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Anti-Trump Reading List

Jon Page - Monday, February 20, 2017


As readers we all know the power books have. They not only have the power to inform us but they also have the power to make us empathize. They can transport us through time and can put us in somebody else’s shoes. We can relive historical events or imagine what would have happened if things played out differently.

To say we are currently living in troubling times is a bit of an understatement. The election and inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States has seen a resurgence of fascism and right wing rhetoric the likes of which I didn’t think we would ever see again. 

But the best weapon against fascism, nazism and hateful ignorance (including a punch in the face!) is knowledge and books (that’s why most fascists try to burn them).

So here at Pages & Pages we are putting together a reading list of books to help us survive and understand these strange times and hopefully the mistakes of the past are not allowed to be repeated…

Here’s our list so far. Let us know what else we should add:

All That I Am by Anna Funder
The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
What is the What by Dave Eggers
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
1984 by George Orwell
The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke
It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Fatherland by Robert Harris
Dominion by C.J. Sanson
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Purchase a book from this list at Pages & Pages and we will donate a $1 to the Refugee Council of Australia.

Stella Prize 2017 Longlist

Pages and Pages Booksellers - Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The 2017 Stella Prize longlist was announced last night, and there are some fantastic books on the list. The $50,000 prize is presented for the best work of literature, fiction or nonfiction, published in 2016 by an Australian woman.

The shortlist will be announced on 8 March 2017, and the winner on 18 April 2017.

Review: The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

Kate Page - Sunday, February 05, 2017

We are barely into 2017 and I am already going to call The Cruelty as one of my top ten kids/young adult books for this year! There is really only one word to describe this novel – Kick-ass! Not the most eloquent description I know but it really is like a kick to the stomach that will leave you breathless.

Ten years ago Gwendolyn’s mother was killed right in front of her eyes. Since then it has been just her and her Dad. But nothing is really as it seems. While he is on a ‘business trip’ to Paris Gwendolyn’s father disappears. She is about to find out her loving diplomat father is actually a spy. The kindly old neighbours who she loves like Grandparents are also spies. The problem is everyone seems more concerned that her father may have defected than in actually finding out what has happened to him.

Now the only person Gwendolyn can rely on is herself. And she isn’t going to let anything or anyone get in the way of getting her Dad back. Diving head-first into the seedy European underworld of drugs, violence and prostitution Gwendolyn must decide who to trust and who to hurt. With moves and counter-moves, double-crossing and the danger escalating there is no place for mistakes.

I couldn’t help comparing The Cruelty to my all-time favourite young adult series, The Hunger Games. Not the story lines because they couldn’t be any more different. The strong female leads of Gwendolyn and Katniss, however struck me because of how confronting I found The Cruelty. In the end it all came down to the fact that Gwendolyn goes where Katniss won’t. Katniss shows a reluctance to harm and when she has to it costs her emotionally. Gwendolyn has no such qualms.

This is a coming of age story like no other. Imagine if Jason Bourne was female and sixteen. That just about sums up The Cruelty. Rocketing along at breakneck speeds it will leave you shocked, thrilled and horrified all at the same time. And with the promise of more to come Gwendolyn may be about to do for self-defence classes what Katniss did for archery.

Smart, dangerous, kick-ass (yes, really) and an absolute page-turner, The Cruelty, is sure to be one of the hits of 2017. Look out Katniss – here comes Gwendolyn and she’s about to kick your butt!

Buy the book here...

Review: Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake by Rob Lloyd Jones

Pages and Pages Booksellers - Sunday, January 29, 2017

Jake and Pandora Atlas live with their strict archaeologist parents and they go on a trip to Cairo, Egypt. Jake is a skillful thief and steals a high tech tablet from a souvenir shop that just happens to be a secret Treasure Hunters base! They find out that their parents are also Treasure Hunters! The problem is that they have been kidnapped by a mysterious snake lady who blows up ancient artifacts! The snake lady might open a cursed tomb and turn them into mindless mummies! Will Jake and Pan save their parents and stop the snake lady in the process? Read this book to find out!

I really loved this book from the start. It was so action packed!

Reviewed by Molly, age 11

Buy the book here...

Review: Crimson Lake by Candice Fox

Simon McDonald - Saturday, January 21, 2017

Australian crime fiction is experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to a handful of fresh female voices. Jane Harper’s The Dry was 2016’s darling and rightfully so — I called it “the year’s best achievement on the Australian crime writing scene” in my review, and named it my Book of the Year — and in 2015 I was absolutely blown away by Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay: “stripped-down and raw, and packs one helluva punch.” And then, of course, there’s Candice Fox, who has carved out a distinctive square on the map of contemporary crime writing with her Bennett / Archer trilogy (HadesEden and Fall), and  who ranks as one of my absolute favourite authors. Perhaps it’s too early to predict 2017’s Aussie crime fiction blockbuster, but one thing is for certain: Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake will feature in the conversation.

Crimson Lake introduces former Sydney-based police detective Ted Conkaffey, who was accused, but not convicted, of abducting a 13-year-old girl. But the accusation is enough. To his wife, his peers, and the general public, a lack of conviction isn’t proof of innocence, just evidence of a lack of proof. Ted is an outcast. The life he had is over, and so he flees Sydney to Cairns: specifically the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake. There he meets Amanda Pharrell — an accused and convicted murderer now operating as a private detective — and partners with her to investigate the disappearance of local author Jake Scully.

Veteran Fox readers will notice some thematic similarities between Crimson Lake and her Bennett / Archer trilogy. She is the absolute master of the enigmatic protagonist: characters with deep, dark secrets, who readers will follow and support, but with occasional hesitancy; because what if the worst is true? What if we’re  actually cheering on a killer in Amanda Pharrell? And Ted — our narrator — what if he’s hiding the truth from us? What if he is guilty of abducting the girl, and leading readers astray? We’re never quite certain — not totally — until the novel’s very end of how trustworthy and reliable Ted and Amanda are, which makes Crimson Lake incredibly compelling and propulsive.

Candice Fox’s prodigious ability to keep coming up with unforgettable characters elevates Crimson Lake beyond the standard police procedurals that proliferate the genre. Oh sure, Ted and Amanda’s investigation into Jake Scully’s disappearance is effectively handled — plenty of twists and red-herrings, and a heart-stopping climax to satisfy plot-focused readers — but it’s their uneasy comradeship, and their secrets which threaten to bubble to the surface, that make the novel a blast. It boasts Fox’s signature style, edge and humour to delight established fans, and will surely win new ones, too.

One of the best Australian crime writers just levelled up. If you haven’t jumped on the Candice Fox bandwagon, now’s the time. Crimson Lake will be one of 2017’s best crime novels, and Candice Fox has quickly established herself as one of our finest talents operating in the genre. That’s not hyperbole. It’s fact. Read Crimson Lake — you’ll see.

Buy the book here...

Review: Lisette's Paris Notebook by Catherine Bateson

Pages and Pages Booksellers - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ever dreamed of spending the summer in Paris: Eating croissants, visiting the Louvre, shopping, exploring the Paris streets with a tiny dog in toe, and maybe even falling in love? 

Eighteen year old Lisette from Melbourne is living this dream, but everything turns out to be far more complicated than planned. She’s fighting with her mother, preoccupied with the death of her estranged father, missing her best friend, and her clairvoyant landlady has very strong ideas about what Lissette should be doing with her time in Paris. 

Things get even more complicated when Lissette begins taking French classes with a group of young artists and meets a gorgeous German boy called Anders who might be more trouble than he’s worth. Fortunately, she has new friends and Hugo - a charming English antiques dealing - to save her. But when is it worth throwing out the plan and risking everything for love? 

This is a fun filled coming of age story about the importance of identity, independence, and finding one’s own way in the world. 

Buy the book here...

Review: Police at the Station and they Don't Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty

Pages and Pages Booksellers - Friday, January 13, 2017

Book 6 in the Sean Duffy “trilogy” is an absolute cracker. Each book in this series has gotten better and better and when you consider at what level he kicked the series off with The Cold, Cold Ground that is saying something.

It is 1989 and Sean Duffy must tackle his most complex case yet. A drug dealer has been shot and killed in Belfast. On the surface there is nothing startling about the case in a city where drug patches are drawn along sectarian lines and those that crossover to the wrong patch are swiftly and violently dealt with. However what makes this case different is that the murder weapon is a crossbow. In a country flooded with illegal guns, someone has taken the trouble of using a crossbow to kill their victim. Duffy’s interest is piqued but he is quickly stonewalled by witnesses and the victim’s wife who all know to keep their mouths shut and a murder weapon that is seemingly untraceable. With his new family, the media, special branch and even an IRA hit squad after him something might finally snap for Sean Duffy, that is unless he does what he does best, which is use his wits to fight back.

I have to say I think the Sean Duffy series has to now be ranked as one of the best crime series of all time. How this isn’t a mega-bestseller around the world is beyond me. This is an outstanding series on so many levels; plot, characters, politics, history to name just a few. Once again McKinty keeps the humour deliciously black and has you guessing until the final pages. I was instantly lost in this book and began to dread the book’s ending once I had read beyond the halfway point. I love Sean Duffy as a character and did not want the book to end and I do not want this series to end. Fingers crossed Sean Duffy makes it into the 1990s.

If the previous Sean Duffy novels earned Adrian McKinty the right to belly up to the bar alongside Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and the other contemporary crime writing greats, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly guarantees his place at the table forevermore. This is a sophisticated, stylish and engrossing crime thriller, which rips along at a cracking pace, and packs more twists and turns than a street map of Belfast. Not to mention the heart-stopping climax…

Belfast 1988: a drug dealer is found murdered in front of his house, killed with a bolt from a crossbow. Sean Duffy, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is called to investigate. Now a family man – girlfriend and baby daughter living at home – Duffy is initially grateful to be working a homicide; something a tad spicier than his recent fare. But solving this case leads Duffy to a confrontation with the dangerous villains he’s ever faced; the kind who won’t just be satisfied ending his life, but those he cares for most deeply. Duffy remains a superbly drawn character, sardonic yet assured, and now struggling to cope with his new responsibilities as a father. 

McKinty writes laconic, sophisticated, well-paced thrillers, and Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is his most refined novel yet. Some authors make you laugh; others make you gasp. McKinty can do both, usually in the space of a couple of paragraphs. His latest is multifaceted, layered, and intense – the kind of novel you’ll blow through in one sitting.

In the past, when interrogated on my favourite crime writers by friends, family, and indeed customers at Pages & Pages, I’ve always said McKinty is up there with the best writers in the business. With Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly he has set down a potentially unsurpassable marker.

Buy the book here...

Review: Extreme Prey by John Sandford

Simon McDonald - Friday, January 13, 2017


With Extreme Prey its twenty-sixth instalment, you’d think John Sandford’s long-running Lucas Davenport series would’ve reached its crescendo long ago, and by now, be drifting into paint-by-numbers territory. But somehow, Sandford remains a mystery connoisseur’s   delight, and remains the go-to guy for relentless page-turners that can be read without once having to invest in a bookmark or – dare I say it – bending the corner of a page.

Following the events of Gathering Prey, Davenport is out of a job and killing time. When his friend, the governor, who is ramping up a presidential campaign, invites Lucas to join his campaign staff, Davenport agrees, if only to fill the vacant hours of his days. But when the governor reveals concern about a potential threat to his rival nominee, Lucas’s investigative skills are called into action to ensure such an assassination plot is never enacted. It doesn’t take Lucas long to verify the threat; but stopping it from happening is another matter entirely.

With the US election in full swing, Extreme Prey is topical, but barely dips its toes into politics. While the novel focuses on extreme politics, Sandford wisely omits any long-winded political monologues, maintaining the peerless tautness his mysteries have earned such esteem for by focusing on the investigation and the ensuing violence. Davenport ruffles many feathers as he seeks vindication of the threat, leading to the unveiling of many red-herrings, and more than a few tangential murders, which muddy the waters, and leave Davenport racing desperately against the clock.

Sandford’s handling of the labyrinth plot is masterly, and while characterisation is forsaken in exchange for raw pace and action, his fast and furious approach is sure to keep eyes glued to the page. Extreme Prey is twisty and topical, and a treat for readers; Davenport veterans, and newcomers, too.

Buy the book here...

Reviewed by Simon

Review: The Slough House series by Mick Herron

Simon McDonald - Tuesday, January 10, 2017
1. Slow Horses

Banished to Jackson Lamb’s personal fiefdom, Slough House, from the higher echelons at Regent’s Park for a variety of shortcomings and vices, the ‘Slow Horses’ are a unit of MI5 misfits, desperate to atone for their past mistakes in order to escape purgatory, not entirely convinced Slough House isn’t an inescapable hell; that whatever they accomplish won’t be enough to circumvent their malpractice.

In erudition, action and temperament, Slow Horses proves Mick Herron is among the top tier of spy thriller writers. I ploughed through this first novel in the series and immediately started the second so I’ll be up to date when the fourth book, Spook Street, is published in February. In Slow Horses a boy is kidnapped and held hostage, and his beheading is scheduled for live broadcast on the internet. Whatever their personal and professional failings, Jackson Lamb’s team — if you can really call them that — can’t just sit on their hands when it’s within their capabilities — well, maybe — to do something. So they break from their remit and get involved. But this isn’t a novel about the redemption of spooks, nor a straightforward action thriller, in which the good guys serve deserved justice to the bad guys, and everyone goes home happy. This is a novel full of greys; it exposes the intricacies of inter-agency turf wars and puts human faces and human costs on those who make it their life’s work to shield us from those who seek to do us harm.

Despite the economy of Mick Herron’s work, the large cast is fleshed out, and although few are likeable — Jackson Lamb, in particular, is a bastard — they’re characters readers will root for, despite their flaws and foibles. Most impressive is Herron’s graceful prose, which reminded me of Daniel Silva’s long-running Gabriel Allon series. There’s an elegance to Herron’s storytelling, rarely seen among his contemporaries, many of whom rush to the explosion without lighting a fuse.

Slow Horses is packed full of evocative detail, movie-tense action sequences, and a credible plot. I’m so glad the book was shoved into my hands. As I write this, I am halfway through Dead Lions and enjoying it just as much as Slow Horses.

2. Dead Lions

Slough House — a disregarded echelon of MI5 — is comprised of disgraced and incompetent agents, who are assigned an endless supply of demeaning and feckless tasks in an effort to wear them down until the pull the pin on their careers. Ruled by the legendary Jackson Lamb — possibly the most abominable protagonist to have ever been spotlighted in espionage fiction —  the inhabitants of Slough House are skilled operators, whose vices and mistakes have demolished whatever usefulness they might have to the service. But when a former agent, Dickie Bow, is found dead on a London bus, Lamb and his subordinates take it upon themselves to investigate. Bow’s final text message — “cicadas” — has ominous repercussions:  it signifies the awakening of a sleeper cell of foreign agents, which dates back to the Cold War. Suddenly, Lamb’s Slow Horses are in a race against against time to determine their enemy’s target, and stop it from taking place.

Slow Horses was a remarkable spy novel, and this second in the series, Dead Lions, is a fine sequel. With the pieces already set up on the board, Mick Herron wastes no time in thrusting readers into a whirlwind, multi-stranded plot, which is orchestrated with Bach-like precision. Herron’s stories have the same complexity as Le Carre’s, but are written with the economy of Richard Stark, and this combination makes for an incredibly page-turning read. There is a large cast of characters involved, but each are fleshed out, and boast distinctive personalities; a rarity in this genre, when one could easily swap out James Bond for Jason Bourne, or Sean Dillon, or Jack Ryan, and not really notice any discernible difference.

Mick Herron has breathed new lie into the landscape of the espionage novel. I haven’t breezed through a series of books this quickly in a long, long time. As I write this, I’ve started the third novel, Real Tigers, and may well dig into Herron’s other novels while I wait for Spook Street in February.


3. Dead Lions

Over the course of a month I’ve smashed through Mick Herron’s three ‘Slough House’ novels — Real Tigers being the third in the series — as well as the standalone Nobody Walks. Prior to that, I’ll admit, I’d never heard of Herron, but thankfully, as a bookseller, I get to pay my newfound adoration forward, by shoving his books into customers’ hands and insisting he’s the modern equivalent of John le Carré. Which isn’t hyperbole, in case you were wondering: it’s a nailed-on fact.

So, for those who don’t know: Slough House is a disregarded echelon of MI5,  comprised of disgraced and incompetent agents, ruled by the abominable Jackson Lamb. But when one of their own is abducted —  Catherine Standish,  scooped into the van of her ex-lover, Sean Donovan — the Slow Horses leap into action amidst savage narcissistic in-fighting within the halls of her majesty’s government.

Real Tigers is visceral, gritty and cinematic. It’s Mick Herron’s novel best novel to date, which makes it something truly special indeed. The fuse is lit in the first few pages of the novel and burns through the rest of the story until its explosive ending.

Review: The Transmigration of Bodies | Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

Simon McDonald - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mexican author Yuri Herrera finally gets the English translation his work deserves with this volume from Text Publishing, which collects two stylish novellas quite unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory: The Transmigration of Bodies and Signs Preceding the End of the World.

The Transmigration of Bodies is a mashup of classic Chandler noir and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in a plague-ridden Mexico,  where disease-carrying mosquitoes have desolated the streets, an enigmatic character referred to as The Redeemer is caught mediating a conflict between two grieving families. It’s fast and brutal, and Herrera has fun playing with the tropes of the genre, while making his tale incredibly distinct. It’s the kind of novella you’ll race through, then go back to savour, slowly, to appreciate its nuances.

Signs Preceding the End of the World is just as stylised, but more fantastical in nature, opening with the tale’s heroine, Markina, narrowly escaping being swallowed by a massive sinkhole, then embarking on a perilous journey from “Little Town” to the “Big Chilango” to retrieve her brother. This is Herrera’s innovative spin on the experience of the “illegal immigrant” and is as thoughtful as it is page-turning.

There’s a weight to Herrera’s concise prose, more to extrapolate from his simple sentences than a first glance might imply. These two novellas are stunningly original pieces of work from a writer to watch.

Buy the book here...