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From the latest thrillers to the recent history of the Solomon Islands and much more. Here’s what our Balmain bookshop staff are reading this month.

Tim is reading…
The Secret Hours

I’m reading Mick Herron’s new stand alone thriller ‘The Secret Hours’. As Herron’s ’Slough House’ series progressed I found it amusing and a reminder of the power of reading to encounter customers who I know to have excellent taste and book collections second to none come into the shop with that first excitement of a reading life renewed in their eyes, eager to read his new book and spend time with a storyteller who seems to understand  power’s shadow in modern society. Herron populates these stories with eccentric and realistic characters in tense and urgent situations. 

Claire is Reading…
Divided Isles: Solomon Islands & The China Switch

I’ve recently finished  Edward Acton Cavanough’s  Divided Isles: Solomon Islands & The China Switch, (Black Inc 2023) and can highly recommend it  as a very engaging analysis of the recent history of the Solomon Islands.  It covers the most consequential events for Australia in the Pacific region’s recent geopolitical past since the battle of Guadalcanal during WWII and puts in context the mercurial behaviour of current Solomon’s PM Manasseh Sogavare. For anyone concerned that it might be a dry tome that sits on the bedside table, it is far from that.  Cavanough takes us with him on his journeys into the Solomons, a country we should all know more about, a near neighbour made up of about 1000 islands with a population of approximately 700,000 who live a largely subsistence life with little access to basic medicines, education, electricity and opportunities for economic development.

I like to alternate fiction with non-fiction…. although I should check myself here and be honest. I am a fiction addict and have to pull myself away blissful never ending stream of fiction which arrives in the house courtesy of Daniel to engage in the non-fiction which I also enjoy but in a different way.

Before the above non fiction by Cavanough, I read Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens by Shankari Chandran, which won this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award. When this came into the house (courtesy of book seller Daniel) some months ago, I passed it on to my avid reader mother (92 years old and reads a book every few days) because its setting, an aged care home in Western Sydney, made me thing it was kind of “oldies lit”. Mum loved it but it was not until it won the award and I read about and heard interviews with the author, that I was inspired to read it myself, and what a treat it is.  To an ex human rights researcher (me) it offers so much insight into the Sri Lankan civil war and its ending but there is much in this novel and Chandran manages to deal with so many themes with such depth and humanity and compassion and it is entertaining, enriching and devastating.

Before Chai Time, I read Kate Mildenhall’s The Hummingbird Effect, part historical, part speculative fiction. I loved how the author uses multiple stories in different eras – 1930s Footscray, 2020s pandemic Melbourne, 2030s, and way into the future of 2181 – which make the reader think about the through line for all of them. But there is a beautiful and deft subtlety to all of this and at no time is Mildenhall didactic.  She also touches on AI and puts the reader in the seat to question the cause of the 2181 dystopia/utopia.  You can see Mildenhall in conversation with Anna Downes back in August by clicking here.

Next up for me is Sam Roggeveen’s The Echidna Strategy: Australia’s search for Power and Peace which I know from the Roaring Stories event from a few weeks ago in which Sam was in conversation with Peter Hartcher provides some nuanced counter points to the orthodoxy prevailing about Australia and the US alliance and the rising great power contest in our Indo Pacific region.  You can see this chat here

April is reading…
Ordinary Gods and Monsters

I gave a shining review to Chris Womserley’s previous book, The Diplomat, and now I find myself doing the same for his latest, Ordinary Gods and Monsters. I think I have now read and enjoyed enough of Womserley’s books to move him up on the list of my favourite Australian writers.

Nick Wheatley is a teenager growing up in mid 80s suburbia. He’s working part time at McDonalds while waiting for his final exam results when his best friend Marion’s father is killed in a hit and run. The friends decide to solve the mystery and catch the culprit, leading to exciting, sometimes scary and often funny adventures involving Ouija boards, conspiracy theories, mysterious spirits and bikie gangs. And The Dark Side of the Moon.

Ordinary Gods and Monsters perfectly straddles literary and crime fiction. There’s plenty of suspense like a good mystery should have but it’s also a moving exploration of grief and unrequited love with poignant moments around Nick’s parents’ divorce and his troubled sister.

What I particularly liked about the book is how vividly it evoked the hope, restlessness, melancholy and ennui of adolescence. It would make a great movie.

Oh, and I finally got around to reading Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kinsolver and I’m happy to report it lived up to the hype. It may be my book of the year, even with three months to go!