Review: Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

9781910701881The author of Sapiens — also a must-read — returns with another enthralling work of potent brain fuel. Seriously, whatever Yuval Noah Harari writes, I will read. And I’m not a guy who reads a ton of non-fiction.

This time, Harari explains humanity’s rise and ponders our future. He poses that humanism is the dominant ideology of the modern age, but warns it carries the seeds of its own destruction.  Homo Deus is less of a prophecy and more of a conversation: what sort of future do we want? Human nature will be transformed in the 21st century — into what? 

Whether or not you agree with Harari’s assertions and proclamations, his latest work is highly captivating.  Will his outlandish visions come to pass? Well, who knows? But the very idea of it’s possibility — that it might happen — is chilling.

ISBN: 9781910701881
ISBN-10: 1910701882
Format: Paperback (235mm x 155mm x 34mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 8-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

9780545540629Raina Telgemeier continues her exploration of tween and teenage social and family life in her heartfelt graphic novel Ghosts, which adds a twist of the supernatural to proceedings.

Catrina and her mixed family (Latino/white) have moved from Southern California to Bahía de la Luna on the Northern California coast in the hopes that the cooler climate will help with her younger sister Maya’s cystic fibrosis. Cat isn’t happy with the relocation – is moody throughout the opening pages – while Maya’s elation is both heartening and heartbreaking; her obvious joy for life, and desire to explore and go on adventures, is contradicted by her degenerative condition.

When the girls meet their neighbour, Carlos, who is Bahía de la Luna’s resident “ghost tour” guide, he explains that the town is filled with spirits, who feed off cool winds. With the Day of the Dead approaching, spiritual activity is at an all-time high; and while the prospect of seeing ghosts excites young Maya, it terrifies Cat, who must combat her fear of the unknown to protect her sister.

Ghost’s best, and most poignant moments, feature Maya being treated for her cystic fibrosis. The scene where Maya gleefully asks if she can shake her can of nutritional supplement is especially heartbreaking; so too her forced seclusion from Halloween festivities. Raina Telgemeier deftly balances the book’s various themes, from the exploration of Mexican-American family life, Maya’s illness, the ancient “Day of the Dead” tradition, and Catrina’s desperate struggle to form new friendships in a new town. Her illustrative style is a pure joy to behold; cartoony, yet incredibly expressive. From a visual standpoint, this is undoubtedly the best work we’ve seen. Impossibly, Telgemeier improves with each successive work.

Background material includes some process material, which the wannabe-creator in me finds incredibly fascinating, but of particular interest, especially to younger readers, is her synopsis on the graphic novel’s key themes.

While I don’t think Ghosts had the same impact on me as, say, Drama – I’m far more of a sucker for High School drama tales involving the complex inner-workings of teenage relationships – there’s no question, Telgemeier’s latest is a work of the highest quality. She has reached that highest echelon of creator: her work demands immediate reading upon publication.

ISBN: 9780545540629
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 256
Imprint: Graphix
Publisher: Graphix
Publish Date: 13-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: James Patterson Bookshots – Cross Kill by James Patterson

9781786530011 (1)This bite-sized Alex Cross thriller sees the return of his long-thought-dead nemesis first introduced in Along Came a Spider, Gary Soneji.

Stories at the speed of life. All killer, no filler. The ultimate form of storytelling. These are just some of the taglines associated with James Patterson’s line of Bookshots titles. And while the latter instigates an irrepressible eyelid twitch, I’ll admit, there’s something to be said for the sheer pace of Cross Kill. As a lapsed Patterson reader, and a one-time big fan of his Alex Cross series, Cross Kill served as a nice reminder of what I enjoyed about his particular brand of storytelling all those years ago. It annihilated two hours of my evening like the snap of a finger, and so, I suppose I got what I paid for, and what was promised on the blurb.

It helps that Cross Kill flashes back to Patterson’s early Cross novels, when I was devouring them one-by-one from my father’s bookcase. Gary Soneji was Cross’s first epic villain – but he was seemingly killed more than a dozen novels ago, or more than ten years ago according to Patterson’s continuity. His return is impossible, but Cross is adamant it was Soneji who took a shot at him – and put a bullet in his partner’s head.

Unfolding at a wicked pace, there’s little meat on the bones of Cross Kill, but its events should have huge repercussions for the Alex Cross series moving forward; assuming everything’s not just swept under the rug for the next full-length novel. If you’re already a valiant Patterson reader, you’ll no doubt dig this, and it’ll sate your cravings until later in the year. If you’re not a fan, this won’t do much to persuade you to switch sides: it’s chock-full of his stylistic trappings, just thoroughly condensed, with all the nuance of a semi-trailer careening through a brick wall. But when you’ve been absorbed in gargantuan literary novels, as I have recently, this served as effective relief. And I’ll admit, I’m interested in picking up the next Cross novel to see how Patterson confronts this story’s dramatic moments.

ISBN: 9781786530011
Format: Paperback (188mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 144
Imprint: BookShots
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 2-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: End of Watch by Stephen King

EOWThe opening pages of Mr Mercedes found retired detective Bill Hodges contemplating suicide, driven to this low point by the sadistic ‘Mercedes Killer,’ Brady Hartfield. It makes sense then that End of Watch – the final novel in the King’s trilogy – revives this theme, and augments it to the nth degree.

Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers flirted with the supernatural elements that have become King’s trademark – but End of Watch goes all in. Hartfield might be confined to a wheelchair, but through a variety of circumstances, he has developed psychic powers, which enable him to fulfil – or attempt to fulfil, at the very least – his destiny as the self-described ‘Suicide Prince.’ It’s up to Hodges, his Finders Keepers partner, Holly, and their pal Jerome, to stop Hartfield once and for all.

End of Watch is just as engrossing and relentless as its predecessors, though it lacks that sprinkle of magic that made Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers true standouts. Brady’s plot doesn’t lack imagination – his progression from invalid to body-hopper is fantastic, and the manner in which he plagues teenage minds and leads them to ending their own lives is truly haunting – but the overall set-up, leading to the climactic confrontation between Hodges and Hartfield feels undercooked, and plays out predictably. This whole series has keen King play homage to, as well as deconstruct and revitalise, the conventions of the hard-boiled crime novel – its grand finale deserved something a little more spectacular, if not in scope, then at least in execution.

That aside, King’s Mercedes trilogy has been a blast, a true reading highlight from the past few years. End of Watch brings satisfactory closure, and while I’m saddened we won’t read more about Hodges and his crew, as always I’m excited for where King takes us next.

ISBN: 9781473634015
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 7-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

9780141037592It’s been 77 years since Knopf published The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler’s first novel. We’re still feeling the repercussions today, and really, still awaiting his successor. Chandler is that rare literary breed: unsurpassed. And, possibly, unsurpassable.

When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two daughters, things get complicated – fast. And while Marlowe’s profession is known for its impediments, these are the kinds of complications a person in any walk of life wants to avoid: kidnapping, pornography, murder. It’s a case any other private eye would walk away from. But not Marlowe. And not because of any chivalrous streak that exists somewhere inside of him. No, quite simply, he has bills to pay, and this is the one job he’s good at. As he puts it: “I’m selling what I have to sell to make a living.”

I’ve got my issues with The Big Sleep, despite its ranking as one of my all-time favourites. For a short novel, it’s too convoluted, and in my opinion, many of its elements are contrived. But stylistically, it’s brilliant. Perfect noir, touched with linguistic flourishes contemporary authors constantly seek to emulate, but never manage. It’s the kind of novel that can be read a thousand times, and its enjoyment never fades. So, for another year or so, The Big Sleep is shelved. But it’s always close to hand.

ISBN: 9780141037592
Format: Paperback (181mm x 111mm x mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Sep-2008
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty mightn’t boast the edginess or outright boldness of Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, but don’t be fooled into thinking Liane Moriarty’s latest is anything short of compulsive. No other writer — I repeat, no other writer — is as capable of thrusting readers on such an emotional, exhilarating roller-coaster ride.

In Truly Madly Guilty, Moriarty explores the social and psychological repercussions of a barbecue in Sydney.  I know what you’re thinking: Uh oh! Sounds like a certain celebrated Christos Tsiolkas novel! And I suppose, as a story’s defining moment, the similarity is there to be pointed at, and possibly discussed at your future book club meeting. But Truly Madly Guilty is a very different beast, focused more on the unravelling of events leading to a catastrophic moment rather than the commentary on the middle-class provided by Tsiolkas (and just to make it clear here, The Slap is a fantastic book, and demands your attention if you haven’t read it — my storytelling sensibilities just happen to fall more in line with Moriarty’s).

The specifics of the barbecue’s catastrophic event emerge gradually. The hours leading up to that moment, the moment itself, and weeks afterwards are seamlessly intercut. Moriarty provides plenty of hints and red-herrings as to what might’ve occurred, but keeps the truth shrouded in mystery, building to the revelation, keeping readers on edge and mulling over the seriousness of what occurred. At various moments I wondered: did someone have an affair? A fistfight? A murder? I was desperate for answers, and Moriarty kept me hooked, on the edge of my seat — and when the truth was revealed, rather than deflate, rather than lose all that momentum the plot had garnered, the narrative’s focus shifts to dealing with the consequences, and poses a new question to readers: is there any coming back from this? Seriously, Truly Madly Guilty is packed with the twists and turns that put first-class thrillers to shame; and few wrap up as elegantly.

As always though, character remains king in Moriarty’s work, and the large cast presented here will live long in the memory thanks to their wildly discordant personalities and interwoven histories. There’s Erika and her husband Oliver, with their incredibly buttoned-up personalities; Clementine and Sam, and their two young daughters; and Tiffany and Vid, and their brainy daughter Dakota. Not to mention the old, irritable neighbour, Harry. Each possess characteristics readers will immediately recognise from people in their lives. Guilt manifests itself in each of them in very different ways, and all struggle to move mast the catastrophic events of the barbecue.

Unravelling at breakneck speed, Truly Madly Guilty certifies Liane Moriarty’s unparalleled ability to construct an emotionally-charged story filled with unforeseen twists. I can’t decide whether I enjoyed this more than Big Little Lies — but it doesn’t really matter. They’re both unequivocally 5-Star reads. 

ISBN: 9781743534915
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 26-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

The Novel We’ve All Been Waiting For

There are aren’t many authors I’ll drop whatever I’m reading to pick up their latest book. Michael Connelly, of course; Lee Child; Ian Rankin; Matthew Reilly; Stephen King; Duane Swierczynski; Greg Rucka; Dennis Lehane.

And Liane Moriarty.

So, as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to have this drop into my lap today.

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Ah, the perks of being a bookseller . . .

Suffice to say, I’ve got my day off tomorrow sorted.

Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

MidnightBased on real events taken from historical records, David Dyer’s The Midnight Watch is about the crew of the Californian, a British ship that stopped in an ice field near the Titanic during its fateful voyage. But this is no old-fashioned paean to heroism — because the Californian failed to help the flailing Titanic despite witnessing eight distress rockets fired high into the night sky. Dyer’s novel is about the relationship between Herbert Stone, the ship’s second officer, and his captain, Stanley Lord, whose inaction forbade any chance of rescue. It is told from the perspective of an American Journalist named John Steadman – the author’s own creation – who is determined to learn the truth behind the events of that night, fuelled by a devastating personal tragedy from years past.

The dramatis personae and the sheer magnitude of the disaster provides The Midnight Watch with all the stuff of a great novel. But despite its elegance, and Dyer’s indubitable ability to craft a gripping yarn, the novel rarely elevates above a rote historically-accurate re-tread of events. Of course, Dyer has coloured characters and personalities, and you would be hard pressed to read a more compelling interpretation of events aboard the Californian — but the novel deserves a stronger, more persuasive protagonist than Steadman. He plays an essential cog in Dyer’s machine, and is vital to the narrative hitting the right notes, but his journey reads very mechanically.

The Midnight Watch is clearly the work of an author passionate about his subject, who proves more than capable of streamlining the happenings of that day into an absorbing tale. At its heart, this is a novel about a man who evidently failed his mandate by ignoring the Titanic’s distress signals — yet never admitted his failings. It’s about his second in command, forever torn between loyalty to his captain and the moral obligation to do the right thing. And it’s about the horrendous truth of the Titanic’s final hours; how the rich were favoured over the poor when rafts were deployed. Those unfamiliar with what happened that day – beyond the ship’s sinking – will be enraptured by Dyer’s novel, and will inspire additional research. Those equipped with that knowledge already mightn’t be quite as enamoured, but even so, Dyer’s humanising of the drama makes The Midnight Watch a worthy expedition.

ISBN: 9781926428727
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Batman by Ed Brubaker, Vol. 1 by Ed Brubaker, Scott McDaniel & Karl Story

Batman-Brubaker-cover.jpgEd Brubaker’s BATMAN run in the early 2000’s, alongside Greg Rucka’s stint on DETECTIVE COMICS, rank as my favourite period in Batman comics history. Yes, in my mind, it even eclipses the brilliant work being done by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo right now — and that stuff is great. Some of my adoration is nostalgia, sure — I was fourteen when the issues first landed at my local newsagency — but make no mistake, Brubaker’s BATMAN comics are unmissable. Full of hardboiled narration, the perfect blend of super-heroics and dark, gritty crime, Batman by Ed Brubaker features all the ingredients the award-winning writer has plucked for his legendary Marvel Comics work and his brilliant creator-owned comics.

Batman by Ed Brubaker introduces the killer Zeiss who, with his specially-designed goggles, has the capability of memorising the Caped Crusader’s many fighting styles, thereby giving him the edge in combat.  His arrival in Gotham City ignites a chain of events that weigh heavily on Batman. First, Jeremy Samuels —Bruce Wayne’s chief of security before the death of his family drove him over the edge — is paroled from prison, but quickly finds himself back amongst the criminal element, a pawn in Zeiss’s game, which is itself tied to the Penguin; then Mallory Moxon and her father, Lew — once a Gotham mob boss – return to the city, and quickly find themselves the target of the master-assassin Deadshot.

The trouble with this collection is that – because of the nature of comics – there are a variety of plot holes and sudden divergences in its focus. The Zeiss plot takes a backseat when the company-wide crossover event Our Worlds at Waroccurred, and the collection doesn’t adequately explain when / why Jim Gordon retires from the GCPD (he was shot) or when Sasha (Bruce’s bodyguard) learns his secret identity. This isn’t Brubaker’s fault – at the time, BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS (in fact, the whole line of ‘Bat-Family’ titles) were linked, so the universe was cohesive; but read like this, in standalone form, more than a decade later these holes are gaping. Veteran comics readers will power through undaunted; new readers might be slightly perturbed.

Scott McDaniel’s dynamic artwork is just as memorable as Brubaker’s writing; I can’t think of one without the other. McDaniel is, simply, an eminent storyteller, and excels when gifted whole pages or large panels to demonstrate his style. The combat scenes are spectacularly choreographed, and he’s just as skilled at the quieter moments. Batman in the shadows, crouched above Gotham in the rain, has never looked so menacing.

When I reminisce on my ‘golden years’ of comic book reading, I think of Ed Brubaker’s BATMAN. This collection served as a wonderful trip down memory lane, but besides that, I was thrilled it has stood the test of time.

ISBN: 9781401260651
Format: Paperback
Pages: 144
Imprint: DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Publish Date: 9-Feb-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: That Empty Feeling by Peter Corris

Empty FeelingThat Empty Feeling is the forty-first Cliff Hardy novel, and demonstrates precisely why the Sydney-based PI and his creator, Peter Corris, have remained the pinnacle of Australian crime fiction for more than thirty years.

Hardy has reached an age when obituaries frequently present familiar names, and when he recognises Barry Bartlett’s, he reminisces to his daughter about the man, and the case, that involved him in the late eighties. Told in flashback, Corris is able to forget the contemporary age-addled Hardy and re-present the character in his prime: a drinker, brawler and womaniser; a man who won’t quit, regardless of the obstacles in his way.

A lifetime ago, Barry Bartlett fathered two children who were taken away from him when his relationship with their mother failed. In the present day, a man claiming to be his son has appeared, and Bartlett wants Hardy to verify the guy’s claims. Bartlett business dealings sees him in contact with various nefarious characters from Sydney’s underworld – and indeed, the nation as a whole – and there are plenty of people who might want to fool him; even the police. It’s immediately clear that Hardy’s latest case will require more than just a standard background check; before long he’s involved with a murder, a kidnapping, and an extravagant crime that demands the attention of the Federal Police. Once again, Hardy’s in over his head – but undaunted and in typical fashion, he barrels into trouble.

Corris’ stripped-down storytelling remains pitch-perfect, and his hardboiled prose with its distinct Australian flavour is unequalled. That Empty Feeling provides a tangled mystery, plenty of fisticuffs and thrills that demand the novel be read in a single sitting. Peter Corris is called the “godfather of Australian crime fiction” for a reason, and this is a darn fine place to start.

Warning: it’s the kind of series that induces binge-reading.

ISBN: 9781760112073
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 264
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2016
Country of Publication: Australia