What I don't love, however, is writing book reviews. In my attempt to be all fair and journalistic, I tend to get formal and stuffy and my reviews come out sounding like newspaper copy. Then I contemplate how each of these books will affect readerships of different ages and then I wonder if I need to put disclaimers and content warnings. This process can be paralysing because I could quite easily spend more time explaining why a book isn't good than why it is. But that's really not how I feel about books at all, so instead I'll pretend I'm sitting at a cafe with you, internet all, where we're drinking iced coffees and talking about stories we've enjoyed lately. If you have any questions, do butt in to ask.
A Straight Line to My Heart (Bill Condon) has been popping up all over the place as well as in award shortlists. After reading it, I can see why. It was a refreshing and really delightful read for a bunch of reasons. It's a gentle coming-of-age story about Tiff, a recent high school graduate living in small-town Australia. Tiff is on the edge of everything -- of adulthood, of her first real job, of love, and of letting go. What I loved most about this story was its gentleness and its authenticity. In a way, it could be anyone's story. There were no cataclysmic events of earth-shattering import. Rather, the small events of unfolding adulthood and the vivid characters in Tiff's world were what drove the story. I loved, too, that Tiff is enough of a girl-not-yet-a-woman to really be believable and relatable. I wasn't a grown-up at seventeen years old and I don't know anyone who was. Yet so many books have teen protagonists living, thinking, and feeling like twentysomethings. This one was different, with a seventeen-year-old protag who seemed seventeen, in a really genuine and sweet way. -- Oh, and the cover art is adorable.
A Straight Line to My Heart is published by Allen & Unwin.
The Dead I Know (Scot Gardner) is another one I've seen on awards lists round the traps. It was mesmerising, and one of the most unique books I've read in a while. It's a difficult one to trap within the confines of genre, though. On one level, it's realist YA drama, but the air of dread and the intense emotional turmoil of the main character build to fever-point until the story has the intensity of a psychological thriller.
From the publishers:
You wake in the middle of the night, your arms and feet pinned by strong hands. As you thrash your way to consciousness, a calm voice says, 'Steady. We're here to help.' Your mind registers a paramedic, a policeman, an ambulance. You are lying on the lookout at Keeper's Point, the lookout Amanda Creen supposedly threw herself off. And you have absolutely no idea how you got there.
Aaron Rowe walks in his sleep. He has dreams he can't explain, and memories he can't recover. Death doesn't scare him - his new job with a funeral director may even be his salvation. But if he doesn't discover the truth about his hidden past soon, he may fall asleep one night and never wake up.The Dead I Know is published by Allen & Unwin.
Pan's Whisper (Sue Lawson) is the kind of realist YA fiction that I'd love to see more of. The story drifts between present-tense chapters detailing Pandora's painful integration into a foster family and new school, and past-tense memories of Pan's sister, with hints of what may have happened between them and why Pan has ended up where she is now. I loved that the story was honest without trying too hard to be gritty or edgy. There's sorrow and heartache in the world, for sure, and we must be faithful to report that. But some YA books seem to dig down into the sadness and get buried there. Pan's Whisper confronted the sadness, but it also offered hope -- as well as a boot to the backside for the protagonist (when she needed it).
Pan's Whisper is published by Walker Books.
The author of The Messenger Bird, Rosanne Hawke, was one of my creative writing professors. Having loved her other books, that alone would've been reason enough to pique my interest, but the cover -- the cover! I love beautiful book designs and the artwork on this one is lovely. It perfectly embodies the gentle and haunting tone of the story, which unfolds as Tamar wrestles both with grief following her brother's death and bewilderment after her mother has a mental breakdown. The story is told from Tamar's perspective as well as that of the new farmhand, Gavin. Gavin's blunt and frankly curious outlook is the perfect foil for Tamar's introspective melancholy, which would normally frustrate my much less dreamy self. The way Rosanne Hawke has pulled together the two contrasting stories, though, is just right. The result is a mystery that crosses the bounds of time and history, with just enough creepiness to be delicious.
The Messenger Bird is published by UQP.
How did I miss Genesis and its follow-up Equinox (Lara Morgan) for so long? Rollicking dystopian adventures set in a futuristic Perth -- and MARS? Sign me up! Five hundred years into the future, global warming has completely redesigned the earthscape and society itself. There are the wealthy, who live in optimised environments to make post-Melt life easier, and the Ferals, the fringe-dwellers. Rosie Black is a Banker, somewhere in the middle of this societal mix. A virus known as MalX keeps killing people off; Rosie's mother is among its victims. Her dad is lost in his own grief and her aunt is away on a trip to the colony in Mars. Rosie feels lost and alone, but when she stumbles across a mysterious box, her situation worsens -- and the pacing doesn't slow up until the last page. I'm looking forward to Dark Star, the final book in the trilogy, which is to be released in just three days. Reading the first two books a week before the third comes out has got to be the best way to read a trilogy.
The Rosie Black Chronicles are published by Walker Books.
And that's what I've been reading lately. How about you? What's your latest favourite Aussie read?