Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

9780708899434“The boys could have been many things had they not been ruined by that place.”

Based on the true life atrocities of the state-run Dozier School for Boys, Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys tells the harrowing tale of Elwood Curtis, a law-abiding, hardworking, studious teenager, emboldened by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, who is sentenced to the Nickel Academy in the 1960s following a tragically innocent misadventure. What he experiences there — the sadistic punishments, the abuse wreaked by the faculty upon its students — belies belief, seems inhuman. But it happened. This is fiction based on fact.

From its brutal opening, depicting a secret grave site being discovered in the present day on the grounds of the juvenile reform school, The Nickel Boys is an unsparing, necessary portrait of America’s history of racism and violence and its eternal legacy. Horrifically, the Dozier School for Boys was only closed down in 2011; so this is not a book the sins of the past, it’s about realising the violations recounted within are the sins of the present.

It’s an extraordinary book, with an ending that lands like gut punch. You simply must read it.

ISBN: 9780708899434
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 224
Imprint: Fleet
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 16-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

9780241410912.jpgMary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes is a wrenching American generational saga about the heavy burdens of family and guilt, and the redemptive power of love.

Narrated from multiple perspectives, whisking readers from the early 1970s until today, it probes the depths of human trauma — physical and emotional — and our capacity for forgiveness, as it highlights the defining moments in people’s lives.

At times Keane’s third novel reminded me of my favourite experiences with Anne Tyler and Ann Patchett; deeply involving, emotionally rich, a book to settle into fully, even as it breaks your heart and opens it up. There’s nothing pretentious about it; just a good story, with characters you love, alongside strong themes, perfectly crafted. A must-read cocktail.

ISBN: 9780241410912
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 28-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

The 10 Must-Read Books of 2019 – So Far!

 

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As I deliberated over my favourite books of 2019 so far, I realised: Oh my God, I’ve read a lot of great books this year. And also: Oh my God, the back half of the year is packed— packed! — with amazing books, including the thriller of the decade (Adrian McKinty’s The Chain) and an Australian love letter to Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men (Ben Hobson’s Snake Island). Not to mention a new Sarah Bailey, Nina Kenwood’s stunning YA debut, Tristan Bancks’ Detention

But this list The 10 Must-Read Books of 2019 – So Far! — is about books available from your local independent bookshop today. Don’t worry about the future. There’s plenty to enjoy now.

Continue reading “The 10 Must-Read Books of 2019 – So Far!”

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