Eight books to read in July
Book reviewers Steven Carroll and Cameron Woodhead have set their sights on recent fiction and non-fiction titles. Here are their reviews.
Non-fiction pick of the week
Apollo and Thelma
Jon Faine, Hardy Grant, $45
In 1981, when former ABC radio presenter Jon Faine was a young lawyer, Paul Anderson and his three sons hired him to settle the estate of his late sister, Thelma. Faine didn’t know it at the time, but the father was the phenom known as ‘The Mighty Apollo’, a strongman who in his pre- and post-war career had survived an elephant. standing on top of him and had pulled a tram with his teeth.
Apollo’s story, in this intriguing and entertaining mix of biography, memoir and social commentary, intertwines with that of his sister and with that of Faine as she leads him into the Northern Territory, a strange crime robbery involving a frog, native history and more-than-life characters crossover.
Not just a living salvage act to bring Apollo back to life, but a salvage of an almost extinct Australia.
Secrets beyond the screen
Anita Jacoby, Ventura, $32.99
When TV producer Anita Jacoby attended a birthday dinner at her half-sister’s house in 2013, she had no idea a flippant remark about wishing her father, Phillip Jacoby, was “always there would lead her to years of research into the hitherto hidden life of her father. and ask the question: how well do we know our parents?
It’s a tangled and fascinating story that stretches back to Nazi Germany and her father’s emigration to Australia in 1936, marriages she knew nothing about, a tragic extra-marital love story that ended by suicide (his second wife committed suicide in the same manner), a very public divorce trial in the 1950s that ended his third marriage, not to mention wartime internment as ” foreign”.
Still, as she puts it, a “daddy’s girl,” it’s an affectionate, often confrontational portrait of a tumultuous life in tumultuous times.
We were dreamers
Simu Liu, William Collins, $34.99
Simu Liu, best known for his starring role in the Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Ringswrote his migrant memoirs to tell his own story, but also for his fellow immigrants who share the “immigrant dream (and)…fight every day for their happy ending”.
His story has a cinematic ending, but there was also struggle. Born in Harbin, China, in 1989, his parents left him in the care of his grandparents while studying in the United States and Canada – a time he describes fondly, while challenging simplistic portrayals of China in the Western media.
His parents were foreigners when they brought him to Canada and very tough masters. He tried to please them, but in the end he had to please himself. Which ultimately led to taking action and reconciling with his parents. An easy, fluent and engaging read.
Family Court Murders
Debi Marshall, Ebury Press, $34.99
The family court murders in New South Wales between 1980 and 1986 shook not only the courts, but the whole country. Revolving around an extremely tense family custody battle, there were four murders: a brother-in-law, a judge, a judge’s wife, and a Kingdom Hall Jehovah’s Witness priest who apparently offered to help the wife, Andrea Blanchard.
Two shootings, four bombings, serious collateral damage, but for many years there were no convictions, despite the presence of a prime suspect: Andrea’s husband, Leonard Warwick.
TV presenter Debi Marshall digs deeper into the matter, a combination of dramatically reconstructed TV doco, with shades of In cold blood. After years of being a cold case, in 2020 Leonard Warwick was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Highly sought after and atmospheric, re-released to coincide with the ABC TV series.
Fiction selection of the week
When jokers were kings
John Tesarsch, Affirm Press, $29.99
Mildly mannered and girlless, Bertie is the last remaining mail clerk of a major Australian bank, and this delightfully eccentric rom-com begins with his humiliation at an office Christmas party.
While paid entertainment has been axed by management, the Royal Banking Commission is in full swing; heads are rolling – a staff karaoke contest takes its place. The CEO’s personal assistant Jasmine moonwalks to victory with her tribute to Michael Jackson, but it’s Bertie’s interpretation of Elvis Presley Kentucky Rain who wins over the crowd. When Bertie comes for his consolation prize, Jasmine steps in, setting the stage for a wild road trip in which Bertie tries his luck as an Elvis impersonator and embarks on an unlikely, glitzy romance.
John Tesarsch works light satire into superior feel-good fiction. It’s great fun, better written than necessary, and a step up from musical romantic comedies in the vein of The Wedding Singer.
Katherena Vermette, UQP, $32.99
A companion novel to his award-winning book The breakby Katherena Vermette The foreigners also focuses on the lives of Indigenous Canadians. The women of the Stranger family are, like the author, Red River people of the Métis Nation, and they are no strangers to the so-called justice system.
The Cedar and Phoenix sisters have been estranged for a long time: Phoenix gives birth in a youth detention center, with the chances of being allowed to raise her own child against her; Cedar grew up in foster homes. Their mother, Elsie, went from teenage homelessness to drug addict, and as she recovers, hoping to support and reconnect with her daughters, we trace how she was shaped by her own mother and grandfather. -mother.
Australia has seen a similar boom in Indigenous literature in Canada – think Alexis Wright or Anita Heiss – and this ruthless but not hopeless saga of survival explores intergenerational trauma, colonial dispossession, racism, poverty, violence , but also family and cultural resilience. facing them.
The horseman on the bridge
Scott Pearce, Midnight Sun, $29.99
Scott Pearce’s second novel achieves a decadent, dreamlike lyricism and is written – from the fickle maze of memory – about life lived on the margins of society.
We follow Kitten, an unreliable narrator, through memories of abused youth. Separated from his emotionally withdrawn single mother, Kitten is forced into homelessness as a teenager by one of the dodgy guys he sleeps with. Adopted by the girl who gave him his nickname, Kitten meets a group of misfits and drug addicts who share a dream of moving to Byron Bay – an elusive paradise they must earn enough money to afford.
The horseman on the bridge has metafictional qualities – stories big and true offer fleeting refuge from a harsh world – and the narrative slips into the weird. It is a disorienting novel shaped by an omnipresent uprooting, with a sense of belonging captured for a time in the solidarity of poverty and the camaraderie of a wasted youth.
Death at the Belvedere
Sue Williams, Text, $32.99
This is Cass Tuplin’s fourth book, and readers familiar with this comedy Australian crime series will need no introduction to its dry humor and frenetic charms.
Cass moonlights as an amateur detective, though her main game is running a greasy spoon in the small country town of Rusty Bore. Between frying fries and flipping burgers, she does more detective work than her detective son, Dean. This time, Cass finds herself in hot water thanks to her wayward sister, Helen. Helen has always been in trouble, and when her boyfriend is pushed off a rooftop terrace in Fitzroy, she asks Cass to break into the crime scene to retrieve a valuable book from her apartment. This dodgy cuddling could fall foul of the police, or worse, attract the attention of a killer desperate to keep a deadly secret.
The plot can be telegraphic and there’s questionable punctuation (bordering on semicolon cancer), but with its frenetic pace, larger-than-life characters, and laughing wit on the page, it’s a criminally fun adventure that Janet Evanovich fans should swallow.
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