Category Archives: Book Review

The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins

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Another super short Goodreads review:

The Everlasting Sunday is set in a boys home in England in 1962. The cold of the setting mimicks the isolation of the boys situation and their own minds. It is not always a comfortable read as there is tension and trauma but there is also joy and tenderness.

If you like a strong authorial voice then you will thoroughly enjoy Robert Lukins’ work, if you are after something more generic then this book may not appeal to you as much. His opening sentence is simple enough – There are things more miraculous than love. But from the second sentence the unmistakable stamp of Lukins can be felt – Given the right motivation common water, for instance, turn itself to solid ice. Powerful and distinct.

Buy The Everlasting Sunday here or anywhere.

Read Robert Lukins’ Robinpedia entry here.

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Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

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I posted this brief review on Goodreads but forgot to pop it here, so here it is:

I don’t want to give away any spoilers so instead I’ll quote only the very opening because I feel like it gives you a very good idea what this novel is all about. It’s gritty, it’s raw and it is most definitely beautiful.

“It’s 1989. I’m twelve years old. There’s blood on my clothes and face, and vomit splatter on my shoes. It’s cold in here. I’m at the police station, in a small room with walls the colour 9f winter sky.”

Grab a copy here or anywhere really.

All Your Mother Wants is Books and Booze

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It’s coming up to that time of year again, the highest book selling time of year, MOTHER’S DAY. Well, at least it is in my corner of the world. Everybody knows that the ladies love books so the lead up to Mother’s Day is often met with a mad dash to the bookshop, shrieking hysterically at the store clerk that you need that book that was blue and they recommended on that show about books. Unfortunately, there are a lot of blue books and that show has been cancelled. But never fear, I am here to bring you something even better than yelling at bookshop employees, I’m bringing you the perfect pairings for your mother, books and wine.

Let’s kick off this list with The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan. This is a book about family, hardships, and learning to accept life whilst damning the man. It is set in 1920s Tasmania, Australia. It looks at the differences between siblings, the strengths and flaws of motherhood, and music. It has been praised by critics and readers alike. Given that this is a book proudly set in Tasmania I would recommend that you pair it with a Tasmanian wine. Try Devil’s Corner Pinot Grigio.

Find The Sisters’ Song here.

Find Devil’s Corner Pinot Grigio here.

A rapid change of pace to some non fiction. I think many mums will love The Women’s Brain Book. It’s full of information about women’s brains throughout childhood, puberty, pregnancy, motherhood, menopause and old-age. It is written by neuroscientist Dr Sarah McKay who has dedicated her life to understanding the human brain. This is more of a book about biology and hormones rather than psychology and feelings, it really is a refreshing change of pace. Given that red wine is frequently touted as being good for your health, I’d recommend you pair this book with a red wine such as Rabbit Ranch Pinot Noir.

Find The Women’s Brain Book here.

Fund Rabbit Ranch Pinot Noir here.

Where’s the Romance, Robin? My mother wants to remember what it was like to be young, and sexy, and in love, and what it was like to sleep in! Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. A Letter From Italy by Pamela Hart is the perfect gift for the mother who loves love. It contrasts war torn Europe in 1917 with the battleground of the heart complete with a sexy Italian love interest. Given that this book is set in Italy and the gorgeous lemon on the cover I’m recommending a slightly stronger pairing, Villa Massa Limoncello.

Find A Letter From Italy here.

Find Villa Massa Limoncello here.

Another romantic foray is A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester. I recommend this one simple because it had me squealing at the end and screaming, ‘Oh my God, they’re totally gonna kiss!’ It follows a woman in Manhattan 1920s who wants to be a doctor. From the outset we can see what she’s up against with the suffocating expectations from society. Although this book has tragedy and struggles it also has joy and will put a smile on your mother’s face. Given that this book is set in the 1920s and infused with jazz, I recommend pairing it with Tanqueray London Dry Gin.

Find A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald here.

Find Tanqueray London Dry Gin here.

Bonus: A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald is in the Booktopia’s Mother’s Day Book Guide so if you order it through then before May 13th you’ll be in for a chance to win $1000 worth of books.

Let’s move away from romance and onto magic. Kate Forsyth The Wild Girl tells the story of Dortchen Wild. Dortchen Wild was the neighbour of the brothers Grimm, good friend of their younger sister, and in reality one of the major sources of the fairytales they are so famous for. This is a fictional retelling of Dortchen’s life, but the characters are based on real people and the integrity to original source material is incredible. For the mother that loves history and fairy tales. I would recommend pairing this magical book with aromatic Kracher Beerenauslese Cuvee.

Find The Wild Girl here.

Find Kracher Beerenauslese Cuvee here.

Have a mother that loves history but wants some grit? I’d recommend Half Wild by Pip Smith. This is another based on a true story novel but this time it is of Eugenia Falleni, a transgender man born in Italy in 1875, raised in New Zealand and spending their adulthood in Australia. Falleni did not cope with restrictions placed on them being assigned female at birth. They would often dress as a boy and try to undertake activities that were only designated for males. This was met with cruelty by Falleni’s parents. Falleni eventually fled family life and assumed life as Harry Crawford. Crawford rose to notoriety in 1917 when the burned body of his wife was found, later Crawford would be accused, reveal that they were born Eugenia Falleni and ask to be put in a women’s cell and tried as a woman. This novel looks at the lives of Eugenia Falleni both before and after the trial. The first 100 pages that cover Falleni’s childhood are particularly gripping. Pair Half Wild with Piave Grappa for an intense experience.

Find Half Wild here.

Find Piave Grappa here.

Is your mother a criminal mastermind? Then I’d recommend some Crime Fiction, especially Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic. This book is set in a rural town with a social outsider as the main character. Profoundly deaf Caleb Zelic has been picking up on people’s tell tale signs since childhood, when murder comes to his doorstep he needs to use all of his skills to prove his innocence. This book won a lot of Crime Fic awards and has a sequel so I highly recommend it for the mother who can’t stop at just one murder. Pair this book with Innocent Bystander Pinot Syrah.

Find Resurrection Bay here.

Find Innocent Bystander Syrah here.

Here’s a book for the mother who has lived through or is currently living through online dating, Out There by Kerri Sackville. It’s all about in being that magical place ‘out there.’ Or at least all your partnered up mates insist you put yourself out there if you’re single. This isn’t so much a book about how to get a man but how to enjoy online dating in midlife and keep your sense of humour and sanity. Think of it as a David Attenborough style guide to dating but funny. So very funny. I recommend pairing it with good old fashioned Passion Pop so that your mother can have a hilariously nostalgic drink to accompany her reading.

Find Out There here.

Find Passion Pop here.

Bonus: Out There: a Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife is also one of Booktopia’s Mother’s Day recommendations.

Know a mother who suffered the baby blues, postnatal depression (postpartum depression across the pond) or postnatal anxiety? Then I think they’d get a lot out of my book simply subtitled Postnatal Depression Sucks. Because it does, it really does. It is direct, real, written in conversation language, containing both insights and practical advice and is also filled with humour. Motherhood is great, but sometimes life is hard and being able to reflect on it and have the odd laugh is quite cathartic. I recommend pairing my book with some soothing tea from High Tea With Harriet such as Duches of Bedford. Indulgently relaxing, and trust me, mothers are worth it.

Find Confessions of a Mad Mooer: Postnatal Depression Sucks here.

Find High Tea With Harriet Duchess of Bedford here.

Consider yourself now fully prepared to conquer Mother’s Day and take out the coveted Best Child status with these perfect pairings.

Find last year’s perfect pairings of books and pyjamas here.

Book Club ABC Season 11, Episode 7: #bookclubabc

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I’m just going to subtly post this now and nobody will notice that it’s super late. Smooth as silk. No complaints, people will just assume it has been here the whole time and not question it at all…..

Hooray. It’s the highlight of the year. My two great loves together as they should be, Sydney Writers’ Festival (why yes I am a volunteer, how can I help) and THE Book Club ABC with the incandescent JByrne. All is right in the world…. well, except for the fact regular co-hosts Marieke and Ace have been cast aside like last year’s hottest new author that is now being crucified for their follow-up novel having too many POVs…. but apart from that, it’s just dandy.

The title of this episode is Books That Changed My Life. Let’s find out if that means for the better or for the worse, like when Anne McCaffrey suddenly killed off Moreta right when you thought the day was saved leaving a generation of fans emotionally obliterated because we thought somehow she’d sneakily survive but NO. Firstpublishedin1983outsideofspoilerwhinezone!!!

The guests are George Saunders. See his debut full length novel get book clubbed here. Also the much esteemed Anne Enright and OMG she has chosen The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, one of my fav books EVER. You and me Anne, all the way, love your work, love your taste. OMG×2 Anne Enright studied under ANGELA CARTER. I am so excited that I am about to pass out! Next guest is Mikhail Zygar. He is clutching Confession by Tolstoy. A less well known Tolstoy about his spiritual awakening. JByrne breaks her own rule of starting to discuss the book before its turn. She’s not happy, apparently the book describes Anna Karenina as an ABOMINATION. I’m sure we’ll hear more about that later. And finally, Brit Bennett, who is the most spectacular speaker. If you ever get the chance to hear her, do go. She has chosen Beloved by Toni Morrison. I have goosebumps just thinking about it. It’s a book about a woman who kills her own child to prevent her from going back into slavery…. I might cry during this episode. It’s such an amazing book. Very powerful.

Now it’s time for our first guest to present their book for discussion. George has chosen The Coast of Chicago, a short story collection by Stuart Dyvek. He loved it. It was about his city. He got to see the work necessary to change a reality into fiction. Prior to that, he felt that all good books were from the past, this book showed him how amazing contemporary literature can be. It changed his whole approach to writing. Now if this was a regular episode this kind of heartwarming attachment would be blown apart by either Marieke or Ace savaging it. Let’s see how the SWF guests go.

Anne Enright says that Stuart Dyvek is endlessly writing about lightbulbs, but he writes about them fantastically. He apparently also digs precipitation, and Anne likes that. JByrne points out he also likes to write about lonely people.

Nobody has hated it. JByrne realising her sassy compadres are missing has to bring in conflict on her own. She askes George what would he do if someone hated it. George says he taught it recently and half the kids didn’t love it. He didn’t flunk them. He accepted that Dyvek was doing something bold so would leave some people behind. Burn.

Speaking of bold, Bloody Chamber time. Brilliant retake in fairy tales. Lush, decadent, violent, and deeply sexual. Anne says, ‘it’s so good, it’s wrong.’ JByrne said she didn’t get how transgressive it was when she first read it. Anne said she told one of the stories to her two year old daughter to cure the pink problem. One can imagine it was edited slightly for a two year old?

Brit particularly liked Puss in Boots. JByrne says it was very Antonio Banderas in Shrek. Hmmmm, maybe Shrek needs to pay some royalties. Brit points out that the princess also becomes the ogre…. Did the makers of Shrek pay???

Anne loved the freedom to turn something on it’s head. She liked that you could work with opposites and reclassify. When Anne wrote The Green Road she thought, ‘I’ll do a female King Lear.’ Angela Carter had given her that freedom and flexibility in thinking and creativity. 

Time for Mikhail and Confession. JByrne calls it a spiritual midlife crisis. Mikhail says it’s more politics. Fight, fight, fight. Mikhail says it was more end-life, not mid-life. Tolstoy had stopped writing fiction and started becoming political and a leader of alternate Russia. A beacon for those wanting freedom. 

JByrne feels like it was metaphorical self-flagellation. He was lamenting his wild youth and him popularising Anna Karenina. Anne points out it is also a humble brag. He points out his huge achievements whilst seemingly undercutting them.

Mikhail says that the book is important to him because for him Tolstoy’s Russia is greater than Putin’s Russia. That there is the alternative that seeks freedom and expression, and Tolstoy is the symbol of that. Okay, Mikhail has won me over. I shall re-read Confession with new eyes.

Time for Brit’s choice, Beloved by Toni Morrison. A book that looks at how does a country deal with its past traumas. It is about a woman who escapes slavery and when she is about to be captured she makes the heartbreaking decision to kill her children rather than see them tortured, humiliated and brutalised beyond belief back in slavery. She is then haunted by the ghost Beloved, the child she had killed. The ghost eventually takes on bodily form and returns to her life. I am just going to go grab a million box of tissues. I personally have only read this book once but it is incredibly powerful and stays with you. George looks like he is going to cry too.

Brit says this isn’t her favourite Toni Morrison novel but it is one that she has read countless times because it does what she wants her own work to do. It is beautiful, it is brutal, it is important. The book does all three things and it centres around the black community. And it is highly nuanced. Brit says that Toni Morrison was not interested in looking at white people at all, what white people did was horrific and there can be no question about that, but what Toni Morrison looked at was the black community and their own responses to give insight and a voice to individual and community trauma.

Anne praises Beloved on how it is so perfectly structured in a traditional sense and yet does such amazing and innovative things. JByrne also praises the innovation. Anne calls it political writing at its finest.

JByrne asks how important is timing for when you read a book. George says it is crucial. Often great advice only has a two week window for being effective. Anne says we read in a searching way so timing is everything. Mikhail agrees, he says reading is 50% the writer and 50% who the reader is. So each time you read you’re a different person and get a different message. 

JByrne asks will books always be a force for change. Brit says yes. For example Beloved tackles what is still the most important question in American politics today, what do we do with the ghosts of slavery, and nobody knows what to do about it. I wish we could get to this point with the Stolen Generation and the White Australia Policy, but unfortunately we’re still denying that it was really that bad and not even up to wondering how to help.
And that’s a wrap. What an emotional episode. Loved it.

Find last episodes recap here.

View this episode or previous episodes here.

Find the Book Club ABC on Twitter here.

Find the Book Club ABC on Facebook here.

Find the Book Club ABC Drinking Game here.

By George Saunders books here

Buy Anne Enright books here.

Buy Mikhail Zygar books here.

Buy Brit Bennet’s book here.

Buy my book here

Read up on the Australian book industry in Robinpedia.

Love me herehere, and here.

Congratulate Marieke on becoming the festival director for MELBOURNE WRITERS’ FESTIVAL here. WOOOOOOOOOT.

This is my friend, I like her, follow her here.

This is also my friend. She’s a hotshot writer like you see in the movies. You should follow her here.

I have other friends, I really do. Find some here…. here… AND here…. and also very importantly HERE!

Find my idol here.

Find my guru here. Sharon also follows him, she can tell you about that here.

Are you following Tania? You should. She’s here.

And don’t forget Emma. You gotsta find Emma here. She’s rad. And she teaches me new words… such as blowie. Rachel can attest to that, find her here.

Find out something different you can do for #RUOKDAY here.

All Your Mother Wants is Books and Pyjamas 

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Do you know what your mother really wants for Mothers’ Day, Birthdays, etc? Books and pyjamas. Possibly also tea. But definitely books and pyjamas. Let me help you out in your mighty task of buying your mother that perfect gift. Here are my perfect pairings to delight that special mother in your life.

For the Dog Lover

My first gift recommendation is Monty and Me by Louisa Bennet. A cosy pet detective about a funky dog who knows how to solve a crime or two. 

Pair this book with some super cute pyjamas like this onsie.

Dachshund lovers are there own seperate breed of people so you need to get them an extra special gift. Try Destination Dachshund by Lisa Fleetwood. It’s a really sweet travel memoir about love, grief, and there’s a dachshund spotting competition involved.

Combine Destination Dachshund with something like these adorable pyjamas that will warm the heart of any dachshund lover.

For the Mother that Loves Thrills, Chills, and Spills

You can’t go past L.A. Larkin’s chiller, Devour. It’s Antarctic noir. It has action, suspense, and some sexy sex. Step aside Robert Ludlum, L.A. Larkin is here.

Pair it with something like these fabulous matching onsies. One for you, one for your mother. Heaven.

Does your mother like more action than you can poke a stick at? Grab her Crimson Lake by Candice Fox. Even ultra famous reviewer Jason Steger reads Candice Fox.

Pair it with fabulous red satin pyjamas like these.

For the Mother Who Loves Love

Her Mother’s Secret by Natasha Lester is the perfect option. It even has mother in the title. Just go out and get it already.

Pair it with flower pyjamas instead of actual flowers.

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth is an evocative weaving of WWII, fairy tale, and love. Lush settings and intense conflict.

Pair it with rose print pyjamas, like these ones, to tie it all together.


For the most Fantastical of Mothers

This years hottest new Fantasy release is Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer. Gods walking amongst people, magic, warriors, and people living in trees. What’s not to like?

Pair it with some forest or bird pyjamas.

Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck is a speculative fiction take on family history. It is set in the 1800s and is gripping from start to finish. Expect Aliens, ghostly apparitions, and some light cannibalism.

Pair it with some good old fashioned long johns. Check out how much this model loves hers.

For the Mother Who Wants to be Kept in Suspense

Does your mother enjoy rotting mutton and murder? See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is for her. It delivers the story of Lizzie Borden with a heady feast of flavours.

Match it with a super cute lamb onesie, obvi.

Please Don’t Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler brings you grunge music, amnesia and the seedy underbelly of life. Relive the 90s and see if you can find out who Brigitte really is.

Pair it with something super sexy.

For the Mother Who Likes to Laugh

Our Tiny, Useless Hearts starts with the smashing of plates, progresses to cutting the crotch out of trousers, and even incorporates a nod to the famous Romeo and Juliet balcony scene, but gone horribly wrong.

Pair it with some adorbs, heart-print pyjamas.

The Lucky One is Caroline Overington’s eleventh book and is full of hijinks and corpses. There’s a grumpy old man who doesn’t mind getting a bit of air to his nethers, a drunk art, a mother who wants to talk candidly about her sex life, a teenage waif and a sexy cowboy. Plenty of laughs but also lots of suspense.

Pair it with something fit for an heiress.

For the Mother Who Says No to Fiction

We’re All Going to Die by Leah Kaminsky. This is actually a joyful book about dying. I can definitely see the funny side of handing something with this title to your mother, but the content is great too.

Pair it with some killer pyjamas.

The Mad Woman in the Attic, get in that attic, Mother, where you belong. It’s a collection of essays on the portrayal of women in literature. It first came out in 1979. I love this book.

Pair it with some crazy good pyjamas.

For the New Mother

Things that Helped by Jessica Friedmann is a collection of poetic essays that express the yearning of her soul after the birth of her baby.

Pair it with something like these classic silk pyjamas for true indulgence.

Why not grab my fab book for the slightly frazzled mother in your life? Confessions of a Mad Mooer: Postnatal Depression Sucks explores my struggles through depression after the birth of my twins. Having three under three was chaotic and exhausting. It’s conversational, practical, and quite funny.

Pair it with these cow pjs to complete that mad cow vibe.

Now run off and spoil that special mother in your life. Just quietly, gin is also good.

Book Review: From the Wreck by Jane Rawson #AWW2017

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Move over Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Tralfamadorians, there’s a new alien in town.

 

In Jane Rawson’s fourth novel, From the Wreck, she takes her unique approach to historical fiction. Rawson is known for playing with form and function within narrative structures. Her first novel, A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, blended dystopian fiction with the motifs of a humorous road trip and was shortlisted for an Aurealis award. Her novel Formaldehyde cemented Rawson as an author known for their quirky shifting of narrative points of view and time just like any postmodern master. From the Wreck is true to Rawson’s distinct style.

Rawson’s take on historical fiction is akin to that of postmodern juggernaut, Julian Barnes. In his History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters Barnes takes aim at Noah’s ark in his first chapter and concludes that redheads are the result of an unholy union between unicorns and one of the human members of the ark. Rawson, on the other hand, examines the sinking of the steamship off the South Australian coast in 1859 and concludes that there was possibly alien involvement. And what’s more, it is done in such a subtle and meticulous way that it doesn’t come across as being deliberately controversial or showy as elements of History of the World do.

At the enquiry, months later, he heard that some time on that first evening one of the horses had fallen, knocked from its feet by the rough seas. The racer’s owner had demanded a shift in course and the captain had turned the prow of the ship into the swell to ease its heaving. Had it brought about the wreck, this shift? Perhaps. It did not occur to George to stand and say that it was something other than the swell that had caused the horse to panic. He didn’t even believe it himself.

Rawson has taken on a postmodern master’s approach and won. The refusal to comment on the alien being is the logical reaction of a rational human to an impossible situation that would only lead him to be ridiculed should he dare utter it. The lack of commentary is just as powerful as what is said.

Now of course I can’t reference postmodernism and aliens without discussing how Rawson’s alien compares to Vonnegut’s famous, and much loved, Tralfamadorians. There are similarities, in that these aliens are both distinctly not human. Residents of Tralfamador are quite explicit in teaching humans that there are more than two sexes and there are more than five senses. They are quite active in their contact with people. Rawson’s alien is similarly different from humans. They are fluid, they are shape-shifting, they are confused by their surrounding on Earth because it is utterly alien to them.

I will sit slumping cold and starving here, in this cave, in this wet puddle of an ocean. Who would even mark my death? That crusty-shelled little nobody over there? That slippery piece of meat and teeth? I don’t think so. Weren’t we supposed to be a once-proud race of warriors? I flail at the memory of us and the hurt of it tears strips from me and I decide I can’t remember. Still, I am certain we were not the type whose deaths were marked by becoming passing food for some slippery piece of meat and teeth.

Where Tralfamadorians are willing to take action and do the odd human kidnapping, Rawson’s alien is a refugee on this planet, desperate for their people, wanting a connection, and trying to fit in. It is through this breaking from the butt probing stereotype of aliens that Rawson gives her novel real depth and again sets herself up as one of the greats.

The mood of the novel is intense. From the very first words the reader is sucked into this environment. We can feel the terror, sense the dampness, and recoil at the uncertainty.

He felt it first when the horses shifted and cried. They had been muttering among themselves all day, but this was different, a note of panic in it. The horses aren’t yours to care about, George, he reminded himself. He went from cabin to cabin and collected the crockery and cutlery smeared and encrusted with an early dinner, the passengers getting ready for bed.

The environment created is so vivid that it is hard to believe that this in anything short of real.

Rawson is undoubtedly a master of setting and atmosphere but she is no less a master of character and dialogue. Awkward family conversations crackle off the page.

‘And so cannibalism? What you’re saying is?’ asked George, wondering why William would always use ten words when one would do.

‘That should humans be the most widely available meat, eating the flesh of humans would be the best response to such availability.’

Oh, now he saw. George knew what William was poking at. The bubble solidified into something obsidian-cool, rubbed smooth and sharp-edged in the year after year. George weighed it in his palm, tested the blade, pocketed it. Said, instead, that this would be true, surely, only if you’d nothing else to eat, yes

We may not have been prodded over possible cannibalism but we’ve all been trapped with that family member who thinks that they are so clever and trying to push our buttons. It is through these normal components of life that the premise become completely believable.

Overall From the Wreck is a gorgeous miasma of textures and time. It is quite simply sublime and a must read. It has replaced Patrick Süskind’s Perfume as my favourite book of all time. I suspect that this exceptional novel will not only be a contender for an Aurealis but also a Stella award. Just give Jane Rawson all the awards already. 
But don’t just take my word for it, find out what ANZ LitLovers thought here:

https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/02/06/from-the-wreck-by-jane-rawson/

And find out what Newtown Review of Books thought here:

http://newtownreviewofbooks.com.au/2017/02/28/jane-rawson-wreck-reviewed-linda-godfrey/#more-10520
They have quoted a discount code for Abbey’s Bookshop so make sure you read until the very end.

 

Jane Rawson, From the Wreck Transit Lounge PB 272pp $29.95

Learn more about the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge here.

 

Book Review: “Crossroads of Canopy” by Thoraiya Dyer #AWW2017

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Thoraiya Dyer is bringing classic High Fantasy back!

 


Crossroads of Canopy is Thoraiya Dyer’s debut novel but by no means her first foray into the world of Speculative Fiction. Dyer is a well-known short-story writer who has won four Aurealis awards and three Ditmar awards. As such her turn to novel length writing was highly anticipated, and she has not disappointed. The Epic Fantasy canon can now add another novel.

Classic Fantasy tropes are respected throughout this novel. We all know that a special child is usually required and preferably parentless. This pervades most of Speculative Fiction and beyond. Luke Skywalker thinks both of his parents are dead and so is raised by his uncle and aunt until a couple of robots show him the light. Harry Potter’s parents are dead so he is raised by his evil uncle and aunt until he receives word from an owl. Superman, dead parents, dead planet. Frodo Baggins, adopted. All of these guys for one reason or another do not have their biological parents anymore, and they receive a higher calling to leave their old life and become the super-bestest heroes ever. Awesome right? 

Dyer does a similar thing. Her main character, Unar, has less than loving parents. They think of their child as slave labour. In fact they are literally going to sell her to become a slave. Unar decides that she will run away rather than be sold into slavery. It is through this slight change in the dead parent motif, that Dyer gives her lead character more agency than other orphan heroes. It is not until after Unar has already made the decision to run away that she receives her “calling.”

As soon as she makes the decision, Unar’s heart races. The smell of quince blossom and wood fern fills her nostrils. Something inside her chest, like a seed sending out tiny root, begins to grow there. No idea she’s ever had has felt so right, yet the sensation is distressing; she clutches at her rib cage.

Unar gets this special feeling as a result of having made a decision, she is not simply dragged off unwittingly by a wise guide, she willingly chooses to leave and then receives her calling. Having the decision come first gives Unar an active role in her life in a way many popular, heroes of epic fantasy do not. From the start the reader knows that Unar is a person of action and capable of making tough decisions.

Despite this kick-ass aspect to Unar the reader knows that she has a softer side and has sympathy for her from the outset.

Unar Lies as still as a twelve-year-old can lie.

Eyes shut tight, anticipating her mother’s pleased and surprised reaction to her day’s work, she breathes, deliberately and deeply, with intent to deceive, in the wreckage of the cot that belonged to her sister. A curtain divides the cot from the rest of the hollowed-out, one room dwelling. The corner twitches. Tickles her foot. Father checking on her.

Unar’s bent arm is her pillow. She keeps her legs curled so they won’t dangle over the splintered edges. The cot bars have been broken off to burn for fuel but the body remains whole.

Father thinks she’s sleeping. She’s never been so wide awake. He lets the curtain drop.

“It’s time to sell her,” Unar’s mother says from the other side of it, dashing Unar’s excitement to dust.

We are introduced to an excited little girl who just wants to make her mother happy. A little girl that we then witness being callously betrayed by the people who are supposed to love her. To them she is simply a product to be sold rather than a little girl to be loved. This is heart-breaking to witness but also provides context to Unar being emotionally distant at times later in the novel. Her parents wanted to sell her, we also learn that her baby sister was swept away by floods; Unar has had a horrific life in the twelve short years before she runs away. Being strong and distant is an understandable coping mechanism and not simply arrogance over being the “chosen one.”

Crossroads of Canopy has the scope of a Raymond E. Feist novel. There are thirteen gods. There are different factions following each god. The gods are at the top of the hierarchy, walking amongst people in bodies of flesh and blood. Just under the gods are their body guards, after them are those who have received the calling to serve the gods, and below them are of course the slaves. Slaves being the lowest of the low without any agency at all. Unar, who we see as a strong person, with amazing talent, could easily have been one of those slaves.

On top of that there are layers within the world. Those who live in the canopies of the great forest are the most blessed, those who live below, considered less, and the world of the ground is seen as a dirty hole that is best avoided. My favourite nod to classic Fantasy is that the creatures from different areas actually look significantly different like in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. As early as the first chapter we are introduced to a truly fantastical creature.

He dropped suddenly, suspended by clawed toes in front of her, upside-down with his skirt hems held in one hand, loincloth and concealed throwing knives showing, grinning, making her gasp. It wasn’t right, to have feet like that. Unar had heard rumours that those who served Orin, goddess of birds and beasts, were permanently changed in size and shape, but nobody had ever mentioned to her that the Bodyguard of Ehkis had the grey toes and talons of a sooty owl.

Going back to this traditional model of having creatures from different areas actually look different, rather than all being super sexy humans, opens up a whole range of actions and predicaments that cannot be achieved with merely the human form. This is followed up, with more references to the differences that people from other areas possess, in chapter two and continues on throughout the novel.

Unar examined this one closely for the first time. The woman had the baby-sick skin but not the deep forearm scars of Understorian warriors with retractable “claws” for scaling trees. She couldn’t be a slave taken in war, but instead must have been born a slave. Nobody had set snake’s teeth in place at puberty to form a grown fighter’s magically grafted climbing skills.

And last but not least, Dyer pays tribute to the randy teen trope. Don’t kid yourself, this is important in Fantasy. Think about Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Wise Man’s Fear who managed to be so great in the sack that he out classed the fairy of sex despite being a gawky teenager. And let’s not forget Robert Jordan’s Rand (should be Randy) al’Thor and his menagerie of lusty ladeez who are absolutely gagging for it, and him relatively happily bed hopping. The ladies of High Fantasy are no exception, with Kristin Cashore’s kick-ass heroine Katsa going weak at the knees for Po. Not that Epic Fantasy only has horny teens, the adults are pretty lustful too; I’m looking at you Chris Bunch and your continuous references to “oiled up” penises…. I might just go reread some Bunch… for… reasons. Anyway, Dyer’s Unar is plenty lusty. She’s celibate but still has enough urges to keep us secretly-lustful Spec Fic readers happy.

Instead of dwelling on it, she remembered how her whole body thrummed, like a hanging bridge in high wind, at the thought that Aoun might have undressed her.

Excuse me whilst I go smoke a cigarette…. I’m back, just remembered that I don’t smoke.

Although Dyer includes many tropes from Fantasy, Crossroads of Canopy is still fresh and original. This is because of the lush setting, the unique characters, the detailed hierarchy, and Dyer’s distinctive authorial voice. I cannot recommend Crossroads of Canopy highly enough but don’t just take my word for it, you can read these other reviews here:

https://ventureadlaxre.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/review-crossroads-of-canopy-by-thoraiya-dyer/

Book Review: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

 

Also, keep an eye out for a review of this book to appear on Newtown Review of Books   because they always quote a code for a discount at Abbey’s Books Shop  for all the books that they review.

 

Thoraiya Dyer, Crossroads of Canopy St Martin’s Press PB 336pp $34.99

Learn more about the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge here.