Release is about that terrifying and exhilarating process of piecing together who you are during the most tumultuous period of your life, when your entire identity is in a constant state of flux. Our teenage years are spent searching for authenticity: exploring new relationships and trying new identities in order to determine who we are, or at the very least, who we want to be, and accepting it.
Over the course of a single day, seventeen-year-old Adam Thorn’s life completely unravels — revelation after revelation pummelling him, threatening to crash-land him into pieces, changing everything — but it’s one of those days that’s necessary for him to become, and accept, who he is; one of those days he’ll look back on and appreciate for its defining moments. Release is about a revolutionary day in a young man’s life, told with Patrick Ness’s trademark warmth and good humour, and of course, a touch of the supernatural in the form of a ghost who has risen from the lake…
Adam lives in a very religious and strict small-town American home. Living in his brother’s shadow, forced to keep his boyfriend a secret from his pastor father, Adam’s singular outlet is his best friend; the only person who knows how truly messed up he is over the ending of his previous relationship, and the horribleness of his boss at the job he works part-time. Adam’s caught in a hurricane of adolescent emotion, on the precipice of making decisions that will possibly define him, and Ness details this with heart-aching, bring-tears-to-your-eyes honesty.
The supernatural element — the ghost — adds an interesting layer to the tale, but possibly one I could have done without. It neither augments, nor detracts from the book; it just doesn’t seem necessary. The strength of Release is its protagonist, who is unforgettable, and will resonate with readers for a long time.
Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West — an imaginative tale of love, war and displacement — recounts the story of two migrants, Saeed and Nadia, who flee their unnamed country in the midst of a civil war, and travel across the globe through fantastical portals (or doorways) in an attempt to invent new lives for themselves.
The novel has two focuses: how war distorts every day life, and pedestrian rituals and routines fall to the wayside, and relationships warp into something alien; and the difficulties refugees face finding new homes. Because even when they are able to escape their own country, refuges face innumerable obstacles as they seek to establish a new existence. Hamid’s novel streamlines the migration process with the invention of these portals — people can easily get from one land to another — but that doesn’t make settlement any easier.
The relationship between Saeed and Nadia is never anything less than complicated and constantly in flux. The two have instant chemistry, but as their situation changes, and they’re forced to deal with the stresses of living in a war-torn country, then leaving it and coping with seemingly never-ending displacement, fractures form and heal. Their relationship feels genuine, and though Exit West can be described as a love story, it’s not necessarily about romantic love.
This is my first experience with Mohsin Hamid and I was blown away by his prose. He’ll juxtapose long-running, comma-heavy sentences with brusque passages that read more like a Chandler novel. I’ve immediately added The Reluctant Fundamentalist to my reading stack, and he’ll be an author I keep an eye on moving forward. Few writers are as capable of writing as thematically-heavy stories without their message becoming burdensome. Hamid is an exquisite storyteller.
It’s bittersweet and loaded with despair, but Exit West is a novel that will stick with me for a long time. It’s a novel that begs for discussion — perfect for book clubs — and delivers some truths that stick and twist like a knife. It’s a migrant’s tale unlike any I’ve read before.
The Animators is such an accomplished and polished debut. I loved it for two reasons: its honest examination of the genesis and cost of living a creative life — of making art — and its elegant portrayal of love and friendship. Kayla Rae Whitaker winds together the moments that define who we are, and weaves an incredible tapestry of life and death. It’s a novel that dares to explore the full spectrum of emotions: at moments it cheered me, at others it broke my heart. It is the first absolute must-read of 2017.
When we meet Sharon Kisses at a private East Coast college, she is a young, talented but insecure artist. Very quietly, she has big dreams — achievable aspirations — but one feels her self-doubt will prohibit any major successes. Then she meets fellow student Mel Vaught, which turns out to be the defining moment of both their lives. Though both women have incredibly divisive personalities — Mel is wild and outspoken — they form a seemingly unbreakable bond, and indeed, smash-cut to a decade later, become an award-winning animation duo. But just as they seem destined for greatness, tragedy strikes, revealing cracks in their relationship. The healing process begins when they return to Sharon’s home in rural Kentucky, facing up to the horrors of her childhood.
Both women are affected by the tragedies of their childhood. They are both wounded, and stimulated by these moments; their art thrives because of their past, but their personal lives stutter and crumble because of them. Together they have the fortitude to stave off their demons — just — but Sharon’s attempt to confront her issues — with Mel as her strongest advocate — threatens to destroy their unified strength.
The Animators is a remarkable and emotionally gripping read. The friendship between Sharon and Mel feels authentic — Whitaker exposes the highs and lows of a genuine long-lasting partnership — and the impact of their successes and failures, personal and professional, impact hard, and will resonate long after the final page. Kayla Rae Whitaker has crafted an irresistible story of friendship and creativity. The last time I was immersed in a novel as rich and rewarding was Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life.
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.
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
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!
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 (Hades, Eden 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.
- March Bestsellers
- Review: The Raqqa Diaries – Escape from Islamic State by Samer
- Review: Release by Patrick Ness
- Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
- Review: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
- Anti-Trump Reading List
- Stella Prize 2017 Longlist
- Review: The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom
- Review: Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake by Rob Lloyd Jones
- Review: Crimson Lake by Candice Fox