All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas

BarracudaBarracuda
Christos Tsiolkas
Allen & Unwin
2013, 528p
Read from my TBR shelf

Danny wants to win a gold medal at the Olympics. That’s all he wants to do. He gets a swimming scholarship to one of Melbourne’s most prestigious high schools and his middle class parents struggle just to pay for the uniform, the books, the extras that Danny will need. They also worry about what going to this sort of school will do to him, whether or not it will change him, give him ideas. Danny faces isolation and bullying from the boys from the moment he arrives. Everything about him is all wrong: his address, his upbringing, his buxom Greek mother who doesn’t look like the mothers of the other boys. The only thing he can do to combat this is to be the fastest. The strongest. The best. To beat them all.

Coach believes in him. Coach tells him that with dedication and his training Danny can be the best. He can go all the way. And so Danny does what Coach tells him and he trains like a demon and one by one he beats the other boys, earning their respect, earning a place among them. Slowly Danny climbs the ranks aiming for the competitions that leapfrog a swimmer to opportunity and greatness, the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. He has visions of how it will be, what he will do when he is famous. He is the best. He is the fastest. He is the greatest. He is the psycho. He is Barracuda.

So Christos Tsiolkas, we meet again. And again you greet me with one of my favourite words on what is basically the first page of this novel. Do you have an aim for this? Do you ponder how you can work the word cunt into your opening page of each novel? Or is it just something that happens naturally? Well I’d better get used to it because if I were able to word search cunt in this novel, it might just come up as the most frequently used word. I read The Slap and I didn’t have much love for it. A bunch of morally bankrupt people doing despicable things to each other and then I watched the TV adaptation which I enjoyed a lot better. I was a bit apprehensive about Barracuda but I like to give things a go and I’d heard good things and so I decided that maybe we could be friends.

Barracuda enveloped me from the start with the story of Danny who at 12, transfers to a high school in Toorak. He lives in Reservoir and anyone who has even remotely wandered into Melbourne knows that the two of those are not exactly similar. Toorak is private schools, houses that sell for $10 million and Eddie McGuire pretending he still lives in Broadmeadows. But Danny is a promising swimmer, a driven swimmer and this is the best school for developing that gift and they are willing to waive his fees for him to be there. And so Danny learns that to be the man….you have to beat the man. And that’s what he does.

But this book isn’t just about a kid who can swim. It’s about a kid who is half Greek. Who has friends who are the children of immigrants. It’s about racism and society and classes that still exist and judgement. It holds a mirror up to Australia and the reflection is at times, very ugly. Part of me deeply understood what is being said here. Australia is lambasted by several characters in this novel, one of them Danny’s best childhood friend, probably a first generation Australian. The other is a grown up Danny’s lover who is from the UK, and both of them are savage on the country for many reasons. Australia is under fire a lot at the moment for its racism, its treatment of ethnic minorities and refugees. The country is a political mess right now and things look like they’ll only get worse. Every other day there’s a story in the media that breaks your heart and makes you wonder what the fuck happened to a country that at one stage, took everyone. And then I look at my husband, who is himself a first generation Australian and he tells me it’s no different now to when he was growing up. He was a wog, a dago, etc. He didn’t even want to learn his parent’s language because it only attracted more negative attention. It’s just the dislike/distrust/fear of Europeans has been transferred to a different race. And yet at the same time when I read books that contain characters that hate Australia, I can’t help but want to defend it. Because not everyone is like that, or agrees with what the government does. I don’t think Australia is perfect at all. But in the case of Danny’s adult friend, who is out here on a visa, I can’t help but think that if it’s so much better in Scotland and so much offends you then why are you still here? And then I’d tell myself to calm down and that it isn’t as if I’ve never judged another country or commented negatively and I have never even been overseas! I’m not qualified to comment on anything.

And I think that is what Christos Tsiolkas does. He makes you feel things. A lot of things. All of the things. And some of those things are rage and disgust. It forces me to accept these other views about Australia and yes, some of them are extremely valid. I felt a lot of things about Danny – in true Tsiolkas form, I didn’t always like him. But I didn’t always dislike him either and even though he did some incredibly bad things, I couldn’t help thinking that he was ripe for that sort of dreadful crash back to reality. Danny had not had to deal with losing in his life, in terms of swimming and when he does, at an important competition, he basically shuts down. And keeps everything locked up inside until it explodes out in the most shockingly violent way. This book was very powerful even though it’s told in fits and starts, switching backwards and forwards in time and so you piece things together even before the moment is revealed that is Danny’s lowest. It’s such a good story as well – surprisingly on some level I could relate to Danny. Not because I’m a swimmer or anything like that, but I could imagine how it would feel to roll up at that school on the first day and know that you were different to perhaps everyone else. It’s not hard to sympathise, because it’s a rare person that hasn’t been made to feel an outcast at some stage in their lives.

This book also takes an interesting look at Australia’s obsession with sport. Danny is accepted because he can more than hold his own against the private school boys. The book also tackles the time of the Sydney Olympics – by then Danny no longer swims and he’s angry and bitter about it and he wants to find the one place that won’t be showing the opening ceremony. This proves to be pretty much impossible with the entire city of Melbourne caught up in the fever of it, obsessing over it. Even his childhood friend who hated the idea, hated the waste of money, hated the sport-worshiping culture, is enthralled by the opening ceremony. I remember the Sydney Olympics so well but mostly because for once it was actually in a time zone where you didn’t have to get up at 4am to watch swimming finals or settle for replays. It’s hard not to get swept up into the excitement of being good at something and the crash when you are not (such as the swimmer’s performance in London 2012) kind of mirrored Danny, although Danny’s was a much more dramatic downfall. Being good at something tends to build national pride. Everyone knows Shane Warne is basically a giant knob but for a long time, he was a giant knob who could bowl a ball no one could hit. That meant something. It sort of fits into the Aussie self-deprecating laid back humour: “well we’re not good as much but we’re pretty shit hot in all sorts of sports. We’ll take that”.

Overall I was surprised how much I ended up really enjoying Barracuda. It’s such a good story and although at times it made me mad or disgusted, I admire any book that can make me feel such things so strongly and yet still continue to enjoy it. We might not be friends yet Christos Tsiolkas, but we’re more than acquaintances now!

This review turned out to be a lot longer than I expected which is interesting given I put it off for a week!

8/10

Book #317 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

Barracuda is book #18 of the Aussie Author Challenge for 2013.

 

 

 

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Murder In Mississippi – John Safran

Murder In MississippiMurder In Mississippi
John Safran
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley/print copy courtesy of The Reading Room.com

When Australian documentary maker John Safran was filming his TV show Race Relations he spent a couple of days in America with one of Mississippi’s most notorious white supremacists culminating in a prank where he announced at a function that the man had African heritage. ABC was hit with a legal letter rescinding permission to show the footage on the TV show and that was that. A year later he heard that the man he had met with, Richard Barrett, had been brutally murdered. And that the killer was a black man.

Safran decided to fly to the United States to cover the murder and the trial, intrigued by the way in which things had played out. Had the young man taken offense to Barrett’s views and just cracked? Then more and more bizarre information, half truths and stories kept coming out. Was the murder a dispute over money? The young black man, Vincent McGee had been working for Barrett, doing odd jobs like mowing the lawn. Or was Barrett secretly gay? With an attraction towards young black men? One of McGee’s original statements said that Barrett had made unwanted sexual advances towards him, which was why McGee had killed him.

Safran spent months in Mississippi interviewing everyone he could that was connected to the case (and some people that weren’t) as well as others that he thought might be able to give him any sort of insight into what it is like living in parts of Mississippi. He talked to white supremacists, black journalists and civil rights campaigners, the family of the victim and the accused as well as even the killer himself, swapping Walmart Green Dot Cards for information. But the more Safran searches for the truth, the more bizarre this case becomes.

I have been reading more non-fiction lately and this is my first true crime read in a long time. I remember Safran and his rise to fame in Race Around The World and his parody song Not The Sunscreen Songboth of which were pretty popular when I was in late high school. Since then he’s made some documentaries, such as the aforementioned Race Relations as well as John Safran’s Music Jamboree and John Safran vs God. These days he also has a radio show on JJJ with the notoriously cranky priest (and fellow from the Penguin stable) Father Bob Maguire. Given Safran had a connection with the deceased, having spent some time with him, albeit to perform a prank, he was perfectly placed to then cover the strange situation of his murder.

Safran immerses himself in the case and no one can question his dedication. He relentlessly pursues people to talk to him, questing for information, even just their time. He writes with a conversational slightly self-deprecating style that still occasionally injects the humour he is so well known for as he gives away as much about himself as he does about the case and the people who surround it. The more information he collects, the more bizarre the case becomes and the more questions Safran has. Barrett was a known white supremacist who lived in a predominently black neighbourhood and had a black man, Vincent McGee working casually for him. McGee, perhaps the world’s most inept criminal, was apprehended for the crime almost immediately and set about confessing… several times, each confession being a different story. In the first instance, McGee claimed that Barrett had made unwelcome advances towards him, a claim he later rescinded in favour of saying it was over money. Members of his own family believe that there might’ve been a sexual exchange for money but that McGee would be so afraid of this coming out that he would change his story several times.

Reading about these parts of Mississippi is almost like visiting another world. Barrett claims to be the founder of the American skinheads, a believer that the only real Americans are white Americans. A dragger of the heels in terms of segregation Mississippi is the sole state that retains the Confederate flag on its state flag and white supremacist groups are still funneling money into separatist schools. And yet despite Barrett’s beliefs, he chose to live in an area with many African Americans, most of which had no idea about his politics and who mourned him when he died. They found him friendly and helpful. Barrett proved to be a bit of a man of mystery, even to the FBI who had a file on him but couldn’t really seem to discern his motives or his true agenda.

It’s probably unfortunate for Safran that McGee plead guilty which meant that the trial didn’t take place for him to cover but he was still able to gather enough information through his interviews in the lead up to the hearing. Some of his interactions with McGee himself prove to be perhaps unintentionally, some of the more comedic conversations particularly McGee’s devotion to acquiring Walmart Green Dot cards which are, I think, a bit like a pre-paid VISA. Prisoners can only be given cards in a certain amount so Safran has to buy multiple ones, splitting the cost over several of them and giving the codes to McGee down the phone and McGee then uses them to buy prepaid phone credit. In one conversation McGee expresses interest in coming to Australia until he discovers that we don’t have Walmart and therefore, no Walmart Green Dot cards either.

Murder In Mississippi doesn’t suffer too much for the lack of a juicy trial, it’s still an intriguing story full of half-truths, rumours, conflicting views and a victim who was many things, none of them seemingly compatible with the others. And it’s proved me wrong in some of my assumptions about true crime, that it’s all a bit dour. I do hope Safran finds himself another crime to write about in the future, I’d happily read it.

8/10

Book #297 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

Murder In Mississippi is the 17th novel read for my Aussie Author Challenge 2013, challenging myself to read more books by male Australian authors.

LitExp Challenge

 

 

 

It’s also the 17th novel read for my Literary Exploration Challenge 2013, crossing off the true crime category.

 

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The First Third – Will Kostakis

First ThirdThe First Third
Will Kostakis
Penguin Teen Aus
2013, 248p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Bill is a teenager living in Sydney. He’s part of a tightknit Greek family and spends most of his days wondering how he’s going to get his first kiss. The way in which this finally happens is not only anticlimactic and a bit embarrassing but it also causes Bill to be absent when his grandmother is taken ill at the Easter Church service.

While she is in hospital being treated, she gives Bill a ‘bucket list’ of things. But she’s got the whole idea slightly wrong – instead of this being a list of things she wants to accomplish herself, it’s a list of things she wants Bill to fix for her. The way she puts it – she is the glue that keeps the family together. The fact that she’s ill means that she might not be around to hold it all together for ever. She wants Bill to take steps to bring the family back tighter together, to step in and be the glue that needs to bind it when she’s gone. The list is:

  1. Find your mummy husband
  2. Have Simon girlfriend in Sydney
  3. Fix Peter

Bill sees several challenges immediately – his older brother Simon has moved to Brisbane and is most decidedly gay. Finding him a girlfriend anywhere, let alone attempting to draw him back to Sydney with one is going to be next to impossible. Also, his younger brother Peter has drifted so far away from him that he now seems to openly hate Bill. They were close when they were younger but now Peter leaves the room if Bill enters. The only person he seems to still want to seek out is their grandmother, their Yiayia. Fixing Peter, who spends most of his time at the gym or running is going to be a challenge when Peter won’t even speak two words to Bill. And as for the first one – well Bill’s mother has been alone since their father left, not to be seen again. He’d like nothing more than for her to find someone who treats her well but he hasn’t the first idea how to go about actually assisting with that.

The First Third is Australian author Will Kostakis’s second novel. Recently I attended the Penguin Teen Australia Live event in Melbourne and not only did we all receive a copy of this in our goody bags but Will was also a guest on the night and he spoke about his book and writing. It’s quite clear that Will drew a lot of inspiration from his own life when writing this. I am not Greek but I’ve mentioned several times that my in-laws are Sicilian and my MIL in particular is a younger version of the Yiayia in this book. I think that people out there will see the familiar in many of the characters and situations in this book, no matter their heritage.

For me, the two things I drew from it were family and the relationships you have with them and also, friendship. The Bill of the story (and also the real life Will, I believe) have absent fathers which meant that they spent a lot of time with their grandparents and formed a deep relationship with them. I am very close to my mother’s parents, whom I spent a lot of time with as a child and throughout school holidays. I loved the relationship that Bill had with his Yiayia and also, the way in which he glimpsed the ‘old Peter’, the brother that used to talk to him, through Peter’s interactions with Yiayia. The sibling relationship can be an up and down one and although it was a bit difficult watching Billy struggle to connect with Peter sometimes, I admired his persistence and the way in which he went from deciding not to bother about the list to changing his mind and wanting to do it and deciding against letting the family drift away.

The other incredibly strongly represented relationship in this book is that of Bill and his best friend Sticks (real name Lucas) who has cerebral palsy. Sticks is incredibly funny and the two of them do have the most amazingly deep friendship. It’s rife with gentle ribbing and good times but the two of them really do help each other in the best ways. Sticks throws himself into assisting with the bucket list and his feelings for Yiayia shine through as well – given as Bill’s best friend he must’ve spent some time with her too. The way in which he “lends” his own father to Bill, who doesn’t have one was embarrassing but also incredibly sweet. And Bill returns the favour for Sticks later in the novel, helping him get something that he doesn’t have the courage to go after himself. Sticks, who is both gay and disabled is portrayed so beautifully. He wasn’t his sexuality or his disability, he was his whole person, he was Bill’s best friend. Actually I think he was kind of the highlight of this book. His character just begs to be taken notice of.

I enjoyed all of the parts that made up this story. It made me laugh and had me sad towards the end as well. I haven’t read the author’s previous book but just from reading this one I think he has a great young adult voice and look forward to reading more from him.

9/10

Book #226 of 2013

20130830-110808.jpgWill Kostakis and fellow Penguin author Jennifer Kloester at the PTALive event in Melbourne, chatting about their books.

Aussie Author Challenge

The First Third counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge, where I’ve challenged myself to read more by Australian male authors to help balance out my reading. It’s the 15th book read for the challenge and the first young adult title.

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Zero At The Bone – David Whish-Wilson

Zero At The BoneZero At The Bone (Frank Swann #2)
David Whish-Wilson
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 278p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone. (Snake – Emily Dickinson)

(Please note that this review will reference events from Line Of Sight and may contain general ***SPOILERS*** for that book)

Frank Swann is no longer a Superintendent in the Western Australian police. In fact he’s no longer anything in the police force, having been forced to resign after the Royal Commission into allegations of corruption. Swann’s old nemesis Detective Casey has been neatly disposed of but where one is cut down another rises and Swann is being targeted by a detective by the name of Hogan who has made it clear via the media that he considers Swann responsible for Casey’s death and that he will not forget it. He’s wrong, but that doesn’t matter.

The message could not be any clearer. Swann hasn’t been left to go quietly into a new life and sooner or later, someone will come looking for him and bang him up for something inconsequential, an incarceration he probably won’t survive. He ekes out a living as a PI to support his family – his wife, who has also gone back to work and his three daughters. Swann is hired to investigate the suicide of a world-renown geologist who was just about to strike it rich with a goldfield claim during the mining boom. Why did Max Henderson kill himself? Why are his partners in the mine crooked cops (including Hogan), bent horse trainers, bookies and local mafia bosses? The further Swann digs into this the more dirt he turns up, dirt that could not only threaten his life (again) and that of his family but also Max’s widow Jennifer, who inherited her late husband’s share in the mine.

Zero At The Bone is the second novel by David Whish-Wilson featuring Frank Swann. In the first he was a whistleblower on corruption who fought against various attempts to discredit him on the grounds of mental instability. Swann might be slightly mentally unstable, but not in the way in which they were attempting to paint him as. He’s sharp as a tack and incredibly brave bordering a little bit on idiocy. There are people that know when to walk away but Swann isn’t one of those. In fact, the more dangerous the situation is, the more he seems to excel in it.

Frank is back at home in this novel, although not for long. When he realises exactly who Max Henderson was tied up with in this mining claim, he again has to take steps to protect his family. I find the relationship between Frank and his wife Marion fascinating. They’ve been together a long time and Marion is a detective’s daughter but who also has family on the other side of the law. She’s tolerant and patient and incredible at anticipating Frank’s moves and also his needs. She never shows frustration at him when he’s been beaten half to death (again) or they have to leave their house and go and stay somewhere else for their own safety. She doesn’t do much in these books, she’s barely in the first one at all. She’s more present in this one but in a background manner, taking his messages and keeping him one step ahead of those that would like to put him six feet under for what he knows. They work together as a seamless team, despite the revelations in the first novel, Line Of Sight about their domestic situation. I find it incredible how vivid a picture the author managed to paint of their marriage and relationship through their brief interactions and Marion’s mostly-silent presence.

I don’t know much about mining – the WA boom happened before I was born and mostly what I know about it now is because of the environmental issues it raises, something that didn’t really seem to concern anyone at this time. A lot of WA was funded on the mining boom – luxurious new housing estates, high rises, apartment blocks and it seems that many people retired to a life of leisure on it too. The amount of kickbacks and bribes that must’ve been payable to get a claim through and up and operating must’ve been enormous – it was actually factored in to the budget for the claim in this book. Given these novels exist around a state of intense corruption from pretty much everyone to the top town, it might have been exaggerated slightly but it did make me think about applying it to reality and wondering just what it did take to get things pushed through. This is a novel about greed, about people who would do anything in order to finance something that would make them unbelievably filthy rich. It’s disconcerting that two of them are police officers and yet, it would be difficult to expect anything else after Line Of Sight. If anything, this book made me realise how powerful the lure of money is to some people, more money than they could ever know what to do with. For most people, that might be a daunting thing. But to some it is a drug that they become addicted to and they’ll do anything to keep sight of it.

I really developed an appreciation for Swann in the last book and I think this book only cemented my liking for him. He’s got a unique way of doing things and I love his ragtag little band of informants. He seems to collect people and has a knack for finding people who will help him find out exactly what he needs to know. He’s clever, managing to keep one step ahead of people who look like they’re trying to help him but will only sell him out at a later date. I also like the genuine Australian feel to these books – the footy clubs, the pubs, the old cars (well they’re old now, not quite sure about 1979!), everyone smoking everywhere including public sector buildings and the terrible 1970’s fashion! It makes it so easy for the reader to paint the picture in their head, see everything clearly. I’ve never been to the setting of these books but feels very much as though I have.

I hope we see more of Frank in the future, doing what he does best.

8/10

Book #222 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

Zero At The Bone is book #14 for the Aussie Author Challenge.

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Man Vs Child – Dominic Knight

Man Vs ChildMan Vs Child
Dominic Knight
Random House AU
2013, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Dan is a stand-up comedian doing the rounds in Sydney. He does alright for himself but he also has a “day job” to make ends meet and pay the mortgage on his Potts Point art deco apartment, working as a radio producer for a breakfast FM show. The show has regularly been rating #1 for its timeslot over the past few years but suddenly they are facing stiff competition from a new breakfast crew, who have been steadily gaining on them. When they overtake for the first time, Dan’s radio station,  2RYT decide that they need to change a few things up during their own breakfast show and they decide to add in Dan as a third presenter.

The new dynamic works well – Dan’s humour bounces off the obnoxious “star” host Bryan and his sidekick Sal, who changes her own role to compliment Dan’s. Together they often gang up on Bryan, making him the butt of their jokes and the listeners are loving it. Things are suddenly going much better in Dan’s professional life and his pay packet is increased to reflect his new role, taking some strain off him. He begins to feel as though he’s moving forward in an adult world.

A single man, Dan is seeing all of his mates paired up, married and having babies with their wives. What used to be nights out for drinks and chatting until dawn becomes brunch and shouting at each other over a screaming baby and debating the merits of dummies or breast vs bottle. Dan doesn’t see why anyone does this to themselves – until he reconnects with Penny.

His high school crush, Penny has recently separated from her husband and moved to an apartment around the corner from Dan’s. She has a 14 month old son and in spending time with Penny, becoming friends again, he finds himself spending time with Lloyd, even babysitting him on the odd occasion. To be a part of Penny’s life, Dan must accept Lloyd – and he’s finding that isn’t as big a hardship as he expected.

I really enjoyed this novel, set in and around Sydney FM radio and also the stand-up comedy circuit. My husband works in radio and has been an on-air co-ordinator at various times in his career and although he’s still on air these days, he’s broadcasted out from various locations by those working in the studio. However I’ve been to his station many times, so quite a lot of this book was familiar to me and it was something I could relate to and enjoy, because I get how it goes. I also really liked the angle this book takes on “pranking” – often a favourite past time of FM radio hosts for laughs. Recently a prank call made the news in Australia for all sorts of the wrong reasons after a breakfast crew pranked the English hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge had been admitted for hyperemesis. One of the nurses who patched through the call took her life several days later and it roused a media furore over what publically humiliating and embarrassing people for “fun” can do. This book contains pranks played on each other by the breakfast DJ’s of the two opposing radio stations, one of which seems to blow and up and go horribly wrong. What happens next apes in some ways, real life with public outrage, demands for the DJ to be sacked etc. It was interesting to read about a situation like this from “within” the radio station and the way in which it unfolded was clever.

Another part of the novel deal’s with the fact that Dan seems to be the only one left of his group of friends that hasn’t married yet and doesn’t have children. He regards most children with hostility and suspicion, not understanding them because he hasn’t spent time with any. He despairs of the loss of late night get togethers and can’t quite wrap his head around the new brunch times. He’s bombarded with opinions on parenting when he doesn’t really care and receives lectures for suggesting someone offer their screaming child a dummy. However it’s after he meets Penny and is drawn into her world as a friend-cum-babysitter-cum-something-else that he begins to collect tidbits for a stand-up show he is putting together – Man vs Child. He uses his experiences as a single man to generate humour, to make the best of things. His time with Penny has taught him that he doesn’t hate the idea of settling down, that he can see himself as a good father one day.

Whilst I loved Dan and his examining of his life, his views on his family (and others) I have to admit that reading stand-up comedy just isn’t…funny. Seeing a stand-up comedian is different, you’re far more likely to laugh in that environment and also the delivery is everything. Tone, expression, gestures, they all contribute to the routine just as much as the words do. Just reading a routine didn’t have the same impact at all. I found myself skimming the routines. The rest of the time, I loved Dan’s voice – it felt very natural and genuine and the radio breakfast show was quite entertaining (not because the show was funny, but more because of the ego of its main ‘star’ and Dan and Sal’s opinions on him).

 I wondered if I’d be able to relate to this book because I am a parent and I left behind childless outings long ago. But I can still identify with a lot of Dan’s thoughts and his pondering about his life. This was a very entertaining read and I really liked Dan – I was hoping he’d find someone who appreciated him.

7/10

Book 203 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

 

 Man Vs Child is the 10th novel read and reviewed for the Aussie Author Challenge. It’s a new author to me as well.

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Combustion – Steve Worland && Signed GIVEAWAY

CombustionCombustion
Steve Worland
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 330p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

NASA astronaut Judd Bell is looking forward to a few days at the Beverley Wiltshire hotel with his girlfriend Rhonda. After he and a few others saved the Atlantis 4 shuttle, it’s been a bit of a wild ride. Judd has been treated like a hero, but there’s a cold feeling inside him that shies from the attention. He doesn’t think he’s a hero and a few days with Rhonda and catching up with Corey, the Australian chopper pilot who shared his adventure might be just what he needs. They’re going to meet with the studio responsible for adapting the saving of the shuttle into a big blockbuster movie and do a few promotional appearances.

It’s somewhat fortuitous that he and Corey are together when it happens. All around Los Angeles at the same time, engines begin exploding – cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, chainsaws. Anything that has a combustion engine – the exhaust turns purple and then black and then it explodes. LA becomes chaos as thousands of cars blow up, causing huge amounts of damage. Corey and Judd are able to get information from an injured man that it’s a nanotech airborne virus that gets in to the fuel line. It was supposed to be developed to be used in warfare, to disable an enemy’s weapons before they were able to be used but someone has taken it and used it in an urban manner. California has more cars per capita than any other location in the world – the perfect place to make such a statement of how they are killing the environment and should be stopped. And millionaire Zac Bunsen is willing to sacrifice people in order to get his conservation message across to the masses. And blowing up all of the engines in the local area isn’t the only thing he has planned – there’s another part to his plan that will release the virus to the entire world and cause a destruction that hasn’t been seen before.

In the devastation, Judd sees opportunity. He’s driven to do something, to try and stop this madness any way he can. It might be the only way to ease the cold feeling inside him, to erase the moment where he did nothing and replace it with one where he did something that mattered.

Combustion is the second novel to feature the unlikely pairing of NASA astronaut Judd Bell and outback Australian chopper pilot Corey Purchase. Having saved the world once already, the two are looking forward to a weekend of discussing the movie script and doing some promo. Corey has been hitching his way around America, seeing the country and has managed to find himself many new fans along the way. His ever-faithful dog Spike is by his side as always but Corey tries to keep the conversations he has with Spike secret even though in LA, it’s okay to be eccentric. Most people are, in some way or another. Neither he nor Judd counted on being thrust right into disaster, yet again.

These books are so fun and easy to sink in to – they’re like a huge big budget action flick where the pace is breakneck from the beginning. The plot moves along at a rapid pace and never stalls. Judd and Corey race around LA on push bikes and later on in a helicopter helped along by an antidote to the nanotech virus, attempting to stop Zac Bunsen and his men from completing the next phase of their plan which would cause even more catastrophic devastation. Judd and Corey work as a seamless team, both of them bringing their strengths to the union. Judd is focused, always thinking and Corey tends to be more of a “let’s do this and see what happens” wingman but I noticed that in this book he seemed to come up with more ideas and plans, speak out more. Perhaps their earlier adventure gave him more confidence in himself and his abilities. He grew on me greatly in this book. I liked him in Velocity but it took me a while to warm up to him and his ‘different’ personality. In this book I was on board from the get go and his relationship with Spike integrates into the plot naturally. I don’t even question it anymore. In fact most of the time I find myself wanting to know what Spike is saying and wishing Corey would translate everything. And then I catch myself and think you are wanting to know what a dog is saying.

I really enjoyed the plot of this one – humans have come to rely on technology and vehicles so much. We use them for transport, for emergency assistance and enforcing the rules, to ship food and other goods. The idea of everything with a combustion engine blowing up was kind of a frightening one. Zac Bunsen advocated a more simpler existence, less reliance (or no reliance) on cars and vehicles and respecting the environment a bit more. That’s interesting because it’s certainly something that has been raised before but he didn’t seem to consider the repercussions of that – like food. There are many places that aren’t capable of producing their own food due to design or location. He’s a sociopath so presumably he doesn’t care, but it really isn’t just as simple as blowing up all the vehicles in the world. A simpler existence is actually not always an easier one.

Combustion is a book that takes you on a wild ride but it’s also comfortingly familiar. It’s the sort of book where you know that it’s okay to get attached to the good guys. Steve Worland is carving himself a pretty handy niche in the area of action novels.

8/10

Book #186 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

Combustion is the 9th novel read and reviewed for the Aussie Author Challenge, where I am attempting to read more books by Australian male authors.

Make sure you check out my Q&A with Steve, posted here.

Giveaway!

Thanks to Steve himself, a lucky reader will one signed copy of Combustion. Simply fill in the form below to enter. Open to Australian residents only.

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Fireshadow – Anthony Eaton

FireshadowFireshadow
Anthony Eaton
University of Queensland Press
2013 (originally 2004), 309p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

You let your sister burn…..

Vinnie is running. After a tragic accident that killed his sister and left him viciously scarred, he can’t face the blame and the guilt anymore. So he leaves home, hitching a ride on a logging truck and venturing into the bush to camp. To just get away from it all and be.

In 1943, during the height of the Second World War, German soldier Erich Pieters is captured in Africa. He is interned to an Australian prisoner of war camp, deep in the Western Australian bush. Despite the fact that his father is high up in the Wehrmacht, Eric has not been deemed sympathetic to Nazi causes and so he ends up in the prisoner camp Marrinup with other Germans and Italians. At first Erich is horrified at the lack of discipline and lack of respect that his fellow German prisoners show to their country and the cause. He’s determined to hold himself aloof, to not make any friends and to not consort with the enemy.

But Erich’s experience in Africa leads him to be posted to the camp hospital, assisting the elderly Australian doctor. Although he doesn’t want to, Erich begins to thaw – the doctor is a great man, a gentle and kind man who encourages Erich to read his medical texts. He sees Erich’s intelligence and thinks that Erich would make a fine doctor. This idea appeals to Erich, although he knows that when the war is over and he gets to leave here, his father will have other plans for him. And the fact that the doctor has his young, pretty granddaughter staying with him and often helping out also begins to show Erich that there’s more to life than the German ideal. He begins to question everything and wonder if he can possibly have the life that his time in Australia is dangling in front of him… medical studies, a girlfriend, happiness. No war.

Vinnie is surprised to find that he’s not alone  – a campervan nearby contains a girl about his age and her elderly grandfather, who are on a mission to see the remains of the old prisoner war camp. The old man has some lessons for Vinnie, helping find acceptance and peace on his way to his own journey of closure.

Originally published in 2004, this book has been beautifully repackaged by the University of Queensland Press. As soon as I saw the gorgeous cover I couldn’t wait to read it. I love dual narratives when they’re done well and this book does it very well. The present day story revolves around Vinnie, a teenager who survived an horrific car accident. However in getting himself out of the car to go for help, his older sister burned to death and now Vinnie has survivor’s guilt and feels as though his father blames him. His father placed all his hopes on Vinnie’s sister Katia, working hard so that she would have opportunities that he did not. Katia had been accepted to study medicine, making their father beyond proud. Vinnie didn’t have the same scholarly aspirations as Katia did, instead he chose to get a job in a plant nursery, earning him his father’s scorn and derision. Trapped, feeling the blame and needing to get out and be free of the crippling weight, Vinnie leaves in the calm of the pre-dawn, seeking solitude and perhaps absolution. The last thing he expects during his escape to the wilderness is to have company.

In 1943, Erich Pieters arrives at the Australian prisoner-of-war camp. By all standards, life at Marrinup is not difficult and it’s no hardship for many to wait out the war there until they can be returned to Europe – some don’t even want that, they’d prefer to stay in their newfound home. Erich is so very serious – he claims to be 22 but is only 17 and he signed up to make his father proud. He’s appalled at the lack of respect some of his fellow prisoners show and he refuses to wear the clothes they give him, opting for his own uniform that will not keep him warm here. Erich is thawed by Doctor Alexander, an elderly man who lost a son in the first world war. Despite this and the feelings he has, he tends to German prisoners and he teaches Erich much about life and medicine.

The character of Doctor Alexander is inspired. He was so beautifully done – a kind, gentle, intelligent man who saw potential in an angry and serious young man and sought to foster it, in more ways than one. Dr Alexander had his own issues revolving around the war, having lost his son in the first Great War and was now watching the world go through a second one. Still he didn’t allow that to colour the way he felt about his patients and the people that came into his life. He saw each person as an individual, not part of an ideal and I think he was able to pass that mindset onto Erich as well. Watching him and his round-a-bout way of instructing Erich and mentoring him was a very enjoyable part of this book!

This is an effortless blending of the contemporary with the historical and I have to say that I was surprised the way the story turned out. I thought that I had it all figured out how it would end but Eaton didn’t take the easy way out and the resulting story was probably much better for it. The depth of the characters was first rate and I particularly like how Eaton always said more with less – especially in the way of Vinnie’s relationship with his father. He managed to paint an entire picture with only two or three interactions between the two of them.

Australian YA has a fabulous reputation for a reason and books like this are that reason.

8/10

Book #178 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

Fireshadow is the 8th novel read and reviewed for the Aussie Authors Challenge! It’s my first young adult novel for this challenge and it’s by an author who is new to me.

 

 

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Blood Witness – Alex Hammond

Blood WitnessBlood Witness
Alex Hammond
Penguin Book Aus
2013, 322p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Will Harris is a defence lawyer working for a prestigious firm in Melbourne’s CBD. Two years ago, Will was an up and coming name, high off a string of creditable wins – he was a person to watch. But then Will lost his fiancée Rachel in a diving accident and he’s been dropping off the radar ever since.

But now top Melbourne defence barrister Chris Miller has requested Will’s help specifically on his latest case, defending Martin Kier for the kidnap, rape and murder of a fifteen year old schoolgirl. Although there’s no doubting their client has some sexual proclivities that do not mesh with society’s views, Miller doubts that he’s a murderer and he and Will need to find a creditable defence in order to get their client acquitted. There’s one witness that might hold a valuable key to their case, but first Will will need to find if he can get it admitted.

Peter Kovacs is a bedridden, suffering from pneumonia that has given him a life sentence, his immune system destroyed by cancer and the drugs he was using to fight it. He claims to have witnessed the murder of schoolgirl Amber Tasic through a vision. He has always had visions, but this is the first time he has ever experienced something like this. He felt compelled to report it right away but was dismissed by the police. In attempting to find any line of defence that he can, Will visits Peter to hear his story and finds it utterly compelling, especially as Peter knows details that haven’t been released to the media and general public and his unique situation obviously clears him as a suspect in the murder itself. Will hits the books, looking for something that will allow him and Chris to call Peter as a witness in the court case.

Will also finds himself pulled in another direction when the sister of his late fiancée is charged with drug trafficking. Mischa is troubled, but she’s not a dealer and Will desperately wants to help her. Mischa doesn’t trust him though and the further Will digs the more he begins to suspect a dangerous connection to one of Melbourne’s gangs, something that could put his life and Mischa’s at risk.

This is an addictive, engrossing story right from the very first page. Alex Hammond has a law degree and has worked for law firms in Melbourne and he captures the essence of the city and the intricacies and dilemmas of working on the side of the courtroom that attempts to free people charged with crimes. It’s a common thing to hear said to a defence lawyer “how do you sleep at night?” and Chris Miller is asked that question in this book. Hammond tackles the moral question in a very interesting and different way – there’s no doubt that Martin Kier, Chris Miller and Will Harris’s client, is a reprehensible human being. He has previously been charged with distributing child pornography (without penetration) and is well known for his fascination with young teenage girls. He’s probably -or definitely- someone that should be in jail, away from vulnerable teenage girls. But that’s wholly different to being charged with murder and even though the evidence seems to suggest that he could be and this could be an easy conviction, Will and Chris have to find something to suggest it was someone else or that it possibly couldn’t have been their client. Peter Kovacs’ vision supports the fact that it was someone else, but visions, psychics and mystics are not usually regarded with any seriousness by the Australian police who have stated officially that they do not accept any help from anyone claiming to be clairvoyant. Will has to look for another way to use the information given, something that could be complicated by Peter’s physical condition. There’s also the fact that if Martin Kier isn’t the killer then there’s someone else out there, a killer who could strike again.

Will’s devotion to the case is somewhat interrupted by the fact that his almost-sister-in-law has been charged with drug trafficking and faces a lengthy jail sentence if she doesn’t come clean about who was keeping the drugs in her apartment. Will feels that he failed Mischa after Rachel died, that he abandoned her when she needed him, in order to work through his own grief. Now he feels that he owes her and keeping her out of jail is just the beginning, although Mischa isn’t being very co-operative. Will feels like this is what he needs to do to let go and move on, although it’s impacting on his work with Miller and his boss isn’t particularly happy with him. It’s a very fine balancing, juggling act and Will is one fumble away from having everything crash down on top of him.

Will is a great character because I think he alters perceptions of defence lawyers. He’s very humanised and the way in which he deals with Mischa and Peter makes him highly likable. He’s dedicated and very intelligent and at times he is almost too good but Hammond just brings him back from the brink of too good to be true. I found his reaction to Kier really interesting, because Will doesn’t really make much of an attempt to hide the fact that he thinks Kier is a disgusting person. But he knows the law and he knows what he can use the law for and that works for the defence team quite well in this book. It did make me think, because Kier made my skin crawl and he probably should be locked up and have them throw away the key but not for something that he didn’t do. The right to a fair trial is always a fun debate and I think I agree that everyone should be able to have their day in court and that it should be up to the prosecution to present a watertight case however there are always going to be loopholes, inconsistencies that can be exploited. It’s the way of trial by jury. Sometimes guilty people will walk, sometimes innocent people won’t. It makes me uneasy but I don’t really have a better solution.

I really enjoyed this book and the end of it had a great set-up for another installment featuring Will and Chris Miller, which has already been snapped up by Penguin. I can’t wait to read it because I think this has a terrific longevity potential.

8/10

Book #161 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

Blood Witness counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge.

 

 

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Me And Rory Macbeath – Richard Beasley

Rory MacbeathMe And Rory Macbeath
Richard Beasley
Hachette AUS
2013, 371p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Jake Taylor is 12 when his life changes – it’s when he meets Rory Macbeath. For years, it’s been just Jake and his best friend Robbie playing in their street. In summer they play cricket, in winter they kick a footy around. Jake is at first reluctant to accept Rory – after all he’s Scottish and he spends his time kicking a soccer ball. He doesn’t know anything about cricket or proper AFL footy. But Robbie takes to him right away and their group of 2 becomes a group of 3.

Jake has a somewhat unusual life for the 1970’s Adelaide in Australia – he’s being brought up by single mum Harry who is a barrister and he’s been in and out of courts since he could walk. In the long hot summer before high school starts Jake, Robbie and Rory go swimming at the local pool, play sport and go on fishing trips with Robbie’s dad, a police officer. Nights are spent camping out in tents in Robbie’s yards and quite often sneaking out and running around the neighbourhood, attempting to stealthily go over the fence into one yard and get back all their balls from an irate neighbour who confiscates what ever goes over the fence.

But for all the idyllic summer antics, an ugly violence lurks behind one of the closed doors in Rose Avenue. It will have consequences that shatter the boisterous boyhood and send them into an early adulthood.

I won a copy of Me And Rory Macbeath from the publisher and I was quite keen to read it, not just because my youngest is also named Rory and I do like seeing my boys’ names in print! I have a new found interest in reading Australian books by Australian male authors and the more I push myself to find and read them, the more amazing books and authors I discover and this one is no exception. Set in Adelaide, Australia in the late 70s, Jake is our 12yo narrator and already he’s rather older than his years. He’s raised by his chain smoking laywer mother Harry and spends a lot of time in the company of adults, in courtrooms watching Harry do her thing (she’s a criminal defender) and he balances this with long days playing at being an AFL or cricket star with his best mate Robbie. The arrival of Rory to the street throws Jake at first – he’s not sure about Rory. He seems to have no skills, nothing to contribute to the friendship. But just because Rory isn’t familiar with cricket or footy and can’t swim doesn’t mean he’s useless at all. Rory definitely has hidden talents.

The characters are such a high point in this novel – Jake, Robbie and Rory are ordinary boys, making the best of their time before school starts. They have a relatively good amount of freedom, often spending whole days at the local pool. Robbie and Jake have quite different backgrounds, Robbie being a part of the more common two-parent family. In such a time, a full-time working single mother by choice would’ve been rather unusual and Jake does face the odd taunt about not knowing who his dad is. Although an unconventional parent, Harry is a great character – she teaches Jake (and the reader too, actually) so much and her view of the world is an interesting one, which I think is necessary given her job is to get known criminals acquitted. Harry’s job is to find out when the police aren’t doing theirs and she seems to feel no shame about it.

I think another great character in this novel and one that is perhaps overlooked at first, probably almost right until the end of this book, is that of Mrs Macbeath. She takes a while to come into her own, but when she does it’s beautiful. Her narrative is disturbing and also utterly compelling all at the same time. She could be described as weak but there’s a strength in what she endures and a huge strength in her self-sacrifice. She might be equal parts protective and guilty, after all she fostered an environment that led to an incident but Harry takes the time to paint that she really did have little in the way of options. She’s a quiet character, the sort that sneaks into your mind rather than rams into it like Harry. Mrs Macbeath is the character I thought the most about after finishing this book, what her life must’ve been like, the lengths she must’ve gone to in order to try and affect a change, the belief she must’ve had at one time that she could change it…and the hopeless realisation that she couldn’t.

The character of Rory is another standout – he’s raised on a diet of violence and fear, he’s a contradiction. More than once, Rory’s temper rears its head. The first time Jake is grateful, it gets him out of a situation. The second time, Jake is more puzzled than anything, he sees it as unnecessary and probably poor sport. What Rory does is a great indication of what he has been seeing for all of his life – for him it seems like it might’ve been a reflex action because there was nothing telling him that he shouldn’t have done it, like Jake and Robbie would have. But ultimately it is Rory who has the courage (or perhaps the desperation) to change their situation.

Me And Rory Macbeath was a fabulous novel, I was drawn straight in to the world of Jake, Robbie and Rory and the way in which the story unfolded was very well done. It was interesting seeing this sort of story through the eyes of a child – Jake doesn’t notice the signs as early as an adult perhaps might, but the impact was no less. I know the author has written books prior to this including Hell Has Harbour Views which was made into an ABC series some years ago so I’m going to have to make an effort to find that one for my TBR pile.

9/10

Book #131 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

Me And Rory Macbeath counts towards my participation in the Aussie Authors Challenge for 2013 where I’m challenging myself to read more books by Australian male authors. This is my fifth novel read and reviewed for the challenge.

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Roll With It – Nick Place

Roll With ItRoll With It
Nick Place
Hardie Grant Books
2013, 347p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It’s a bad time for Tony Laver of the Major Crime Squad, to discharge his weapon, fatally wounding an armed burglary suspect. He becomes the sixth policeman to shoot someone dead in just over a year and due to some red tape and politics, he gets immediately reassigned – to the Mobile Public Interaction Squad. Tony doesn’t even know what that means but apparently he’s going to be spending the time until his inquiry riding around the streets of Melbourne on a pushbike.

So Tony fronts for his new position and finds himself paired up with young guns who take their position very seriously. Although irritated, Tony can begin to appreciate the positives in his new role – his first few days are lovely and sunny and there’s plenty of time to check out different coffee shops. His butt is sorer than he ever thought possible but he’s noticing a difference fitness wise too. And some of the fellow bikers are rather pleasant and he is given a chance to not only show them some proactive policing but also tell them stories about what it’s like to really square up to danger, not just directing traffic on Swanston Street and showing lost Chinese tourists the way to the Eureka Tower.

But there’s a downside too and that’s professional Siberia. His colleagues in Major Crime have been told not to talk to him and Tony can’t so much as run a search or even get a phone call returned. And when he spots two characters that set off his “radar” he knows that he needs to do something, find out more information. But he can’t get anyone to listen to him, people humouring him, thinking that he’s seeing major criminals wherever he goes to combat the boredom of being on the bike each day.

But that isn’t it – Tony is a good cop. He’s only once fired his weapon and only after someone fired at him first. He knows a suspicious character when he sees one. And if no one will listen to him then he might just have to go about this on his own. The fate of a hippy Friend of the Earth and a mild-mannered nerdy supermarket assistant manager depend on it.

This year I’ve made a more conscious effort to read some books by Australian male authors and I’m so glad that it’s something I’ve decided to do because it’s meant that gems like this one have not passed me by. From the first page this is both a fabulously written book and a fun story that combines humour with crime in the most clever ways. 

Tony “Rocket” Laver is a pretty big deal – a cop in the Major Crime Squad, he’s been along on many a bust. The idea of such a career cop being sent to the mountain bike division of the Victoria Police is rife with so many opportunities for laughs and Place doesn’t fail to capitalise on any of them. Tony is paired up with a couple of Neo-Nazi mountain bike cops at first and can’t help but stare open mouthed at their utter devotion to the seriousness they think their job is:

‘C’mon, let’s decamp in a southerly direction and apprehend a coffee.’
‘I don’t drink on the job Laver.’
‘Well okay, you can be on the lookout for potential serial killer motorists while I do.’
‘I am not going into that cafe, Senior Constable.’
‘Fine. See you back at the station this arvo.’
‘We’re not supposed to separate,’ Standish huffed. ‘There must be two officers travelling together at all times.’
‘Excellent. Good to follow the rules, meaning you do have to wait while I get a coffee. Is it against regulations to sit at separate tables?’
Standish muttered under his breath, but Laver was already pedaling towards the cafe.

As well as Laver, we also get the thoughts of Jake, a shy and nerdy supermarket assistant manager who just wants to impress the beautiful girl he sees swimming at the pool each morning and decides that the best way to go about that would be to be interested in what she’s interested in – the environment. And Stig and Wildie are two men that have pulled off quite a heist up north and are now looking to fence the goods in Melbourne so that they can escape somewhere but unfortunately they run into Tony Laver. Laver’s gut instinct immediately tells him that Stig and Wildie are up to no good and he wants to find out exactly what that is.

This novel is a great homage to Melbourne – the busy streets and laneways that connect them, the ever-changing weather, the coffee shops and the mix of people that make up the city. I always love reading books set in Melbourne – even though I’ve lived near Melbourne for almost seven years, I don’t have the need to spend a lot of time in the city. I feel like I got to know it a bit more reading this book and people who are familiar with the CBD intricately will probably enjoy it even more than I did.

I do have to say though – if Tony’s Siberia is an accurate portrayal of what happens to cops in his position as they await their inquiry to determine if the shoot was a good one, that’s a little disturbing. He’s given no support whatsoever and merely reassigned to a division where they probably assume he can get into the least amount of trouble – the irony is that it’s in this very division that Tony uncovers something huge! But I did feel for him a little, well a lot actually. He killed someone and no one even really bothered to ask him how he was. Even for a cop, there are many out there who never have to do what he did, it’s not a light moment and I definitely felt sorry for him. He has very little in the way of emotional backing and his crutch seemed to be drinking.

The end seems left open for another Tony Laver novel and I’d definitely love to revisit him. This is a fabulous debut novel, well-paced and constructed with a core story serious enough to keep your attention throughout and a generous sprinkling of humerous moments to lighten the mood and keep you smiling. It deserves to be big.

9/10

Book #97 of 2013

Aussie Author ChallengeI’m counting Roll With It towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge. It’s the 3rd book I’ve reviewed for the challenge and Nick Place is also an author that is new to me.

LitExp ChallengeI’m also including this one in my participation of the Literary Exploration Challenge, for the humour category. I definitely this book has strong enough humorous elements to qualify.

 

 

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