in order, looking neat & tidy. She finds peace and purpose in simple daily tasks. But this isn’t right for an educated Japanese woman—her family and friends all think she is weird, and pressure her to find a partner and settle down. How Keiko finds a partner, and how she tries to live a life away from the convenience store, makes a great read. Funny, quirky, absurd, this book is for those, like me, who often find themselves at odds with the world. Wonderful! ($25)

October 2018

 - Friday, October 05, 2018

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt & the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin One of the most interesting books on U.S. history I have read. On the one hand it focuses on the lives of two Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt And William H Taft, and their close friendship (which eventually ruptures). On the other hand it explores the birth of investigative journalism through a group of determined reporters. Having already learnt a good deal about Roosevelt, Taft is a revelation here, a larger than life character—although never as dynamic as the whirlwind Roosevelt. And there is the irony of two Republicans fighting rampant capitalism and busting up the huge monopolies; two Presidents who, despite flaws, are decent human beings. But the most fascinating aspect, is the journalism and journalists of McClure’s Magazine, including a brilliant female journalist, who were instrumental in exposing the corruption inherent in the monopolies and in government. I came away certain that someone soon will be making an 8-part Netflix series on these fascinating people. Scott V

The Ninth Hour by Alice Mcdermott A young Irish immigrant finds it impossible to carry on and turns on the gas. The fire that ensues sees Sister St. Saviour, an old nun, appear in the damaged apartment and take over the lives of the widow and her unborn child. Thus, Sally becomes the convent child, growing up in the basement, playing while Sister St. Saviour does the ironing. Sally becomes involved with the work of the nuns, visiting the poor and feeding hungry. She goes to school and is influenced by her teachers to join them. Whether this will happen or whether an action of Sally’s makes this unlikely, we shall see. I like Alice McDermott’s Irish catholic family novels. She is a wonderful writer, her description of the New York slums is vivid and disturbing. I found the nuns, Sally and her mother, very believable, each trying to do the best they can under very difficult circumstances.  Janice 

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry What a pleasure to be told these tales by the amusing and erudite Stephen Fry! It’s all here, from Chaos to Prometheus, with many informative and hilarious footnotes. Zeus’ radiance as a young man almost painful to look upon is footnoted thus: “As is often the case with extraordinarily attractive people. It is incumbent upon us to apologize or look away when our beauty causes discomfort.” The pleasure of the narrator infuses the whole enterprise of Mythos. Judy

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Talent  My Absolute Darling will leave you stranded, gasping, having experienced the trauma imposed on this novel’s young protagonist in an all too visceral way. Talent lures you into his fractured world of emotional dissonance and spits you out a changed reader - an accomplishment all writers aspire to and few achieve. The discord in this novel will haunt you for nights to come. Emma

You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames A short sharp brutal thriller of circulating trauma. Curt prose effortlessly draws the psyche of a veteran bent on purging his emotions, leaving him a hollow hired bludgeon, specialising in rescuing children kidnapped into the child sex trade. Ames’ regular asides on American society push this from pure grime into some sort of gravity.  Jonathan

The Arsonist, Chloe Hooper  A story based on the actions of an arsonist in the Latrobe Valley, during the Black Saturday fires of 2009, which, as you might expect from Hooper, as the author of The Tall Man", is about so much more. In a country understandably obsessed with bushfires, and the nature of of those who would deliberately light fires, the subtitle, "A Mind on Fire", suggests a world of detail and insight.  David

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Any new novel by Barbara Kingsolver is eagerly awaited, and Unsheltered  won't disappoint. Kingsolver has consistently, and increasingly as her career progresses, been a fine practitioner of politically engaged fiction, with a keen eye to melding past and present. The human drama of two families' struggles to manage takes place in alternating chapters a century apart (late 19th and 20th) in the same falling-down house in New Jersey. The cultural shifts our main characters are charged with navigating are dramatically different of course, and Kingsolver's sympathies are clearlydetermined by an overt moral compass—but that's ok. There's such an ease and warmth of engagement in her prose that the dual narrative work seamlessly. A big treat for her fans. David

  Two families a century apart live on the same lot with their houses literally and metaphorically falling down upon them. In the 21st century Iano and Willa are members of the collapsing middle class—the class into which Victorian era Thatcher Greenwood is attempting (albeit with disinterest) to rise into. Drowning in technology and its attendant waste Willa and Iano live in a world where scientific fact is labeled fake for political expediency, while science teacher Thatcher fights to teach natural selection in his classroom. I really enjoyed the back and forths and mirroring between the centuries in Kingsolver’s latest, especially when Willa’s scrappy (quietly unfavoured) daughter Tig is holding forth about humans coming to the end of the earth’s carrying capacity—as she says of Willa and her generation: ‘You prepped for the wrong future’. Kingsolver can be a tad earnest or didactic, but she had a pretty good hold on that tendency this outing  - I was disappointed when it finished, which is always a good sign.  Viki

2028 by Ken Saunders  Ken Saunders is a new name in Australian fiction, with a brilliantly funny debut novel: 2028. There's genuine, laugh out-loud humour and at the same time gnash your teeth and groan at the hideous reality of it all. It's a highly risky fictional manoeuvre, but Saunders pulls it off. It's election time, and a cliche-riddled Labor Party face defeat, yet again, to the moribund, complacent Liberals (the Greens are broke and busted). But out of nowhere appears the Ned Ludd Party (all members are named Ned Ludd), a party whose headquarters is at the No Expectations, Charles Dickens themed cafe (where only gruel is on the menu). These Luddites aren't machine smashers, they're simply revolutionary in their insistence on honesty, clarity and personal morality in politics. Unsurprisingly, the satire therein, and the narrative it embodies, is not subtle. But it's very funny and right on the money about the political climate we endure. David

Girl on the Page by John Purcell  Set in London, this is a racy (and sexy)  page-turner that also manages to be be intelligent and brimming with ideas about books, publishing and writing. Purcell contrasts the worlds of popular fiction represented by beautiful young editor Amy and high-end literary fiction as written by Malcolm and Helen. Their worlds collide with big ramifications for all three characters with the story culminating at the Booker prize presentation. A must-read for anyone in the book trade but also for readers who are interested in relationships and literature.  James

The Force by Don Winslow   Wow, Don Winslow does it again, a powerful edge of your seat ride with corrupt NYPD cop Denny Malone. Denny and his crew (of special task-force detectives) are the ‘good guys’ who run protection, sell influence, act as bag men, murder, steal, and much more. Denny is  the cop-king of North Manhattan but his world is crashing down. John

Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life, Rose Tremain   Tremain finally turns her novelist’s eye inwards. She exhumes rare pockets of warmth and affection from the emotional Antarctica of her childhood in post WW2 England. The signature subtlety of her prose translates beautifully in this memoir that charts the making of a true artist. James P

Lies You Never Told Me, Jennifer Donaldson On the surface a story of relationships; it’s a masterful circular portrayal of obsession and deception, Shakespearean in scale, with a killer ending! 

September 2018

 - Thursday, August 30, 2018
Sophie: Hunger by Roxane Gay—The heart-wrenching memoir of one of my favourite feminist writers. It reveals the physical effects sexual trauma can have on your body, and the complicated relationship between food, hunger and self-image. I love this book because it doesn’t have the predictable ending of ‘weight loss triumph’, and it doesn’t command you to make peace with your body. Gay is still struggling with her unruly body, and that is refreshing to read.

Scott D: To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann—The carnage and cruelty of battle seen through the eyes of two German teenage friends conscripted during the final weeks of World War 2. A fast paced and moving narrative of a most terrible coming of age. Follow with Günter Grass’s Peeling the Onion, a true account of the author’s experiences as a young SS soldier, his dramatic escape from the front and his uneasy relationship with the past as an old man looking back.

Jonathon: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner—Something like Orange is the New Black. A prison novel of confinement and consequence. Kushner’s cast of female inmates is wonderful, as is the counterpoint of past and present—particularly her scenes of 1980s San Francisco.

James: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso—The first graphic novel to be longlisted on the Man Booker, and rightfully so. Drnaso channels the malaise of our times through a story about murder, those left behind, and conspiracy theories in the wake of a national crisis. It’s touching, sad, and sometimes disturbing—much like life, I guess. (I’m also reading Sabrina. I agree with James. Drnaso piles on page after page of uneasy paranoid silence—in both word and image ... I wish I hadn’t chosen it for my bedtime reading, but am glad to see the Man Bookers acknowledging the graphic novel. Ed)

Andrew: The Outline Trilogy by Rachel Cusk— Kudos, published last month, is the last of a  wonderful trilogy that starts with Outline . Basically the erudite narrator, Fay, sits and listens to people; often complete strangers, and in her relaying what they tell her, lays out a myriad of discursive, philosophical commentaries on the state of being alive.  Lorrie Moore in a review describes them as akin to babushka dolls; Cusk refers to her technique as ‘annihilated perspective’. Charming and addictive, these books are rabbit warrens lined with  mirrors.

John: Scrublands by Chris Hammer—Sent by his editor to a dusty Riverland town 12 months after a mass shooting, a journalist with his own demons, asks why a priest murdered parishioners on the forecourt of the church? There is some great writing here. My pick for best Aussie crime novel this year.

David M: Hotel Silence by AuðurAva Ólafsdóttir—A sympathetic portrait, by a woman, of a man who feels that he has become terminally useless, and the story of his regeneration. A consideration of choices and their context in the lives of ordinary mortals. Small in scale, light of touch, spare and apt in its use of metaphor. A pleasure.

Scott V: Oppy: The Life of Sir Hubert Opperman by Daniel Oakman— A warts-and-all biography of the legendary cyclist who eventually became a politician in the Menzies era. Fascinating to learn just how huge cycling was in Australia and Europe (especially in the 20s and 30s) and the almost inhumane endurance Oppy and his contemporaries displayed. Great read.

Viki: Dictator Literature by Daniel Kalder—Daniel Kalder really does seem to have consumed the sum total tedium of all of the opuses written by the publishing-mad dictator fraternity of the 20th C. His book is a fantastic combination of history & literary criticism—laced with a liberal dose of sharp wit —with which Kalder does a particularly good job of skewering father of the canon, the logorrheic Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin. I’d recommend this to anyone who is interested in history, politics or literature.