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: Sisters by Lily Tuck

9781925498899With prose as sharp as broken glass, Lily Tuck’s Sisters delivers a searing psychological portrait of love in all its phases, examining marital jealousy with an unflinching, virtuosic gaze.

The unnamed narrator in Sisters is a second wife, who has inherited two teenage stepchildren she adores, and lives in the constant shadow of her husband’s former wife. The ex-wife, referred to throughout as Her and She, seems an impossible vision to live up to: seemingly intellectually superior, far more sophisticated. Could she be more promiscuous, the narrator can’t help but wonder, tallying the number of times her husband and ex-wife had sex, realising that, due to a variety of factors, it is a number she is unlikely to equal. The ex-wife is almost a completely hypothetical, spectral presence; we are provided glimpses of her personality, habits and partialities, but as Sisters is framed entirely from the narrator’s prejudiced perspective, we can’t help but wonder how many of her observations are true.

Nor is the narrator’s husband wholly realised. We get glimpses of his personality, but he ultimately comes across as incomplete and callow, which echoes her strange ambivalence towards their relationship and their marriage. So obsessed is she with the ex-wife, so skewed are her observations and understanding of the world, so incompatible is she with fitting into the role her ex-wife exited, it’s clear from the very start that things are headed for a horrible denouement.

Sisters slices straight to the heart of a marriage burdened by infidelity and obsession. It’s powerful and insightful, recounted in an elegantly wistful style that makes the sudden climax all the more impactful. Plenty of style, and despite its slimness, a lot of substance.

ISBN: 9781925498899
Format: Paperback
Pages: 180
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 30-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher

9781925498882Garry Disher is one of the most reliable craftsmen in crime fiction, and his latest, Under the Cold Bright Lights, epitomises his talents. This is a smart police procedural, with satisfying twists and turns, and a vigilante cop readers will want to see return.

Alan Auhl has returned to the Victorian Police Department after a brief sabbatical to work cold cases with a team of young detectives. He’s very much set in his ways, the kind of cop who prefers to get off his arse and knock on doors than run computer searches and make inquiries by phone. As such, his colleagues have dubbed him a retread, but he doesn’t mind. With his marriage in tatters, the job gives Auhl focus, and the three unrelated cases he works — four if you count a personal vendetta — demonstrate his unparalleled tenacity . . . and willingness to bend, possibly break, the law he was sworn to protect.

Auhl lives in a large shared-house — he refers to it as Chateau Auhl — which he uses to provide shelter for strays, people down on their luck, in desperate need of aid. Two of those boarders include a battered wife and her ten-year-old daughter, who are entangled in legal proceedings that will determine custody of the girl. Which means Auhl’s private life is as complicated as his professional one, as he juggles the death of John Elphick, and the discovery of a skeleton beneath a concrete slab, and the doctor who has seemingly killed two wives without leaving a trace of evidence against him.

Free of the structural problems you might expect from juggling so many unrealted plots, Under the Cold Bright Lights is a brilliant demonstration of Garry Disher’s artistry. And the doses of vigilante justice add essential pep to proceedings, providing a shot of adrenaline just when you think the book might be gliding. Gripping and intelligent, Under the Cold Bright Lights is a crackling page-turner, and proof that Disher should be held in the same regard as his international contemporaries. Connelly and Rankin fans should devour this, and Disher’s extensive back catalogue.

ISBN: 9781925498882
Format: Paperback (231mm x 155mm x 25mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 30-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Wilder Country by Mark Smith

9781925498530.jpgThe sequel to Mark Smith’s The Road to Winter is a page-turner with a heart and soul, tightly packed with exquisitely rendered action and nail-biting scenes of peril, all layered with emotional authenticity. Wilder Country is an exceptional tale of young people forced to grow up too soon, take on responsibilities far beyond their purview, and make decisions nobody should have to.

The severe winter has prohibited the Wilders — a violent band of plague-survivors — from closing in on Finn, Kas and Willow. But with the arrival of Spring comes the acceptance that the peace and relative tranquillity of the last few months is over. The Wilders will be hunting for the trio, lead by the savage Ramage, who will stop at nothing for revenge following the events of The Road to Winter. But even with that looming threat, Finn and Kas have not forgotten the promise they made to Rose — to find her baby, Hope, and bring her back. That vow will force them directly into a confrontation with the Wilders, but in a ruined world, honour matters more than anything else, and Finn and Kas will stop at nothing to see their promise fulfilled.

Maintaining echoes of John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, author Mark Smith pulls out all the stops, propelling readers on an  action-packed, wild ride with unexpected twists and turns, and vitally, characters readers care about. Wilder Country doesn’t shy away from difficult truths and important moral lessons resultant of a dystopian society, and on more than one occasion the young characters have to battle with the concept of right and wrong, and whether the laws of the old world are amenable with their new reality. Kas seems more willing and able to adapt to the new ways, where might makes right, whereas Finn is more reluctant to pull the trigger. The dynamics of their relationship is what makes the novel shine.

As compelling as its predecessor, and respectful of the capacity of its readers, Wilder Country pulls no punches, and is a pulse-pounding, addictive page-turner full of depth and emotion.

ISBN: 9781925498530
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

 

 

 

Review: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

Melan9781925498592ie Cheng’s short story collection Australia Day is an absorbing panorama of contemporary Australia, populated by a diverse cast, which spotlights the ramifications of such an eclectic potpourri of different races and faiths coexisting. These are 14 powerfully perceptive stories, written with love, humour, realism, and a distinct edginess. While the terrain covered might be familiar, Cheng’s take on our treasured multiculturalism feels fresh.

Some of the pieces in Australia Day have been published elsewhere, including in the Griffith Review and Sleepers Almanac, but I’d yet to sample Cheng’s work prior to cracking the spine of this collection, and in truth, through my own ignorance, I knew little about her fiction. It was only thanks to the cherished booksellers grapevine that my attention was piqued, and I’m ever-so-grateful that community highlighted another gem. Cheng’s mastery of the form seems to deepen with each story, and at various moments I was jubilant and disheartened by her depiction of our society, but constantly awed by the deftness of her prose. Most admirable is Cheng’s capacity to both indict and acquit Australians throughout her stories: she is equally scathing as she is complimentary, and neither is ever overtly expressed, always nuanced.

Australia Day is a stunning reminder of our great nation’s diversity. Regardless of our heritage, where we’ve come from, or where we’re going — race, religion, ethnicity be damned — we are all inextricably linked by the land we inhabit and share. Melanie Cheng’s short story collection is a celebration of our multiculturalism, even when some of her insights prove uncomfortable. It’s necessary reading, not only because it’s a microcosm of who we are, but because each story is a gem, and a joy to behold.

ISBN: 9781925498592
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 3-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Kill the Next One by Federico Axat

9781925355871.jpgWith more twists than a double helix, Kill the Next One is a relentlessly-paced, unputdownable psychological thriller. It zigs one way, then zags another, providing the kind of stomach-clenching, unsettling suspense readers associate with Lauren Beukes and Stephen King. Nothing should be taken at face value, but rest assured, Federico Axat is a brilliant guide.

Just like Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series, Kill the Next One needs to be read unspoiled. This is a book that relies on the potency of its labyrinthine twists, and prior exposure has the potential to ruin the whole experience. The set-up barely scratches the novel’s surface: family man Ted McKay is moments away from pulling the trigger on the Browning pressed against his head. Then the doorbell rings, and Ted is presented with the notion of becoming part of a suicidal daisy chain: in exchange for killing someone who deserves to die, he will be killed, making his passing easier for his family. Easier to live knowing your husband / father was the victim of a random act of violence than by self-inflicted means … right? Things spiral wildly from there, quite brilliantly, and nothing is what it seems.

There’s a delightful boldness – – an incredible audaciousness — to Kill the Next One. Expertly paced and plotted, and extremely visceral, with bucket-loads of surprises and genuine chills, it’s sure to be one of the most-talked about thrillers of the year. Let’s hope Kill the Next One isn’t Axat’s only book to receive an English translation. He’s a writer to watch, and this book is one to savour.

ISBN: 9781925355871
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 432
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Nov-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

Adam Sharp.jpgHow does Graeme Simsion follow-up his dual smash-hits of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect?  By penning a novel that is just as funny and poignant, but with a tumultuous moral core. Unlike the Rosie novels –  which I always pegged as romantic-comedies, or as ‘dramedy’ to enquiring readers – The Best of Adam Sharp is far more profound. There’s a lot more for the reader to marinate over. There is greater thematic depth. And it will resonate long after you’ve closed the book.

The Best of Adam Sharp introduces our protagonist – the titular Adam Sharp – as an almost-fifty IT contractor, whose life has reached that gliding point when there are few surprises left. It’s not a bad life – he lives comfortably, has a loyal partner at home, and has a few close friends – but it’s not what it could have been. Even so, it’s not like he is pining for something different; he’s made his bed and he is sleeping in it contentedly. Until he gets an email from his great lost love, Angelina Brown…

Two decades ago, on the other side of the world in Australia, Adam’s part-time piano playing introduced him to the aspiring actress and the two engaged in an unlikely love affair. It was never meant to be a long-term thing – their lifestyles prohibited a lifetime together – but despite the odds, they fell in love. Adam could’ve made a life with her – should’ve, he later things – but did not. They went their separate ways, out of touch, until now, when their extended email communique leads to Adam reuniting with Angelina in the flesh . . . alongside her husband.

The Best of Adam Sharp is about lost love and second chances. My feelings towards Adam varied during my reading; initially I was rooting for the guy, fist-bumping the air thinking, “Yeah, go get the girl, be with the person you’re meant to be with!” Then, later, my tune changed; I realised that Adam reforming his relationship with Angelina would break up a family, and those consequences seemed too grand for the sake of one man’s happiness. As I learned more of Angelina’s relationship with her husband, I reflected and decided, “No, Adam is definitely the right man for her, consequences be damned!” Only for my opinion to change twenty pages later…

This is a novel that will make you ponder the choices you’ve made. It will make you nostalgic, and reflect on where your life might be if you’d stayed with a former girlfriend; stayed in your hometown; moved to a big city; taken that job you turned down. And then it will force you to question how far you’d go for a second chance? Would you sacrifice all you have for that could be? And just because you can do something – should you?

The Life of Adam Sharp isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the Rosie novels, but humour still shines through, and plenty of moments had me guffawing. In fact, I feel like the comedy is more potent here because it’s sprinkled, rather than soaked through the text. Music plays a vital role in the narrative too, and it’s mainstream enough – The Beatles, Dylan, The Kinks – to ensure just about every reader will appreciate their references. Even when I couldn’t imagine the tune of a referenced song, I understood the subtext.

Graeme Simsion has done it again; authored a poignant, funny novel, that can stand proudly beside the Rosie novels, if not entirely outshine them. 

ISBN: 9781925355376
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 19-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: Australia