I was delighted when DC Comics revealed their new Young Adult and Middle Grade imprints: DC Ink & DC Zoom. Without 1995’s Adventures of Superman #526 (pictured) I probably wouldn’t be a reader, because this comic turned me into an even more rabid Superman man, but more importantly, sealed my love of comic books, and began a school holiday tradition with my father of schlepping to the comic shop. From my love of comic books grew and overwhelming love of storytelling in all of its forms; I became addicted to stories. And that has remained true to this day; it’s why I work in a bookshop. So since DC’s announcement, I’ve been eager to see how their iconic superheroes are being introduced to an entirely new generation of young readers. I am not entirely convinced.
Super Sons, Vol. 1: The Polarshield Project by Ridley Pearson and illustrated by Ile Gonzalez reimagines the sons of Superman and Batman — Jon Kent and Damian Wayne — but probably doesn’t go far enough in terms of rejuvenating these characters for kids without an established interest in the DC Universe. Maybe Pearson didn’t have carte blanche to go nuts, but the minor tweaks made to Damian — sorry, ‘Ian’ —and Jon’s origin are very tame; I want to live in a world where the natural predilection for kids plucking Batman and Superman comics off the shelf isn’t that these heroes are white guys with capes. The introduction of Candace — a princess with a mysterious background sure to be fleshed out in future volumes — is very cool, though she feels underused here. The plot itself offers interesting commentary on global warming — in this world the polar ice caps have melted, and the cities along the coasts are flooding and uninhabitable, despite the Wayne Corporation’s manmade flood walls — but its all very fleeting. That’s my biggest gripe with this first volume; it jumps between perspectives and scenes with reckless abandon, never allowing the reader a chance to settle and understand its characters, or to fully develop its themes. Its protagonists are rarely more than stereotypes. I realise kids have short attention spans, but the way to engross them isn’t to flick rapidly between action set pieces; let them develop an affinity with the characters; make them want to spend more time with them. One thing is for sure: they’ll happily study Ile Gonzalez’s crisp, clean artwork.
Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige and Stephen Byrne reinvents Mera, the heir to the throne of Xebel, an ocean realm ruled by the Atlanteans, for a YA audience. When we meet Mera she is fiery and feisty; the kind of young woman who can kick ass and takes names, and isn’t afraid to do so, political consequences be damned. When she sets off on a mission to kill Arthur Curry on the surface world — Arthur being the Atlantean Royal Heir, unbeknownst to him — you can’t help but cheer; this princess isn’t going to simply oblige the whims of the powerful men that surround her. But everything crumbles — her plan, and the book — when she falls (almost immediately) in love with Arthur, which totally dilutes her sovereignty; not because she’s not allowed to be in love, but just the abruptness of it, totally undercuts the strength of her character. Of course, we know Arthur Curry — one day, ‘Aquaman’ — and Mera are destined to be together; but I’ve never a more potent example of ‘instalove,’ and it was a crushing blow to my enjoyment. Why not hint at their romance? Establish some romantic tension? Mera and Arthur go from zero to a billion faster than a speeding bullet. And the book could’ve reached the same conclusion without it; with mutual respect, rather than making out. Still, Byrne’s artwork, and his diluted colour palette, makes this book incredibly appealing to the eye.
“Just because you can’t stand to think about something doesn’t mean it ain’t happening, that it ain’t true. People wait on other people. People rely on other people.”
Two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo introduced readers to Raymie Nightingale, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski in Raymie Nightingale, set in 1975, when the girls were just ten-years-old and competing to win the title of ‘Miss Central Florida Tire 1975.’ The ‘Three Rancheros,’ as Louisiana dubbed them, formed an inseparable bond; one of those pure friendships that you just know will stand the test of time and whatever life throws at it. This was evidenced in Louisiana’s Way Home, when twelve-year-old Louisiana was whisked away from her friends by her grandmother, and inadvertently cast on a journey of self-discovery; but through it all, her friends never strayed far from her mind.
Now we have Beverly, Right Here; the final book in ‘Three Rancheros’ trilogy (I am holding back tears as I write those words), set in August 1979, when fourteen-year-old Beverly Tapinski decides it’s finally time to leave home — not just ‘run away’, because she has done that plenty of times before; but actually abandon the life she knows, permanently — and takes to the road, landing a job at Mr. C’s fish restaurant, and finding a new home at the Seaside Court with Iola Jenkins, and new friends in Elmer from the local convenience store, Zoom City.
This is a story about belonging; about finding a community that opens its doors to you, and having the courage to accept its warmth and reciprocate. Beverly is not as immediately endearing as Raymie and Louisana; but then, she is older, more weary of the world, having relinquished the rose-coloured glasses of childhood. The joy of Beverly, Right Here is witnessing its protagonist’s emotional barriers gradually chip away through the kindness of strangers, who become friends, then family.
Release Date: September 24, 2019
Dimensions: 140 x 197mm, 256pp
Stock Status: Confirmed
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99
From Søren Sveistrup — the writer behind the brilliant Scandinavian crime series The Killing — comes The Chestnut Man, his first novel, which probably should’ve skipped straight to its inevitable television adaptation.
Young detective Naia Thulin and burned-out ex Europol investigator Mark Hess are partnered to handle the investigation of a series of murders distinguished by the presence of ‘chestnut men’ — small dolls made of chestnuts — at each crime scene. They quickly suspect that the murdered women are linked to the missing daughter of the Minister for Social Affairs, and that they’re working against the clock to catch the killer before he strikes again.
Sounds like the perfect setup for a dark, creepy, Scandi-noir thriller; and some readers will likely think so. But The Chestnut Man suffers from a serious case of bloat — the book doesn’t need all of its 500 pages — and coruscates with far too much bloody violence for my tastes. Seriously, if I never read about an amputation again, it’ll be too soon. But even putting this aside, Sveistrup bounces between far too many characters who don’t deserve the spotlight. With a tighter focus on the two investigators, who share such little chemistry despite the author’s assurance they’ve formed an inseparable bond, The Chestnut Man would’ve been a taut, pacey affair. Instead, its constant jumps to different personnel — which works on the screen far better than in prose — frustrated me; I could feel the author attempting to orchestrate my enjoyment, and it’s never a good thing when you can detect the presence of the writer.
So, this was a disappointment. The Chestnut Man felt very much a 10 episode television season sculptured into a serviceable prose thriller. It’s got enough thrust to keep the pages turning, but its characters are mere sketches; waiting for skilled actors to give them life on the screen.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 26-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
There are breakneck thrillers — and then there’s The Chain.
Adrian McKinty steps on the gas early in this pulse-pounding, nerve-shredding, high-octane tale — and he doesn’t let up. On a Thursday morning, 7:55am, a teenage girl, Kylie, is sitting at the bus stop checking the likes on her Instagram feed, when a man wearing a black ski mask approaches her, gun pointed at her chest. His instructions are simple: keep calm, wear a blindfold, and behave. Her fate, he explains, depends on what her mother does in the next twenty-four hours.
Kylie’s mother is Rachel, who — when we smash-cut to her in the second chapter — is driving towards her appointment with the oncologist. Just a routine check-up to confirm her breast cancer is still in remission. But she’ll never get there. One phone call is all it takes to derail Rachel’s life. It comes from someone utilising a speech modulation machine. It tells her she’s not the first and she won’t be the last; that it’s not about money, it’s about ‘The Chain;’ and that the call that will follow is the most important of her life. Which it is. Because the next time her phone rings — an ominous Unknown Caller — it’s from a panic-stricken woman with one chilling revelation: she has Kylie. And if she’s to survive, Rachel must accomplish two tasks. The first is relatively straightforward: a ransom. Which is to be expected in the case of a kidnapping. Rachel’s second objective is more puzzling. She must kidnap someone else to replace Kylie in the chain. And with that, the caller hangs up. And McKinty’s mile-a-minute thriller truly begins.
The Chain is turbocharged entertainment; a cinematic blockbuster, full of intriguing characters and violent action. I am a huge admirer of McKinty’s Sean Duffy series —each one are sophisticated, stylish and engrossing crime thrillers, which rip along at a cracking pace, and pack more twists and turns than a street map of Belfast — but this something else. This is McKinty cut loose; unchained, if you’ll pardon the pun. You won’t read a faster-paced, white-knuckle, lip-chewing thriller this year. Maybe ever. It’s fast, furious and unforgettable.
Number Of Pages: 368
Available: 9th July 2019
A crisp, unpretentious action thriller packed with extravagant shootouts, in which the bad guys are the very worst, but the good guys are always that little bit better. In the world of action lit, Mark Greaney’s ‘Gray Man’ is up there Mitch Rapp, Jason Bourne and Orphan X.
Mission Critical, the eighth book in the series, sees Court Gentry — aka “Violator,” aka “the Gray Man” — involved in a CIA-sanctioned mission to stop a diabolical plot conceived by a pesky Russian sleeper agent, and a North Korean scientist, involving weaponised pneumonic plague and a meeting of the West’s key intelligence personnel. Aided by Zoya Zakharova and Zack Hightower, Gentry finds opposition in the form of not only weapon-wielding henchmen, but CIA and British Intelligence moles, too.
No points for subtlety, but Greaney knows precisely what his audience wants, and is more than happy to deliver. He is a writer of cinematic talent, whose pedal-to-metal style of storytelling will leave you breathless. It is the literary equivalent of sitting down to watch the latest Mission Impossible blockbuster.
Format: Paperback / softback (234mm x 152mm x 42mm)
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 19-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
“I had absolutely no interest in being someone else’s muse.
I am not a muse.
I am the somebody.
End of fucking story.”
This book — bloody hell.
There are very few books that so completely and utterly annihilate my poor excuse for a social life and devour every available moment of my day. There are books I like, and books I love. And Daisy Jones & the Six is a book I love. Like, truly adore. This is a book I could not get enough of. I am genuinely a little heartbroken it’s no longer in my life; that it exists purely in memory.
But, damn, we had some good times.
“You have these lines you won’t cross. But then you cross them… You’ve taken a big, black, bold line and you’ve made it a little bit gray. And now every time you cross it again, it gets grayer and grayer until one day you look around and you think, There was a line here once, I think.“
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book is about Daisy Jones and The Six, the iconic (but sadly fictional) 1970s rock band that topped the charts and sold out stadiums, then suddenly disbanded after their greatest performance. Readers nostalgic for the 1970s, when rock n roll was at its zenith, will really dig this. The thing is: I am not one of those readers. Sure, I like the Stones; there’re a bunch of Beatles tunes on my Spotify playlist. But my music tastes run a little more mainstream. And softer. I’m a Robbie Williams kind of guy; Bruno Mars; Take That; Dido; Coldplay.
But something about this story — more precisely the way it’s told, in an oral history format (the narrative is composed exclusively of transcribed interviews) — sunk its hooks into me. And at the moment, I feel like those hooks will be implanted forever. Not for the rock n roll, but because at its heart, this is a nuanced love story (and not a purely romantic one), and a goddamn good one, starring a trailblazing talent in Daisy Jones, who is unapologetic in her sexuality, and lives life on her own terms; whose addition to The Six catapults them to fame; but at a cost, and to the chagrin of the band’s leader, Billy Dunne; who spends the book battling his own demons as he struggles to find equilibrium between rockstar and family man.
Can we get an encore? Please?
“Some of us are chasing after our nightmares the way other people chase dreams.”
Format: Paperback / softback
Publish Date: 5-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
When eleven-year-old Tippy Chan learns of her teacher’s murder, she forms ‘The Nancys’ — an amateur detective club inspired by Nancy Drew — with her visiting Uncle Pike and his new boyfriend, Devon. Together, the trio converge on Riverstone — a small town in New Zealand with a kaleidoscopic population of less than 4000 — and nose their way into trouble.
This is an ebullient, delightful novel, difficult to describe in a way that conveys its greatness without making it sound schmaltzy. On the one hand, it’s warm and funny; its laughs procured from Pike and Devon’s mordant humour; its affability derived from the Nancys’ burgeoning affinity, and their generous hearts. But The Nancys is also a stellar mystery, layered with red-herrings and suspense, the killer’s identity ably concealed until the final pages in a powerful denouement that has heartbreaking repercussions for Tippy.
The Nancys avoids the trap of condescension that ensnares too many well-meaning books written for adults starring preadolescents. Rob McDonald understands the innocence and purity of this phase in life — when the real world constantly threatens to invade, like a looming shadow, on the colourful pop of childhood — and he wonderfully captures the excitement, hilarity and occasional disillusionment of Tippy’s growing discernibility as she her fellow Nancys intervene in the townspeople’s affairs.
Written with verve, humour and heart, this is a stunning debut, one of those very special books that enthrals from its opening, and leaves you with pangs of regret, desperate to spend more time with its characters. This is hopefully not the last time we’ll meet this investigative trio: maybe a trip to Sydney is on the cards for Tippy?
Number Of Pages: 400
Available: 3rd June 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU