Caroline Baum’s Highlights from the August 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…

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Best of The Blog: Booktopia’s Caroline Baum reveals her favourite books of 2012

Caroline Baum's Highlights

HEAVY HITTER OF 2012

BRING UP THE BODIES 

by Hilary Mantel

What is there left to say? I just wanted to join the chorus of universal admiration for the second volume of Mantel’s remarkable feat of embodying Henry Vlll’s chief strategist, Thomas Cromwell. Like many, I found it easier to read than Wolf Hall, because the narrative treads more familiar ground (the waning of Anne Boleyn’s power and Henry’s manoeuvring to rid himself of her) and because the point of view is well established so that being inside Cromwell’s head seems entirely comfortable.

My favourite moments in the book are the telling details: Henry recycling jewellery to offer to prospective wife Jane Seymour, careless of whether evidence of the previous owner’s initials have been quite erased; Cromwell calculating that the king will want his discarded first wife Catherine’s costly ermine furs back on her death. And a brilliant scene in which Henry falls at jousting, is feared dead and Cromwell, like a modern day spin doctor, swings into immediate damage control mode.

Chilling in its portrait of the arbitrary raising and lowering of individual fates and fortunes at Henry’s intrigue riddled court, this is a sumptuously entertaining majestic pageant of human ambition. Hurry up Hilary, and write the third volume.

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BIOGRAPHY OF 2012

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR: AN ADVENTURE

by Artemis Cooper

If I’d been born a man, this is the kind of life I’d like to have lived. Charming, handsome, debonair (now there’s a word no one uses anymore) courageous, witty, bohemian, Fermor was a natural and prodigiously talented writer, as his classic A Time of Gifts demonstrated. An account of his walk across Europe in 1933 it is fresh with adventure and enthusiasm, truffled with anecdotes and characters from a world that has vanished, written in language opulent with imagery and playfulness.

This biography captures the spirit of that journey as the opening chapter of an eventful arc of ridiculously rich experiences. Fermor embraced every kind of social encounter with equal curiosity whether talking to a Greek fisherman or a Transylvanian Countess. Cooper knew Fermor well and her affection for her subject shines on every page of this well researched, lively portrait of one of the true originals of the twentieth century, who deserves to be more widely known. It will make you want to jump on a plane to Greece immediately, in search of the country that Fermor fell in love with and where he eventually made his home after a life of nomadic wanderings.

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BEST OF CRIME FOR 2012

LIVE BY NIGHT

by Denis Lehane

Denis Lehane is the bomb when it comes to gritty American crime fiction. But as well as his work about contemporary America (including his episodes of The Wire) he can summon up the past with equal muscularity.

His latest offering is a sequel to The Given Day but can easily be read as a stand alone. It’s the story of Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of a top ranking Boston police family, who falls in with the bad guys and develops a taste for a life of crime in the Prohibition era when mobster rule is at its height.

The flamboyant characters in Lehane’s gritty world live by night, operating by a different set of rules and values to the rest of society who go about their legitimate business in daylight.

The writing is harsh, brutal and explicitly violent but also full of subtlety, tenderness and humor. It pulsates with the vitality of violence.

The fast-paced action, punctuated by unpredictable double crosses, shifts from Boston to Florida where the steamy locale provides welcome colour. Lehane gives some of his gangsters the swagger and charisma of movie stars but the glamour cannot mask their ugliness forever. Chilling, gripping and full of dark menace.

P.S. if you want to stay in gangster mode, this is the perfect companion to Sutton (reviewed in the November Buzz)

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THRILLER OF 2012

GONE GIRL

by Gillian Flynn

How well do you know your lover?

Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears.

The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren’t his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

So what did really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war.

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BEST IN THE KITCHEN FOR 2012

JERUSALEM

by Sami Tamimi

Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi are the men behind the bestselling Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.

Their chain of restaurants is famous for its innovative flavours, stylish design and superb cooking.

At the heart of Yotam and Sami’s food is a shared home city: Jerusalem. Both were born there in the same year, Sami on the Arab east side and Yotam in the Jewish west. The two only met when they worked together in London nearly 30 years later, and discovered they shared a language, a history, and a love of great food.

Jerusalem sets 120 of Yotam and Sami’s inspired, accessible recipes within the cultural and religious melting pot of this diverse city. With culinary influences coming from its Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Christian and Armenian communities and with a Mediterranean climate, the range of ingredients and styles is stunning. From soups (frikkeh, chicken with kneidelach), meat and fish (chicken with cardamom rice, sharmula bream with rose petals), vegetables and salads (chargrilled squash with labneh and pickled walnut salsa), pulses and grains (beetroot and saffron rice), to cakes and desserts (fig and arak trifle, clementine and almond cake), there is something new for everyone to discover.

Packed with beautiful food and location photography, thoughtfully designed and inspired by two very different childhoods in the same city, Jerusalem showcases sumptuous Ottolenghi dishes in a dazzling setting.

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Caroline Baum’s Highlights from the September Booktopia BUZZ

What’s your take on coincidence? Sometimes it’s hard not to ask yourself how themes and ideas come to share  the same moment in the ether… so when I read Courtney Collins’ The Burial this month, a remarkable début novel based on the true story of a female bushranger, swiftly followed by Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist, another very polished first novel from the US, the parallels were striking: female characters who were loners, with strong relationships to horses, living outside the conventions of the times. What would they say to each other if they could leap off the page and into each other’s worlds?

There are many differences between these two powerful novels but what links them and all the others I’ve chosen this month is a shared connection to place, anchored in specific locations captured so evocatively that I can almost smell or see them.

In The Burial, the almost medicinal scent of eucalyptus hovers around the defiant figure of Jessie, as she rides across a rugged landscape and into a hidden valleys  searching for freedom.

In The Orchardist I can almost hear the bees buzzing around the apple blossom before the trees begin to bear fruit. Such a lovely place for so much tragedy to unfold.

In Debra Dean’s The Mirrored World, it’s St Petersburg’s court under the reign of the Empress Catherine that sparkles on the page, both glamorous and ruthless.

In Zadie Smith’s eagerly anticipated NW , London comes to life through the local lingo, almost a patois, of four people from a council estate confronting what it means to be an urban citizen in the 21st century

Naughty Howard Jacobson: Zoo Time shifts from literary London to Monkey Mia via a detour to the Adelaide Writer’s Festival with savage mischief, satirising the increasingly desperate landscape for a white male writer lusting after his mother in law.

Tara’s Moss’s Assassin starts in Barcelona before  taking us on the run; Stella Rimington uses Switzerland as her starting point for an espionage plot that disregards borders in The Geneva Trap; Mark Tedeschi’s Eugenia redraws the industrial city of Sydney, its factories, bars and  boarding houses in the nineteenth century to investigate a real life story of identity and crime. And in The Engagement, Chloe Hooper shifts the erotic tension from Melbourne real estate to a country house in Victoria’s wealthy western districts.

You don’t need a visa or luggage to embark on these journeys into worlds both familiar and imagined: with these writers as your guides, you are in the safest of hands.

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Book of the Month:

THE BURIAL
by Courtney Collins

It’s such a thrill when you can plunge headlong into a book that you love unequivocally from the first paragraph and that holds you in its spell for its entirety, never faltering, never releasing you from its exquisite reality.  That’s how I feel about The Burial, a debut that takes the somewhat dusty genre of bushranger stories and gives it an invigorating shake.

True, the material Collins has to work with is a gift, based on the true story of Jessie Hickman a former circus rider turned bushranger who roamed the Widden Ranges of NSW in the early part of the twentieth century. In her version of events, Jessie is on a freedom quest, fleeing  an abusive marriage, resorting to murder, but finding tenderness and redemption  in a valley of fellow horse rustlers, who accept her into their company providing her with a brief respite and sanctuary. But  there’s an aboriginal tracker on her trail, a man with whom she has an emotional connection, a man with whom she could perhaps have shared a different destiny.

Gritty, but romantic,  gothic and yet realistic, Collins deploys an impressively assured arsenal of tools, roping the reader in as smoothly as Jessie rustles horses, branding our consciousness with her narrator’s  disquieting voice from the underworld with prose that is visceral yet poetic, compelling and unsentimental.

Comparisons will be made with other works of contemporary fiction about Ned Kelly and Captain Starlight. For me, this is up there with the very best.

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SISTERS IN CRIME

A feast for crime readers this month with new books from some of the most popular names in the biz, women at the top of  their game in the genre.

You can’t get past the fact that with Rimington, the Dame knows of what she speaks. There is always, for me at least, the frisson of knowing that she has been part of this world of British Intelligence. But while things may have moved on since the end of the Cold War (and this plot references those times) , the motives of the bad guys  don’t change: it’s merely the weapons and threats at their disposal which are different.

Rimington’s plots have got tighter with experience. Now she moves her pawns across the board with greater confidence, criss-crossing the globe, embracing the complexities of technology and satellite systems as part of the world of global terrorism and counter espionage.

THE GENEVA TRAP
by Stella Rimington

The Geneva Trap is the sixth in the Liz Carlyle series and again confirms her cynically cool-headed approach to the often byzantine internal MI5 dynamics while a more personal sub-plot gives us the chance to see Liz’s softer side.

Blurb: Geneva, 2012. When a Russian intelligence officer approaches MI5 with vital information about the imminent cyber-sabotage of an Anglo-American Defence programme, he refuses to talk to anyone but Liz Carlyle. But who is he, and what is his connection to the British agent?

At a tracking station in Nevada, US Navy officers watch in horror as one of their unmanned drones plummets out of the sky, and panic spreads through the British and American Intelligence services. Is this a Russian plot to disable the West’s defences? Or is the threat coming from elsewhere?

As Liz and her team hunt for a mole inside the MOD, the trail leads them from Geneva, to Marseilles and into a labyrinth of international intrigue, in a race against time to stop the Cold War heating up once again…

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DEATH BY BEAUTY
by Gabrielle Lord

Death By Beauty Gabrielle Lord’s latest, demonstrates her acute sense of topicality: ageing, genetics and even the current craze for vampires all get a work-out. The big news is that Gemma is now a mother, and finding that the demands of parenting and private investigation are hardly compatible.

Perhaps too eager to prove she’s still got what it takes professionally, she breezily takes risks that no sane mother should contemplate, luring a suspect through an internet dating site. Meanwhile  her own heart is divided between Mike, the sincere and caring man she lives with and Steve, the father of her child and a hopeless old flame cop who is under suspicion for corruption.

Lord is clever at giving Gemma access to information through her close personal  friendship with police detective Angie. Their jaunty camaraderie also offsets the gruesome  aspects of  a particularly grizzly  series of murders involving beautiful young women.  She’s also up to date on the latest in forensics: bet you don’t know what a palynologist is.

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ASSASSIN
by Tara Moss

‘It’s illuminating to know what you’re worth dead’ – is the great opening line to Assassin, Tara Moss’s latest sleek, international thriller, in which her ex model turned PI Mak Vanderwall has to disguise her striking beauty to evade assassination at the hands of a powerful Sydney family with blood on their hands.

Moss loves the contrast between society power and glamour and the grubby world of contract killers, enhanced here by a series of picturesque locations, beginning with the seductive streets of Barcelona. And she loves mixing it with the forensic experts who provide her with background information and detail to help thicken her plot.

The high adrenaline pace suits her athletic Glock-accessorised super-heroine.  But she’s about to discover that she and Gemma Lincoln have something more than their shared profession in common…..

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GREAT LIT

NW
by Zadie Smith

Novels don’t come much more eagerly awaited than this in the world of literary fiction. Smith has outgrown the prodigy status that began with White Teeth, demonstrating  her mature poise with On Beauty . Here she’s mashing up class, race and geography with her incredible talent for believable street  dialogue, creating a  layering  patchwork of patois from a north west London council estate. Her quartet of characters navigate their daily urban social lives negotiating complex webs of identity, love and  friendship,  absorbing a constant barrage of pop culture, advertising, social media  and white noise that thrums around them with its  Afro-Caribbean beat, hairweaves,  addictions, desires, deals and petty crimes.

Its a heady, dazzling, potent mix and Smith pulls it off with her usual cool panache, contrasting the brutality and beauty of London as it is lived in by foreigners and locals, expressing an ambivalence about the city she knows so well, colliding public and private worlds, pulsating to a score of clashing rhythms and cultures.

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THE ENGAGEMENT
by Chloe Hooper

There are two sides to Chloe Hooper. The brilliant, courageous, methodical, even-handed, unflinching journalist who documented the death of Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island turning it into a work of enduring  importance in The Tall Man, one of the most compelling, unsettling and significant reads of recent years.

Then there’s Hooper the novelist, whose previous, much-heralded fictional debut, A Child’s History of True Crime flummoxed me and many others. Now she’s written a much less artificial but still enigmatic contemporary gothic erotic thriller that will intrigue some readers and irritate others.

Just what is Liese Campbell, her unreliable narrator, playing at when she entices  awkward bachelor Alexander Colquhoun into a sexual game to pay off her debts? Redefining the term open for inspection, Liese uses her job as a real estate agent to arrange encounters with Colquhoun before accepting an invitation to stay at his pastoral property in Victoria’s Western Districts.

Some may think she’s got what’s coming to her. But then, what does Colquhoun really want and what is the secret in his shadowy past? Just who is setting a trap for whom here, who is the stalker and who is the prey?

The Engagement raises tantalising questions. Hooper knows how to create tension and build a mood of atmospheric uncertainty with dark material. Her prose is elegant, cool and  poised. And Hooper’s sense of timing in delivering this classy slice of sexual and romantic intrigue is uncannily impeccable given the appetite created by Fifty Shades of Grey and its many imitations. Talk about having your finger on the pulse.

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ZOO TIME
by Howard Jacobson

‘Cheeky Monkey’  is how novelist  Guy Ableman’s mother-in-law, Poppy,  also his object of desire, describes him.  She’s not wrong. Ableman, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jacobson in many of his opinions and his garulous, ribald, caustic  satire, is a piece of work: insecure, horny, competitive, incensed and frustrated by the implosion of the literary world.  His  publisher has committed suicide, his agent is in hiding and the audience for his work is getting older and smaller  by the day. To make matter worse his gorgeous wife Vanessa has decided, after years of empty threats, to write her own novel.

This hilarious, farcical completely un PC romp takes a scattergun approach to literary  and social pieties. What it lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for in comedy. Playful, mischievous, provocative, irreverent, Jacobson is at his best – and worst –  here.  It’s as if winning the Booker has freed him from any vestige of  inhibition; he’s luxuriating in  being offensive, mocking and self-indulgent, playing to the gallery,  relishing the role of joker/jester.

Literary fiction rarely mocks itself, especially in times when it is something of an endangered species, but this is about as entertaining as it gets.

BUY


THE ORCHARDIST
by Amanda Coplin

How does a first novel appear that is so assured? Where is the beginner’s stumble or novice’s wobble? Not  here, in this beautiful, lyrical, story set in a remote  part of the American northwest at the turn of the twentieth century.

Talmadge is a solitary orchardist growing apples and apricots. One day two teenage girls steal his fruit at the market. Both are pregnant and seeking sanctuary. He asks no questions, but leaves food out for them, as he might for an animal. When  armed men arrive in the orchard, things take a tragic turn. Talmadge finds himself foster father to an orphaned baby girl, Angelene, with the wise counsel of his spinster friend, Caroline Middey.

But while Angelene blossoms in to a sober young woman,  tending to the orchard with the skill she has learned from Talmadge, their life is not destined to be peaceful for long.

Fans of Annie Proulx will welcome Coplin’s quiet unshowy  style and slow unfurling of a story that takes its own time, following a rhythm set by nature. Fans of Richard Ford will appreciate  the spare prose, finely drawn evocation of country and understated compassion that  characterise this sombre gem. As satisfying as a draught of unsweetened cider.

Click here to read a review of The Orchardist by Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach

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THE MIRRORED WORLD
by Debra Dean

I am something of a Russophile. Can’t resist a troika,  sable hat,  the stirring soulfulness  of Russian church music, the sight of birch trees in the snow…. I’m  a sucker for all that.

But I’m also something of a factoid pedant, always on the prowl for a jarring note, or an inaccuracy, but I could not fault  this. Probably because the author is clearly a Russophile herself,  having previously written The Madonnas of Leningrad.

There are  three sisters at the heart of this story- this is Chekhov country, after all –  but the book focusses on  Xenia, who has the gift of prophecy from childhood. When tragedy strikes, she retreats into grief and becomes a soothsayer,  living on the streets of St Petersburg despite the rescue attempts of her younger sister Dasha, who narrates the story of her family with innocence and charm.

Dean contrasts the extravagant glamour of the Imperial court played out at opulent balls and other grand social occasions with its petty  ruthlessness, as the Tsarina exercises her power in demonstrations of  capricious cruelty.

This is the classiest kind of historical fiction, authentic and atmospheric, capturing both the sweep of history on the big canvas with the domestic intimacy of a typically privileged family anxious to maintain its position.

BUY


SOMETHING DIFFERENT

EUGENIA
by Mark Tedeschi

Mark Tedeschi is adept at cross examination. As chief prosecutor for the DPDD in  NSW, he has overseen some of its most high profile convictions. Now he applies his  forensic legal mind to a historical case that has fascinated him for decades: that of Eugenia Falleni,  a nineteenth century Italian migrant woman who, having  been raped on the journey to Australia,  assumed male identity, becoming Harry Crawford and marrying not once, but twice. Accused of the murder of her first wife, Eugenia’s true identity was revealed and became a public scandal, as details of her bedroom manoeuvres became sensational fodder for the press.

Tedeschi applies a cool rational mind to this overheated material, and makes it clear how poorly served Falleni was by her defence who missed  several opportunities to demonstrate her innocence in a trial full of twists and turns that involved testimony from the daughter she had abandoned and the stepson who failed to suspect her erratic behaviour.

Methodical in its attention to detail, this is a riveting reconstruction of  legal and social history.

BUY

Caroline Baum’s Highlights from the July Booktopia BUZZ

Booktopia is pleased to welcome Caroline Baum to the role of Editorial Director of our monthly newsletter the Booktopia BUZZ. Here is Caroline’s introduction from the BUZZ plus some of this month’s highlights.


Some of the most compelling fiction published this month shares a common theme: violence, and its aftermath, the psychological scarring of war and upheaval pushing people to their limits.

By sheer coincidence, The Road to Urbino and two starkly authentic debuts, The Mandrake File and Beneath the Darkening Sky are all books that bear the wounds of lives disrupted by strife: civil war in Sri Lanka, conflict in Afghanistan and turmoil in the Sudan.

They brought home to me very powerfully just how much of a privilege it is to be able to read. Reading is an activity that requires peace. You simply can’t do it when your life is in danger or when you are stressed. It’s an act that requires security and a degree of serenity. These novels have made me savour the luxury of reading in a whole new way.

This month’s books are not all about darkness. I laughed out loud a few times while reading The Antidote, a very entertaining and thought-provoking argument against positive thinking. And I defy you to read Albert of Adelaide without smiling at its playful, charming platypus hero in search of the Old Australia – whatever that is.


The Mandrake File

by Cédric Bannel

After the chilly climate of so-called Scandi noir, it’s high time for a change of  scene and a hike in temperature to refresh the crime genre. Where could be more extreme as a location for a thriller than Afghanistan? It’s a territory only superficially known to us  through news and documentary footage. We have  a dim awareness of it as a  seething  mess of tribal feuding and corruption, without understanding any of its subtleties and social nuances. But all that is about to change thanks to a French black belt in karate, one-time diplomat and internet entrepreneur-turned-novelist called Cédric Bannel. With his fourth crime title, he’s really hit the target. When was the last time a French crime thriller got translated into English and published internationally?

In The Mandrake File, Bannel has created one of the most fascinating, complex  detectives of contemporary crime fiction: Osama Kandar, a conspicuously tall, proud former mujahadeen  fighter  and devout Muslim turned cop married to a feminist doctor runs the murder squad in Kabul. Dodging suicide bombers, religious fanatics and  corrupt officials he and his trusty deputees, Gulbudin and Babrak have all the flourish of the three musketeers as they dodge and weave their way through a complicated international espionage plot.

Bannel gives Kandar’s personality many facets: he contrasts his  religious devotion and noble incorruptibility with a passionate relationship with his wife Malalai, revealing a more sensual and lighthearted side. But it’s the authentic detail of local life and  police procedure, of the highly codified rules, hierarchies and  traditions that make this such a satisfying and rich experience and elevate it beyond the boundaries of the genre : from the etiquette of greetings  with all the rituals of tea pouring and embracings to the   byzantine layers of allegiance and  indebtedness that characterise Kandar’s transactions with  the book’s most intriguing character, Mullah Bakir, a moderate  member of the Taliban.  It’s easy to be so seduced by these aspects of the novel that one almost forgets the elements of suspense and urgency,  so that solving the crime becomes secondary to the sheer pleasure of learning  about how Afghans navigate the violent landscape of the everyday. The picture that Bannel (who spent ten high-risk days in the country undertaking research) paints is a grim one, with little room for optimism about Afghan’s society’s chances of peace and reconciliation.  But in Kandar  he has created an unforgettable expression of the resilience of the Afghan spirit.  Here’s hoping that this is the first in a Kandar series – or should that be Inshallah?

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The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

by Oliver Burkeman

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the happiness industry, whether in workshop or book form.  It smacks of easy formulae, the psychological equivalent of detox retreats and diet books – and the language the happiness business uses  is often so hyperbolic, so full of  upbeat cheerleader slogans and motivational jargon. Besides,  relentlessly sunny people are just so bloody exhausting. Now here’s  a book  to make all us melancholy, glass-half-full  curmudgeons  feel smug. Turns out that happiness is fleeting and elusive ( duh!) and that the more you pursue it, the less likely you are to  find it ( ditto duh !). Turns out that goal-setting can lead to rigid thinking which can in turn result in disaster. I  could jump for joy, if that were not, well, a little too chirpy.

British  sceptic  Oliver Burkeman, a columnist who writes about psychology for the Guardian in the UK presents the arguments against positive thinking with  incisive elegance,  analytical energy and even-handed  wit.  He underpins his  investigation with research both passive and active,  traveling the globe for examples that illustrate  how lower expectations lead to greater moments of  satisfaction and undertaking various practices, from buddhist meditation ( his description of the various stages and mental and physical thresholds of a vipassna silent retreat is gripping)  to bizarre exercises such as one that requires him to say the names of the tube stations on the London Underground out loud at each stop. His visit to a museum of failed products is also  entertaining and enlightening about our attitudes to success and its opposite and his chapter on fear, security and terrorism casts all those post 9/11 checks at airports in a very different light . Ultimately,  the most powerful thesis Burkeman explores   is that  positive psychology is a denial of our own mortality. Death plays an important role in how we appreciate life and to deny it is to play a futile game of delusion.

This book will appeal to those who enjoy the essays of Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, Blink, The Tipping Point)  that provide such great insights into aspect of contemporary social science as it applies to creativity, business and the twenty first century state of mind.

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The Road to Urbino

by Roma Tearne

What do the Renaissance frescoes of Piero de la Francesca have to do with twenty first century terrorism? This novel explores that question and leaves the reader with more questions than answers as it draws together the themes of art, obsession, the legacy of trauma and the complex bonds and loyalties of family, love  and friendship.

It’s a complex,  slowly unfurling narrative  that requires patience from the reader to get where it’s going, the atmospherics building slowly like a grumbling storm  to reveal a complex web of damaged relationships.

The narrative is told from an unusual point of view by  two characters speaking in the first person to a lawyer. Elizabeth is the legal counsel and defence for Ras, a Sri Lankan man accused of stealing an Italian masterpiece from the National Gallery in London. In the course of discovering what motivated this uncharacteristic crime, she also interviews Alex, a cynical and amoral world-weary writer who has drifted in and out of other people’s lives with almost reptilian froideur, falling in love carelessly and observing tragedy unfold in a  picturesque setting of comfort and privilege.

Tearne, who layers her characters emotions like pigments shading them with subtlety, knows what she is writing about: she is a painter and Sri Lankan refugee, outspoken  about the civil war that has ravaged that tropical paradise and that most of the world continues to turn a blind eye to.

Her blog shifts between fragments on the writing of the novel and her activism. You can read it here: Romatearne.blogspot.com/

Click here to order The Road to Urbino from Booktopia,
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Beneath the Darkening Sky

by Majok Tulba

You know when a book has a cover blurb by Anna Funder (Stasiland and the recent Miles Franklin winner, All That I Am) on the cover that it has moral gravitas and deals with the darker side of the human psyche. It’s a bit like the literary version of a health warning as well as a confirmation of impeccable credentials.

The trouble with the brain is that when you’ve downloaded images into it, you can’t wipe them like you can on a computer. So readers need to be aware that this book is full of very disturbing graphic violence.  But how else to tell the story of child soldiers kidnapped  by rebel forces in southern Sudan and forced to execute the orders of their drug crazed sadistic masters? To be effective and meaningful rather than gratuitously sensational, to shake us out of the torpor of desensitisation inflicted  by  the endless cycles of brutality on the evening news, the story has to be as shocking as the barbaric acts it records.

The fact that the story of Obinna, older than eleven but younger than sixteen, witness to the savage murder of his parents and kidnapped  by  terrorists, is based on the experiences of the author and others he knew in refugee  camps makes this a poignantly authentic and very harrowing experience. The spare, unadorned prose only heightens the intensity of  this powerful contemporary tragedy. First time author Tulba, now resettled in Australia,  is working on a second novel. One can only hope that, if it is again based on personal experience, it is a tale of redemption.

Click here to order Beneath the Darkening Sky from Booktopia,
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Albert of Adelaide

by Howard L Anderson

It’s ironic that the title of this strangely whimsical book, which defies easy categorisation, features the city from which its unlikely hero, a platypus, is fleeing. Adelaide is the last place Albert wants to think of as defining him: he’s escaped from the city’s zoo and is on a quest for the Old Australia, which he believes to be a promised land. As he wanders the outback he encounters a cast of marsupials of good and bad character and makes friend with Jack, a wily wombat who specialises in arson. Is this charming story a fable about this country’s loss of identity and the untarnished meaning of mateship? You can’t help but think of it as an antipodean combination of Watership Down, the Wind in the Willows, with a hint of Winnie the Pooh with its gentle tone and celebration of journeying companions muddling through modest trials and tribulations but it’s also got a  touch of the American western to it, with its saloon brawls, posses, wanted notices and shoot-outs. The writing is so visual that it’s easy to imagine the story as animation. If penguins  can do it, why not a platypus?

Author Anderson is an enigmatic character, a Vietnam vet currently practising law in New Mexico and with a clear fondness for Australia based on a visit made here years ago. The book has a playful tongue-in-cheek innocence  but Anderson also writes about the bush with the eye of a connoisseur. Perhaps his time flying in a helicopter battalion  has stayed with him as he traverses a seemingly empty landscape, noticing the details of every blade of grass, rock and shifting shadow, painting scenes with eloquent simplicity. If the book is published in the US, Albert of Adelaide could turn out to be our  languishing tourism industry’s secret weapon.

Click here to order Albert of Adelaide from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

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Booktopia Buzz – the September newsletter

Booktopia Buzz Sept 2010

Spring is in the air, the election is behind us (well, sort of), and there seems a new sense of possibility about everything. In the book world, it really is an exciting time.

The September issue of Booktopia Buzz is packed with great reading.

Yesterday was Indigenous Literacy Day, and the whole publishing and bookselling industry got together to support this worthy cause. Here at Booktopia, we donated 10 cent of our profit  to the Indigenous Literacy project, so a big thank you to all of our customers who got on board and supported the cause!

The annual Get Reading promotion kicks off in earnest today as well. Fifty great titles to choose from, your choice of two wonderful new free books – what could be better? More on that further on in the newsletter.

If thrillers are your thing, we have a stunning deal on Kathy Reichs‘ first novel, as well as the low down on her latest. And for great reads, you can’t go better than The Tiger, and Lights Out in Wonderland, two remarkable books that are my books of the month for non-fiction and fiction respectively. Meanwhile, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is being hailed as the book of the century (I kid you not).

All in all, it is shaping up to be a great month of reading.

To read the rest of the newsletter, with all those fabulous reviews, click here.

Toni Whitmont

Editor in Chief

Booktopia Buzz

Booktopia Buzz, the best of April and Stephenie Meyer’s new Twilight book, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

Its been a huge day here at Booktopia. First up  was the announcement that Stephenie Meyer is releasing a Twilight/Eclipse novella on June 5. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is going to be a must-read for all those millions of Twilight readers who are in desperate need of a Stephenie fix. I’m serious about the millions. The print run is 1.5 million.

We’ve got the US hard back edition heavily discounted – down from  $27.99 to…wait for it…$14.95. There will be an Australian edition released on the same day, hopefully a paper back, and we’ll give you a terrific price on that as well. More information on that one in the next 24 hours.

Now, to the Buzz titles for April.

Matt Hilton’s Slash and Burn and Dead Men’s Dust together for $24.99

Light of Lucia by Luciana Sampogna

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

We’ve got Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel, ANZAC Day, we’ve got Mother’s Day, we’ve even got the State of Origin. Go to town!

Fast movers from November’s Booktopia Buzz

The November Booktopia Buzz is up on the site and I always like to have a look at it about 6 hours after we’ve sent it to our customers, just to see what is really moving.  After all, there is so much about bookselling that is speculative, trying to anticipate the fickle and diverse taste of readers. You can imagine then how I pour over the figures the day the newsletter goes out. Those first few hours gives me a really good  indication of what is going to be hot and what is not.

Of course, the best surprise is when I have to do a top up order even before the book is published. From time to time we actually have pre-sell all of our stock, and then have to scramble to supply customers who actually wait pub date to put in their orders.

So, any guesses for the top five for November from the latest Buzz?

Go to Booktopia Buzz and check it out. See how much you are in accord with the wider book buying public.

And the winners are….(or at least, these are the titles which I have had to re-order today)

9781741690330conspiracy9781408802274keithrichards

 

9781741666694-pittwater 9780007241552songdaylight

9780571252640lacuna9780007281442open

 

9781742371290lovesong

And what about the one that I didn’t put in Booktopia Buzz but I should have?

Everyone is going crazy for John Ilhan: A Crazy Life.

9781740311021illhan

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