The Booktopia Buzz Evolves

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Booktopia is proud to present a special podcast edition of the January Buzz with Caroline Baum.

Click here to download and get the latest in book reviews and tips for the new year.

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VIDEO INTERVIEW: Christos Tsiolkas chats with John Purcell about anger, happiness and the power of failure

Writing a follow up to The Slap was never going to be easy for Christos Tsiolkas. John Purcell casts an eye over his latest, Barracuda.

ChristosTsiolkasThis is a difficult book to write about. It has a personality rather than a plot. It is built upon emotion rather than reason. It is all shouts and whispers and nothing in between.

As a boy Danny Kelly wants only one thing – to be the greatest swimmer of all time. And his dream isn’t farfetched. His coach believes he can do it. His mother is behind him, waking early and driving him to the pool. And his peers think he can do it, though they resent him for his talent.

Every waking moment of Danny Kelly’s life is lived in pursuit of that single goal – which makes him a bit of a shit.

Christos Tsiolkas doesn’t deliver Danny’s story in sequence. Because Danny’s life isn’t linear. There is one central event, one devastating moment in Danny’s life and all other moments are either before or after it. He has no past, present, or future.  Everything races towards and circles back to that event. If we want to understand Danny we need to understand this.

Barracuda questions our obsession with winning and winners. It examines failure, shame and regret. It asks whether we can ever be truly forgiven for our sins. And it does so in naked fearless prose. This is not an uplifting book, but unlike Eyrie, there is love and there is hope. And it suggests we are only as isolated from others as we allow ourselves to be.

For more details about Barracuda click here

Barracuda

by Christos Tsiolkas

Tender and brutal and blazingly brilliant, the new novel from the acclaimed author of the international bestseller The Slap takes an unflinching look at modern Australia – at our hopes and dreams, our friendships, and our families – and asks what it means to be a good person and what it takes to become one.

He asked the water to lift him, to carry him, to avenge him. He made his muscles shape his fury, made every stroke declare his hate. And the water obeyed; the water would give him his revenge. No one could beat him, no one came close.

His whole life, Danny Kelly’s only wanted one thing: to win Olympic gold. Everything he’s ever done-every thought, every dream, every action-takes him closer to that moment of glory, of vindication, when the world will see him for what he is: the fastest, the strongest and the best. His life has been a preparation for that moment.

His parents struggle to send him to the most prestigious private school with the finest swimming program; Danny loathes it there and is bullied and shunned as an outsider, but his coach is the best and knows Danny is, too, better than all those rich boys, those pretenders. Danny’s win-at-all-cost ferocity gradually wins favour with the coolest boys-he’s Barracuda, he’s the psycho, he’s everything they want to be but don’t have the guts to get there. He’s going to show them all.

He would be first, everything would be alright when he came first, all would be put back in place. When he thought of being the best, only then did he feel calm.

Should we teach our children to win, or should we teach them to live? How do we make and remake our lives? Can we atone for our past? Can we overcome shame? And what does it mean to be a good person?

A searing and provocative novel by the acclaimed author of the international bestseller The Slap, Barracuda is an unflinching look at modern Australia, at our hopes and dreams, our friendships, and our families. It is about class and sport and politics and migration and education. It contains everything a person is: family and friendship and love and work, the identities we inhabit and discard, the means by which we fill the holes at our centre. Barracuda is brutal, tender and blazingly brilliant; everything we have come to expect from this fearless vivisector of our lives and world.

For more details about Barracuda click here

We also have signed copies of The Slap

REVIEW: The Tournament By Matthew Reilly (Review by John Purcell)

imageBestselling author Matthew Reilly is one of Australia’s most reliable writers. Every couple of years he delivers his fans quality popular fiction and every couple of years he can be counted on to break Australian sales records.  But till now, all of his successes, Ice Station, Seven Ancient Wonders, Temple, The Five Greatest Warriors, Scarecrow, to name just a few, have one thing in common, the breakneck speed of their narrative.

The Tournament is a departure for Reilly, gone is his trademark breakneck speed. Instead we find a narrative with gravitational pull. Enter The Tournament’s orbit and you cannot escape, you must read on to the final page.

That said this book still jogs along. You don’t get to where Reilly is without learning a trick or two. He has chosen a point in time, 1546. He has given us a narrator, Queen Elizabeth I, no less. He has booked a stage, a chess tournament in Constantinople held by Sulleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. And hired only the best talent to walk his boards, St Ignatius Loyola, Michelangelo, Ivan the Terrible, and a 13 year old Elizabeth Tudor, who is accompanied by her teacher, Roger Ascham, the real hero of the story, a Renaissance Sherlock Holmes.

imageBefore the first page there is a warning from Matthew Reilly stating that this is most definitely an adult book with adult content. And what I think he means is that there is sex in it. Because sex was the only thing missing from his other books, all which contain violence aplenty. In The Tournament the sex is illustrative, designed to show the decadence of the Sultan’s court and we, the readers, are observers only, never participants as is the case with erotic fiction. Any 15 year old with an iPhone has seen much, much worse. And besides, the sex and violence are the carrot which keeps us turning the pages. The Tournament is essentially a didactic tale, with lots of discussions about morality, religion, philosophy, history and politics. Ascham is the future queen’s teacher and he is convinced that she must know of the world to rule it well. Matthew Reilly, a great fan of Star Wars, has created a pair to rival, Obi-Wan and Luke Skywalker.

This is a book which will entertain thousands of Australian readers this summer holidays. It is not too heavy, not too light, just right.

For more details about The Tournament click here

roger-ascham-and-the-king-s-lost-girlStill unsure? Grab a copy of Matthew Reilly’s FREE EBOOK here!

ROGER ASCHAM AND THE KING’S LOST GIRL

In this special FREE prequel to Matthew Reilly’s The Tournament, Roger Ascham, the unorthodox tutor of Princess Elizabeth, is tasked by King Henry VIII with a most unusual and dangerous mission.

REVIEW: Barracuda By Christos Tsiolkas (Review by John Purcell)

Writing a follow up to The Slap was never going to be easy for Christos Tsiolkas. John Purcell casts an eye over his latest, Barracuda.

ChristosTsiolkasThis is a difficult book to write about. It has a personality rather than a plot. It is built upon emotion rather than reason. It is all shouts and whispers and nothing in between.

As a boy Danny Kelly wants only one thing – to be the greatest swimmer of all time. And his dream isn’t farfetched. His coach believes he can do it. His mother is behind him, waking early and driving him to the pool. And his peers think he can do it, though they resent him for his talent.

Every waking moment of Danny Kelly’s life is lived in pursuit of that single goal – which makes him a bit of a shit.

Christos Tsiolkas doesn’t deliver Danny’s story in sequence. Because Danny’s life isn’t linear. There is one central event, one devastating moment in Danny’s life and all other moments are either before or after it. He has no past, present, or future.  Everything races towards and circles back to that event. If we want to understand Danny we need to understand this.

Barracuda questions our obsession with winning and winners. It examines failure, shame and regret. It asks whether we can ever be truly forgiven for our sins. And it does so in naked fearless prose. This is not an uplifting book, but unlike Eyrie, there is love and there is hope. And it suggests we are only as isolated from others as we allow ourselves to be.

For more details about Barracuda click here

Barracuda

by Christos Tsiolkas

Tender and brutal and blazingly brilliant, the new novel from the acclaimed author of the international bestseller The Slap takes an unflinching look at modern Australia – at our hopes and dreams, our friendships, and our families – and asks what it means to be a good person and what it takes to become one.

He asked the water to lift him, to carry him, to avenge him. He made his muscles shape his fury, made every stroke declare his hate. And the water obeyed; the water would give him his revenge. No one could beat him, no one came close.

His whole life, Danny Kelly’s only wanted one thing: to win Olympic gold. Everything he’s ever done-every thought, every dream, every action-takes him closer to that moment of glory, of vindication, when the world will see him for what he is: the fastest, the strongest and the best. His life has been a preparation for that moment.

His parents struggle to send him to the most prestigious private school with the finest swimming program; Danny loathes it there and is bullied and shunned as an outsider, but his coach is the best and knows Danny is, too, better than all those rich boys, those pretenders. Danny’s win-at-all-cost ferocity gradually wins favour with the coolest boys-he’s Barracuda, he’s the psycho, he’s everything they want to be but don’t have the guts to get there. He’s going to show them all.

He would be first, everything would be alright when he came first, all would be put back in place. When he thought of being the best, only then did he feel calm.

Should we teach our children to win, or should we teach them to live? How do we make and remake our lives? Can we atone for our past? Can we overcome shame? And what does it mean to be a good person?

A searing and provocative novel by the acclaimed author of the international bestseller The Slap, Barracuda is an unflinching look at modern Australia, at our hopes and dreams, our friendships, and our families. It is about class and sport and politics and migration and education. It contains everything a person is: family and friendship and love and work, the identities we inhabit and discard, the means by which we fill the holes at our centre. Barracuda is brutal, tender and blazingly brilliant; everything we have come to expect from this fearless vivisector of our lives and world.

For more details about Barracuda click here

REVIEW: A Meal in Winter By Hubert Mingarelli (Review by John Purcell)

9781846275340In these months, the busiest  of the bookselling year, thousands of books will compete for your attention.  Some will have huge marketing budgets to ensure they are not missed. Some will just be placed spine out on the shelf of your local bookshop. Some won’t even have that luxury. A Meal in Winter will probably suffer the fate of the latter. But that is no great indicator of its worth… Here is my review:

A Meal in Winter is a novella. You can read it in a night. But it punches well above its weight.

I am told A Meal in Winter will be published as a gorgeous little hardcover but I read the proof, a very drab looking proof is was too, and for some reason, even before I read a page, I had the notion that this was a rediscovered work, much like the work of Irène Némirovsky.  To further compound my assumption, as I read, I was reminded of Primo Levi, of Beckett, of Camus.

But this is not a rediscovered work. Though it is set in WWII and reads like it was written during or shortly after the war, A Meal in Winter was written in the last few years and is now available in English having been translated from the French. And this fact alone would make it an astonishing work. But this is just the start. In 144 pages, author Hubert Mingarelli strips the Second World War down so that it stands before us shivering in its underwear.  And what is surprising, even though he has reduced something so unimaginably huge and complicated into something so small and finely wrought, he manages to avoid trivialising the horrors of that awful period by his reduction.

We accompany three German soldiers as they journey out into the sub-zero Polish winter in search of fugitive Jews. We are privy to their conversation. We take part in their attempts to remain alive, and sane. We are forced to accept their humanity. And because of this, when they do manage to capture a hiding Jew, we are brought uncomfortably close to a truth we all try hard to avoid.

Highly recommended.

Click image for more detailsA Meal in Winter

by Hubert Mingarelli

A miniature masterpiece, this is the sparse, stunning story of three soldiers who share a meal with their Jewish prisoner and face a chilling choice.

One morning, in the dead of winter, three German soldiers are dispatched into the frozen Polish countryside. They have been charged by their commanders to track down and bring back for execution ‘one of them’ – a Jew.

Having flushed out the young man hiding in the woods, they decide to rest in an abandoned house before continuing their journey back to the camp. As they prepare food, they are joined by a passing Pole whose outspoken anti-Semitism adds tension to an already charged atmosphere.

Before long, the group’s sympathies have splintered as they consider the moral implications of their murderous mission and confront their own consciences to ask themselves: should the Jew be offered food? And, having shared their meal, should he be taken back, or set free?

About the Author

Hubert Mingarelli is the author of numerous novels, short story collections and fiction for young adults. His book Quatre Soldats [Four Soldiers], Le Seuil, (2003) won the Prix de Medicis. He lives in Grenoble.

Sam Taylor is a translator, novelist and journalist. His translated works include Laurent Binet’s award-winning novel HHhH. His own novels have been translated in 10 languages.

Click here for more details

REVIEW: Eyrie By Tim Winton (Review by John Purcell)

While reading Tim Winton’s latest novel, Eyrie, I couldn’t help thinking about Charlotte Wood’s Animal People, Zadie Smith’s NW and to a lesser extent, Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending.

All four books have been published in the last five years. Each chronicles the lives of people making do within a society they have inherited. Each book is despairing of the turn the western world has taken. Each searches for some sign that all is not lost.

Eyrie takes things one step further. All is lost in Tim Winton’s book. There is no hope whatsoever.

The backdrop to Winton’s despair is the West Australian government’s acquiescence to the needs of mining companies. 484346-tim-winton-039-sHis protagonist Tom Keely, a onetime prominent local environmentalist, is a defeated man.

The tide of his life is out and all is exposed to the unforgiving sun. But it is at this moment someone from the forgotten past enters his life. She is all life has to offer him now. There are no easy choices. The route back to life promises to be unforgiving and without reward.

Can Tom Keely pull himself together one last time?

The lesson here is, if there is a lesson, “ashes or diamonds, foe or friend, we’re all equal in the end”.

Click here to buy Eyrie from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Caroline Baum’s Highlights from the September Booktopia BUZZ

There’s nothing tame about this bunch. This month is all about extremes. Extremes of desire, of behaviour, of crisis situations, of people tested to the limits of desire, survival, transgression and boundaries crossed. Find out how far you’d be prepared to go. Live dangerously. Pick up a book.

N.B. Caroline Baum and former Buzz editor, Toni Whitmont, will be chairing sessions at a Sydney Jewish Writer’s Festival event on 1st Sept 2013. Participating authors include Laurent Binet, Professor Bryan Gaensler, Andrea Goldsmith, John M Green, Kooshyar Karimi, Hugh Mackay, Nikki Stern, Boaz Bismuth, Michael Bar-Zohar…

Click here to view the full version of the Booktopia BUZZ

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The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane: A Review From Andrew Cattanach

Hindsight is a wonderful thing when reviewing books. But access to the author’s thoughts, well that’s pure gold.

A few days ago we asked Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest, what she hoped people take away with them after reading her work.

I hope people are haunted by the story they’ve just read; that they’re left thinking about trust, dependence, aging, and the ways the past can colonise the present.

I have never read an author who so succinctly summarised my own feelings upon reading their work. For 300 pages I was an unknowing passenger, unaware every emotion stirring inside me was meticulously planned. When I finished the novel I was taken by her skill. Now I’m mesmerised by it.

The Night Guest is the story of Ruth, a recent widower living on the edges of a coastal town. She lives a comfortable yet ultimately unremarkable life, largely defined by her childhood in Fiji with her missionary parents and a lost love from those days.

Ruth’s years begin to catch up with her. Her days fall into one another and she is constantly distracted by thoughts of the past. After she calls her sons one night to tell them she hears a tiger, her sons feel she has become incapable of looking after herself. One day a woman, Frida, turns up at her door. Frida says she is a nurse sent by the government to look after Ruth and as Ruth begrudgingly accepts and the weeks pass, her reliance on Frida begins to grow as her own physical and mental state slowly begins to fall away. But as Frida’s role in Ruth’s life grows, we are left to wonder just what Frida’s true intentions are as Ruth’s mind is increasingly more in the past than the present.

The most brilliant thing about The Night Guest is that I slowly felt as though I had uncovered a hidden subtext, one even the author didn’t realise. I could see tiny cracks in the story, sure only I knew the damage these could ultimately do to the foundations.

But I was wrong. McFarlane knew. She put them there after all.

Haunting is the perfect word to describe it. I’ve spent more time thinking about the book than I did reading it. My own parents are in their seventies, and while a long way from the deterioration Ruth begins to experience, for them a clock ticks with every forgotten name, every misplaced key, and every tired word.

And that’s why I thought I had unlocked a world within the novel that nobody knew existed. That my emotions, my experiences had shaped the story a particular way.

But I was wrong. The Night Guest deals in something we are all slaves to, time.  And while McFarlane pulls the most stirring emotional strings with ease, she tells a poignant, unsettlingly beautiful story that still keeps me up at night.

There was another thing McFarlane said in the interview. She said: A lot of people have told me they call their mothers more often after reading my book.

I called my mother the minute I finished the book, and we talked for hours.

Click here to buy The Night Guest from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

————————————————————————————–

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

REVIEW: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Review by Terry Purcell)

Click here to order The Signature of all Things.When I was handed The Signature of All Things I noted the name of the author and popped it on the pile of books marked, not urgent. Yep, I let my prejudice against the author of Eat, Pray, Love influence my decision even though it was obvious this new novel was a departure from the squillion copy selling EPL. Then, one night I overheard a couple of booksellers talking. One had taken the plunge and had read The Signature of All Things. This was a bookseller whose opinion deserved respect and she had loved it. Loved it.

The next day I picked up The Signature of All Things. It was immediately obvious to me that this was a work of historical fiction of the highest order but it was a big book and with so many other books on my pile already, I gave it to my dad. Here is his review:

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The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chaniani – Review by Isabel Blackmore (age 12)

Review by Isabel Blackmore (age 12): The school for good and evil. Sounds simple, right? It’s not. Its amazing adventures, twists and complications leave you in a daze once you’re finished. Sophie and Agatha are best friends, but there’s one problem – a witch and a princess can’t be friends. With action, adventure, and just a pinch of romance, what’s not to love?

Blurb: A dark and enchanting fantasy adventure perfect for girls who prefer their fairytales with a twist. Every four years, two girls are kidnapped from the village of Gavaldon. Legend has it these lost children are sent to the School for Good and Evil, the fabled institution where they become fairytale heroes or villains.

Sophie, the most beautiful girl in town, has always dreamed of her place at the School for Good while her friend Agatha, with her dark disposition seems destined for the School for Evil. But when the two are kidnapped they find their fortunes reversed…

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