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: Room For a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

9781925773545Melanie Cheng’s short story collection Australia Day was an absorbing panorama of contemporary Australia, populated by a diverse cast, that highlighted the ramifications of such an eclectic potpourri of different races and faiths coexisting. The fourteen powerfully perceptive stories were written with love, humour, realism, and a distinct edginess — and left me wanting more. Room For a Stranger was worth the wait: Cheng’s trademark empathy and sharp insight are out in force here, in a novel that transmutes the texture of human relationships into smart, sensitive, engaging art.

Margaret “Meg” Hughes, an Australian woman in her seventies, lives a in her family home with Atticus, an African grey parrot, her only companion. Hers is a life of contented isolation; accustomed to the long silences, the sparseness of her daily routine, the pain in her arthritic knees. But following a break-in more melodramatic in her mind’s eye than it was in reality, perhaps, but still discombobulating she can’t bare the solitude and her vulnerability, so for her own protection, applies to share her home with a university student. Andy, from China is facing problems of his own; failing his university course that his parents are paying for while they struggle with health and financial issues. He feels burdened with guilt by his inability to match his father’s lofty expectations. You could not put two more dissimilar people together; seemingly destined to clash as a consequence of age, gender, race and culture. The lesson here is that there, at the core of humankind, there is more that unites us that diversifies us.

Cheng conjures genuine tenderness and empathy for her characters as she explores their histories, what individuates them, and the compassion that ultimately unites them. Her writing is simple, restrained and intelligent; its insights razor-sharp. Room For a Stranger is the kind of book that seduces you from its first page, and with its keen observations, makes you examine your own relationships anew.

ISBN: 9781925773545
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 224
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 7-May-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

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: The Secret Runners of New York by Matthew Reilly

ReillyA strangely sedate opening eighty pages — by Matthew Reilly standards, anyway, as he explores the cutthroat world of New York’s richest teenage socialites — soon disintegrates into the pedal to the metal chaos fans expect; only this time, there’s time travel, and the end of the world as its backdrop.

Skye Rogers is our hero: 16-years-old, recently moved to New York City to attend an elite school for the astronomically wealthy. Reilly spends a lot of time detailing her world and her struggle to find a place in it; looming debutante balls; burgeoning romantic relationships; high school cliques, fractured friendships. It doesn’t matter how rich you are; all kids go through the same shit. But add a layer of insane affluence, it’s all a bit more savage. Especially when you take into account the number of students who’ve gone “missing” recently.

Against this “new school” drama is the fact the world is predicted to end in less than a year. Yep, the apocalypse is coming; not that you’d notice. The majority of people assume it’s a false prophecy. So the world keeps on keeping on, everyone focused on themselves. Skye, too; until she’s welcomed into an exclusive club, self-designated the “Secret Runners of New York.” These kids have access to an underground portal that can transport them into the future which suggests the looming doomsday is more than prophecy. It’s an unalterable fact. Or is it?

From the beginning of its second act, The Secret Runners of New York explodes into classic Matthew Reilly territory, the brake pedal long forgotten as he thrusts Skye into several impossible scenarios, and the book becomes a gleeful, exuberant sci-fi thriller romp. The action scenes are handled with Reilly’s customary verve — though The Secret Runners of New York doesn’t have the insane set-pieces of his Scarecrow and Jack West blockbusters — but the book lumbers through its bursts of exposition. Reilly’s style of storytelling has always worked best with a cast of military types and adventurers; entering the mindset of a teenager is a totally different beast. Some of the characterisations come off as stereotypical, which is less noticeable in an action-blockbuster romp, where the action zips along at great velocity, but such unambiguousness doesn’t work so effectively in what is supposed to be a more character-focused drama. For my money, if you want to introduce a younger reader to Reilly’s work, Hover Car Racer remains the must-read.

ISBN: 9781760559076
Format: Paperback
Pub Date: 26/03/2019
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 352
Price: $16.99

Review: The Island by Ragnar Jónasson

 

9780718187828.jpgA fairly conventional whodunnit plot — a police detective is sent to investigate what happened on Elliðaey (an archipelago consisting of more than 15 islands located south of Iceland) after one member of a group of friends fails to return from their trip — is elevated into the top tier by one of the finest authors of crime fiction today. Although it lacks the percussion blast climax of The Darkness, Ragnar Jónasson’s second book in the ‘Hulda Series’ is a mesmerising psychological drama on loss, guilt and revenge; altogether haunting and thrillingly well written, the kind of book that will entrance you and keep you reading until the small hours.

When we met Hulda Hermannsdóttir in The Darkness, she was 64-years-old and approaching retirement, and handling her final case; in The Island she is in her fifties, in her prime as an  investigator; and in The Mist (published next year according to my sources see the internet) she’ll be in her forties. Jónasson’s decision to tell Hulda’s story from end to beginning yes, in reverse! is brilliant, and is a startling (and welcome) change of dynamic in the police procedural genre. Forewarned of what her future holds adds a whole new dimension to proceedings — which isn’t to say The Island can’t be enjoyed without reading its predecessor, but with two months until publication, you’ve got plenty of time jump on board this stunning trilogy and affix remarkable layers of poignancy to scenes involving Hulda’s family, and in particular, the novels dénouement.

Swift, sentimental, and deeply satisfying. Jónasson prudently strews clues and complications into Hulda’s investigation with unrivalled prowess. You’ll rapidly turn the pages to determine the killer; you’ll remember The Island, long after the mystery is solved, for its protagonist.

ISBN: 9780718187828
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 4-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom