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Book review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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This is one of the saddest books I've read in a long time although most popular literary books I've read of late make a good effort at being reasonably depressing.

Which is not to say Everything I Never Told You is a poor read. On the whole it is eminently readable but I found myself constantly trying to peel back my own experience of family to see if secrets, silent shame and unspoken fear are as prevalent.

Perhaps I wouldn't know but I think not, hope not. But then I haven't experienced being in a multiracial family 40 years ago amidst the racial angst of the US.

With blue eyed Marilyn seeing her daughter Lydia through her missed opportunity for independence and career, and her black haired Chinese father James content with signs of her daughter's popular normality neither can see, or want to see, so much that is unspoken, or deliberately hidden abut Lydia, their middle child.

While we know the outcome from the start - the what - it is the gradual revealing of the…

Book review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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The comparisons for The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl are coming thick and fast and will do sales of the former no harm as it is published in Australia this month.

And there are plenty of similarities - the gradual denuding of all of the main characters in The Girl on the Train, so that their worst (and perhaps for some, their best) is gradually and in some cases terrifyingly revealed recalls the gradual descent into evil and despair so evident in the main relationships of Gone Girl.

The psychological double and triple plays ensure that even with the rapid fire chapters, the (slightly generous) reader will find themselves well and truly hooked. I read it in a day or two, for example.

The Girl on the Train plays on the fears and curiosity many of us would find familiar from modern life where we are thrust together randomly with people - often in close quarters - in trains, traffic, buses and housing, affording us the opportunity to be mutual voyeurs and wondering what night happen if …

Book review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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Theo Decker, a 'god of layers' perhaps, and that is what he is, surviving a bomb blast that kills his mother, comforting a dying antique trader and following his delirious urging to take hold of a treasure that takes hold of him in so many layered ways.

There are times this book infuriates when characters fail to do what 99 per cent of people would do - what you the reader are urging them to do - and so end up in several long chapters of chaos.

And then there are the thousands of sweeping words that carry you forward, heart racing. Or the long ragings at the world or detailed vivisections of meaning that cut so close to the doubts of your own heart.

As a title, The Goldfinch suggests a stuffy but polite story of manners and it is a story of manners but never stuffy or polite and not what you would think at all.

It tells of the world we all might nearly belong to if our deceptions were allowed to fester a little longer. A world just beyond ours, that world we wonder about when …

Book review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

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The Rosie Project's lead character, Don Tillman, would be satisfied that I read on the Kindle platform of his project to find a wife. While reading I was informed of what percentage of the book had been completed and also was given the estimated time in the current chapter so I could adjust my optimal reading speed.

Despite these and other efficiencies I found my reading broke into my sleep allocation such that I finished the book at 4.13am. I determined not to adjust my daytime schedule but to increase by 29.7 per cent my intake of caffeine.

But seriously... it is perhaps a tribute to the steadiness of voice and rhythm of author Graeme Simsion and the sympathetic, human and lifelike characters that he has written, that I now find myself thinking and talking like Don, who is apparently non-the-wiser of being well and truly on the autism spectrum.

A professor of genetics, he undertakes to find a wife through the mechanism of a fool-proof 16 page questionnaire and as a res…

Book review in brief: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

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For an Australian author like Richard Flanagan, there is material enough for a great novel just telling of the lives and suffering of Australian prisoners of war during World War 2.  Even more so considering his father was just such a prisoner on the Burma railway, something Flanagan speaks of 'imbibing' while growing up.

Instead he settles for a broader and more difficult panorama. Alongside the adept before and after descriptions of Australian soldiers - of love affairs and guilty confusion - we are also taken into the minds of Japanese officers and Korean soldiers and dystopian post-nuclear Japan.

Somehow it all rings as true as his depictions of Melbourne society and Tasmanian poverty. The heat of Adelaide is pitched against the humidity of Siam and the unresolved heroics of an Australian surgeon against the inconclusive brutality of Japanese prison commander.

It is not a triumphant book or a cheery one, and it offers little hope except that sometimes people survive, des…

Book review: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

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Probably the most interesting thing about The Tournament is how I received my copy.
Which is not to say Reilly's departure into historical fiction is bland or boring, but that fact is often stranger then fiction, even when the fiction is by one of Australia's leading action authors.

Returning from my favourite Sydney CBD coffee shop, Vella Nero on Clarence St, I saw relaxing in the sunshine on Druitt St, a young man, with all the indications of being homeless, and with this copy of The Tournament sitting next to him.

He was hoping people would drop a few coins in a hat, as I recall, and as I did I asked what he thought of the book.

'It's a great read,' he said. I got it last night and have been reading it ever since. Just finished it.'

'That's good to know,' I replied and before I could move one, the young man continued our conversation.

'Would you like to read it? Here, take it.'

I hesitated for a moment and will admit to wondering just wher…

Book review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

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Although Jane Austen may be known as a writer who cut through the veil of manners that surrounded English landed gentry, she was still a woman of her time and is unlikely to have ever imagined a book such as Jo Baker has written.

Longbourn covers the same set of events as Pride and Prejudice but from a firmly 'downstairs' perspective - although we should also include the attic where the servants seem to sleep.

Mr and Mrs Bennet and their five daughters are still recognisable, as are their balls, dinners and rendezvous with numerous gentlemen or soldiers of slowly determined character.

Getting wet and having a fever, being too slow to show your interest in a visiting clergyman, or too feisty to receive his offer, are all unfolded in Longbourn along with occasional glimpses of Mr Bingley, Mr Darcy and more detailed interaction with the constantly menacing - from the servant's perspective - Mr Wickham.

But this is much more than a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, although it …

Book review: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

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Receiving the kindle version of I Am Pilgrim as part of a bloggers book tour, I settled into read the novel without researching the author or any broader publicity for the book.

The brief blurb I had read set it up as interesting thriller and to be honest, I wasn't even aware the author was Australian although references through the book, such as Dr Sydney, convinced me this was the case.

After turning the last page (or more accurately tapping the last screen) I read the book's credits and was impressed with Terry Hayes lengthy and stellar career as a journalist and screen writer which, by then, fitted well with my admiration for his first novel. (click cover to purchase)

I Am Pilgrim starts at a suitably rapid pace with a shocking crime scene, steamy sex references, fast-talking New York cops and a mysterious, intelligent, brooding figure from whose eyes the story is told.

Briefly I was worried it was going to be a trashy tale of blood and guts and tits and guns but after the…

Henry Lawson's birthday celebrated with a Google doodle

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The 146  birthday of iconic Australian author and poet, Henry Lawson is being celebrated today through a mechanism which he could not have even imagined - a Google doodle.

A 'drover', some cows and a dusty landscape accompany the Google logo and of course a click through takes internet surfers to a Google search of Henry Lawson.

Searching for Henry Lawson is an apt phrase for although achieving some literary peaks - such as in short story collection While the Billy Boils (1896), Jo Wilson and his Mates (1901) and perennial favourites ranging from The Drover's Wife to The Loaded Dog - he was as well known for being restless, erratic and unwell.

Many Australian homes will have his collected works somewhere on a bookshelf, the township of Grenfell celebrates his birth there every Queen's Birthday long weekend, and some of his work is re-told to modern audiences such as the recent theatrical performances of The Loaded Dog.

Despite the bruising tale of his life which inclu…

Book review: The Childhood of Jesus by JM Coetzee

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The Childhood of Jesus is a beautifully written book as you would expect from an author who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and two Booker Prizes.

But did even JM Coetzee reach his limit in his daring attempt to write a book with such a searching title? Maybe, but then we have the age-old philosophical question, can the created express without limit the qualities of the Limitless? But to the book...

Is this a retelling of the hidden years of Jesus' childhood? Is the title more metaphor, allegory or descriptive? Are we learning about childhood, family, refugee, society, community or the psychosocial complexity of the individual? Are we seeing the plainness of a world without the divine spark or the goodness of a simple life?

To be honest, it is all and none of these and I'm not entirely sure if there is a single motivation or intention from the author. And perhaps that's the beauty of a great writer, they do not need to tell, but keep that secret to themselves.

If …

Book review: Wool by Hugh Howey

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Many new readers of Wool are turning pages, rather than flicking screens, as the self-published science fiction dystopia finds a mass market in book stores alongside author Hugh Howey's Amazon success.

If you follow Howey on Amazon you are probably well and truly into the Wool prequels, First Shift, Second Shift and Third Shift and waiting for the release of Dust. Meanwhile traditional readers are buying up the Wool omnibus (books one to five) and waiting for the Shift omnibus (books six to eight).

Which says a lot about the diversity of modern publishing and, I think, Howey's penchant for boring titles. But with a breakthrough best-seller on his hands even before traditional publishers got involved in the paper version, more power to him! [Click cover to buy from Booktopia]

If you have managed to continue reading through my compulsive need to tidy up the state of play regarding Wool, let's get down to the story.

In a classic dystopian setting, the world has been through a…

Book review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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After reading the disturbing psychological thriller Gone Girl, reassurance that the world is not totally devoid of reason is immediately found in the Acknowledgements. [Click cover image to purchase]

Author Gillian Flynn, after creating a world of dysfunction, proceeds to thank her family and friends who sound remarkably normal and nice.

Maybe it was 'author's guilt' being appeased - borrowing from the foibles of her family in her fiction but wanting to distance them from the story of Amy and Nick and Go and Desi and the Elliots.

Or perhaps it is a further play with reality. The reader having been led through the deepest places of a deception possible in the human psyche, is deceived one more time into thinking Flynn comes from the perfect world.

After all, as the cover tag reads, 'there are two sides to every story...'.

The fact that this conjecture is even occurring, tongue-in-cheek as it may be, shows the power of Gone Girl in creating characters and plot line w…

Books News: Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Easter new releases

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Please click on any book cover to purchase or pre-order Having killed Lincoln and Kennedy in previous books, US Fox News anchor and best-selling author Bill O'Reilly has announced his next book, Killing Jesus to be published on September 24.

As the calendar approaches Easter, there will no doubt be the usual flurry of new Jesus books released and discussed but ironically the timing of O'Reilly's new title is aimed at the biggest bookselling season of them all, Christmas.

And while O'Reilly as an author is relatively unknown outside North America, as are his books, he still ranks as the world's sixth richest author grossing $24 million last year.

But Killing Jesus may well gain him a broader, global audience and no doubt that is part of his motivation in writing the book.

His now tried and true formula is to allow co-author Martin Dugard to do the pain-staking work of research around the killing of a famous historical figure while he comes on board to write history…

Book review: Meeting Cain at the Cross Roads - Saramago vs Young

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Cross Roads by William Paul Young was a Christmas present for my 22-year-old son and while he takes time to get around to it, I've leapt in for the purposes of review.

Cain by Jose Saramago had earned a 'staff recommendation' tag at Better Read than Dead in Newtown, Sydney, and so I took their lead and bought it on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

For a time I read them side by side, a literary juxtaposition:

Cross Roads by a US Christian novelist famous for writing the bestseller, The Shack, who offended some religious sensibilities in the process. Events in his new novel are based inside someone's being, located in his home state of Oregon.

Cain by a Nobel-prize winning, deceased Portuguese author also known for offending religious sensibilities and being a self-confessed communist, atheist and pessimist. Events in this his last book are seen through the eyes of the first child of Adam and Eve and occur at the beginning of time and space.

Both tell a message of God, but a dif…

Is reading really about believing?

When forming beliefs and ideas are you more influenced by a powerful story or compelling facts and information?

Shortly Cread will publish a joint review of José Saramago’s Cain (2010), alongside William Paul Young's Cross Roads (2012) and compare their use of narrative fiction to declare a view of God.

They employ radically different forms matched by the divergence of the 'message' they convey. But is one more successful than the other in influencing, moving or informing readers? Or is that even the goal?

One of the great dangers of fiction writing is 'telling' rather than 'showing' and books that seek to communicate a pre-determined message are particularly vulnerable. Which is not to say that most authors do not intend to communicate values to their readers.

The reality is that, even sub-consciously, authors fill their novels with their values and beliefs, carrying them along in their characters and plots. Perhaps the more sub-conscious this is, the more…

New book about Hitler a bestseller in Germany

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Er Ist Wieder Da (He's Back) - a comedy about Adolf Hitler returning to Berlin in the summer of 2011 - is topping bestseller lists but creating controversy in Germany and soon the world no doubt with translations coming in more than 15 languages.

Author Timur Vermes, defending his book against criticism that Germans too often absolve themselves by blaming Hitler for everything, says this is why he wrote the book.

"Often, we tell ourselves that if a new Hitler came along, it would be easy to stop him. I tried to show the opposite – that even today, Hitler might be successful. Just in a different way.”

"To present him as a monster is to call those who voted for him idiots. And that reassures us. We tell ourselves that today we are smarter. We would never elect a monster or a clown. But at the time, people where just as smart as us – this is what is so painful."

Many Germans, including book critics, are enjoying the humour of Er Ist Wieder Da.

"This book is so fun…