BOOK REVIEW: The Voice by Ray Warren (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

How strange it is to know a voice so well, yet know nothing about the person behind it.

Ray Warren has been purring like a wolverine in my living room for most of my life. On the rare occasions we were allowed to watch TV during dinner, it was usually Ray’s voice emanating from that part of the room, a big game that even mum’s lamb roast couldn’t compete with. They are the strongest memories of my childhood, the fire roaring, mum and dad reading the paper, and Ray Warren musing about a bad offside call.

Sports memoirs are a tricky thing. Everyone has been burnt at one stage or another, particularly if they find themselves in the revolving door of live television. The egos are big, producers wanting talent with strong opinions or they are shown the door.

The Voice is thankfully something different. The man affectionately known as ‘Rabs’ appears nearly embarrassed that his life has garnered so much interest, initially reluctant to write in detail about himself. A few pages in and tales of a childhood spent on the railways, sports carnivals and family holidays paint a beautiful picture, and help Warren warm nicely to the task of chronicling his incredible journey.

The world’s greatest cricketer Don Bradman famously invented a childhood game, hitting a golf ball against a water tank with a cricket stump for hours on end, that would propel him to greatness. From the age of six Ray had developed a similar game to enable him to chase his own dreams. Warren would paint his marbles different colours, assign each colour a name, and fling them down the family hallway, calling the race as though it were the Melbourne Cup. He would later go on to call three cups, along with Commonwealth and Olympic Games and thousands of rugby league matches.

Warren shares his ups and reflects with great humility on his downs. Each struggle something we can all relate to, each lesson we can all absorb.

The Voice is the warm, funny and self-deprecating story of an excitable, eccentric kid who had a dream, and turned into an excitable, eccentric man who found himself living one.

Grab a signed copy of Ray Warren’s The Voice here

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Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He learned to read on a two hour bus trip to school every day, and learned to write in lecture halls and cramped tutorial rooms. He sometimes wins things for the lecture hall stuff.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

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Grab a signed copy of Ray Warren’s The Voice 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

A Day In The Life Of A Reader…

You wake up after a long night of reading…

…and try to sneak some pages in before you leave for work…

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…and on the bus.

You start work full of vigour…

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…until the 5 minute mark.

And then it’s lunchtime…

…but pretty soon it’s time to go back to work…

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…where you daydream about the next chapter…

…and then actually dream about the next chapter…

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…before a very productive afternoon.

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Then 5:30pm arrives…

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…and you head home…

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…home sweet home…

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…where, finally, the best part of your day begins…

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…but your favourite character is in trouble…

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…big trouble…

…and loved ones want to know what’s wrong…

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…and for a tiny, tiny split second, you wonder if all this is worth it. The ups and downs of being a reader…

Thinking

…but only for a split second.

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EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Brooke Davis, author of Lost and Found, chats with Andrew Cattanach

Grab a copy of Lost & Found here

Lost & 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.

Grab a copy of Lost & Found here

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Maxine Beneba Clarke, poet and author of Foreign Soil, in conversation with Andrew Cattanach

Grab a copy of Foreign Soil here

foreign-soilForeign Soil

by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award 2013.

In this collection of award-winning stories, Melbourne writer Maxine Beneba Clarke has given a voice to the disenfranchised, the lost, the downtrodden and the mistreated. It will challenge you, it will have you by the heartstrings. This is contemporary fiction at its finest.

The book is called Foreign Soil. Inside its covers, a desperate asylum seeker is pacing the hallways of Sydney’s notorious Villawood detention centre, a seven-year-old Sudanese boy has found solace in a patchwork bike, an enraged black militant is on the warpath through the rebel squats of 1960s Brixton, a Mississippi housewife decides to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her son from small-town ignorance, a young woman leaves rural Jamaica in search of her destiny, and a Sydney schoolgirl loses her way.

Grab a copy of Foreign Soil here

REVIEW: Loyal Creatures by Morris Gleitzman (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

The opportunity to critique a childhood idol is an uncomfortable proposition. When I was a child my mother would thrust a library book in my hands after we’d run down the bus I was always late for. One of these books was Misery Guts, by Morris Gleitzman, a book that fostered my love of reading. I remain forever indebted to him.

Gleitzman’s new novel, Loyal Creatures, continues his legacy of placing ordinary children in extraordinary, trying circumstances. Frank is a bullish bush kid, of a size that belies his tender years. His mother has passed away and he lives a hard-working life with his father.

War has broken out and Frank is desperate to enlist, despite being underage. He pleads with his father to allow him to bring his loyal horse Daisy to the showgrounds for a trial, but his father refuses. One day Frank’s father receives a white feather in the mail, a signal of cowardice from the community, and gives in to Frank’s requests on one condition. They go to war together, and thus begin a journey that will change their lives forever.

Growing up, stories of The Great War never fascinated me like other boys. They terrified me. I was born on ANZAC Day, in a small town that had the highest enlistment rate of any place in Australia during WWI. The legacy of war was everywhere, and all I could think of was what if it was me? What if I was one of those foolhardy young men desperate for an adventure, who jumped aboard those ships, never to return? Few books can answer those questions as poignantly as Loyal Creatures.

There is an incredible empathy to Gleitzman’s work, spilling over generously into his latest effort. I suspect war terrifies and frustrates him just as much as it does I, and every inch of bravado Frank shows in the opening pages of the novel is met with anger and sadness later as he discovers what war truly is. An horrific, unnecessary loss of life.

Loyal Creatures has something in it for all ages, another telling story of courage and sacrifice during WWI that we should never forget. As a Morris Gleitzman fan, I can truly say he is on top form with Loyal Creatures. Don’t miss it.

Grab a copy of Morris Gleitzman’s Loyal Creatures here

Grab a copy of Morris Gleitzman’s Loyal Creatures here

The World of the ‘Well-Read’ and the Dangers of Book Lists

Q: Have you read the latest Hilary Mantel?

A: No. I prefer her earlier work…

It’s easy to imagine two cavemen standing at the foot of a rock painting and grunting softly over the irony of using mammoth blood to draw a wounded deer. Readers, like all passionate art lovers, tend to argue over the merit of works at the drop of a hat.

All arguments over books boil down to one common point. How is one book ‘better’ than another?

Is Dan Brown’s latest novel really worse than Green Eggs and Ham? Is a blockbuster hit really better than a self-published thriller?

Occasionally book lovers will come up with a list of books, saying you must read these books to call yourself well-read.

I ask these people, on behalf of all readers, to please, please not do this.

Debate is a wonderful thing. For my part, is Green Eggs and Ham better than Dan Brown’s latest novel? Absolutely.

But that’s only my opinion, and you certainly don’t have to have read it to be called well read. Dr Seuss famously wrote it as a bet with his publishers that he couldn’t write a book with just fifty different words.

Only a few days ago one of my friends (an intelligent chap, though a non-reader) told me he had read my review for Dan Brown’s Inferno, and wanted to know if he should read it. I unequivocally replied ‘yes’.

Well-read 2Would I have rather recommended Jane Austen? Or Ernest Hemingway? Or George Elliot?

Of course, but that’s just my opinion. Will he enjoy Inferno? Yes.

Will he read another book because of it? Yes.

And my job, as a preacher of the word of the book, is complete.

If you finish a book and think to yourself – I enjoyed that – that’s all that matters. Yes, in my opinion there many wonderful books that don’t contain wizards and werewolves. But that’s just me, and my opinion.

Putting together a list of books someone must read is helpful.

Saying someone must read all of these books to be called well-read is silly, and ignorant of the diversity, not just of human beings, but of centuries of literature.

Author Maude Casey once said ‘I was born with a reading list I will never finish‘. Embrace that thought, and read what you want. Feel no pressure to read what people tell you. Only then, can you find yourself immersed in the magic of books.

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Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He learned to read on a two hour bus trip to school every day, and learned to write in lecture halls and cramped tutorial rooms. He sometimes wins things for the lecture hall stuff.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

REVIEW: The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

As an avid reader with ambitions to one day become a broke writer, you tend look at stories differently. Rather like a butcher eating a steak. The pleasure isn’t only in the meal itself, but the cut and the consistency of the meat. You don’t just appreciate the story, but also the construction, the character development, and the sleight of hand an author might use to explore themes.

While a darling of transgressive fiction since his debut novel Trainspotting, with The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins Irvine Welsh once again proves himself much more than a one trick pony. Even with his trademark quirks and acerbic characters he proves an incredible craftsman, his storytelling skills threatening to steal the show. He could write anything he wished and be a success, it’s just that he likes his meat a little on the raw side.

Welsh’s characters, despite their eccentricities, are uneasily authentic and his scattered use of epistolary storytelling help bring context to the anger and confusion behind their motives.

It’s ironic to use an analogy about eating red meat to describe my feelings on the book. Protagonist (or perhaps antagonist) Lucy Brennan is a militant physical trainer and wouldn’t find the comparison particularly palatable. She treats her body like a temple, and thinks very little of others who don’t do the same. On further consideration, she doesn’t think all that much of anyone.

Her life changes forever when one night she uses her physical prowess to disarm an armed gunman on the freeway. Filmed by a bystander, she finds herself thrust into the national spotlight, leading to opportunities in the form of typically ridiculous fitness/reality shows (so ridiculous they sound perfectly plausible) and she looks set for the spotlight until a brutal truth is discovered about the gunman’s motives that night.

As Lucy’s star begins to rise and fall, she acquires an apostle, the young artist Lena Sorenson, a woman who has always struggled with her weight, who captured the events on the freeway on her camera phone. While the world sees a shy talent, Lucy only sees a heart attack waiting to happen. The problem is that Lena, despite her own gifts, sees the same thing.

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Lena enlists Lucy’s help in getting her life back on track, but she soon discovers that Lucy’s outlooks on life are far less healthy than the program she prescribes, and events begin to spiral out of control in the pursuit of perfection.

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins owes its name to a news story that buzzes away in the background of the novel, seemingly taking the attention of the entire world: should conjoined teens Annabel and Amy risk an operation to separate so Annabel can sleep with her boyfriend? The subplot typifies Welsh’s world, one that takes an uneasy pleasure in sticking their toes in the lives of others.

If you’re a fan of Irvine Welsh, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins won’t disappoint. After all, there is only one Welsh. But if you’re a newbie, this is the perfect place to start, a much more mature writer awaits you nowadays. Welsh no longer wishes to construct his own strange world to tell a story. The one we all share is far more peculiar.

Grab a copy of The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins 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

REVIEW: Gazing at the Stars by Eva Slonim (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

Around six million Jews died in the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. After reading Eva Slonim’s heartbreaking memoir, Gazing at the Stars, to throw a figure like that around seems careless. Europe’s Jewish population, of which two-thirds died in those years, were not just a faceless crowd of statistics. They were mothers, daughters, teachers, doctors, sons, fathers and decorated soldiers. They were much more than just their heritage and beliefs, they were innocent people. Good people. Loving people. They were important members of their communities, before those communities more often than not turned their backs on them.

Eva Slonim recounts her experiences with an air of defiance. Despite the horrors that engulfed her and the people she loved she takes pains to reflect on the moments of happiness amongst the rubble. Reflections on the love she shares for her hard-working parents, for whom she owes her survival, are gut-wrenching.

Born to a large middle class Jewish family in Bratislava, her early years were filled with happiness. Always taught to be proud of her faith, as Hitler gained power and waves of anti-Semitism began to spread through Europe she was told to stand firm and always remember who she was, and be brave. Undoubtedly it is these traits that aided her survival against insurmountable odds.

From an historical standpoint, Gazing at the Stars is an important account of the gradual descent into chaos. Over time basic rights were taken away from the Jewish population like property ownership, voting rights and hospital care as Europe lurched towards war. A reminder of just how quickly society can deteriorate in evil hands.

Slonim wants her story to commemorate those she loved that lost their lives, to burrow through the mass of statistics. She writes of friends and family and their plans to escape the clutches of the Nazis. Hauntingly, nearly all of them are followed with ‘…it would be the last time I would see them’.

Eva Slonim miraculously survived homeless winters and scorching summers in concentration camps. In just a few years she went from a carefree schoolgirl to a test subject of the infamous Josef Mengele. Gazing at the Stars is an extraordinary story we should feel lucky to have shared with us. Short, sharp, and moving, it’s a book you’ll never forget.

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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

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Belinda Hawkins, author of Every Parent’s Nightmare, in conversation with Caroline Baum

Grab a copy of Every Parent’s Nightmare here

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The story of Jock Palfreeman has captivated Australia. Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach took a look at award-winning journalist Belinda Hawkins’ account of the harrowing story of a young Australian jailed for murder.

Wrong place, wrong time.

Some phrases are uttered so often in our daily lives that they lose their punch, struggling to convey the real horror behind them.

Sometimes you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and be late for work.

Sometimes you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and get trapped in an awkward conversation.

Jock Palfreeman was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now he’s in a Bulgarian prison cell for murder.

In 2009, Jock Palfreeman was found guilty of the murder of Andrei Monov, the only son of two people well connected in the Sofia legal fraternity. He claims he went to the defence of gypsies being attacked by Monov and a bunch of soccer hooligans. The Bulgarians claim it was an act of cold-blooded murder.

The first thing that struck me about Belinda Hawkins’ first book Every Parent’s Nightmare was how meticulous it was. So many true crime books can skip merrily over important details in the hope of swaying you towards their side of the argument, but Every Parent’s Nightmare lays everything on the table. It’s a riveting journey of right and wrong, perception and truth. One senses Hawkins is only too aware that the event itself is the selling point, leaving sensationalism at the door and, refreshingly, editorialising to a minimum.

Her own part to play in the Jock Palfreeman saga is as the eye of the storm. Acutely aware of the emotions swirling around her but able to articulate the key moments over the days and months of this harrowing story.

Another engaging element was that, despite the detail of the investigation, Every Parent’s Nightmare retains a near noir quality. It’s an absolute page-turner. It was only after I learnt more about the author that I discovered, and it now comes as no surprise, that while Hawkins has been a Walkley-Award winning journalist for over 30 years, she also has a Master of Arts in English Literature. Her understanding of the subtleties of a deeply human story is wonderful and immensely engaging.

The most frightening aspect of Jock Palfreeman’s story is that he seems like the kind of young man I always wanted to be. Free-spirited, gregarious and passionate about eradicating injustice. Always standing up to bullies, whether it be on the behalf of friends or strangers. And despite all these qualities, he finds himself on the wrong side of the bars. It’s a chilling story I always wanted to know more about, and now I do. And if you were like me, grab a copy, and know more.

Grab a copy of Every Parent’s Nightmare here

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