Check out these brilliant book reviews from Booktopians

At the recent Australian Book Expo, we set up a camera and asked Booktopians to review their favourite book. The response was amazing, with so many wonderful book lovers keen to chat about their favourite reads. Here are some of the best. Enjoy!


Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour

by Morgan Matson

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Bitter Greens

by Kate Forsyth

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

by Haruki Murakami

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone

by Laini Taylor

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The Hunt for Pierre Jnr

by David M. Henley

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The Hunt for Pierre Jnr

by David M. Henley

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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Every Breath

by Ellie Marney

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Fallen

by Lauren Kate

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Falling Into Place

by Amy Zhang

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If I Stay

by Gayle Forman

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If I Stay

by Gayle Forman

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Masquerade

by Kylie Fornasier

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On the Jellicoe Road

by Melina Marchetta

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Poison Study

by Maria V. Snyder

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Room

by Emma Donoghue

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City of Bones

by Cassandra Clare

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Skinjob

by Bruce McCabe

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The Incredible Here and Now

by Felicity Castanga

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The Last Thirteen

by James Phelan

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The Regulators

by Stephen King

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These Broken Stars

by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

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Three Men in a Boat

by Jerome K Jerome

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WeirDo 2: Even Weirder!

by Anh Do

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What Makes Us Tick?

by Hugh Mackay

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Women

by Charles Bukowski

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BOOK REVIEW: Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

And as the boys crowd at the door catching their breath in amazement, Colt sees it all, suddenly, for what it is. His father spends money not merely on making his sons envied, but on making them – and the word seems to tip the floor – enticing.

golden-boysWith Golden Boys, Sonya Hartnett has surely established herself as one of the finest Australian novelists of her generation, nearly twenty years after making her name as one of our most celebrated children’s authors.

It is her skills as a children’s writer that makes her latest novel so penetrating. Her understanding of a child’s psyche, their motivations and how they interact with one another.

Golden Boys is told through several children’s eyes with an adult tongue, a small group of children whose lives are shaken when a wealthy new family moves into their working class suburb. The family’s two young boys, Colt and Bastian, have spent their lives inexplicably moving from place to place, school to school. As Colt grows older, he begins to realise why.

This is an Australia we all know, from the searing asphalt to the prickly nature strips. The only thing more unsettling than the things that lurk behind closed doors are the things that are out in the open we can see, yet choose to do nothing about. Perhaps out of politeness or because we have problems we feel are more pressing, the ramifications of these decisions are often widespread and can be felt for years.

Sonya HartnettHartnett explores a central theme that has run throughout children’s literature for centuries – freedom. From Huckleberry Finn to Jasper Jones, a child’s development and growth is usually the result of freedom. But as Hartnett argues, often this freedom is a result of neglect, not savvy parenting. Freedom from neglect has become a prominent phrase in society, but since the publication of Golden Boys, the danger of the freedom of neglect might now become an important topic when tackling problems children are forced to face.

Without a doubt, Golden Boys is one of the finest novels I’ve read in 2014, and perhaps the best Australian novel of the year so far. Don’t be put off by the heavy territory Hartnett explores. This is an Australian classic in the making, full of rich, diverse characters, strong central themes and masterful prose. Get in early before the awards season rolls around and everyone is talking about this extraordinary work.

Grab a copy of Sonia Hartnett’s Golden Boys here

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

BOOK REVIEW: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

Haruki Murakami’s quest to honour his literary hero Franz Kafka has resulted in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, one of his most moving and accessible novels in years.

While Franz Kafka remains best known for his genre-bending novella The Metamorphosis, most will point to his 1925 novel The Trial as his opus, a deeply personal meditation on sex, society and isolation.

Murakami’s latest offering navigates similar waters. A young male protagonist slowly driven to breaking point by, what he perceives to be, an unjust judgement handed down upon him by the people he most cares about.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is as down to earth as Murakami has been for a long time. Talking cats, and vanishing elephants give way to musings on Arnold Wesker, The Pet Shop Boys and Barry Manilow.

When Tsukuru Tazaki is cut off without reason by his circle of high school friends during his sophomore year in college, his world spirals out of control, craving no human interaction and little appetite for food or life, pure hopelessness.

Fast forward twenty years and, despite halting his downward spiral, he is still haunted by those inexplicable events. At his girlfriend’s urging, he tracks down his former friends to get the answer for himself. The journeys he takes turn out to be as much inward as out of town. And as is often the case in Murakami’s fiction, his characters are all about introspection.

murakamiMurakami’s prose has always enthralled me, and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is no exception. His overall tone remains one of the most difficult to pin down in literature, with gorgeous flourishes routinely intercepted by the sort of stark language that belongs in an IKEA catalogue. That, however, is his gift. His words pull you this way and that, tenderising you to feel the full weight of a knockout blow.

One passage in particular took my eye, “The branches of a nearby willow tree were laden with lush foliage and drooping heavily, almost to the ground, though they were still, as if lost in deep thought. Occasionally a small bird landed unsteadily on a branch, but soon gave up and fluttered away. Like a distraught mind, the branch quivered slightly, then returned to stillness.”

Is it beautiful, concise simplicity, or simple, concise beauty? That question is itself an allegory for much of Murakami’s body of work.

Taking his devotion for Kafka further in the final pages, Murakami prefers to leave some of the novel’s biggest questions unanswered, a rarity for a writer who so often neglects characters and prose in preference for themes and plot. Perhaps these are questions he can’t answer, or maybe these are questions that should stay with us, lingering, until we journey towards discovery as Tsukuru does.

Many of the questions in The Trial were never answered as Kafka died before the final edits of the book. It still remains a masterpiece, one which Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage will constantly be compared to, in itself the highest of praise.

It has become tradition that, on the eve of the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Japanese bookstores burst at the seams, champagne on ice, fans hoping that Murakami finally gets the nod. The big question is will Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, having already sold millions of copies worldwide, be enough to tip him over the edge?

Another question that, for the moment anyway, remains unanswered.

Grab a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage here

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was recently shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

REVIEW: Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

your-fathers-where-are-they-and-the-prophets-do-they-live-forever-The irony of Dave Eggers’ somewhat pretentiously named new novel Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is that it is a decidedly unpretentious work. But Dave Eggers knows that. He has more fun with his titles than most, from his breakout memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to his 2004 novel The Unforbidden is Compulsory; or, Optimism.

Your Fathers is a compelling meditation on the world we now live in. I say now because things are changing too fast for many of us, particularly for Eggers and his scatterbrained protagonist Thomas. His world is spinning out of control and the only way to halt it is to bunker down and ask the big questions. Not just of himself, but of the people who have ‘helped’ shape his life. His college hero, his mother, an old teacher, a politician, his soulmate. But he can’t just walk up to them in the street and grill them. He has a better idea.

It’s better if he has some time with them. Time to ask questions.

While they’re tied up in an abandoned military base.

While Your Fathers shines a light in uncomfortable corners, it’s raucously funny in many places, typical of all of Eggers’ work. It goes without saying that a man who, as legend has in, enlists friends to streak and heckle him during book readings would it difficult to hide that subversive humour from his writing. His acid wit works perfectly in tandem with some of the heavy territory Your Fathers explores.

Your Fathers is not a long book, but a dense one. It needs only 224 pages to engulf you. It’s a novel made up of frenzied brushstrokes that, only when you stand back, do you get to see the true genius of.

The brilliant thing about Your Fathers is that, despite his mania, I’m envious of Thomas. I feel like following his lead, although perhaps with less chains. A few days devoted entirely to questions.

But will Thomas get the answers he’s looking for before it’s too late?

Grab a copy of Dave Eggers’ Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? here

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Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

 

BOOK REVIEW: Where Song Began by Tim Low (Review by Justin Cahill)

Way back in 1987, while flicking through New Scientist, an article on birds caught my eye. It was about research that indicated the ancestors of Lyrebirds were among the world’s earliest songbirds. Back then, Australia was thought to be a refuge for species left over after it spit from the supercontinent, Gondwana. Songbirds were generally associated with Europe. The idea they had first evolved here seemed so unlikely that I kept the article, assuming the whole thing would go the way of cold fusion.

In Where Song Began, Tim Low tells how what was once theory became accepted fact. This is an exceptionally important book. High quality, up-to-date works on our natural history written for a general audience for are rare. Low generously stuffs his account of with fresh insights. It turns out the Treecreepers that live in the Blue Gums at the bottom of my street evolved from another ancient song bird. The Magpies that pick their way through the lawn only recently diverged from the local Butcherbirds. Once-mighty theories come crashing down. I was taught New Zealand’s endemic flightless birds, including the Kiwi, only survived as it had split from Gondwana just before mammals big enough to eat them evolved. It turns out that their able-to-fly ancestors probably came from Australia after New Zealand drifted away and were large enough to suppress the development of mammals there.

Author Tim Low

There is much we still don’t know. The eminent archaeologist Colin Renfrew once observed that human DNA, archaeological and literary evidence remain difficult to reconcile. It’s the same with our birds. While it has long been known that Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea had a distinct birdlife, is only now becoming clear just how unique many local species are.

And how have we treated them? As Low recounts, we have destroyed large parts of their habitat, shot them en masseto decorate hats with their tail feathers, killed their young and collected or smashed their eggs. For decades, thousands of muttonbirds were bludgeoned to make a tanning oil, ‘Vita Tan’, sold to unsuspecting bathers at Bondi Beach. In Sydney, habitat destruction has caused the populations of many once-common species to decline sharply. Some face local extinction.

Low also provides fascinating insights into Australia’s economic history. Before the advent of plastics, we had a thriving trade in‘exudes’, the saps and gums that oozed from our native trees. They were used to make an extraordinary range of products, including gramophone records, cosmetics, chewing gum, paint and tooth paste.

Low’s accessible style makes this a very appealing book for those looking for an insight into Australia’s unique flora and fauna. It is a book you can dip into and be assured of learning something new.

Grab a copy of Where Song Began here


Justin Cahill is a historian and solicitor, his university thesis being on the negotiations between the British and Chinese governments over the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

His current projects include completing the first history of European settlement in Australia and New Zealand told from the perspective of ordinary people and a study of the extinction of Sydney’s native birds.

He is a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Heckler’ column.

BOOK REVIEW: Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa (Review by Caroline Baum)

here-come-the-dogs-order-your-signed-copy-The energy of this debut novel just leaps off the page. Musa, a charismatic rapper, has successfully translated the idiom and pulse of performance to the page with its syncopated rhythms and hard-edged beats.

Inevitably, he is being compared with his mate Christos Tsiolkas for his full-frontal engagement with contemporary Australian society: in this case, multicultural masculinity with its surges of often misdirected testosterone.

In small town suburbia during a tinder-dry summer, anything could happen. Booze, drugs, violence and a racing dog all help pass the time.

At the centre of this compelling mash up of poetry and prose are three iconic young men: Solomon, a charming Samoan, who has broken up with his girlfriend and is fascinated by Scarlett, a free spirited tattooist; his half-brother Jimmy, who has got himself into trouble, and their Macedonian childhood friend, Aleks.

Musa manipulates language with raw, bracing vitality, offering up a picture of Australia that is not pretty but feels authentic.

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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.

Grab a signed copy of Here Come the Dogs here

Grab a signed copy of Here Come the Dogs here

REVIEW: Life or Death by Michael Robotham (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

There seems to be two types of people in this world. Those who love Michael Robotham, and those who haven’t heard of him yet.

It can be difficult for a crime writer to receive critical acclaim and popularity. Books by design are denser than any cop drama on TV, asking questions designed for reflection rather than ratings. Formulas are examined and broken down, cliches noted, thin characters ridiculed.

What sets Michael Robotham apart? A simple, but often neglected factor.

He’s just a wonderful writer.

Life or Death starts with an intriguing premise. Audie Palmer is on the run, having escaped from jail. 10 years of beatings and torture are behind him. But what’s the twist?

He has escaped just one day before he was due to be released.

RoboIn Audie Palmer, Robotham has created a character we can all root for. Lucky in his unluckiness, stoic, brave, principled. He is haunted by the ghosts of the past and by a crime he swears he didn’t commit. But can we trust him? Can we really trust anyone?

While Audie is the heart of the story,  there is plenty of meat around him, an ensemble cast of crooked politicians, kind-hearted criminals and shady FBI agents, not to mention a missing seven million dollars. The waters are murky, and Robotham revels in it.

Life or Death is for the crime fan who likes a story, not just an account. Brilliantly written, intelligent, funny, sad and meticulously mapped out, it’s easy to understand why there has already been so much interest in a big screen adaptation of the novel.

There is nothing more exciting than an author operating at the peak of their powers. With Life or Death, Robotham is doing just that, further strengthening his hold as one of Australia’s finest crime writers. Find out why Audie is on the run, before it’s too late.

Grab a copy of Michael Robotham’s Life or Death here

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Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

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