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A Love Story

Genre: Historical/Romantic Fiction

Author: Mardi McConnochie

Publisher: Viking Adult

Year: 2011

RRP: $29.95

A love story was exactly Mardi McConnochie’s premise for her latest novel The Voyagers. The Sydney writer was sitting in her book club and was told to think of a really good love story- to no avail. So McConnochie decided to write one herself.

The fruits of this labour are as romantic as they come. Set in Sydney in 1943 The Voyagers is about the romance of Stead and Marina. Stead, an American solider, met Marina when he was stationed in Sydney and the two spent 3 glorious days together before Stead was shipped out. Now that he is returning to Sydney 5 years later he decides to pay his former love a visit- only to learn that Marina has been missing for most of that time.

Stead resolves to find the missing Marina, taking him across the globe from London to Singapore.  What grows from this is a romantic retelling of their former romance and an exploration of the enduring love of Stead for the woman he knew so briefly.

The novel is the fourth from McConnochie who burst onto the literary scene in 2001 with Coldwater, a story about the ‘what ifs’ of transplanting the Bronte sisters into a penal colony in NSW, and won McConnochie one of the Washington Post‘s books of the year. Before that, McConnochie was a play writer and her novels resound with the benefits of this experience: full of dense characterization, attentive detail to plot and impossibly resolute themes.

The Voyagers, with it’s romantic heroes and whimsical storyline looks set to follow in this trend.


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Rewriting History

Genre: Historical Fiction

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Publisher: Viking Adult

Year: 2011

RRP: $26.95

Geraldine Brooks falls into that Australian pool of talent who have become expats, left and gone on to greater things. Her latest novel Caleb’s Crossing, looks sure to be another one of those successes she can add to her list.

The novel is loosely woven from fact and revolves around Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first native American graduate of Harvard, who astoundingly completed his degree in 1665- a mere 30 years after Harvard’s establishment and 300 before the civil rights movement.

Its not the first time that Brooks has taken pieces of American history as the inspiration for her books.  In 2006 she won a Pulitzer prize for fiction for her novel March, a retelling of the American classic novel Little Women told from the perspective of the March girls’s father, who goes to fight in the American Civil War.

This time however, Brooks takes this single thread of history and weaves an entirely fictional story around it. It’s told from the perspective of Bethia Mayfield, a curious pioneer girl growing up amid puritans, who encounters Caleb after secretly stealing away to the beach.

The two form a hidden friendship as Bethia’s pioneering father begins trying to convert Caleb’s tribe, the Wampanoag, to the western way of living- and part of this project is the education of Caleb. The young boy becomes drawn and torn between the two cultures as Bethia watches on, desperate for the kind of education that is for her impossible because of her gender.

Set in Martha’s Village where Brooks resides with her family, the historical fiction novel is an exploration of place, the past and the imagination: as much about a deep affinity for history as it is love for the place that Brooks now calls home.

Caleb’s Crossing will be released in Australia on the 3rd of March.

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A Reunion of Sorts

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Author: Melina Marchetta

Publisher: Penguin Australia

Year: 2010

RRP: $24.95

For teenage girls everywhere Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca was like reading your own diary. Inside the pages of the novel were the romances you never had, the friends you always wanted and the family you grew up with. Which is why Marchetta’s latest novel will be a reunion of sorts.

The book The Piper’s Son takes us back to our favourite family of characters from Saving Francesca through Thomas Mackee- a side character who was left at the end of the previous novel as a 17 year old in high school. It’s five years later and, far from content, Thomas is falling apart. After he is kicked out by his flat mates, Thomas goes to live with his single, pregnant aunt Georgie and tries to forget his absent parents and a conveyor belt of one night stands.

He also gets a job at the Union pub and it is here that he reunites with his school friends- Francesca, Siobhan, Justine and yes, Tara with whom he shared a very young romance with until he left her two years ago, after his uncle’s death in the London bombings.

The themes in The Piper’s Son are much the same as in its predecessor: friendship and family as a means of healing. But like her original fan base Marchetta’s cast of characters are now a little bit older, their lives a little bit more gritty and their problems a little more complex. It’s a novel that manages to grow while remaining nostalgic. After all, there is something comforting about returning to your favourite characters after such a long period of time. Something a little bit like coming back home.

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A Permanent Proposal

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Some do it by the foot of the Eiffel Tower, others hide it in a flute of champagne. But a Brisbane author as gained worldwide attention, when he proposed to his girlfriend in the acknowledgements of his debut novel.

Christopher Currie’s novel The Ottoman Hotel is not set to be released for several weeks, but already the book has made international headlines because of the cliffhanger on its final page.

The acknowledgement on the back page of the book reads: “[t]o my favourite, to the reason I live my life, Leesa Wockner who, if she reads this, I hope will agree to marry me, despite the number of commas in this sentence.”

Even though Wockner accepted the proposal, Currie told Crikey, that he took a gamble in declaring his love in a public format.

“A ring is one thing to hide, a book is quite another. And, I suppose, the really brave (or stupid) thing was knowing that my proposal would be in print forever, and I would look like a real idiot if it didn’t come off,” he said.

The Ottoman Hotel is about an Australian boy from New south Wales, who wakes up to find his parents missing. It will be released in Australian on 2nd March.

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Sounds of the Soul

Genre: Short Stories

Author: Patrick Holland

Publisher: Salt Publishing

Year: 2010

RRP: $24.95

If there is one thing that Patrick Holland does in spades it’s long luscious descriptions of place, which makes his latest endeavour an exciting prospect.

The Source of the Sound is a collection of eleven short stories, as meticulously detailed and as haunting as anything Holland’s ever written. The stories trek from Beijing to Queensland to chronicle a search to return home from those in exile.

This is typical of Holland, who in his other stories, particularly The Long Road of the Junkmailer, used the spatial plotting points of the land to create his plotline. In this case the scope of the journey is physically much larger as Holland draws on his Christian beliefs as inspiration. The stories are linked by the theme of faith as the physical journeys become a spiritual search for modern meaning.

The final and most poignant story in the collection is the name sake of the book which continues fifteen years after the events in Holland’s lastest and most acclaimed novel The Mary Smokes Boys. The voice of the piece is the brother of the girl killed in the novel and it is rife with religious undertones, Christian motifs and, in an almost trademark of Holland, something resembling magic realism as the brother’s imagination haunts him.

It is a collection with something for everyone and has all the ingredients you come to expect from a master of emotion like Holland. It’s beautiful, highly sensory and portrays the rawness of feeling and power of imagination beneath the surface of liminal human experience.

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Mad Melbourne

Genre: Dystopian Fiction

Author: Meg Mundell

Publisher: Scribe

Year: 2011

RRP: $27.95

If the end of the world is coming I do kind of hope it’s being narrated by one of Meg Mundell’s characters. Because she’s just so darn good at writing them.

Luckily for me then her debut novel Black Glass is in this vein of thought, as she tackles what one of the hardest genres there is- dystopian fiction.

The challenge in the dystopian is in it’s need to be similar enough to now to be recognizable as our society, but different enough render an eerie warning. Even more of a challenge is to shake off the ghosts of the past- and what an infamous bunch they are. It’s almost impossible to read a dystopian novel without the words ‘Orwell-esque’ or ‘Brave New World’ cropping up from time to time which is a fairly daunting prospect for literary newbies.

That being said, it has been done since the great doomsayers of the dystopian hey day: Ishiguro, and Atwood are just a few of the more recent novellers to note. And it’s this kind of promise that is juicy enough to make’s Mundell’s latest venture just so exciting.

The playground of Mundell’s choice is the bleak Melbourne of the future- or perhaps a Melbourne of a parallel universe, looked at through black glass rather than rose-coloured. Two sisters, Tally and Grace are separated, and go to the dark city in order to find each other again. But it’s a Melbourne that we’ve never seen before: inherently dangerous, linked by a series of underground tunnels and run by a new world order.

For a genre so overdone and so difficult to pave new ground in, Mundell’s novel is fresh, dark and inherently beautiful, with interesting characters and a meaty plotline. And like all good dystopian fiction its full of meaning for our society, this time one that is uniquely Australian. But that part of it, finding the message, I’ll leave that up to you.

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