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THE TOP BOOK CLUB PICKS OF THE MONTH

There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.
- Audre Lorde, writer, poet, civil rights activist.

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On Tuesday, the Commonwealth Foundation announced the shortlists for the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The prizes are designed to unearth, develop and promote the best new writing from across the Commonwealth, encompassing 54 countries within five regions; Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Each region has one winner in each category to be considered for the prize, which will be announced on May 14, 2013.

Citing originality, linguistic flair, depth, quality of writing and freshness of tone, Chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, Godfrey Smith, said, “A number of books boldly pushed the boundaries of form and explosively rebelled against the conventional structures of fiction-writing, inspiring lively and passionate debates among the judges.”

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A big congratulations to the following Australian authors on being shortlisted:

 

Petite Mort by Beatrice Hitchman

petitmortIn 1967, a canister of film is discovered of a 1914 silent film, Petite Mort. For years, everyone assumed that it was destroyed in a fire that had ravaged the studios in the same year and was never reshot due to the star, Adèle Roux, being involved in a notorious murder trial.

That the film has come to light after all this time is a miracle but why someone has crudely spliced the film together, erasing a critical scene, is a mystery.

There is little chance the missing sequence could have survived the intervening fifty years, let alone that anyone is alive today that could shed light on what it contained. So Juliette, the journalist who reported the story, is surprised when she receives a phone call from the one woman who may know all the answers; Adèle Roux.

Older but still beautiful, she has decided to enlist Juliette’s assistance in writing her tell-all memoir of that fateful Parisienne summer and how her life was changed forever upon meeting the filmstar Terpsichore and her dashing, clever and manipulative husband, André Durand.

As the title suggests, sex is at the heart of this thrilling debut mystery by documentary filmmaker, Beatrice Hitchman. Every delicious ingredient is included; seduction, adultery, gorgeous women, gorgeous clothes, a wonderful historical setting and a murder.

The storytelling shifts from one character to another revealing piece by piece the true character and background of all the players but nothing prepares the reader for the final piece of the puzzle.

Oh so clever writing that twists and turns, reflects and deflects and ultimately, willingly, takes you hook, line and sinker.

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Author Q&A | Sabine Durrant

imageIn an era when being an only child was seen by some as “a disease in itself”, author Sabine Durrant grew up in a world where she felt “like a foreigner.”

She buried herself in books about unruly gangs of children from the likes of Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome and grew up to become a journalist and author herself. With a history of strong women’s fiction under her belt, Sabine Durrant has made her first foray into writing thrillers, described by some as “flawless”. She joins The Hoopla to answer three quick questions.

What book(s) are you reading now?
I’ve just read all of Tana French’s novels in a row and they are brilliant – genuinely gripping and disconcerting. I really enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s deliciously wicked Gone Girl, though not quite as much as her first book, Sharp Objects – it has such a chillingly good heroine, as haunted by her own demons as by the nasty crimes she is investigating.

On the recommendation of my teenage son, I’ve also just devoured John Green’s Looking for Alaska, one of those great crossover novels, like Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, in which adolescence is itself a perpetual state of suspense.

Who are your favourite authors or greatest literary influences?
As I child, I loved detective novels, starting with the Famous Five and progressing to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers.

underyourskinAt university, I studied English and was obsessed by Jane Austen. She might not be the obvious inspiration for a thriller writer, but her ability to layer a scene, to create chasms of tragedy, or horror beneath apparently ordinary events, is unrivalled.

And I have to mention Daphne du Maurier, the mistress of atmosphere, of domestic situations in which you know from the beginning that something is not quite right.

In a nutshell, what’s your new book about?
Under Your Skin is about Gaby Mortimer, a successful television presenter, who seems to have everything going for her until the morning she discovers the body of a strangled girl when out running on her local common. From the moment a zealous detective accuses her of the murder, she sees her comfortable high profile media life torn to pieces. It’s a thriller, which asks the question: who can you trust, at work, at home, or anywhere?

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The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver

thepuppetboyofwarsawUpon Nazi occupation, Mika is herded into the Warsaw Ghetto along with his widowed mother and grandfather.

Mika and his family must swallow their shock and find a way to survive. Upon the cold-blooded killing of Mika’s grandfather by the German soldiers, he inherits his grandfather’s winter coat but this is no ordinary coat. Inside its interlinked pockets are many valuable items secreted away from prying eyes, including a puppet and a small gold key.

The key opens a cupboard in their tiny apartment and inside that cupboard, Mika discovers his grandfather’s puppet factory.

Performing puppet shows becomes Mika’s escape from the brutal and crushing reality of everyday life. However, a run in with a German soldier called Max sees Mika forced to perform at the barracks for the off duty troops. Months later, as the Jewish quarters are emptied into cattle trains bound for the concentration camps, Max demands the best puppet from Mika, the Prince, and Mika assumes he will never see the Prince ever again.

It is not until he is walking a New York street with his grandson Daniel and sees a theatre poster for a play called The Puppet Boy of Warsaw does Mika’s past, that of the German soldier Max, and the puppets that saved them all, intersect.

Weaver draws on her own German past and her career as a performance artist to create this story of two parts. The most compelling and dramatic is the first half set during World War II in the ghetto of Warsaw. The second part is a complete change of pace as Max finds himself in the labour camps of Siberia after the Russians freed Warsaw, where he will end up spending a decade of his life.

But it is Max’s granddaughter Mara who encapsulates the most important message of Weaver’s story; that even in the darkest of times there is always hope and with hope is always the possibility that there may grow understanding.

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On My Bedside Table

theburgessboysThe Burgess family grew up in a small town in Maine called Shirley Falls. The boys, Jim and Bob, up and left for New York where Jim is a hot-shot lawyer and Bob does legal aid work. Left behind is Bob’s twin sister Shirley and a past they’d all rather forget.

But when Shirley’s nineteen year old son Zach does something stupid that gets him in serious trouble with the law and a whole lot of media attention the family doesn’t need, the Burgess brothers must return to their hometown. In the place they grew up, past tensions resurface and the bonds of family are strained.

With The Burgess Boys, Pulitzer Prize winner, Elizabeth Strout delivers an exquisite piece of storytelling; funny even as it cuts to the bone of human nature.

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thewomanupstairsNora Eldridge admits that she has always been a good girl. She did well at school, followed her mother’s advice to get a proper degree and focus on her art in her spare time.

She teaches third graders at a nice school where the kids love her. But she’s reached an age where she is starting to wonder if, like Lucy Jordan in the Marianne Faithfull song, she’ll ever ‘ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair.’ Exhibitions on the Meat Packing District or anywhere else for that matter are a pipe dream until a new boy joins her class called Reza.

Reza’s father has a visiting fellowship for a year at the University and Reza’s mother, Sirena is an installation artist of some note. Tantalizingly close, is Nora’s chance to turn her dreams into reality but so too is a betrayal beyond Nora’s comprehension.

New York Times bestseller Claire Messud has perfectly captured a vulnerable stage of life that will be very familiar to many women. The Woman Upstairs has real bite and plenty of humour amongst the tragedy.

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Top Book Club Picks in March

80,000 book club readers can’t be wrong! Here is Bookmovement.com’s March Top 10.

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn BUY THE BOOK
  2. Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay BUY THE BOOK
  3. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty BUY THE BOOK
  4. The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom BUY THE BOOK
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald BUY THE BOOK
  6. The Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton BUY THE BOOK
  7. The Round House by Louise Erdrich BUY THE BOOK
  8. The Dinner by Herman Koch BUY THE BOOK
  9. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green BUY THE BOOK
  10. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand BUY THE BOOK

It has been 5 years since Tim Winton’s Miles Franklin-winning Breath was released. October 14 is set for the publication of Winton’s new novel, Eyrie. Described by the publisher as “funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting,” let’s hope for the author’s sake, as well as his reading public’s, that it lives up to expectations!

Lately, we have been inundated with plenty of prize-winning/ short-listed or just plain great books. Have you been reading anything you’d like to share? Or perhaps you’ve read a short-listed book and wondered what the fuss is all about? As always, leave a comment in the thread.

Until next week! Mx

 

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*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  • Reply April 12, 2013

    Catherine

    Ooh, goodie, a new Elizabeth Strout – I will be looking out for that one!

    • Reply April 12, 2013

      Meredith

      AND double goodie because the amazing Claire Messud is coming out for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. (And Kate Atkinson too!)

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