Bloodlines, by Nicole Sinclair

‘It’s running, Clem,’ she says. ‘And I’m not running.’
‘It’s not running, it’s smart. It’s giving you time. And Sam…’ He sees her wince and then, quietly: ‘It gives Sam some space too. And time. God, the bloke must be shattered.’
She stiffens.
Maybe she’ll cry, he thinks. He could reach for her then, sit by her, draw her onto his lap., this broken girl of his, and cradle her like he did when she was a child.

Beth is thirty-one years old and trying leave her past behind. A terrible break up has seen her flee to the family farm in wheatbelt Western Australia but her wise dad, Clem, thinks she needs to go further away: to Papua New Guinea. Despite her reservations, Beth soon finds herself living on a remote island, working alongside her aunt at the school she runs. As she adjusts to life in a different land, amidst a very different culture, she also reflects on the events which have brought her here.

Running alongside Beth’s story is the story of her mother, Rose, who met and fell in love with Clem when she moved to Western Australia but who died when Beth was a child. Clem’s story, both before and since, is also gradually revealed.

Bloodlines is an amazing debut novel, deftly weaving the entwined stories of Beth and her mother, in settings as vivid as they are disparate. Beth’s life has been filled with love, but also with sadness, and her need to make sense of it takes her to a strange, welcoming but unfamiliar land. Sinclair’s love of both Papua New Guinea and of Western Australia shows through in her vivid recreation of the two settings, and her characters fill the pages with their big, complex personalities.

Shortlisted for the prestigious TAG Hungerford Award in 2014, Bloodlines is a heart-filled book which questions the meanings of home and belonging in a way that will leave readers thinking long after the final page.

Bloodlines, by Nicole Sinclair
Margaret River Press, 2017
ISBN 9780994316875

Sapphire Falls, by Fleur McDonald

Fiona Forrest sat next to her dead husband’s coffin, staring at it dully. Music played softly in the background and she could smell the roses that filled two urns on stands nearby.
The church felt exactly like she did. Cold and empty.

Fiona and her husband Charlie were really happy: working side by side on their farm, and looking forward to a long future. But when Charlie is involved in a terrible shooting accident that eaves his mate Eddie dead, he struggles to cope. When he commits suicide, Fiona is devastated, but she is determined to keep the farm going. If only the rumours that she is selling the farm would stop.

Detective Dave Burrows has been on enforced leave. When he returns he finds that the case of Eddie’s death was not properly dealt with. When he starts to investigate he realises something doesn’t add up. The deeper he digs, the more he realises that something sinister is going on – and perhaps it is linked both to Charlie’s suicide and to the series of problems that seem to be plaguing Fiona’s farm.

Sapphire Falls continues bestselling author Fleur McDonald’s trend of blending rural Australian settings with strong female characters facing adversity and elements of mystery, for a unique form of crime fiction. Readers are kept guessing  along with the characters, and the mystery works well alongside the development of characters and interwoven subplots.

Good stuff.

Sapphire Falls, by Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760112646

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix

‘I’m a messenger!’ bawled the nomad. She was even younger than the young guard, perhaps having seen only sixteen or seventeen of the harsh winters of her homeland. Her lustrous skin was acorn brown, her hair black, worn in a plaited queue that was wound several times around her head like a crown, and her dark eyes appealing. ‘I claim the message right!’

With the Abhorsen, Sabriel, and her husband the King on holidays, the Abhorsen-in-waiting Lirael is responsible for protecting the Old Kingdom from the Dead and any Free Magic creatures. The last six months have been quiet, but two messages are coming her way. One, carried by a stranger from beyond the walls, is in danger of not being delivered because its carrier, a girl named Ferin, is being pursued by sorcerers determined to stop her. The other message, carried by a messenger hawk, is more successful in getting through. It’s from Nicholas Sayre, who Sabriel feared she might never see again. When she responds to the message she finds him unconscious, near to death. To help him heal, and to learn more about the taint of Free Magic he carries, she must take him to her childhood home with the Clayr. With Nicholas safe she must turn her attention to the other message – one which predicts great danger for the Old Kingdom.

Fans of the Old Kingdom series will be delighted with this latest installment, featuring favourite characters including Lirael, Sabriel, Nicholas and Sam, alongside new ones. Nix seemingly weaves his stories with the magic that is found in his world. The Old Kingdom is a richly woven setting, and the people and beings that populate it are intriguing. This is deeply satisfying fantasy at its very best.

With a bonus Old Kingdom story, Goldenhand is divine.

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781741758634

 

Also in the Series:

Sabriel
Lirael
Abhorsen

Clariel (Prequel)

Wild Island, by Jennifer Livett

Reader, she did not marry him, or rather when at last she did, it was not so straightforward as she implies in her memoirs. Jane Eyre is a truthful person and her story is fascinating, but some things she could not bring herself to say. Certain episodes in her past, she admits, ‘form too distressing a recollection ever to be willingly dwelt upon’.

When Rochester and Jane Eyre are reunited after the fire that destroyed Thornfield, their love is definite but their future is not. soon, they decide they must embark on a journey to ascertain the real story of Anna, Rochester’s first wife. Harriet Adair, Anna’s carer, is invited to accompany them and soon they are bound for far away Van Diemen’s Land. Only Harriet and Anna reach Hobart where, they believe, they will find the answers to Anna’s past.

In Hobart, Charles O’Hara Booth, in charge of the Port Arthur settlement, is hoping that the secrets of his own past will remain hidden. Yet he may hold the key to Anna and Harriet’s quest. In the meantime, Harriet and a much recovered Anna have formed a friendship with Jane Franklin, the wife of the new Governor of the colony. For six years the pair live in Hobart, far away from Jane and Rochester and the story which inspired this one.

Wild Island is a curious, intriguing blend. Blending fictional characters, including those from Jane Eyre, with historical figures and events from the colony of Van Diemen’s Land of the 1800s, provides both an inside interpretation of the real events as well as an absorbing alternate history for Charlotte Bronte’s woman in the attic, and her carer.

Satisfying historical fiction.

Wild Island, by Jennifer Livett
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113834

Where are Our Boys, by Martin Woods

Where are Our Boys? : How Newsmaps Won the Great War - Martin WoodsBy mid-October 1914, Pacific war maps were popular souvenirs, and a reminder of the main game. As the editorial referencing a new map issued by Melbourne bookseller George Robinson and Co. claimed, ‘one sees the extent of the penalty Germany has suffered in these seas by her wanton aggression, and the prizes that have fallen to the lot of Australia’.

When the Great War broke out in 1914, Australians grew increasingly interested in what was happening not just in England, to whom the country’s declared allegiance lay, but in places few had heard of and even fewer had visited. They relied on maps to see where these places were, their closeness to England and, importantly, Australia, and as the war rolled on, where battle lines lay and how they shifted.

Recent advances in printing technology meant the ability to produce maps in newspapers, and for distribution, was easier, so that the average Australian had access to maps and could track the war visually, and discuss the war in schools, homes, pubs and churches, growing an understanding of where Australians were fighting and how the war was playing out.

Where Are Our Boys provides detailed look at the role that maps and other visuals played in public understanding of the war. Filled with maps, news clippings and other visuals from the time, the book details the course of the war, and the information which was available ‘back home’ through these items.

Suitable for history buffs or anyone with an interest in the role of the media before electronic communication.

Where Are Our Boys, by Martin Woods
NLA Publishing, 2016
ISBN 9780642278715

The Safest Place in London, by Maggie Joel

There was something rather splendid about this woman who would not have looked out of place in the pages of a magazine, but whom fate had put here, in the the East End, in a tube station with a cigarette in her mouth and a small child. It set her apart from the wretched mother and her five starving children.

Diana Meadows is lost. She and her three year old daughter Abigail have come up to London on secret business, and somehow caught the wrong bus. Now she’s in the East End and the air raid sirens are blaring. Not far away Nancy Levin and her own daughter, Emily, are cooking chips for dinner when they, too, hear the siren. They know what to do, having done it many times before, and gather their belongings before heading off to the shelter.Both women’s husbands are off at the war – Diana’s Gerald is serving with a tank regiment in North Africa, while Nancy’s Joe has just left to return to the navy after surviving a torpedoing. The husbands believe their wives and daughters are safe. The two women spend the night camped beside each other in the cramped underground space. Though they don’t speak, each observes the other – and their lives become linked before the all clear sounds.

The Safest Place in London is a gripping, shocking tale of war time life and the lengths mothers will go to to protect their families. With the chance to observe the thoughts processes of both characters, and to see what happens beyond the terrible night in the shelter, readers will grow to know them, and perhaps to understand their actions.

Lots to think about both during and after reading.

The Safest Place in London, by Maggie Joel
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781743310601

The Fence, by Meredith Jaffe

‘Brandy and I have discussed this at length and to our minds there is only one viable solution.’
Gwen glances up at the house where Eric potters in the garage, oblivious to the unfolding crisis.
‘I mean, the trees will still have to go of course, given they are encroaching on our property there is no way around it. but trees or no trees, the only real solution is to put up a fence.’
Without thinking, Gwen Turns on her heel and races towards the garage, away from this vile woman and her extraordinary ideas.

Gwen and her husband Eric were the first people to live on Green Valley Avenue. They’ve raised their children here, and now their grandchildren love to visit.  Gwen doesn’t plan on ever leaving. But her neighbour and best friend Babs has died, and the house has been sold, and suddenly there’s a new family moving in, with a tribe of little kids and two uncontrolled dogs.

Francesca has brought her family to Green Valley Avenue in the hopes of a new start. Her marriage is in trouble, and starting anew in the suburbs seems the only solution. The only problem is her nosy new neighbour, Gwen, and the lack of a fence between their properties. It isn’t long before the two families are battling over the boundary, even while each woman’s life is facing terrible changes.

The Fence is a tale of fences, neighborhood disputes and much more. Gwen’s husband, Eric, is aging and behaving oddly. Frankie’s house-husband Brandon has been having an affair, and seems increasingly unable, or unwilling, to keep the house running. At times funny, at others moving and even sad, The Fence  is a wonderful debut novel.

The Fence, by Meredith Jaffe
Pan MacMillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743540152

 

 

 

The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose

A hush descended on the atrium. It became evident that the young man was weeping. It wasn’t a dramatic gesture. Tears were running down his face while his glistening angel eyes continued to gaze at the woman. After some time, the woman began to weep in the same silent passive way. the weeping went on as if they could both see they must settle for losing something. Levin looked about and realised the atrium had quietly filled again and everyone was staring at the two people.

Arky Levin’s life is unraveling. His wife has made him keep a devstating promise which means he may never see her again. A film score composer and musician, he finds himself unable to create music. he has cut himself off from his friends and even his daughter. when he wanders into MoMA, he finds himself watching an installation performance. Artist Marina Abramovic is sitting, for seventy five days, staring into the eyes of strangers. Arky finds himself drawn back to the gallery time and again and, gradually, he starts to piece ogether his life away from the gallery.

The Museum of Modern Love is an absorbing, moving story of art, life and love. Multiple perspectives explore Arky’s viewpoint, as well as the stories of other observers and of the artist herself. Readers are invited to consider the significance of art and its connection to life itself.

Inspired by the life and art of Marina Abramovic,the story is an interpretation both of the artist and of the impact of her work.

Stunning.

The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760291860

The Love of a Bad Man, by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

I’ve always had small hands. The rest of me isn’t very big, either, but my hands are almost as small as a kid’s, with spindly white fingers and nails like broken seashells. David likes this about me. That there’s something about me that hasn’t changed for all these years.

Ever since Cathy and David met as troubled teens, they’ve belonged together, even though Cathy has married another man and had a bunch of kids. When David comes back into her life, she abandons her family,and spends her days trying to make David happy. David loves her, but he also has fantasies about other women, and Cathy finds herself helping him to kidnap and murder them.

Based on the life of Catherine Birney. ‘Cathy’ is one of twelve short stories which make up The Love of a Bad Man. Each story imagines the life and motivations of the women who have loved famous ‘bad men’, from Serial killer David Birney, to Hitler, to Jim Jones of Jonestown infamy. The voices are brutally honest, sometimes bewildered, occasionally naive but always compelling, as readers are offered insight into the lives and motivations of the women who supported, enabled and endured the men in different measure.

Not hopeful reading, but satisfyingly compelling.

The Love of a Bad Man, by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Scribe, 2016
ISBN 9781925321555

Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh

Sight

A lizard keeps following me around the house.

I tell the Tattoo Man about it when we’re sitting on his verandah one afternoon. The Tattoo Man has puffy eyelids and a black beard that he strokes when in deep thought. He’s in his rocking chair with a stray orange cat sitting at his feet, swishing its tail.

Sight

A lizard keeps following me around the house.

I tell the Tattoo Man about it when we’re sitting on his verandah one afternoon. The Tattoo Man has puffy eyelids and a black beard that he strokes when in deep thought. He’s in his rocking chair with a stray orange cat sitting at his feet, swishing its tail.

‘Portable Curiosities’ is a collection of twelve surreal and satiric short stories. In ‘Cream Reaper’, the story reflected in the cover art, the search for the ultimate ice cream flavour becomes deadly serious. ‘Sight’ offers the opportunity to see what others miss. Stories are told in first, second and third person, and explore myriad ‘landscapes’.  ‘The Fat Girl in History’ is story within story, twisting and turning, keeping its truths shifting.

‘Portable Curiosities’ is funny, sad, disturbing, pointed, merciless and merciful. Each story in this collection engages the reader then makes them squirm. A wonderfully black-humoured, multi-flavoured assortment which uses fiction to illuminate truths about the world we live in and how we live in it. Much to think about, great fun.

Portable Curiosities, Julie Koh
University of Queensland Press 2016 ISBN: 9780702254048

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com