Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hot Picks

In the bookshop, I can't tell you how much fun it is to watch the new titles come in, shuffle the shelves, and make room for them - all in time for Christmas. Naturally, the Publishers time it this way. Here are some of the most lovely that I was excited about today...

Ned Kelly

Someone needs to tell this guy to write smaller books. They take up A LOT of shelf space, but are ever so lovely. Think War & Peace by Tolstoy and add 10%. That's how big each of his books are - and people love him for it. This new one has been much anticipated, and in hardcover is ever so lovely to hold. It's like, a foot thick. The last word on dear Ned?

Digger Smith And Australia's Great War

Digger Smith SUCH a great book. The faces on the cover say it all. My workplace has this one on sale, and it'd make a perfect gift for someone inclined toward war history. Beautiful tribute here.

One Summer

Bill Bryson presents us with another cracker, size-wise. I haven't looked at it too deeply yet, but we have a ton of them which indicates they are in demand!! May appeal to Great Gatsby fans... same era and all that ;) Great hardcover with eye-catching presentation.

The Fishing Fleet

I saw The Fishing Fleet today for the first time, and I want one!!! It looks like such a great read and I love that it's steeped in true history :) Wish list!!! Come home with me!!

War Dog

War is in, and if you like dogs, you won't be disappointed.

In fiction, here are a handful of the covers of some top picks by the general public:

Coal Creek   Narrow Road To The Deep North

Mirage: Oregon Files   Solo

The Book Thief   OR   The Book Thief: Film Tie-In Edition

And my own top pick which is still a very hot favourite, with no paperback format anywhere in sight...

Burial Rites

So there you have it. A glimpse into the everyday world of top-pick books.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Return to Sender

Yes, it's a case of that old Elvis song when it comes to so many books on the shelves. As an author-come-bookseller, it's an eye-opening experience to work on the flip side of my great interest and love, books.

My boss says she used to have the desire to write a book. After ten years in the industry, this desire has passed. I've only been doing this a month and a half, but I can really see her point. A new release has its five seconds of fame on the top shelf or its proud spot in pole position by the door, then it is ousted in favour of even newer releases. The ones who remain are established writers, major prize-winners, and those with brilliant write-ups or word of mouth.

You get a stunning cover and a nice trade paperback to present yourself to buyers who do not know you. At best, you can expect anywhere from 2-8 weeks with a 'face out' (the cover facing outward to potential buyers), then it's spines for one and all.


If you've been on the shelf for 6 months or longer, you'll vie for attention as you disappear amid the many others - if you're lucky. If you're there any longer than six months, there's a strong chance you'll be returned to the sender from whence you came in order to make room for books that ARE selling. If you go unnoticed further still, you may go on sale - and remain in the sale bin til at last you are purchased by a bargain hunter who has a budget of $15 to spend on three books (that's five bucks a piece).

Conversely, if you ARE selling, you may remain in trade paperback format for several months before moving to smaller paperback format. If your sales were great, you'll stay there for a while, provided you do keep moving off the shelves and into the bags of customers who decided they liked your story. If your sales were outstanding, you may be privileged to get another print run or even offered a special edition hard back.


What amazes me is how big names (I mean HUGE names) can write the most crass and terrible work, and get the sales because someone who mattered said they were good. I am amazed at how winning a major prize will summon the attention of readers EVERYWHERE who religiously buy because notoriety has been won by accolade, and yet this suddenly acclaimed work will never appeal to so many purely because it's not their cup of tea.

Biggles Delivers the Goods

There are books I have read and loved only to watch them fade into obscurity, whilst others I have seen in the $5 bin, hiding out there as 'sleepers'. These books have been through the format wringer and not survived. They are sold dirt cheap, then one day resurrect into massive fame and fortune and perhaps even win movie rights. I feel sad for the sleepers - these underrated babies of literary goodness.

It's a harsh world out there, writers. Write to shine, lest you sleep forever. You simply must stand out.

No wonder publishers look for only the best of the best of the best. Get acquainted with what is out there. Find out what gets attention, and select the best qualities of these works to consider. Look at your own work. Have someone read it. If it doesn't have any hook, start again.

Richard Flanagan of The Narrow Road to the Deep North re-wrote his work 10 times before settling on the newly published version. It has paid off, and people are asking for it. We had to get more in to supply demand. Why? Read it and see for yourself... if you like the sound of it ;)

Another book that has just hit the shelves in large numbers (which I won't mention here ;) is sensationalism. It will sell because the author wrote something utterly shocking the first time round, and this walk around the park is made to be even more sensationalist that the first time. People will read it purely because the first one made such waves.

Current movers and shakers are these:
a)  Coal Creek by Alex Miller  (I will read this soon)
b)  Eyrie by Tim Winton  (I will not read this)
c)  The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton  (sounds interesting)
d)  Burial Rites by Hannah Kent  (I loved this)
e)  The 39-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths (Bwahahaha!!!! All kids should collect these)
f)  The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks  (It'll probably be a movie)
g)  Vicious Circle by Wilbur Smith  (Guaranteed never to bomb)

Among others, there are storylines so done that I can't stand to pick up another book along the same lines, and yet people clamber to read the same twists over and over again because the author writes it so well (Linda Chaikin, there's a gap for more solid pirate stories if you're so inclined).

Are you learning anything from this? It's a big, tough, nasty, amazing publishing world out there. Have no illusions. Be ruthless and make your writing stunning to all who cast their eye upon it. If you end up in the $5 bin, you cannot rely on being a sleeper. You may just be deceased.

 "What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1v9

Ce qui a existé, c'est ce qui existera, et ce qui s'est fait, c'est ce qui se fera. Il n'y a rien de nouveau sous le soleil.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Perfect North by Jenny Bond ~ a review

This book is so unassuming it could easily slide under the radar of the entire book world. I am telling you now not to miss it. Man, I feel so privileged to be in the new position of being able to read such  good quality books! (you know I won't necessarily tell you about the bad ones)

Watch for this book, and when you see it, pick it up. You can read the back page blurb here.

Where to start? I love a well-researched book steeped in history, where the author clearly knows his or her stuff. The actual letters and journal entries that open each chapter truly add to the feelings of melancholy, excitement and bittersweetness that make this story so hard to put down. I turned each page itching to be back in the mind of certain characters, and each foray was satisfying. Just. That's what kept the pages turning.

We all have something we wish we could reverse, a situation or five we wish we could change. When faced with the same decisions these characters face, people generally don't tend to recognise how it could send their life in a different direction so powerfully. That these characters lived last century sees that their decisions are all the harder to make.

Do you do what you do to save face? Out of integrity? From concern for others? Or are all your reasons selfish? Probably they are a combination. This book has people with all of these motives and then some, and the journey taken is picturesque in all kinds of ways. Not only is the visual imagery very stunning, but the emotions can be seen just as clearly and their persuasion makes for many gripping moments.

Yes, it is heartbreaking, but in all the right ways. And it is so very heart-warming, too.

It's hard to say who my favourite character was because I associated with each of them on some level. Possibly my favourite was Erik. His level of self-control is amazing and this is something to admire and value as the story moves on. I also really like Stubbendorff and the personal revelation he receives from Anna toward the end. How stunning!

Certain lies and untruths add to the story's richness, and it is impossible to keep from wondering how much of life can be like this - the lies other people tell and the ones we tell ourselves which hold us bound and run the show during mental absence thanks to guilt or regret. Then of course there is the question of fate versus Providence versus science. Can the three be agreed in the minds of these characters?

Perfect North is beautifully told, and I picked it up after being informed it would appeal to those who liked Burial Rites. There are atmospheric similarities, particularly in the fact that some things can most certainly not be undone and must therefore be lived with and each situation made the most of.

I loved this book, and it is a privilege to read such great quality work. I'm looking forward to Jenny Bond's next book, The President's Lunch. What will it be like??? :)

Inspired by The Ice Balloon.

"Better is open rebuke, than hidden love." Proverbs 27v5

Mieux vaut reprendre ouvertement quelqu'un,
que se taire par amitié.


Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan ~ a review

Last night I finished reading one of the most amazing stories I have picked up this year, The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan. I'm a sucker for a bittersweet tale. When the world wakes up, it will realise we all are ;)

(Aussie covers above, & slightly less attractive US cover, below)


We do still judge a book by it's cover whether we are told to or not. I find the first two covers much closer to the heart of the story, so don't let the third one fool you. I might never have picked it up if it looked like this on the shelf I saw first last week. Sorry.

You can read the back page blurb as highlighted in the link above, or here.

Reviews for this book have been fiercely good, and no wonder when a certain yummy film studio has latched onto it. It is THAT good. I love a good time-travel sort of story, and especially the ones where separation from family and all that is held dear are things impossible to be reunited with.

From the very first pages (in fact from the back page blurb alone) I was hooked. Deep water is straight up my alley. Harvesting samples and digging for lost things almost sent me into a wholly different career path back when I was 12. Finding human remains has always fascinated me - probably because it proves our mortality and lack of control over life. In The Curiosity, this lack of control over life is made perfectly clear when the key character and POI is 'reanimated', or brought back to life after being found flash frozen in hard ice. This is how the book opens, with a crew sailing to search for samples in said ice, or more accurately, icebergs.

I cannot believe this book is a debut novel. But wait, maybe I can. The quality and flow are so good that it can only be a breakthrough novel. Kiernan tugs effortlessly at the heartstrings while pushing blatant human selfishness to its enth degree. Loneliness and loss are tangible, inescapable elements you find yourself needing to indulge in completely in order to associate with the key character (Jeremiah), who awakes courtesy of science (and the warm touch of Dr. Philo), only to find himself lost to everything he knew and lived but very prepared to make the most of his second life for the good of mankind.

Possibly the greatest penny drop moment for me is when Jeremiah is interviewed on live television by two talk-show hosts, one of whom asks what he thinks of their modern day world. Jeremiah openly replies that he finds it quite vulgar, among other things. Nothing could be more true, and I had been waiting for him to say as much.

This read is an experience. It is so full of awareness and beauty and amazing moments that I find it virtually impossible to categorise or explain with so few words. It is poignant, ugly, and unexpected. It is vivid. It is a journey.

While religious naysayers have their part in the book (as stereotypically they do seem to do in many novels), and while Jeremiah's view is obviously based in the scriptural contexts of his day, two things struck me as they will other readers from a Christian-based background. Technically these scientists are not playing God, because only God can return a soul. Man can make a human breathe; this is life support. Only God can make a spirit return. I guess fundamentalists in some places forget these things and in stories like this it makes for a more interesting read ;)

The other thing that came to mind is the verse in Genesis right before God splits the people of the globe into various nationalities at the Tower of Babel. Man was in the process of building a tower to reach the heavens, and making a very fair go of it. God saw, and knew their heart and motive. Effectively He said, "If we don't separate these guys now, nothing they imagine to do will be impossible for them." He was so right.

The insights into the characters in this book are so real. We all know people who fit their descriptions on some level, and the shift from head to head is easy to follow. It's a well-paced, masterfully thought out work of art. I also secretly love that the one thing Jeremiah decided to give into never happened. I love that his loyalty was preserved in this way because it was so much sweeter somehow. I love his thought process. I love his nature. I truly love the way his heart always returns to his wife and daughter. Love it, love it.

Yes, there is some language, part of which is used to enhance the theme of the book and the experiences of 'Subject One' during his days walking modern Boston a century after his death. The moving moments of going through reanimation, the freezing cold dive scenes, the rowing out to sea, the running from the press... it's all so real in the mind's eye (no wonder Fox wants it).


Much food for thought, and much to be appreciated, remembered, enjoyed and pondered long after the book has closed.

Imagine the loss.

Imagine my surprise.

Imagine what it would be like, indeed.

Wow. I'm going to have to read this again someday. I'm intrigued to see what Stephen Kiernan brings forth next.

Nothing will be impossible for them...

God knew it first.

L'Eternel descendit du ciel pour voir la ville et la tour que les hommes construisaient.
Alors il dit: ---Voici qu'ils forment un seul peuple parlant tous la même langue, et c'est là ce qu'ils ont entrepris de faire! Et maintenant, quels que soient les projets qu'ils concevront, rien ne les empêchera de les réaliser.

How many covers can one book have in the same year of release?