13 rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro

When pre-publication copies of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society were passed around a couple of years ago, it was obvious that the book was going to be a hand-sell sensation. And so it proved to be with a great many editions of this lovely war-time confection going on to sell squillions.

13 rue Thérèse has the same feel. Coming for a February release, this book is being presented as a lovely hardback edition. Told as a series of letters and reminiscences, and peppered with illustrations, scraps of sheet music, fading photos, this is a ostensibly a love story, set in the first half of the twentieth century. Build as a story of  “passion, memory and the seductive power of the imagination”, it certainly fulfills the publisher’s spin – it is sophisticated, imaginative, sexy and escapist. A grown-up treat.

David Ebershoff, bestselling author of The 19th Wife, writes that “this is a puzzle-novel and gave me the same fizzy satsifaction as completing a Sunday crossword. It will light up your brain, and your heart”.

All true – 13 rue Thérèse is a most satisfying read. However, to me, these descriptions ignore two really important aspects and to a certain extent, undermine the power of this remarkable novel. Like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary more than a century earlier, and Alex Miller’s very fine LoveSong of last year, Shapiro writes with enormous insight about the confusion between a woman’s desire for a child and her desire for a man. At the same time, her descriptions of the horror of the trenches during World War 1, and the lifetime legacy for those who survived, put me in mind of the extremely powerful Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks as well as parts of Louis de Bernières Birds Without Wings and David Malouf’s The Great World. Indeed, 13 rue Thérèse is so much more than a cleverly constructed love story. Continue reading

Deborah Rodriguez answers Ten Terrifying Questions

Pre-order now for February 1 delivery

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Deborah Rodriguez

author of

The Kabul Beauty School


The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born, raised and schooled in Holland, Michigan, USA.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why? Continue reading

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Pity the poor publisher. Every months hundreds – thousands – of new books hit the shelves, and sure as eggs, about eighty per cent of them are doomed to fail. What keeps everyone in the industry going however, is the hope that they have enough of the twenty-percenters to carry them through. And when it comes to fiction debuts, it is an even greater game of brinksmanship.

At the London Book Fair last April, the big money was on Sarah Winman’s debut novel, When God Was a Rabbit, which is publishing in Australia and the UK in April 2011. Rights have been snaffled up around the world.

Pre-order here for April 2011

The book was presented to me a couple of months ago as the “it” book for the first half of next year. It came to me as “a little piece of heaven”, “a rare and moving novel about the power of families and friendships”, “something truly unique and magical”.  Hmmm.

It is hard for publishers to get attention for the next great book, to differentiate it from their last great book, especially at a time of year when booksellers are so obsessed with the upcoming Christmas season that they are completely going spare. Perhaps this is why When God Was a Rabbit had arrived in a tin, with other bits of memorabilia, all tied up with string, and a postcard from Cornwall. Attention grabbing? Yes. Could I get into the book? No.

Well, I had another shot at it a couple of days ago, after the rush of Christmas had subsided and my mind was in another space. Can I tell you, I am now hopping on the Winman bandwagon? On my second attempt, I read it in a day or two, loving every moment of it, sneaking in pages between other committments, and going back over lovely little gems of passages.

Basically we are talking a coming-of-age story in two parts, one seen through the eyes of a young English girl and the second set in New York some 20 years later. When God Was a Rabbit is a mesmerizing portrait of childhood, with very dark and quirky humour.  Stripped down to its bare bones, it’s the story the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister and while its take on loss of innocence, familial bonds and eccentricity are perhaps familiar themes, Winman’s treatment of them  is subtle and original. Continue reading

The 50 Must Read Australian Novels (20 to 11) (The Popular Vote 2010)

A quick glance at the full list of your (remember, you voted for it) 50 Must Read Australian Novels will reveal which publisher is leading the way when it comes to keeping affordable editions of the Australian Classics in print. The Orange Revolution. This list shows that not only are these wonderful books remembered, but they are being read, talked about and shared amongst friends. So publishers, listen up – give us more great Australian content – and when you’re done, don’t forget to tell us you’ve done it, and we’ll read it. Promise. (Just don’t publish the books in poo brown, again, or choose dusty old brownish paintings for the covers, or let someone who can’t read design the covers, or publish them in fake red leather and gold lettering on the spine or… etc.)

I step down off my box and reveal the next ten – 20 to 11 of your 50 Must Read Australian Novels. (Full List of 50 Must Read Australian Novels now available – click here)


20. Eucalyptus

Murray Bail

On a country property a man named Holland lives with his daughter Ellen. Over the years, as she grows into a beautiful young woman, he plants hundreds of different gum trees on his land.

When Ellen is nineteen her father announces his decision: she will marry the man who can name all his species of eucalypt, down to the last tree.Suitors emerge from all corners, including the formidable, straight-backed Mr Cave, world expert on the varieties of eucalypt.

And then, walking among her father’s trees, Ellen chances on a strange young man who in the days that follow tells her dozens of stories set in cities, deserts, faraway countries…

Awarded the Miles Franklin and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Eucalyptus is Murray Bail’s best and most moving novel. It is both a modern fairy tale and an unpredictable love story played out against the spearing light and broken shadows of country Australia.

Haunting and mesmeric, Eucalyptus illuminates the nature of story-telling itself. Continue reading

Nature v Nurture – Louann Brizendine’s take on it all

No doubt the storm of controversy unleashed when neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine published her book The Female Brain is about to be re-ignited as her newer one The Male Brain comes down into paperback next month.

A New York Times bestseller, The Female Brain is an thoroughly  readable account of how the uniquely flexible structure of the female brain determines not  only how women think and what they value, but how they communicate and whom they love.

Its publication set off a storm of protest as some of her scientific claims were contested, as were some of  her interpretations of them.

To my mind, the critics missed the point. Having read The Female Brain recently, I can say that Brizendine’s genius is in taking some pretty complex scientific ideas about how sex differences in our brain structures are hardwired into men and women and presenting them to a non-scientific readership in a way that  assumes intelligence and judgement.

When accused of poorly representing the science and making a bigger deal out of the differences between the male and female brain, Brizendine retorted:

If that’s what people are getting out of my book, that’s an incorrect view. There are many more similarities than there are differences. I’m not trying to write scientific treatises. I’m writing for people who are intelligent but don’t do science. In doing honour to its complexity, I think I’ve hit the mark in some respects and missed the mark in others. Scientifically, looking at gender differences is in its infancy. It’s only really important in medicine to study diseases, for example. Gender differences per se are of less interest.

And on the subject of that old chestnut, nature vs nurture, she says:

Nature-nurture is dead because they’re really the same thing. Nature is the thing we must understand first, in terms of how things get wired in utero and the phases of brain development. The piece that used to be called nurture is genetically driven changes that come with things like stress, hormonal differences, neglect, abuse, drugs, or toxic substances. Understanding the genetics we’re born with and how they get modified by our upbringing and environment is the key.

The controversy is not surprising. Feminism, and post-feminism, what my teenage daughter calls “the F-bomb”, has made studies of  gender differences a veritable minefield but at the same time, there is no doubt that we all engage in anecdotal comparative  gender observations.

As the mother of a boy and a girl, whom I tried to bring up the same, I can tell you that I am still constantly amazed at how stereotypical true to gender they were from the beginning. When my son could still only speak four words, two of them were “bang” and “crash”. My daughter on the other hand, put all of her energy as a baby into creating intimacy by locking eyes and forcing relationship.

Having galloped through The Female Brain, I can suddenly understand all sorts of behaviour I observe in my kids – from her obsession with social network sites to his seemingly inability to hold an instruction or a thought for longer than 2 seconds. As for myself, I have discovered that I am a complete cliché.

At the very least,  The Female Brain is mandatory reading for a man who wants to understand their relations with women – be they their daughters, wives, mothers, significant others.

The Male Brain sounds equally as compelling.

Brizendine peppers each chapter with examples of  her patients at various stages of the life cycle. At every step — the Dennis the Menace child, the oversexed teenager, the middle-aged man who falls for a younger woman — Brizendine gives a theory for how her patient’s behaviour is caused by his male brain patterns, egged on by hormones like testosterone (nicknamed “Zeus”) and vasopressin (“the White Knight”).

As with her first book, she is criticised for not leaving enough room for personal psychology or experience in explaining men’s behaviour. Maybe not, but I can tell you that reading Brizendine makes the minefield of parenting a whole lot easier, and it is saving my son from having to endure some  of my completely stereotypical motherly haranguing.

The 50 Must Read Australian Novels (30 to 21) (The Popular Vote 2010)

We are counting down The 50 Must Read Australian Novels as voted by our good and learned friends on twitter and facebook – today we move from 30 to 21.

The list creation process was fairly simple – I asked for nominations and hundreds of titles were suggested. I then made a list and asked people to vote for their favourites. The response was vigorous. And we soon had the makings of a good list.

A clever twitter chap suggested I allow one novel per author and I made it law. The highest ranking title by that author is the one included in the top fifty.

A very democratic process, don’t you think?

Well, if you don’t like my list – you only have yourselves to blame. However, if you do like my list, as adjudicator, you have me to thank. :)

(The story so far 40 to 31 50 to 41 )


30. Ride On Stranger

Kylie Tennant

“Civilization is mad and getting madder every day”.

So says Shannon Hicks in Kylie Tennant’s marvellous, harsh, satiric 1943 novel. Arriving in Sydney just before WWII, Shannon, a dreamer and idealist takes on the world of politics, business, religion and men.

The consequences are challenging and unpredictable.

978073228224029. The Thorn Birds

Colleen McCullough

Treasured by readers around the world, this is the sweeping saga of three generations of the Cleary family.

Stoic matriarch Fee, her devoted husband, Paddy, and their headstrong daughter, Meggie, experience joy, sadness and magnificent triumph in the cruel Australian outback. With life’s unpredictability, it is love that is their unifying thread, but it is a love shadowed by the anguish of forbidden passions. For Meggie loves Father Ralph de Bricassart, a man who wields enormous power within the Catholic church …

As powerful, moving and unforgettable as when it originally appeared, The Thorn Birds remains a novel to be read … and read again.
Continue reading

Jean Auel, author of The Clan of the Cave Bear and the upcoming The Land of Painted Caves, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

Pre-order for March 29, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Jean Auel

author of the Earth’s Children series

The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage, The Shelters of Stone and the upcoming finale , The Land of Painted Caves,

Ten Terrifying Questions


1:  To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself . Where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born on February 18, 1936 in Chicago, Illinois, the second of five children.  My grandparents were Finnish immigrants and my parents were born on dairy farms in Northern Michigan, about 150 miles apart, and met in Chicago when they moved to the big city to find work. I grew up in Chicago, although the family used to drive to Michigan in the summer and spend time on both of my grandparents’ farms, so I knew that milk didn’t just come from a grocery store. My parents were intelligent, but they were working people.  Advanced education was never stressed. My mother’s goal for me was the same as that of most mothers of teen-age daughters in the 1950’s:  get married and have children. In truth, it disturbed her when I turned out to be bookworm who was always reading, and then learned typing and shorthand so I could have a career as a secretary. That was a bit too independent for the 50’s. Continue reading

Mike Lancaster, author of 0.4 – It’s a Brave New World, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Mike Lancaster

author of 0.4 – It’s a Brave New World

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in the UK. I was raised in small rural villages around Huntingdon, and then when I was eleven or twelve my parents split up and I suddenly found myself living in the middle of a vast council estate. The experience left me feeling like an outsider – something I guess I actively cultivated in my teens by reading Camus and Salinger and listening to punk rock.

I went to school at Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon; and to university in Northampton.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Writer, writer and writer. I’ve never wanted to be anything else. I think that as soon as I started to appreciate books, I wanted to write them.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That lovely simplistic belief in absolutes: that for every issue there is only black and white -right and wrong- in the world, and no intermediate shades of grey.

As I get older I see more and more grey.

4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Gulliver’s Travels, by Swift, is a book I frequently revisit, and I guess I have taken an important lesson away from it: that by viewing the world from other angles – or by distorting it and exaggerating it – you can reveal its flaws and inconsistencies in a far more enduring fashion than you can through the use of carefully studied realism.

And it’s a whole lot funnier.

The works of H. P. Lovecraft, that strange gentleman of Providence, showed me that less is very often more, that hinting can be far more effective than shouting, and that the universe was not only not built for us, but that it may actually mean us ill will.

And Harlan Ellison’s dazzling short stories constantly remind me that there is a moral dimension to writing fiction, that it is our duty as writers to explore the very limits of human emotions and actions and use them to inform our non-writing lives.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I have tried painting, drawing, music and acting and I am terrible at them all. And I can’t dance. Words I can do.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

0.4 is a science fiction novel for 11+ readers.

It’s the story of a single day in a small village called Millgrove – which just so happens to be the day that everything changes for humanity.


That story is told from the viewpoint of a fifteen-year-old boy called Kyle Straker, who records his terrifying experiences onto audiotapes.

The book is a transcription of those audiotapes by a person far in the future, who adds his own comments to explain some of Kyle’s cultural references.

(BBGuru: Publisher description -

The Millgrove talent show has the same performances as any other small town: a cheesy ventriloquist, off-key karaoke singers, and bad dance routines. But after Kyle Straker is hypnotized as part of his friends mysterious new act, Millgrove will never be the same again.

When Kyle and the other volunteers awaken, the entire audience, the entire town, and possibly the entire world, is frozen still. Telephones, radios, televisions, and computers no longer work: only a strange language flashes across the screens.

When everybody suddenly wakes up, it becomes clear that they have changed and that Kyle is now an outsider, one of the 0.4.

Is Kyle still under hypnosis, or is this chilling new world real? Will he awaken from a dream to roars of laughter, or is there something much more sinister happening?

One of the last of his kind, Kyle records his story on a series of cassette tapes, describing the shift, and what it means for the future of mankind.)

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I just want to do what I think all art is supposed to: to make people look at the world in a slightly different way.

I’d also like it if they used the word ‘cool’ when describing it to a friend.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Donald E. Westlake, the great American crime writer, who died in 2008.

And simply because out of the fifty or so novels of his I have read, I have yet to come across one that I didn’t like.

He could jump from laugh-out-loud comic caper novels, to coldly amoral thrillers, to science fiction stories, all without ever letting me down.

When he died I felt like I had lost a friend in the world.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To keep telling good stories that provide my readers with exercise for that important muscle – the human imagination.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

I have three bits of advice that I like to pass on:

1) Write, don’t think. Then edit.

2) Follow your instincts, even when they seem to be leading you astray.

3) Junk in: junk out. You have to read great writers to produce great writing.

Mike, thank you for playing.

Sample a Chapter of 0.4 Here

The 50 Must Read Australian Novels (40 to 31) (The Popular Vote 2010)

If we mometarily ignore the genius of Hal Porter (37) and the Nobel Prize winning Patrick White (32), the next ten titles on our list could be said to represent the best of modern writing in Australia. Who am I trying to kid? I can’t ignore Hal Porter or Patrick White. The next ten, therefore, can be said to represent the best of Australian writing. No more said. (Full List of 50 Must Read Australian Novels now available – click here)


40. A Fraction of the Whole

Steve Toltz

Meet the Deans.

The Father is Martin Dean.

He taught his son always to make up his mind, and then change it. An impossible, brilliant, restless man, he just wanted the world to listen to him – and the trouble started when the world did.

The Uncle is Terry Dean.

As a boy, Terry was the local sporting hero. As a man, he became Australia’s favourite criminal, making up for injustice on the field with this own version of justice off it.

The Son is Jasper Dean.

Now that his father is dead, Jasper can try making some sense of his outrageous schemes to make the world a better place. Haunted by his own mysteriously missing mother and a strange recurring vision, Jasper has one abiding question: Is he doomed to become the lunatic who raised him, or a different kind of lunatic entirely?

From the New South Wales bush to bohemian Paris, from sports fields to strip clubs, from the jungles of Thailand to a leaky boat in the Pacific, Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole follows the Deans on their freewheeling, scathingly funny and finally deeply moving quest to leave their mark on the world.

978014320305639. Butterfly

Sonya Hartnett

On the verge of her fourteenth birthday, Plum knows her life will change. But she has no idea how.

Over the coming weeks, her beautiful neighbour Maureen will show her how she might fly. Her adored older brothers will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends – her worst enemies – will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.

Who ever forgets what happens when you’re fourteen? Continue reading

The 50 Must Read Australian Novels (50 to 41) (The Popular Vote 2010)

A while ago now, whilst playing… ahem… doing important and vital Booktopia business on twitter and facebook, I decided to ask Booktopia’s followers and friends what they thought were the ‘must read’ Australian novels.

Many disparage twitter and facebook by suggesting that it is both frivolous and time wasting (I being of their number some few short months ago). Whereas I cannot defend twitter and facebook against these charges, I can say, of those who read the drivel I put out there (tweet), the vast majority are extraordinarily well read (some, frighteningly so).

(Granted, I am the voice of the best online book shop in the universe, Booktopia, and not the voice of a company that makes protein shakes for muscle bound freaks, so finding readers following Booktopia shouldn’t be a surprise, but even so… )

However, we can be proud of something – we’re not wasting ordinary lives on twitter and facebook we are squandering the best minds in Australia!

That’s who created this list, the wonderful and entertaining wasters of life and intellect who happen to follow Booktopia on twitter and facebook. And I am thankful they did because the list is a very fine list.

So, thank you all for taking the time to, first, recommend such wonderful books and, second, take the time to vote in droves, helping me to whittle down the list to a manageable 50 Must Read Australian Novels.

As you’ll see, Australia’s literature is rich and varied and some of it is even in print.

Here are…

The 50 Must Read Australian Novels

This first instalment counts down from 50 to 41 (please note the inclusion of some of my favourite ‘tweeps’ – @kylie_ladd – @domknight@overingtonc Yay! Clap, clap, clap!) (Full List of 50 Must Read Australian Novels now available – click here)

last-summer50. Last Summer

Kylie Ladd (@kylie_ladd)

Rory Buchanan has it all: looks, talent, charisma-an all around good-guy, he’s the centre of every party and a loving father and husband. Then one summer’s afternoon, tragedy strikes. Those who are closest to him struggle to come to terms with their loss. Friendships are strained, marriages falter and loyalties are tested in a gripping and brilliantly crafted novel about loss, grief and desire.

Told from the points of view of nine of the people who are mourning Rory, this riveting novel presents a vivid snapshot of contemporary suburban Australia and how we live now. Marriage, friendship, family-all are dissected with great psychological insight as they start to unravel under the pressure of grief. The characters live on the page; their lives are unfolded and their dilemmas are as real as our own.

978174114566349. Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery

Kerry Greenwood

The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honourable Phryne Fisher – she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions – is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.

Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism – not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse – until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street. Continue reading


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,052 other followers

%d bloggers like this: