Review: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones.jpg“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
Pages: 368
Imprint: Hutchinson
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 5-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

9780143793533.jpgA deliciously engaging exploration of love, parenthood and belonging, The Place on Dalhousie charts familiar fictional territory, but Melina Marchetta’s inimitable artistry elevates the novel far beyond the sum of its parts into one of my favourite books of the year.

It opens in 2009, when Rosie meets Jim — “SES Jesus”, as Rosie thinks of him, because of his orange overalls and facial hair — in a town that’s about to be flooded by the Dawson River in Queensland. She’s been in town for five weeks now, caring for a cantankerous old lady named Joy Fricker, and recovering from the abrupt departure of her boyfriend, Luke. She’s not looking for a relationship, but partakes in what she assumes is casual sex, ignoring her burgeoning attraction to this stranger, not just to his body but his personality, his genuineness.

Two years later, Rosie has returned to her family home on Dalhousie in Sydney, that her father, Seb, was in the process of rebuilding, but never completed. In his place is Martha, who married Seb less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother, and who Rosie can’t help but loathe. It is a house they both lay claim to; a place neither can let go of. But beyond their mutual enmity, both women have other issues plaguing their lives; Rosie is coping with the living, breathing consequence of her liaison with Jimmy (who is about to re-enter her life); and Martha is battling to come to terms with the total upheaval the death of Seb had upon her existence.

This is a book with so much heart, and traverses such a rich emotional landscape, with a deftness rarely displayed. Hard to put down, impossible to forget, The House on Dalhousie is one of those precious books you don’t want to end. I would’ve happily spent another 300 pages with Rosie, Jimmy, Martha, Ewan and co.

Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Viking Australia
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 2-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

 

 

Review: The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar

9780708899335“When you put American clothes on a brown-skinned doll, what do people see? The clothes? Or the whole doll? Or only the skin?”

Poet Devi S. Laskar’s debut novel tells the story of Mother, an Indian-American woman in her 40s with three daughters and ‘a husband who knows which kiosk sells the best croissants at Charles de Gaulle Airport better than he knows where the cough medicine is stored at home.’ It opens with Mother sprawled on her driveway, bleeding out, gunned down in an unexplained robbery, and from this moment, spools backwards to retell her life in snatches of short, sharp and lyrical revelatory memories, connected by moments of extreme persecution and racism, and the complete perversion of power by the authorities.

The fragmented narrative makes The Atlas of Reds and Blues a propulsive read, pockmarked by powerful sentences and paragraphs that powerfully convey the fear and frustration felt by Mother. It’s evocative and arresting, and an important novel that says a lot in such a finite number of pages. It’s the kind of book you read quickly, then ruminate on for days.

ISBN: 9780708899335
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 272
Imprint: Fleet
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 5-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz

9780718185480The badass amalgamation of Bond, Bourne, Reacher and Batman is back in a fourth instalment in the Orphan X saga — and this time it’s personal!

Evan Smoak is Orphan X, aka ‘The Nowhere Man;’ a one-time government assassin (as part of the covert ‘Orphan’ program) turned into a pro bono harbinger of justice, whose Bat Signal is a cell phone number. Over the course of this scenery-smashing series, a mysterious foe has been targeting Orphans for assassination. When we last caught up with Evan (2018’s Hellbent) he identified the orchestrator of the killings: none other than the President of the United States, the morally bankrupt Jonathan Bennett. Now, in Out of the Dark, it’s Evan out for blood; in Washington DC to exact revenge on the most powerful and well-protected man on the planet. Piece of cake, right?

Naturally, Evan is side-tracked by a ‘Nowhere Man’ case, but this time it feels like more of a subplot than imperative to the narrative; like Hurwitz was conscious he needed to give readers a break from Evan’s hunt for the President, just to remind readers he’s not exclusively a rogue government assassin, and that he abides by a moral code. When Trevon Gaines discovers his immediate family have been slaughtered by drug-smuggling he inadvertently crossed, he calls Evan’s encrypted line, and thus Orphan X finds himself aiding an intellectually challenged, but incredibly sweet and well-intentioned young man, which leads to a brilliant climactic battle that had me genuinely dumbfounded as to how Hurwitz would write Evan out of a particularly harrowing quandary.

Gregg Hurwitz has crammed an insane amount of action into his Orphan X quartet, but he doesn’t relish in the bloodbaths his characters unleash with stunning regularity. Bodies are bruised and bloodied amidst the chaos, and there’s always a moment of reflection when — win, lose or draw — its perpetrators realise their lives will never be anything but violent; it’s cyclical and senseless, and by mastering its craft they’ve fallen into an inescapable chasm that renders any chance of a normal life impossible. Even when Evan wins, he loses.

Fast, furious, frenetic; Out of the Dark  ends Evan Smoke’s inaugural story-arc, tying off several loose threads from previous novels. Wherever the character goes from here, I’ll be there with him. Nobody writes a better high-stakes action thriller than Hurwitz.

ISBN: 9780718185497
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 448
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 5-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton

Cold Day in ParadisePublished in 1997, Steve Hamilton’s A Cold Day in Paradise — the first book in the Alex McKnight series — has its share of boilerplate elements, but by deftly integrating its protagonist’s past and present in his search for a murderer, unreeling the mystery with an escalating sense of tension which culminates satisfactorily rather than surprisingly; more golf-clap ‘well-played’ than voracious applause — it’s clear why McKnight has starred in ten subsequent novels, and why Hamilton has developed a reputation as one of the genre’s most reliable storytellers.

Fourteen years ago, Maximilian Rose put three bullets in ex-Detroit cop McKnight’s chest, and murdered his partner in cold blood. Forced into retirement, one bullet still lodged next to his heart, McKnight’s only just registered himself as a private investigator when corpses begin appearing in the small town of Paradise, Michigan, and he starts receiving late night phone calls, letters, and mementos — seemingly Rose. But how’s that possible, when  authorities at Jackson State Prison report  he hasn’t left the facility or had any visitors for years?

Even though its final revelations didn’t shock me,  I appreciated the craft of Hamilton’s debut, and his economy and masterly command of pace. I’ll be tracking down the other McKnight books as soon as I possibly can.

ISBN: 9781250012685
Format: Paperback
Imprint: Minotaur Books
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publish Date: 22-May-2012

Review: Call Me Evie by J.P. Pomare

call me evieIn J.P. Pomare’s cleverly claustrophobic, impossible-to-put-down debut Call Me Evie, a 17-year-old girl stranded in rural New Zealand with a man named “Jim” wrestles with her hazy memory to recall the truth about a violent incident that occurred in Melbourne.

Jim assures Kate — who he calls “Evie” — he has brought her to the small, isolated beach town of Maketu to protect her from police interrogation and the public’s vitriol awaiting her back home, and to aid the restoration of her memory by  asking probing questions about the incident that eviscerated the normality of her life. But there’s nothing magnanimous about Jim’s intentions, or his methods: Kate isn’t allowed to go online; her phone has confiscated; she’s locked in her room at night; and on the few occasions she ventures beyond the perimeter of the property, it’s clear Jim has corrupted the local population into viewing her as mentally unbalanced, a danger to herself and potentially others. All Kate wants to do is go home to align the fragments of her fractured recollections into a cohesive whole — but as her attempts to escape become more desperate, Jim becomes increasingly unhinged and unpredictable. There is little doubt from the start that their relationship is doomed; Pomare keeps readers guessing on just how everything will implode.

Call Me Evie is a slow-burner of a psychological thriller, thick with a constant undercurrent of menace, where nothing should be taken at face value, which ignites into a nail-biting finale. It’s got all the elements the genre demands — an unreliable narrator, a plot that cuts between past and present — and it twists and turns, then twists again. A page-turner for sure, but one that lingers.

ISBN: 9780733640230
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 27-Dec-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Overstory by Richard Powers

9781785151644 (1)A few years back, Annie Proulx published Barkskins, a vast multi-generational and ecological saga that was enormous in size and scope. I adored the books for its lofty ambition — to chronicle the world’s deforestation from the perspective of two distinct bloodlines — and figured I was done with environmental novels for a while. Then came The Overstory by  Powers — shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize, and loved by several of my colleagues — and lo and behold, here I am, another enormous novel about trees behind me.

The Overstory is about our relationship with nature, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. It has a cast of operatic proportions; nine characters share the spotlight as Powers’ unravels a full half century of their involvement with activism and resistance. Despite its scale, The Overstory never feels bloated it drags a little, maybe, for a hundred pages in its middle, but it’s always engaging thanks in no small part to Powers’ luminous prose — but there were times when I questioned its architecture. The Overstory is structured unlike any novel I’ve read in recent memory; its first section — “Roots” — reads like a collection of short stories, as nine characters are introduced, whose only association is their relationship with trees. “Roots” is a truly magnificent example of Powers’ unparalleled craftsmanship; and it’s here the book truly thrums. It then breaks from that style, and slows down, becomes less revelatory and more perfunctory; “Trunk,” “Crown,” and “Seed” sees these nine characters being inextricably drawn together, their lives entangled. The writing is still exemplary, but the narrative energy of “Roots” is lost.

The Overstory is impressive; masterful, even, as Powers weaves an impossible number of threads together. Its scope is fantastic, but its execution, in my view, is uneven. But if I could reread”Roots” again, for the first time, I would it’s exceptional storytelling.

ISBN: 9781785151644
ISBN-10: 1785151649
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 512
Imprint: William Heinemann Ltd
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 5-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom