Our books of the month, September 2023
Explore our books of the month for September; each of the below titles has been read and recommended by our booksellers before being selected as our book of the month for its category.
FICTION BOOK OF THE MONTH
Ordinary Gods and Monsters by Chris Womersley
Reviewed by Pierre Sutcliffe, Readings St Kilda
'...an outstanding tale of the terrors of facing adulthood in the days when adolescence had a definite finish date.'
Chris Womersley is one of the most interesting and inventive writers in this country, in my extremely humble opinion. He began his publishing career with The Low Road, a gritty crime novel, his next, City of Crows, was set in medieval France and had supernatural elements. His next book Cairo was set in inner-city Melbourne and dealt with art forgery and the theft of the Picasso painting The Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria. The Diplomat was a sequel of sorts and was easily one of the best novels of the last few years. This book is as entirely different from all of them as they are from each other, yet it doesn’t feel like the author showing off, it’s more informed by the feeling that he wants to explore the possibilities of novel writing. The most common theme in his writing is the story of how the experiences of youth make the person.
Nick Wheatley is a teenage boy waiting for his VCE results before he decides what to do with the rest of his life. His next-door neighbour and best friend (and secret love) Marian is interested in another boy. After her father is killed in a mysterious hit-and-run accident, Nick is drawn into investigating what happened. During a session with his local drug dealer’s girlfriend, he is informed that as a psychic she can help him, and they contact Marian’s father on a Ouija board. This sets off a chain of events that wreaks suburban havoc on the characters in this novel.
There are several references to the novel True Grit by the great American writer Charles Portis, but for some reason the character that came to me while reading this book was Huck Finn. This is an outstanding tale of the terrors of facing adulthood in the days when adolescence had a definite finish date.
CRIME BOOK OF THE MONTH
The Ripper by Shelley Burr
Reviewed by Kate McIntosh, manager of Readings Emporium
'While Gemma is not quite Miss Marple, there are plenty of twists in this tale, and the complicated small-town relationships are completely absorbing.'
The ‘Rainier Ripper’ murdered three people, 17 years ago. A truck driver was charged and jailed, and the small town of Rainier and its inhabitants have been trying to get on with their lives ever since. Now the town is dying, as regional Australian towns have so often done before, and some of those who live there are desperate enough to think that making their home a tourist destination for true crime fanatics is a good idea.
I promise you, it is not. Suddenly, we have another victim. Is it the work of a copycat killer, or something even more sinister? Our heroine, Gemma, long-time resident of Rainier and wife of the local cop, decides to take matters into her own hands when the police appear to be getting nowhere. Instead of emigrating to Moldova (as I certainly would have if I were a character in this book), she joins forces with an inmate who has access to the original ‘Ripper’ himself.
Gradually, pieces of the past come together to explain the motives of those around her in the present. When everyone in town knows everyone else, and nearly everyone is a suspect, all the secrets lying just below the surface are about to come to light. Throw in a stolen identity, a stranger in town, family resentments and first love and figuring out who dunnit is not going to be easy.
While Gemma is not quite Miss Marple, there are plenty of twists in this tale, and the complicated small-town relationships are completely absorbing. This is Shelley Burr’s second book, following her bestselling debut Wake, and I can’t wait to see what more she brings to a favourite genre.
NONFICTION BOOK OF THE MONTH
The Catch by Anna Clark
Reviewed by Joe Murray, Readings Kids
'Clark makes it easy to understand why fishing is so important to so many.'
Australia is a country that has always been quietly proud of its traditions, and for Anna Clark there is no tradition more Australian than fishing. Her newest book, The Catch, celebrates the universal pleasure of throwing in a line whilst interrogating the pastime’s history – a history fraught with tensions between coloniser and colonised, recreation and commercial enterprise, and inevitably, between human greed and the limited resources of the natural world.
From The Catch’s very first pages, Clark invites the reader to take a proverbial seat beside her on the riverbank and share in the quiet, communitarian paradise treasured by any avid fisher. Even for the most fishing-agnostic reader like myself, Clark makes it easy to understand why fishing is so important to so many. Once she’s got you invested, she launches into a detailed and considered history of fishing in Australia, from the complex and ingenious practices of Indigenous fishers to the perilous and wasteful world of early industry. Each chapter steps forward into the present, mapping the steady growth of technology and the meteoric collapses of ecosystems that has led to the intense regulation and slow recovery we see today.
Throughout The Catch, Clark takes on many voices: historian, environmentalist, cultural critic; but she never lets us forget the voice of the fisho’, a voice which animates her writing with a bevy of anecdotes and unmistakably Australian slang but also reminds us why we shouldn’t just give up on fishing. Rather than arguing in either direction, she calls for a carefully managed balance between fishers and fish, protecting nature so future generations can enjoy its pleasures. For those at home with a fishing pole, The Catch will broaden their understanding of a favourite hobby and for those like me, it’s an invitation to think more deeply about a national tradition that so often appears as people patiently waiting for something interesting to happen.
KIDS BOOK OF THE MONTH
We Know a Place by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Reviewed by Alexa Dretzke, Readings Hawthorn
'As Childrens’ Book Week reminds us with celebrations and school parades, a visit to your local bookshop enhances the awareness that literature matters.'
Bookshops are magical places and each one has its own charm. They contain the dreams and mysteries of authors’ imaginations; the amazing facts of our world and animals. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s book is a homage to a ‘bold little bookshop’ that a family visits on Saturdays after the chores are done. Her lively, textured illustrations explore the exhilaration and enchantment of their visits.
As Childrens’ Book Week reminds us with celebrations and school parades, a visit to your local bookshop enhances the awareness that literature matters. For ages 2+.
KIDS CLASSIC OF THE MONTH
Belonging by Jeannie Baker
Reviewed by Dani Solomon, manager of Readings Kids
' Belonging is a work of magic'
Belonging begins with a beautiful collage view looking through a window into a front yard at a couple holding a baby. With each turn of the page, a year passes, and the view slowly changes in the most wonderful way. What starts with inner city suburbia – every spare space an ad, the graffiti of the discontent fracturing the dull greys of the cracked tired concrete – starts to gradually evolve: the cemented front yard becomes a lawn; the used car business across the road becomes an empty lot which eventually becomes a green, welcoming community space.
As an adult reading Belonging, I find peace in how it reflects the comfort of an organic community working together to make their space better, but as an anxious child I found Belonging felt good to read in ways I couldn’t articulate; I now know it’s the way it quietly shows its reader that big changes can be positive and calm. I would stare at this wordless picture book for hours, soaking it in, scrutinising every page for every change no matter how big or subtle; I didn’t want to miss a thing. I’d try to work out the mysteries of her magical collages and even tried to make my own! Belonging is a work of magic perfect for kids 3+.
YOUNG ADULT BOOK OF THE MONTH
Let’s Never Speak of This Again by Megan Williams
Reviewed by Aurelia Orr, Readings Kids
'This novel is a bittersweet eulogy to growing older, people changing, friendships growing and breaking apart.'
Megan Williams’ debut novel, which won the 2022 Text Prize, is an authentic, gorgeously written story about friendship, teen angst, grief, and discovering one’s identity and independence.
Abby’s life is good. No, she may not be popular, and her best experience with boys so far was accidentally kissing her cousin’s cousin (not blood-related!) at a wedding. But Abby’s life is still fun, with sleepovers and watching The Bachelor with her friends, dodging her mother’s helicopter habits, and simply surviving high school.
This novel is a bittersweet eulogy to growing older, people changing, friendships growing and breaking apart. But things start to change. At a party she is too drunk to remember, a boy kisses her, and Abby is confused as to whether she wanted to be touched or not. The new girl, Chloe, joins their friendship group, and Abby feels she is losing her best friend, Ella, to Chloe. The thought of Ella leaving her sparks a bitter jealousy inside that makes her wish for something bad to happen to Ella – until it does, and nothing is the same again.
This novel is a bittersweet eulogy to growing older, people changing, friendships growing and breaking apart. With the dawn of adulthood just a few years away and the dusk of childhood a few years ago, teenagers are stuck in this bewildering period where innocence is replaced with angst and confusion about their identity, their sexuality, and their place in the world, which Williams explores with ardent humour and heart. This is not a book you’ll be able to say goodbye to easily. For ages 15+.
CLASSICAL ALBUM OF THE MONTH
For Clara: Works by Schumann & Brahms by Hélène Grimaud and Konstantin Krimmel
Reviewed by Kate Rockstrom, friend of Readings
'…the notes seem to appear like a brush of wind, with intention and beauty.'
Classical music lovers all over the world know when you say the name ‘Clara’, you mean one person. Someone who challenged the status quo, brought Brahms into the spotlight, and was the first famous working mother–musician–composer. Clara Schumann (nee Wieck) is now celebrated in her own right as a composer, but we can’t ignore the impact she had on those around her. Many of the pieces composed by her husband, Robert Schumann, and dear friend Johannes Brahms, were first given to Clara for her opinion before they were performed to anyone else. This album celebrates those close musical relationships and the beautiful music that came out of them.
Like Clara before her, Hélène Grimaud was a child prodigy pianist and is a multi-talented soloist. It’s been a while since I listened to a Grimaud recording, but as soon as it started, I remembered why I love her albums. She has such a light touch that the notes seem to appear like a brush of wind, with intention and beauty. The Kreisleriana Op. 16 are a set of works written by Robert to reflect Clara’s personality; he wrote them during the time they were separated by her father. The full gamut of emotions is on show in these eight pieces, all performed beautifully by Grimaud.
Another delight of this album is the inclusion of Brahms’ Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 32 with baritone Konstantin Krimmel. These nine songs are based on poems by two poets, Georg Friedrich Daumer and August von Platen, both of whom were influenced by the medieval Persian poet Hafez. Today, they’re often performed as separate songs, as they deal with individual ideas, but with their themes of love, loss and devotion, you might feel Brahms’ soul still yearning with unrequited love for Clara.