BOOK REVIEW: The Golden Age by Joan London (Review by Caroline Baum)

Do you remember polio? Perhaps you don’t, but when I was growing up there were children who wore callipers (metal contraptions bolted to their leg below the knee) at my school or limped along wearing an awful tall shoe.

Joan London has chosen child polio victims as her subject for this beautiful, tender and gently moving novel set in The Golden Age, a home for polio sufferers called in nineteen fifties Perth. There, thirteen year old Frank meets fellow patient Elsa and the two fall quietly and gradually in love. Prompted by his encounter with a poet in an iron lung, Frank is also discovering his love of poetry and making his first tentative attempts to write.

London, who has always been a writer of great subtlety and sensitivity, particularly when it comes to parent child relationships, deploys a real delicacy and empathy towards her subject, most especially in dealing with the parents attitudes to their children’s illness: shame, bitterness, acceptance. She captures the attitudes towards disability of the era in a way that is a valuable reminder of how much things have changed for the better. Avoiding sentiment, she taps into genuine feeling achieving a quietly profound effect.


Grab a copy of The Golden Age here

Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

The Golden Agethe-golden-age

by Joan London

This is a story of resilience, the irrepressible, enduring nature of love, and the fragility of life. From one of Australia’s most loved novelists.

He felt like a pirate landing on an island of little maimed animals. A great wave had swept them up and dumped them here. All of them, like him, stranded, wanting to go home.

It is 1954 and thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia. At The Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent Hospital in Perth, he sees Elsa, a fellow-patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond.

The Golden Age becomes the little world that reflects the larger one, where everything occurs, love and desire, music, death, and poetry. Where children must learn that they are alone, even within their families.

Written in Joan London’s customary clear-eyed prose, The Golden Age evokes a time past and a yearning for deep connection. It is a rare and precious gem of a book from one of Australia’s finest novelists.

About the Author

Joan London is the author of two prize-winning collections of stories, Sister Ships, which won the Age Book of the Year in 1986, and Letter to Constantine, which won the Steele Rudd Award in 1994 and the West Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction. These stories have been published in one volume as The New Dark Age. Her first novel, Gilgamesh, was published in 2001, won the Age Book of the Year for Fiction in 2002 and was longlisted for the Orange Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, The Good Parents, was published in April 2008 and won the 2009 Christina Stead Prize for fiction in the NSW Premier’s Literary awards. Joan London’s books have all been published internationally to critical acclaim. The Golden Age (2014) is her third novel.

Grab a copy of The Golden Age here

BOOK REVIEW: Lost & Found by Brooke Davis (Review by Caroline Baum)

This anticipated debut has already been sold into twenty one countries and seems destined to be one of this year’s big favourites. It’s a truly original and charming story originating in the author’s own tragic loss at the early death of her mother. She’s translated her own grief into a fantasy fable that asks big existential questions with a very light touch.

When seven and a half year old Millie’s father dies, her mother leaves her in the underwear section of a department store. Precocious in her thoughts and actions, Millie decides to go and look for her. At which point she collides with a very shouty woman called Agatha Pantha who has not left her house since her husband died fifteen years ago. And then there’s Karl, an eighty-seven year old touch typist who has escaped his nursing home with a plastic mannequin as a companion.

They are an unlikely trio, causing confusion wherever they stumble but Davis protects them from ridicule with finely judged sensitivity, even while she pushes the narrative into unconventional and quirky territory.

Grab a copy of Lost & Found here


Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

lost-foundLost & Found

by Brooke Davis

A heart-warming debut about finding out what love and life is all about.

Millie Bird (aka Captain Funeral), seven-years old and ever hopeful, always wears red gumboots to match her red, curly hair. Her struggling mother leaves Millie in a local department store and never returns.

Agatha Pantha, eighty-two, has not left her house or spoken to another human being since she was widowed seven years ago. She fills the silences by yelling at passers by, watching loud static on the TV and maintaining a strict daily schedule.

Karl the Touch Typist, eighty-seven, once used his fingers to type out love notes on his wife’s skin. Now he types his words out into the air as he speaks. Karl is moved into a nursing home but in a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.

A series of events binds the three together on a road trip that takes them from the south coast of WA to Kalgoorlie and along the Nullarbor to the edge of the continent. Millie wants to find her mum. Karl wants to find out how to be a man. And Agatha just wants everything to go back to how it was.

They will discover that old age is not the same as death, that the young can be wise, and that letting yourself experience sadness just might be the key to life.

About the Author

Brooke Davis grew up in Bellbrae, Victoria, and attempted to write her first novel when she was ten years old. It was genre-busting foray into the inner-workings of a young teenage girl’s mind Anne of Green Gables meets The Baby-Sitters Club meets Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret titled Summer Sadness. Fortunately it remains unfinished, as she quickly realised she didn’t know the first thing about sadness, or being a teenager.

Lost & Found is her first proper novel, and she was lucky to write it as part of a PhD at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. She still lives there (in Perth, not at university), and is sometimes allowed to work at a very nice bookshop nearby. Much to Brooke’s surpise, Lost & Found proved to be the buzz book of the 2014 London Book Fair. The translation rights have since been sold into sixteen countries and major deals have been confirmed in the United States and Great Britain.

Grab a copy of Lost & Found here

Simon Griffiths, author of Shed, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Simon Griffiths

author of Shed and Shack

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 Fern Tree Gully in Victoria and went to the local school, Monbulk High School.

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

At twelve I secretly wanted to be an astronaut and walk on the moon. At eighteen I wanted to be a photographer, at thirty I was shooting for books and just wanted it to continue, I was enjoying the whole book process so much.

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

Author: Simon Griffiths

I used to believe most people in the world were sensible, I don’t believe that anymore.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

For me travel has been very influential, I am lucky that I get to travel a lot for work. My first big trip was to Italy, it was a life changing experience. Owning my first garden, I love gardens and gardening and owning my first piece of dirt was a turning point in my life. And a trip I had to Tibet with Kylie Kwong and my publisher, it was a magical, life changing trip and somewhere I thought I would never get to go to.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

I really don’t believe that I chose to write a book. I felt compelled to write one. Ever since I was a child, I had a busy head and the only way to make sense of things was to put pen to paper, when I got the idea for my first book, I could barely think of anything else other than the characters that had arrived and the world that had developed. I put pen to paper and it all spilled out. When I don’t write I’m a very moody, confused, unsatisfied person.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Shed is a look “Sheds” in Australia in the twenty-first century, who owns them, what goes on in them and why they enrich our lives. And hopefully will inspire people to create their own sheds.

Grab a copy of Simon’s new book Shed here

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

Well how about world peace for a start.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Gosh this changes from week to week. This week it would be Edward Weston, who I have been reading about. One of the masters of 20th Century photography, His work was innovative and still influences photographers today. His technical skills both on the camera and in the darkroom were legendary.

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

At the moment it would be to continue working on interesting book projects and to get my garden looking good before Christmas!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t give up!!! Keep writing. Keep your eye on the goal

Simon, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Shed


by Simon Griffiths

The Shed: A place of retreat, where we can forget the pressures of everyday life, work on a treasured project, store all those keepsakes we can’t bear to throw away, or spend time with friends or with ourselves in silent meditation.

Photographer Simon Griffiths has an eye for the beauty of ordinary things; in Shack he showed us the eccentric living spaces and holiday homes that Australians have made out of simple dwellings. Now he takes you to peek inside some of Australia’s most intriguing sheds. From fabulously cluttered artists’ studios overflowing with creativity and inspiration to evocative abandoned ruins, these sheds will make you look at your own in a new light. A shed is a place of possibility; it can be anything you want it to be.

About the Author

Simon Griffiths is a leading photographer of food, interiors and gardens. His photography appears frequently in the major lifestyle magazines and in books such as Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion and Kylie Kwong: My China. In the field of gardening and landscape design he has collaborated with Rick Eckersley and Lisa Stafford on their book Outside, with Jenna Reed Burns on Australian Gardens for a Changing Climate, and with noted rosarian Susan Irvine on The Garden at Forest Hall. He has also worked closely with leading Australian garden designer Paul Bangay on all his books, most recently The Garden at Stonefields. Shed is his is his second solo book following Shack.

 Grab a copy of Shed

BOOK REVIEW: The Wonders by Paddy O’Reilly (Review by Caroline Baum)

Some writers are happy to write the same book over and over. They find a successful formula and stick to it. Paddy O’Reilly is not one of those writers. This book could not be more different from The Fine Colour of Rust, her deliciously humorous rural anti-romance. Except for one thing: she does one-off, out-of-the-box, quirky characters to a T.

The trio at the centre of The Wonders would, in the nineteenth century, have belonged to a freak show. One has a metal heart, another is covered in fine wool fur and the third has a pair of wings.

Along comes Rhona, a forceful impresario with a circus background, and a tough, modern approach to exploiting these three humans with unusual, unique attributes. She hires a publicist and they go on tour to make their fortunes.

For a while, things cruise along just as planned, despite the kind of pettinesses and tensions you’d expect from three people with highly strung personalities on show. Egos get ruffled. Rivalries emerge. Their insecurities and irritations mirror those of any rock and roll band trapped on tour for too long.

O’Reilly makes Leon, the man with the metal heart, her primary focus. How he came by that heart and his need to reconnect with its maker add a level of mystery and intrigue to this thoroughly unpredictable modern day fantasy.

But then events take an unexpected turn; the mood shifts from one of exotic modern day fairground to something darker and more threatening.

O’Reilly has a light touch when it comes to irony, allowing her to explore themes of difference, disability and celebrity in a way that is both playful and profound before changing gear and ramping up the psychological tension. This is a hard book to categorise but O’Reilly pulls off a unique brand of magical realism with flourish.

Grab a copy of The Wonders here


Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

the-wonders-signed-copies-available-The Wonders

by Paddy O’Reilly

What sets them apart is the radical, experimental and sometimes faulty medical treatments they’ve all undergone. Leon has a hole punched through his chest and a small mechanical heart visible to all; Kathryn has been cured of a rare genetic disorder but the treatment left her covered in curly black wool; and performance artist Christos has metal wings implanted into his back.

When ‘The Wonders’ are brought together by a canny entrepreneur, their glamorous, genre-defying, twenty first-century freak show becomes a global sensation. But what makes them objects of fascination also places them in danger. A wonderfully inventive novel that challenges our ideas about celebrity, disability and the value of life from one of Australia’s finest authors at the peak of her powers.

About the Author

Paddy O’Reilly is the author of two novels, The Factory and The Fine Colour of Rust, a collection of award-winning short stories, and a novella. Her novels have been shortlisted for major awards, and her stories have been widely published, anthologised and broadcast in Australia and overseas.

SERIES: The Incompetent Cook takes on Quinoa with Adam Liaw

Could Adam Liaw be the cook who drags our Incompetent Cook, Andrew Cattanach into kitchen competency? Adam is very patient with Andrew. He takes his time. Speaks clearly and demonstrates his techniques as simply as possible. But first things first – can he teach Andrew how to say Quinoa!?

adam-s-big-pot-order-your-signed-copy-Adam’s Big Pot 

by Adam Liaw

Want simple, healthy and delicious meals? Quickly? Masterchef winner Adam Liaw is back to help!

Adam’s Big Pot is a cookbook for modern families. In his latest cookbook, Adam Liaw shows you how to prepare easy family meals and gives new answers for that age-old question: ‘What’s for dinner?’ In this beautifully photographed cookbook, Adam takes a practical and creative approach to family cooking, creating new flavours from ingredients you already know, all in just one big wok, pan, dish or pot.

From fresh Vietnamese salads and simple South African curries, to Korean grilled pork belly and one-pot Japanese classics, the dishes in Adam’s Big Pot are basic enough for the novice home cook, affordable enough to feed the whole family, and can all be made from basic supermarket ingredients. Whether you’re after easy classics like shaking beef, mee goreng and lamb vindaloo or looking to add new dishes to your repertoire like tiger-skin chicken, snapper rice and Japanese souffle cheesecake, Adam’s Big Pot is your guide to simple, creative family cooking.

 Click here to grab a copy of Adam’s Big Pot

More Episodes of The Incompetent Cook

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BOOK REVIEW: The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour (Review by Caroline Baum)

the-last-illusionIn a bold contemporary reworking of a classic Persian epic tale , this is the story of Zal, a boy raised among birds who meets Silber, a magician who wants to pull off the greatest trick in the history of the world. Zal also falls in not-quite-love love with Asiya an anorexic Cassandra-like photographer ( and her humungously large sister Willa). As you can tell from this schematic synopsis, you are in for a wild ride.

Set against the backdrop of the paranoia and anxiety of Y2K ( Remember that? Seems so laughably,innocently absurd to us now) in New York, Khakpour’s concoction is full of portent and ominous foreshadowing of a great looming disaster while tackling what it means to be an ‘outsider’ whether because of your body or your mind. Can Zal, with the aid of his father and his therapist, make the transition from freak to normal? His attempts are both comic and tenderly poignant, as he navigates the perils of what it means to be human.

19918Khakpour’s flamboyant storytelling has the enchantment of a fable laced with contemporary irony. It reminded me of Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure in its depiction of what it means to feel completely at odds with the world you land in, and Salman Rushdie in its seductive language and imagery.

The author apparently based Zal partly on the case of a 2008 feral discovered living in an aviary in rural Russia, while the character of Silber was inspired by mega illusionist David Copperfield. Using her own experience of coming of age alienation as a migrant from Iran to the US to capture Zal’s, Khakpour says she wanted to conjure up the apocalyptic angst at the end of the century as ‘ a time when the scope of neurotic magical thinking rivalled the enormity of actual impending disaster.’

Fabulous fabulism.

Grab a copy of Porochista Khakpour’s The Last Illusion here

The Last Illusion

by Porochista Khakpour

From the critically acclaimed author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects comes a bold, fabulist novel about a feral boy coming of age in New York, based on a legend from the medieval Persian epic The Shahnameh, the Book of Kings

In a rural Iranian village, Zal’s demented mother, horrified by the pallor of his skin and hair, becomes convinced she has given birth to a ‘White Demon’. She hides him in a birdcage and there he lives for the next decade. Unfamiliar with human society, Zal eats birdseed and communicates only in the squawks of the other pet birds around him.

Freed from his cage and adopted by a behavioural analyst, Zal awakens in New York to the possibility of a future. An emotionally stunted adolescent, he strives to become more ‘human’ as he stumbles toward adulthood, but his persistent dreams in ‘bird’ and his secret snacking on candied insects make assimilation impossible.

As New York survives one potential disaster, Y2K, and begins hurtling toward another, 9/11, Zal finds himself in a cast of fellow outsiders. A friendship with a famous illusionist who claims – to the Bird Boy’s delight – that he can fly, and a romantic relationship with a disturbed artist who believes she is clairvoyant, send Zal’s life spiralling into chaos. Like the rest of New York, he is on a collision course with devastation.

Grab a copy of Porochista Khakpour’s The Last Illusion here

BOOK REVIEW: What Days Are For by Robert Dessaix (Review by Caroline Baum)

what-days-are-forRobert Dessaix knows his readers better than almost any other writer in Australia. He has met many of them personally at festivals over many years after developing an intense intimacy with them as a radio broadcaster. He has groupies who find him so captivating that I have heard them say after his public appearances than they’d like to pop him in their pocket and take him home. But Robert is not a pet. He is a flesh and blood writer who tackles big themes with erudition, elegance, literary grace and sharp, sometimes arch wit. He has a European old world sensibility and does not entirely belong in this century; he is a time traveler who belongs in another, more subtle, less vulgar era.

As one of our great stylists, Dessaix has a singular, distinctive voice and manner, a light yet profound touch addressing literary wanderings together with musings on art, love, friendship. It’s a potently attractive cocktail. But that cocktail got shaken rather than stirred when Robert had not one but two close encounters with death a couple of years ago.

4023926-3x4-340x453Not surprisingly that prompted him to re-assess his life and ask what it was all for. This collection of essays is the result and I am happy to say it announces a sparkling, tender and invigorated return to form. It’s a precious reminder of what is to be cherished and what can be jettisoned when one is faced with one’s own mortality.

Sprinkled with musings on spiritual matters, Dessaix never allows himself to slip into the annoying waftiness of so much writing about the non-material realm. No: he is firmly anchored, indeed at times tethered, to his hospital bed, his home and the world around him, as he considers the Big Themes of his own life and ours with the laser-like attention of a gemologist considering a precious stone.

Before we get swept up in the end of year inane festivities of mindless consumption, over-shopping and over-eating, it’s good to refocus attention on the essentials.

In the end, as Dessaix recognises and reminds us, all you need is love.

Grab a copy of Robert Dessaix’s What Days Are For here

what-days-are-forWhat Days Are For

by Robert Dessaix

Witty, acerbic, insightful musings from Robert Dessaix, one of Australia’s finest writers.

One Sunday night in Sydney, Robert Dessaix collapses in a gutter in Darlinghurst, and is helped to his hotel by a kind young man wearing a T-shirt that says FUCK YOU. What follows are weeks in hospital, tubes and cannulae puncturing his body, as he recovers from the heart attack threatening daily to kill him.

While lying in the hospital bed, Robert chances upon Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Days’. What, he muses, have his days been for? What and who has he loved – and why?

This is vintage Robert Dessaix. His often surprisingly funny recollections range over topics as eclectic as intimacy, travel, spirituality, enchantment, language and childhood, all woven through with a heightened sense of mortality.

Grab a copy of Robert Dessaix’s What Days Are For here


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