Review: Kokomo by Victoria Hannan

9780733643323Kokomo | Victoria Hannan | Hachette Australia | August 2020 | RRP $30.00  | 9780733643323


“Mina wondered what other secrets lay between these people, wondered if maybe every family was built on an intricate web of lies, or at least things people chose not to tell each other. She’d learned that not every truth deserves air: some truths were better smothered, extinguished before they could take hold and burn everything to the ground.”


Victoria Hannan’s seriously impressive debut Kokomo charts the complex, resilient relationship of a mother and daughter, and the toxicity of decades-long secrets finally surfacing. It’s a sharply-observed portrait of devastating loneliness and human fallibility, and what it means to belong.

When Mina’s agoraphobic mother leaves her house for the first time in more than a decade, she rushes from her life in London to be by Elaine’s side in Melbourne. On the one hand, it’s to commemorate her mother’s decision to unshackle herself from the house; on the other, it’s to untangle the mystery of why Elaine has chosen this moment to return to the world. But Elaine is reticent to explain, or delve into the agony of the past; and Mina’s homecoming engenders emotional fallout of her own with people she thought she’d left behind long ago.

Smart and sensitive, punctuated with moments of real humour, Hannan has crafted a novel in the mould of Anne Tyler’s finest work. Like Tyler, Hannan trades expertly in the themes of the struggle for identity, the lack of meaningful communication between loved ones, and individual isolation; and although it positively glows with poignancy, it’s somehow free of gross sentimentality. This is first rate fiction from a writer to watch.

ISBN: 9780733643323
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 320
Available: 28th July 2020

Review: Braised Pork by An Yu

9781787301870It’s been some time since I last read a novel that so beguiled and baffled me in equal measure as An Yu’s debut. In an unsettling, utterly captivating opening, Jia Jia discovers her husband Chen Hang drowned in a half-filled bath. Next to him is a strange sketch of a “fish man,” which Jia Jia believes is related to a dream he had during his time in Tibet, of a similar lurid creature. Was Chen Hang so haunted by his nightmare that he chose to end his life? Or was his demise just an unfortunate accident?

Either way, the death of her husband completely upends Jia Jia’s life. Although theirs was a marriage of convenience, the repercussions are devastating on a practical and emotional level. As she struggles to regain equilibrium, Jia Jia determines the best path to closure is by recreating Chen Hang’s trip to Tibet to find this mysterious “fish-man.”

Boasting overtones of Murakami, An Yu has crafted a novel saturated in magical realism that totally runs against my literary proclivities. Braised Pork worked best for me when Yu explores the human relationships rather than the ‘unreality’ of the water world, and the mystical figures Jia Jia meets in Tibet. Metaphors abound, but for me, they’re elusive; I didn’t quite comprehend all of the symbolism, which is less the fault of the author’s, and more the fact I’m not the smartest reader. When I was done, I was left oddly dissatisfied; not because of the quality of Yu’s fiction, or indeed her prose, which is beautifully lyrical; but because of my inability to truly understand it all. This’d be a great one for book clubs.

ISBN: 9781787301870
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 240
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 9-Jan-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

9781526612151Announcing the arrival of an exceptional new voice, Such A Fun Age is a wry, sharp novel that brilliantly intertwines ruminations on race, romance, motherhood and class, in a novel that’s equal parts heart-wrenching and heart-warming, and never anything less than mesmeric. With her unflinching portrayal of life as a young black woman in America today, Kiley Reid has crafted an important book that sparks empathy and outrage, illuminating both its characters and larger social issues.

Definitely one to watch for in 2020.

ISBN: 9781526612151
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 240
Available: 7th January 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

 

Review: The Institute by Stephen King

9781529355406Lately Stephen King has seemed determined to thrill rather than chill, forsaking the spine-tingling spookiness of his seminal (and my favourite) books — hello, Pet Sematary; hi, It; good to see ya, Cujo! — in favour of telling exhilarating, completely absorbing, rollicking reads, replete with the kind of dazzling pyrotechnics and fantastic characters only he could conjure. The Institute is exactly that: a masterclass of entertainment, in which paranormally blessed kids are conscripted into a secret government lab in Maine (naturally) and forced to endure horrific tortures.

The book opens with Jack Reacher-like wanderer Tim Jamieson ex-(decorated) cop taking a job in the small South Carolina town of DuPray. King lays all his cards on the table: this guy is going to be a hero. We’re rooting for this guy. The question King dangles is, what force is he up against? We don’t get an immediate answer. Instead, smash-cut to Minneapolis, where the super-intelligent Luke Ellis is kidnapped from his own home while his parents are murdered, and transported to the facility known as ‘the Institute,’ run by the evil Mrs Sigsby. After the first hundred pages, readers know Luke and Ellis’s paths will cross: but when, and how? And what will the ramifications be?

Cancel all your plans and settle in for the ride. This is escapism at its purest and finest.

ISBN: 9781529355406
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 496
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 10-Sep-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais

a-dangerous-man-9781471157615_lgRobert Crais is one of the most dependable names in thriller-lit, and Joe Pike and Elvis Cole are two of its most indelible protagonists. A Dangerous Man is the eighteenth in the series — but newcomers won’t feel left behind — and its setup is deliciously unpretentious: Pike is parked outside a bank when Isabel Roland, a young teller, is plucked off the street by two men in an SUV. Pike — ex-marine, turned-vigilante — intervenes (obviously), less by choice, more by instinct, and rescues the young woman, only for her to be kidnapped again days later. Looping in his partner, Cole, the duo amass a sizeable body count as they search for Isabel and uncover the reason why she’s a target.

A Dangerous Man is taut, slick and action-packed; a Jack Reacher style page-turner, but with the fat trimmed.  There are few thrillers writers that cut to the chase quite as quickly as Crais and able to maintain the same velocity for three hundred pages. I enjoyed it, immensely; until I got to the end and started thinking about it, specifically in relation to the Bechdel test and realised every woman in the book is a victim, and their page-time is dedicated almost entirely to being chased, kidnapped, or discussing the attractiveness of Pike. It’s anachronistic, unnecessary, and a blemish on an otherwise consummate thriller. Recommended, but with reservations.

ISBN: 9781471157622
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 18-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Beware of the Dog by Peter Corris

9781760110154Middling among the distinguished author’s score of mysteries, but even the most routine Peter Corris novel offers incidental pleasures, and as a historical document of early-nineties Sydney, it’s well worth tracking down a copy of.

This tale of an affluent family’s murderous dysfunction sees Cliff Hardy’s gun stole and wanted by police in relation to a shooting. Corris wires together every cliche of the private eye genre electrifyingly; he treads familiar ground, but with such relish, it’s impossible not to be swept away.

Solid, unspectacular, but utterly engrossing.

ISBN: 9781760110154
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 200
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU

Review: Lost You by Haylen Beck

9781911215608Once again writing under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, Stuart Neville has produced a top-notch, twist-filled psychological thriller about a woman who’ll do anything for her child.

Lost You opens in a holiday resort in Naples, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. In an anxiety-inducing scene, three-year-old Ethan squirms in a woman’s arms as she climbs to the hotel’s roof. Police and hotel security surround the area; she can hear cries of alarm from guests below. One foot in front of the other she continues to move across the rooftop, towards its edge, Ethan still struggling, their fates seemingly entwined. Which they are, and have been for a long time, as readers learn when the narrative spirals backwards, revealing Ethan’s true parentage, and the desperate, ruthless actions a mother is capable of when her child is at risk.

With shades of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Michael Robotham’s The Secrets She Keeps, the less you know about Lost You the better. It delivers twist after twist, and although connoisseurs of the genre might pick some, I’m positive even the most prolific psychological thriller reader won’t anticipate every swerve in this tale. Beck’s latest is a chilling, gripping thriller you’ll put your life on hold for to finish. A consummate tale of suspense.

ISBN: 9781911215608
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom