New Books / Reviews

Listings and Reviews of New Books Spring 2023

Book reviews are sourced from various publishers and distributors.

‘You clamber up, heading for the exit, the circle of faint light, as the radiance of the pre-dawn leads you on toward freedom. I follow. You spread your darling wings. You enter the net that awaits you.’

Bold, tender, and often fantastical, Love Letter to Lola enters the very pain of loss and grief while preserving a wise, sly, humorous, and ironic point of view. The thylacine, the dodo, the passenger pigeon, the blue macaw are all candidates to return from extinction, and here each is given its own moving narrative. The meaning of the British monarchy is challenged by a green spider; a unicorn and the rainbow serpent contemplate the end of the world; an angel gives his perspective on human life and love with thoughtful and exquisite mischief. The author’s own ‘Reflection’ on the inspiration and the construction of the stories is a swift and penetrating conversation on how writing happens.

When Stephanie Plum is woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of footsteps in her apartment, she wishes she didn’t keep her gun in the cookie jar in her kitchen. And when she finds out the intruder is fellow apprehension agent Diesel, six feet of hard muscle and bad attitude whom she hasn’t seen in more than two years, she still thinks the gun might come in handy.

Turns out Diesel and Stephanie are on the trail of the same fugitive: Oswald Wednesday, an international computer hacker as brilliant as he is ruthless. Stephanie may not be the most technologically savvy sleuth, but she more than makes up for that with her dogged determination, her understanding of human nature, and her willingness to do just about anything to bring a fugitive to justice. Unsure if Diesel is her partner or her competition in this case, she’ll need to watch her back every step of the way because Oswald is a killer.

A true crime story cannot often be believed, at least at the beginning. In Bowraville, all three of the victims were Aboriginal. All three were killed within five months, between 1990 and 1991. The same white man was linked to each, but nobody was convicted.

More than two decades later, homicide detective Gary Jubelin contacted Dan Box, asking him to pursue this serial killing. At that time, few others in the justice system seemed to know or care about the murders in Bowraville. Dan spoke to the families of the victims, Colleen Walker-Craig, Evelyn Greenup and Clinton Speedy-Duroux, as well as the lawyers, police officers and even the suspect involved in what had happened. His investigation, as well as the families own determined campaigning, forced the authorities to reconsider the killings. This account asks painful questions about what ‘justice’ means and how it is delivered, as well as describing Dan’s own shifting, uncomfortable realisation that he was a reporter who had crossed the line.

Long before Ronald Dale Barassi played his first match of Australian Rules Football, he’d already made a significant impact on the game. At the age of five his soldier father was killed at Tobruk, and so great was the footy fraternity’s respect for the Barassi family, that several years later the father/son rule was introduced. Innovative, creative, visionary, and ferociously tenacious, Ron’s achievements are legendary. As a champion player he is credited with having all but invented the position of ruck rover and as a premiership coach he is said to have revolutionized the use of handball. He was also one of the first (and certainly one of the loudest) to push for fully nationalizing the game.

As integral as Ron Barassi is to football, he is quick to point out that, “It was never my life.” Now for the first time Barassi tells his story the whole story in his own words. Barassi goes behind the legend to reveal the devoted family man, the dabbler in the arts, the champion for disadvantaged kids, and the tale of a fatherless boy who was determined to make his own way in the world. Barassi is a wonderfully warm, astonishingly self-deprecating, and deeply personal portrait of an Australian sporting legend.

The Battle of Le Hamel on 4 July 1918 was an Allied triumph and strategically very important in the closing stages of WWI. A largely Australian force, commanded by the brilliant Sir John Monash, fought what has been described as the first modern battle where infantry, tanks, artillery and planes operated together as a coordinated force.

Monash planned every detail meticulously, with nothing left to chance. Integrated use of tanks, planes, infantry, wireless (and even carrier pigeons!) was the basis, and it went on from there, down to everyone using the same maps, with updated versions delivered by motorbike despatch riders to senior commanders, including Monash. Each infantry battalion was allocated to a tank group, and they advanced together. Supplies and ammunition were dropped as needed from planes. The losses were relatively few. Monash planned for the battle to last for 90 minutes – in the end it went for 93. What happened in those minutes changed for the rest of the war the way the British fought battles, and the tactics and strategies used by the Allies.

By teaching you the foundations of natural dyeing, and guiding you through the simple stitch techniques, this book will allow you to dip in and out of projects while learning how to forage for and grow your own dye plants.

In The Wild Dyer, Abigail Booth demystifies the `magic’ of natural dyeing and shows how to use the results to stunning effect in 15 exquisite patchwork and stitch projects, including a drawstring forager’s bag, an apron, samplers, cushions and a reversible patchwork blanket. Focusing on how to grow or gather your own dyeing materials, from onion and avocado skins to chamomile and comfrey, nettles and acorns, as well as scouring, mordanting (using fixative) and setting up a dye vat, Abigail explains how to create effective dyes. And once you have them, how you can produce beautiful, contemporary textiles that can then be used to create projects that build on your skills.

An archive of letters written by the late John le Carré, giving readers access to the intimate thoughts of one of the greatest writers of our time.

The never-before-seen correspondence of John le Carré, one of the most important novelists of our generation, are collected in this beautiful volume. During his lifetime, le Carré wrote numerous letters to writers, spies, politicians, artists, actors and public figures. This collection is a treasure trove, revealing the late author’s humour, generosity, and wit, a side of him many readers have not previously seen.

The true story of an undercover ASIO agent who was hung out to dry in the Cold War.
‘I have lost everything in coming here. I have lost my friends… I have probably lost my position; I shall probably have to remove my child from the school and my mother from the house in which she lives. I do not think there is anything else I can possibly lose.’
Mercia Masson dressed stylishly and loved to host a party. She was a journalist in an era when there were few female journalists, she always wanted to be in the thick of things, and she knew people in very high places. She also led a dangerous double life.
This is the remarkable story of an ASIO agent who was hung out to dry. She was exposed at a royal commission called to investigate the extent of Soviet espionage in Australia, following the defection of Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov. Written in association with Mercia’s daughter Cindy, this story brings to life a determined woman at the centre of dramatic events in Australian politics during the Cold War.

On a sweltering day, 26 January, 1788, on a bluff high above Sydney Cove, seven Aboriginal men stand looking out to sea. Moored off-shore is a huge nowee (boat) then there are two, then more. Who are these visitors? Where are they from? What do they want? Should they be turned away by force or welcomed to country?
In The Visitors, Muruwari playwright Jane Harrison (Stolen, Rainbow’s End) reimagines the arrival of the First Fleet from a First Nations’ perspective. These senior men, carrying the weight of cultural responsibility, must decide what action they’ll take toward these unwanted arrivals. A decision, under pressure, that will have unforeseeable repercussions and forever. Told with wit, charm, and a fierce intelligence, Harrison’s story upends the dominant point of view of this pivotal event.  Annotated and with an introduction by Wesley Enoch.

Adelaide Hills, Christmas Eve, 1959: At the end of a scorching hot day, beside a creek on the grounds of the grand and mysterious mansion, a local delivery man makes a terrible discovery. A police investigation is called and the small town of Tambilla becomes embroiled in one of the most shocking and perplexing murder cases in the history of South Australia.
Sixty years later, Jess is a journalist in search of a story. Having lived and worked in London for almost twenty years, she now finds herself laid off from her full-time job and struggling to make ends meet. A phone call out of nowhere summons her back to Sydney, where her beloved grandmother, Nora, who raised Jess when her mother could not, has suffered a fall and been raced to the hospital.
At loose ends in Nora’s house, Jess does some digging of her own. In Nora’s bedroom, she discovers a true crime book, chronicling the police investigation into a long-buried tragedy: the Turner Family Tragedy of Christmas Eve, 1959. It is only when Jess skims through the book that she finds a shocking connection between her own family and this once-infamous crime, a crime that has never been resolved satisfactorily. And for a journalist without a story, a cold case might be the best distraction she can find.

In the First World War of 1914–1918, thousands of boys across Australia and New Zealand lied about their age, forged a parent’s signature and left to fight on the other side of the world. Though some were as young as thirteen, they soon found they could die as well as any man. Like Peter Pan’s lost boys, they have remained forever young. These are their stories.

This extraordinary book captures the incredible and previously untold stories of forty Anzac boys who fought in the First World War, from Gallipoli to the Armistice. Featuring haunting images of the boys taken at training camps and behind the lines, these tales are both heartbreaking and rousing, full of daring, ingenuity, recklessness, random horror and capricious luck.

A unique perspective on the First World War, The Lost Boys is military history made deeply personal, a powerful homage to youthful bravery and a poignant reminder of the sacrifice of war.

This is the story of the marriage behind some of the most famous literary works of the 20th century and a probing consideration of what it means to be a wife and a writer in the modern world.

Eileen O’Shaughnessy married Orwell in 1936. O’Shaughnessy was a writer herself, and her literary brilliance not only shaped Orwell’s work, but her practical common sense saved his life. But why and how, Funder wondered, was she written out of their story? Using newly discovered letters from Eileen to her best friend, Funder re-creates the Orwells’ marriage, through the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War in London. As she peeks behind the curtain of Orwell’s private life she is led to question what it takes to be a writer—and what it is to be a wife.

Grandmothers is the story of three very different women and their relationship with the younger generation, fiercely independent Nan, who leads a secret life as an award-winning poet when she is not teaching her grandson Billy how to lie; glamorous Blanche, deprived of the company of her beloved granddaughter Kitty by her hostile daughter-in-law, who finds solace in rebellious drinking and shoplifting; and shy, bookish Minna who in the safety of a shepherd’s hut shares with her surrogate granddaughter Rose her passion for reading.

The outlook of all three women subtly alters when through their encounters with each other they discover that the past is always with us and that we go on learning and changing until the very end.

This collection brings together the two sequences of stories that were published as Things Could be Worse and What God Wants, following the lives of a company of Melbourne friends who survived the holocaust, and the complex lives of the children they raised.

Always under the shadow of their terrible history, the close-knit Jewish community portrayed in these stories tackles life with exuberance, passion and extraordinary humour.

Lily Brett’s third book of non-fiction once again offers the unsparing Brett candour full-on as it traces a number of physical and emotional journeys.

In Mexico, she tries to write a novel, while the toilet explodes in the house, the gardener hoses her notes and the young maid questions her about plastic surgery. In Poland, she retraces the steps of her much-loved character from Too Many Men, Ruth Rothwax, and finds herself surprised to hear Ruth’s words coming out of her own mouth. In between she writes for the first time about the devastation of losing her New York home to fire and having to rebuild not only a life but a history. She also offers powerful insights into her adopted city New York, both before and after the tragic events of September 11.

The captivating story of the first global cosmetics empire, the fascinating woman who built it, and the past she preferred to leave behind.

This meticulously researched and wryly entertaining portrait of Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965) focuses on the years she spent in Australia as a young woman, recovering a ‘lost’ chapter in the grand narrative of the woman who created one of the first global cosmetics corporations. At its height, Rubinstein’s brand was synonymous with elegance and employed 30,000 women around the world.

Rubinstein arrived in Australia from Poland when she was twenty-three years old. She lived in Australia for the next eleven years, working first as a governess and then as a waitress, before opening her first beauty salon in Melbourne.  In later years, owing to the degree of control she exercised over her glamorous image, many details of her early life in Australia were suppressed. But the events she airbrushed out of her own myth reveal the surprising origins of her extraordinary rise. In this absorbing book, we see her laying the foundations for a global empire.

Fat child, self-denying adolescent, hungry young woman; a body now burgeoning uncontrolled into middle age. Kris Kneen has borne the usual indignities: the confrontations with clothes that won’t fasten, with mirrors that defame, with strangers whose gaze judges and dismisses. This is the story of how Kris learned to look unblinkingly at her recalcitrant body, and ultimately found the courage to carry it to freedom.

Layla Byrnes is exhausted. She’s juggling a demanding job as an anaesthetist, a disintegrating marriage, her young kids, and a needy lover. And most particularly she’s managing her histrionically unstable mother, who repeatedly threatens to kill herself. But this year, it’s different.

When her mother rings just before Christmas, she doesn’t follow the usual script. Instead, she tells Layla that there’s something she needs to tell her about her much-loved father. In response, Layla drops everything to rush to her childhood home on the wild, west coast of Tasmania. She’s determined to finally confront her mother and find out what really happened to her father.

A childhood spent moving around the world left Revelle Lee with an unusual gift, the ability to fluently speak 11 languages. Now, Revelle spends her days translating for witnesses, victims, and the accused across London crime scenes and courtrooms. It’s a stressful job, though not as stressful as the process she is currently going through to adopt little boy, Elliot. She is determined to be the mother to him that she never had, and to make up for her own past mistakes.

But when it seems a murderer will go free, Revelle puts the adoption and her job at risk, deliberately mistranslating the alibi to ensure he is found guilty. No one can ever find out that she interfered or she will lose her son and her livelihood. The problem is someone already knows what she’s done and they want justice of their own.

After a puzzling death in the wild bushlands of Australia, detective Dana Russo has just hours to interrogate the prime suspect, a silent, inscrutable man found at the scene of the crime, who disappeared without trace 15 years earlier.

But where has he been? Why won’t he talk? And exactly how dangerous is he? Without conclusive evidence to prove his guilt, Dana faces a desperate race against time to persuade him to speak. But as each interview spirals with fevered intensity, Dana must reckon with her own traumatic past to reveal the shocking truth.

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