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The Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry     Recommended by Sharon    

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

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The Good People

Hannah Kent     Recommended by Sharon    

Hannah Kent’s remarkable new novel, The Good People, is set in an isolated valley in the west of Ireland early in the 19th-century.

Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference.

Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow’s house.

Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken …

Hannah Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, was acclaimed worldwide and it went on to be shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Stella Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. There are echoes of Burial Rites in The Good People. Both are historical novels in which human tragedy plays out against the rhythms of the natural world, and once again Kent displays an amazing ability to immerse herself in an unfamiliar landscape and to give that landscape life and voice.  In The Good People the central characters wonderfully complex allowing the reader to feel both repulsed and intensely empathetic all at the same time.

I adored this novel.

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Known and Strange Things

Teju Cole     Recommended by Alan    

Known and Strange Things is a collection of essays and articles that continue Teju Cole’s preoccupations with place and identity. The book looks broadly at three themes: literature, photography and travel. As with Cole’s previous novels,  Open City and Every Day is for the Thief, the writing here is perceptive and considered, sending the reader off to exploring other areas. In this case to writers such as Derek Walcott, or reassessing Virginia Woolf, to photographers such as Saul Leiter and the Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. In more autobiographical essays he recounts the night of Obama’s election, his life split between Lagos and the US, his various travels and his interest in photography. Known and Strange Things is excellent collection of thoughts and meditations.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Riggs     Recommended by Sharon    

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here – one of whom was his own grandfather – were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.  I haven’t seen the movie but word on the street is the book is better…. as usual.

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La Rose

Louise Erdrich     Recommended by Sharon    

Late summer in North Dakota, 1999: Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence but only when he staggers closer does he realise he has killed his neighbour’s son.

Dusty Ravich, the deceased boy, was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have been close for years and their children played together. Landreaux is horrified at what he’s done; fighting off his longstanding alcoholism, he ensconces himself in a sweat lodge and prays for guidance. And there he discovers an old way of delivering justice for the wrong he’s done. The next day he and his wife Emmaline deliver LaRose to the bereaved Ravich parents. Standing on the threshold of the Ravich home, they say, ‘Our son will be your son now’.

LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Gradually he’s allowed visits with his birth family, whose grief for the son and brother they gave away mirrors that of the Raviches. The years pass and LaRose becomes the linchpin that links both families. As the Irons and the Raviches grow ever more entwined, their pain begins to subside. But when a man who nurses a grudge against Landreaux fixates on the idea that there was a cover-up the day Landreaux killed Dusty – and decides to expose this secret – he threatens the fragile peace between the two families…

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Neighbourhood

Hetty McKinnon     Recommended by Sharon    

Neighbourhood is the second delicious collection of salads (and a few sweets!) from Arthur Street Kitchen’s Hetty McKinnon.  Her first book of salads, Community, was a huge hit and this book is bound to be just as popular.  Hetty has pulled up stumps and moved to from Surry Hills to Brooklyn and these recipes are inspired by many different places, journeying from Brooklyn to the greater Americas, the Mediterranean, Asia, France, Australia and many other places around the world for inspiration. The Arthur Street Kitchen concept is simple – local food for local people – and Neighbourhood stays true to this winning formula.  I can highly recommend the Roasted Sweet Potato and Leek Salad with Mustard Croutons…. delish!

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A Child of Books

Olive Jeffers     Recommended by Sharon    

New York Times best-selling author-illustrator Oliver Jeffers and fine artist Sam Winston deliver a lyrical picture book inspiring readers of all ages to create, to question, to explore, and to imagine.

A little girl sails her raft across a sea of words, arriving at the house of a small boy and calling him away on an adventure. Through forests of fairy tales and across mountains of make-believe, the two travel together on a fantastical journey that unlocks the boy’s imagination. Now a lifetime of magic and adventure lies ahead of him . . . but who will be next? Combining elegant images by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s typographical landscapes shaped from excerpts of children’s classics and lullabies, A Child of Books is a stunning prose poem on the rewards of reading and sharing stories—an immersive and unforgettable reading experience that readers will want to pass on to others.

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Westerly 61.1

Various authors     Recommended by Alan    

The latest issue of Westerly, guest edited by Steve Kinnane, reminds readers of the power and importance of stories in maintaining and renewing culture. A celebration of Indigenous writing, 61.1 includes new writing across all genres and from a variety of known and little-known writers. Proud in its cover art by Bella Kelly, Westerly 61.1 asserts its place in Western Australian literary culture.

Notable contributions include Tara June Winch’s story ‘The Yield’, Kim Scott’s non-fiction piece ‘Both Hands Full’ and the poem ‘Sap Clot’ by Alison Whittaker ( Tender! Horror! // Thrice upon the shore comes the violence ). The Katinka Smit’s debut story ‘Behind the Line’ is similarly impressive in its portrayal of cultural ambivalence.

But in a way it is the personal stories of less well-known writers that point up the strengths of Indigenous voices and the personal challenges that have been surmounted. Two joyous vignettes by young boys from Mulan in the Tanami desert, Bella Kelly’s daughters recounting their mother’s life and art, and Doris Eaton’s ‘Giveaway’ story are three such examples.

Now in its 60th year, this latest Westerly must be among its most notable. A collection of stories, reviews and essays that reminds all readers that the west of Australia has a long indigenous past, a continuing present, and a future.

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One

Patrick Holland     Recommended by Alan    

Patrick Holland is the critically acclaimed author of The Mary Smokes Boys and Riding Trains in Japan.

One is a cold, grim novel based on the true story of the Kenniff gang – Australia’s ‘last bushrangers’ – as they are pursued on horseback by trooper Sergeant Nixon. Set at the beginning of the 20th century, the novel also documents a point of change in the country’s psyche as it grapples with notions of nationhood and increasing modernisation.

Narrated largely through the perspective of Sergeant Nixon, the trooper’s moral compass begins to waver the longer the chase continues. Kenniff’s legendary decisiveness also begins to crumble as the novel moves toward its final throes. Often compared to Cormac McCarthy’s westerns, one of the pleasures of One is the muscularity and sparseness of Holland’s prose.

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The Journey

Francesca Sanna     Recommended by Sharon    

“I look up to the birds that seem to be following us. They are migrating just like us. And their journey, like ours, is very long, but they don’t have to cross any borders.”

With haunting echoes of current affairs this beautifully illustrated children’s book explores the unimaginable decisions made as a family leave their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war. A beautifully sympathetic and relevant tale about the plight of refugees.

Stunningly presented by the design conscious Flying Eye Books, this book will stay with you long after the last page is turned.  Have the tissue box at the ready.

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