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Review: The Raqqa Diaries – Escape from Islamic State by Samer

Simon McDonald - Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Simon McDonald - Monday, March 13, 2017

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.

Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Simon McDonald - Tuesday, March 07, 2017

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.

Buy the book here...

Review: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Simon McDonald - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

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. 

Buy the book here...

Anti-Trump Reading List

Jon Page - Monday, February 20, 2017

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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
The Trial by Franz Kafka
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
Dangerous Allies by Malcolm Fraser
Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant

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...