Category Archives: Signed Books

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil

Melina Marchetta has been the trailblazer of Australian teen fiction since the early 1990s, so I was really excited when she came to speak at Muse in Canberra not too long ago. A quietly thoughtful and articulate speaker, afterwards she kindly stayed back to sign copies of her latest novel.

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“Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil” is a modern mystery thriller set in France and the UK. Chief Inspector Bish Ortley has been temporarily relieved of his police duties after an incident with a colleague when he gets a disturbing call from an old friend. A bus has been blown up in France and his daughter, who is away on camp, was on it. Pulling himself together enough to drive over the Chunnel, Bish finds out that his daughter was not the only person of interest on that bus. Another teen, Violette LeBrac, is the daughter of the infamous Noor LeBrac who is serving a life sentence for her involvement in a bombing in London many years earlier. When Violette disappears taking another teen with her, Bish finds himself leading the hunt to find her. Along the way, he finds himself forced to face his demons, past and present.

This is an interesting, compelling and relevant story with many, many layers. Marchetta is second to none when it comes to exploring the teenage psyche and she definitely has not lost her touch with the advent of the internet and social media. After writing about the Italian immigrant experience in Australia, Marchetta does a convincing job tackling the Middle Eastern experience in Europe. Her exploration of race is multifaceted and informed, and Bish’s own complex identity is a valuable conduit between two very polarised experiences. Although there were times where I felt the characters were perhaps a little too virtuous, the rest of the story more than made up for it and I found myself staying awake way too late to finish this one.

A cracking read that couldn’t be timed better. Reading this book is like having your finger on the pulse of Europe.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Mystery/Thriller, Signed Books, Uncategorized

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

I had been waiting for the right time to read this book, one that I had gotten by way of a Kickstarter some time last year and that came with a gorgeous signed bookplate sticker, and finally the time had come. After days of heatwave, the evening had cooled down enough that I could snuggle in bed with a cup of tea and one of my bestie’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. I’d just come back from seeing the new Disney movie Moana, my dog was coming in occasionally to say hello to me, and in the background was the white noise of a fan and my boyfriend admonishing his randomly assigned teammates in Overwatch over voice chat. The mood was well and truly set.

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“The Secret Loves of Geek Girls” is an anthology compiled and edited by Hope Nicholson. The book contains non-fiction stories, comics and essays by over 50 creators (including Margaret Atwood) all about being a geek girl in love.

You never really know what you’re going to get when you back a Kickstarter project, but the final product of this book was much more than I had hoped for. It is a real celebration of women’s creativity, passion, intelligence and eloquence. I was really impressed at the diversity of voices that emerged from these pages and I felt their heartbreaks as my own heartbreaks. As somewhat of a geek girl myself, I knew about a lot of the fandoms (though the Dr Who references and any game that wasn’t a single player RPG was a bit lost on me). Some of the stories were much stronger than others, and I loved Minas TirithFanfiction, F/F, angstCherry and Montreal, 1993 the most. Some of the artwork in here is spectacular, and some a little less so.

This is an inclusive, well-considered collection of stories by geeky women for geeky women who are looking for everything from something nice to flick through through to dating advice and, most of all, solidarity.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Graphic Novels, Non Fiction, Signed Books

Revenants: The Odyssey Home

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author. I don’t read much fiction or even historical fiction about war, so I was a little apprehensive about this one. However, when I opened the parcel and saw the little courtesy bookmark, I knew I was going to give this one a red hot go, and boy am I glad I did.

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“Revenants: The Odyssey Home” by Scott Kauffman is a historical fiction novel set in a small town in the USA in the 1970s. Betsy, a high school sophomore cheerleader, is upset when her brother returns to fight in the Vietnam War, and is devastated when he doesn’t come home. As she starts to drift in school, her principal gives her an ultimatum: either she volunteers as a candy striper at the local veterans hospital, or she repeats her sophomore year. Although initially repulsed by the horrific injuries suffered by the young men there, Betsy perseveres and finds herself a niche. However, that’s not all she finds, and what she anticipated to be a boring summer turns into a hunt to solve the mystery of a nameless, faceless patient.

This book reads like a slice of time. Kauffman has an incredibly immersive style of writing, and uses slang from the era and local turns of phrase effortlessly in a manner reminiscent of Daniel Woodrell or Irvine Welsh. This is more than a story about war. This is a story about trauma: about the physical and emotional effects of war that trickle down through lives, families, and even through generations. I really learned a lot about this book. You can be as anti-war as you like, as I am, but that doesn’t erase the fact that war still happens and people still suffer. You don’t have to support war to support those people at risk of poverty, homelessness, disability, mental health issues and suicide. Betsy is a really great character who Kauffman imbues depth, complexity and flaws and he balances the mystery plot with the social commentary perfectly.

This was a really standout take on the impact of war and it really opened my eyes in more ways than one.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, Signed Books

The Skeleton Diaries

If there is anything that gets me out of the house to an event, it’s books. Last year I was invited to go along to a young professionals networking event, which sounded the exact opposite of how I’d normally spend my time. However, something caught my eye on the e-invite. It was being held at Muse, one of my favourite Canberra bookstores, and there was going to be an author talk. Well, that was enough for me! I went along, and once the networking part was out of the way, Australian National University graduating student Rachael Stevens took the stage to talk about mental health, overcoming anorexia and her self-published book. After the event, she stayed back and signed copies – and of course I bought one.

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“The Skeleton Diaries” is a memoir by Rachael Stevens about when she was hospitalised in 2007 at 15 years old for anorexia. The memoir begins when her mother takes her to see a counsellor who suggests she keeps a diary. At first, Rachael’s diary entries feign confusion about what’s going on, distancing herself even further from others. However, as the book progresses and Rachael’s health reaches breaking point, she is forced to acknowledge the truth: she has anorexia and her body is shutting down. Rachael is first admitted to a paediatric ward before being transferred to a youth psychiatric ward and there is placed on an unrelenting and unsympathetic treatment regime. However, while suffering outwardly from the state of her body and the treatment by hospital staff, inside Rachael begins to cultivate the tiniest flower of hope which helps her to overcome her disordered thinking.

This book is a powerful insight into disordered thinking: the disordered thinking of a person suffering from anorexia, and the disordered thinking of society around the treatment of mental health. Some of the most striking passages in this book are about Rachael’s silent cries to be treated as a person, and not have her worth determined as simply a collection of symptoms or numbers on a scale. Although only 15 when she first wrote in her diary, I was really impressed by Stevens’ clear yet compelling writing style. It is a brave thing to do to send your story out in the world, especially when you are so young, and I did feel compared to other memoirs of this nature, Stevens was rather guarded about the details of her life and the trauma and abuse she experienced. However, the focus of this story is really on anorexia and the havoc it wreaks on your mind and body.

A really important book that is a stark reminder that this country still has a long way to go when it comes to prioritising, understanding and funding mental health issues.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Non Fiction, Signed Books

Australi

I’ve been anticipating this graphic novel for a long time. Like most Kickstarters, it’s always a bit of a gamble when it comes to whether the project will get funded, when it will get delivered and what the final product will be like. I backed the project in September 2015, and I only just got my reward this week and I couldn’t wait to crack it open.

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“Australi” is a graphic novel written by Timothy Wood and illustrated by Pius Bak. An alternative history with a good dash of fantasy, this story is set in an Australia colonised by three empires: the British, the Far East Serpentes Federation and the Red Jade Dynasty. These three empires are carving the land up for its precious gemstones but as a result of their greed, the beautiful country they have occupied has started to die. Australi’s fate is in  the hands of Maloo: a young orphan Aboriginal boy. In possession of a stolen gem and on the run from camel folk, Maloo finds himself on a serious detour after falling into a dark cave.

Probably the first thing you’ll notice about this graphic novel is the artwork, it is undoubtedly gorgeous. The story is short and gripping, and I was surprised that the first volume ended so soon. The dialogue and text is pretty sparse, but there’s a real sense of the beginning of an epic story. The character design is pretty cool and I particularly like the guardians, the giant animals and Imogen (though I’m looking forward to seeing some more female characters in later volumes).

As excited as I was to receive this graphic novel, I was also a bit apprehensive. I thoroughly support more representation of Aboriginal characters in media, and have been really excited about things like acclaimed TV series Cleverman and reading stories by authors like Anita Heiss, but I fretted about how this would go. Neither the author nor the illustrator are Aboriginal. However, when I first opened the book, right at the beginning there was a statement at the front that says:

“Australi was created to celebrate the heritage of Australia and the First Nations’ Peoples. This story is not their story, but an attempt to capture its spirit. The team consulted throughout with Indigenous artists, community figures and cultural centres and firmly believe what has been hidden, now needs to be seen. To know, to celebrate and to honour”.

It’s a little early to tell, but I think so far it seems like the author and illustrator have treated their story sensitively. We only meet Maloo and the Guardians in this first issue so I’m looking forward to seeing more characters. I think the only thing that was a bit confusing is that Maloo is an orphan who is isolated from his culture, yet he has a boomerang and is wearing body paint. I think this could have been a good opportunity to shed a bit of light on growing up disconnected from your culture, and I’d like to see this get either explained or fleshed out in later issues.

“Australi” looks like the beginnings of an original Australian fantasy adventure, and it’s great to see a bit more diversity in the leading character. It’s a cracking read and I’m really looking forward to future issues of what I hope is a great series.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Signed Books

Small Great Things

So I’ve been sitting on this review for a week or two because I actually had tickets to see Jodi Picoult speak. Her talk and the book signing wasn’t until tonight and I didn’t want to write my review until I’d seen her. I live-blogged the talk on the Tinted Edges Facebook page and I have to say, she is WOKE. I managed to ask her about her thoughts on the ridiculous White Lives Matter counter-movement to Black Lives Matter while she was signing my book and she was very well informed and very eloquent. Anyway, “Small Great Things” is her newest book and I got an advanced reading copy from Harry Hartog.

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“Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult takes a real life event, where a black nurse in the USA was looking after a baby in a postnatal ward was told by the white supremacist father that people like her couldn’t touch the baby, to an extreme conclusion: what if the baby goes into distress and the nurse disregards her superior’s instructions and tries to help? When the baby dies, Ruth finds herself in the centre of a medical negligence matter. White public defender Kennedy takes on her case having represented many other black defendants. However it’s not until Kennedy meets Ruth that she begins to really see some of the more subtle prejudice that is inherent in American society. Some of it is her own.

I’ve quite a few of Picoult’s books and although she never shies away from hard-hitting issues, none of them have touched me before like this one has. As Picoult herself wrote for Time Magazine, this isn’t a book for people of colour. This is a book for white people to encourage them to think about and talk about issues concerning race. There are so many points in the book where Kennedy says something that is well-intentioned but the impact on Ruth is actually tantamount to a micro-aggression. Kennedy just ploughs through the awkwardness. However, when we don’t talk about race, we conveniently don’t have to think about how things we say can actually be condescending, minimising and even erasing of people’s experiences. Picoult captures that sinking feeling, one in my own ignorance and naiveté I have felt many times, when you mean well but say the wrong thing. She lingers on that feeling, the uncomfortableness of it, and doesn’t let us glaze over and keep going. In this book we have to examine the impact of our words and actions and that is a powerful and educational thing. In terms of story, it is the classic Picoult archetype. There’s a controversial issue, a court case and a twist. That didn’t bother me so much in this book, because court is the time where you get to say your piece and that is a critical element of the story. However I did feel a little bit like the ending was too tidy. Life isn’t tidy, race isn’t tidy and the way (especially given recent political events) race is handled politically is definitely not tidy at all. 

I think that this is definitely a book worth reading. It’s a great story, it is impeccably researched and very well considered, and I feel like it is a huge leap forward in terms of empathy and mutual understanding. The timing of this book couldn’t be better.

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Filed under Advanced Reading Copies, General Fiction, Signed Books

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms

This is the perfect spring book. I hadn’t heard of Dr Anita Heiss or her books before I saw she was coming to speak at Muse. I’ve been really enjoying their author discussions that I’ve been going along to this year and I’m always looking to try new, local writers. However, although I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more diversely this year, I’m very ashamed to admit that I don’t think I’ve ever read any books by Aboriginal authors. Heiss was a very engaging speaker, and talked a lot about the research that went into her latest book and the importance of getting diverse books, authors and stories into the mainstream. She also very kindly signed a copy of her book for me at the end, which has a classic Aussie landscape on the front decorated with shiny gold lettering and beautiful blossoms.

“Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms” by Anita Heiss is a historical novel set in Cowra, NSW during World War II. A large number of Japanese soldiers are being kept prisoner at a POW camp, and one night they all manage to break out. With some soldiers killed, some recaptured and some who committed suicide, Heiss’ novel explores the idea of what could have happened if one soldier, Hiroshi, managed to seek refuge at the nearby Aboriginal mission called Erambie Station. Banjo Williams discovers Hiroshi under his family’s hut and decides to help him, enlisting his eldest daughter Mary to sneak Hiroshi food. Part romance, part spotlight on the discrimination experienced by Aboriginal people subject to the oppressive Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (NSW), this book  uncovers a piece of Australia’s history that is not often discussed.

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This is an important book. As my lamentable reading record shows, Aboriginal stories are not told nearly as often as they should be in Australia. While Aboriginal film and television has been slowly gaining traction over the years, Aboriginal writing is still very much behind where it should be. Heiss’ story cleverly uses the perspective of an outsider, Japanese man Hiroshi, as a critical lens through which the reader can look at the past (and present) treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples. By drawing comparisons between the Aboriginal mission, the Japanese POW camp and the Italian POW camp it swiftly becomes clear how much of a factor race was in how well people were treated in 1940s Australia. This book is set in a time before Aboriginal people were allowed to vote and when Aboriginal identity was mutually exclusive to civil rights. Heiss’ novel is very well-researched and draws on academic, community and family resources to paint a vivid picture of 1940s country Australia and how different kinds of people lived there. Heiss has an open, honest style which makes this book accessible to all readers.

Whether you’re a history buff, a romance fan, a lover of Australiana or interested in books about war, I think most people will get something out of this book.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Pretty Books, Signed Books