Booktopia Buzz with Caroline Baum
July 2014 | Breaking News
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BUZZ IN BRIEF
I don't go to books for certainties, do you? I go to books for surprise, whether that be in the form of new knowledge or new ways of imagining the world.

If you are like me, you are in for plenty of surprises this month and all of  them are good.  They'll make you adjust everything from what you eat to how you hear birdsong, from how you consider a cyclist to the way you relate to your parents or remember your student days or think about getting older.

So: prepare to be surprised. It's one way to make winter go faster.*

(*There is no scientific basis for that statement, but it is based on years of experience of losing myself in books so comprehensively that by the time I look up the season have changed.)

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Kind Regards

Caroline Baum
Editorial Director

Booktopia Buzz

The largest Australian owned and operated online bookstore.

Follow me on Twitter: @mscarobaum

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BOOK OF THE MONTH
Click here for more details or to order HOW TO BUILD A GIRL
by Caitlin Moran


The debut grown-up novel from Caitlin Moran, bestselling author of How To Be a Woman...

Caroline Baum: I've been a fan of Moran's ever since I read her hilarious story in the British press about trying to learn Beyonce's All the Single Ladies dance routine. She is a one-of-a-kind talent, untamed by success, outspoken, mouthy, with a wild and brilliant voice on just about everything. And now she's tackled fiction. Despite an author's note  at the front of the book it does seem that she is using her own life story as material: she is, like her heroine Johanna, a girl raised on a housing estate in  Wolverhampton  with ambitions  to write about music and go to London.

In the novel, Johanna leaves behind a sarcastically sharp-tongued mother and a  hopeless father who is just a demo tape away from success and fails to recognise her brother is gay. She also has sex with a man with an overly large member and  makes inept attempts at self-harm.

It's a roller coaster ride of chaos, insecurity, longing and  drugs in  I'm-with-the- band land. This is rock 'n' roll meets Jeanette Winterson. Julie Burchill without the vitriol. Or as Moran herself puts it, The Bell Jar written by Adrian Mole. Raw, rude, irresistible and very funny.

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SCIENCE

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Click here for more details or to order WHERE SONG BEGAN: AUSTRALIA'S BIRDS AND HOW THEY  CHANGED THE WORLD
by Tim Low

Caroline Baum: You don't have to be a twitcher to enjoy this  book which opens with a fascinating theory:  Australian birds sound different because of what they eat! Apparently they are on a sugar high, because there is more nectar available to them from native flora than to other birds  elsewhere.

While our marsupials continue to capture the world's attention (Prince George and the Bilby, Gary Shteyngart's urgent desire to pat a wombat on his recent  author tour), our birds are every bit as unique and get far less attention than they deserve. Many smaller species are threatened as suburbia encroaches on habitat. This accessible, entertaining and compelling portrait of our avian ecosystem makes for essential reading for bushwalkers, gardeners, and nature lovers.

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Australian author
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BRITISH FICTION
Click here for more details or to order UPSTAIRS AT THE PARTY
by Linda Grant

The brilliant new novel from the Man Booker shortlisted author of The Clothes on Their Backs.

Caroline Baum: It's not just the fact that this novel is set at my university in the north of England that makes me love it. It's Grant's superb ability to capture the feeling of the times in this terrifically authentic story about student life, especially the first awkward foray into relationships, friendships, infatuations and other uneasy human manoeuvrings on the road to self-awareness.

Personalities are tried on like clothes, and discarded just as easily. The same goes for identities. Class, intellect, sex appeal and success become increasingly significant markers together with envy and popularity. Mental illness hovers on the periphery, its dark presence prompting tragedy, together with inevitable guilt and regret.

Many readers will recognise something of their student selves in these psychologically acute pages. Grant creates utterly believable, three-dimensional characters with the same clear-eyed wisdom as Margaret Drabble before her.

 
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AUSTRALIAN FICTION

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Click here for more details or to order LOST & FOUND
by Brooke Davis

A heart-warming debut about finding out what love and life is all about.

Caroline Baum: This anticipated debut has already been sold into twenty one countries and seems destined to be one of this year's big favourites. It's a truly original and charming story originating in the author's own tragic loss at the early death of her mother. She's translated her own grief into a fantasy fable that asks big existential questions with a very light touch.

When seven and a half year old Millie's father dies, her mother leaves her in the underwear section of a department store. Precocious in her thoughts and actions, Millie decides to go and look for her. At which point she collides with a very shouty woman called Agatha Pantha who has not left her house since her husband died fifteen years ago. And then there's Karl, an eighty-seven year old touch typist who has escaped his nursing home with a plastic mannequin as a companion.

They are an unlikely trio, causing confusion wherever they stumble but Davis protects them from ridicule with finely judged sensitivity, even while she pushes the narrative into unconventional and quirky territory.

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Australian author
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AMERICAN FICTION
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by Sue Miller


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Senator's Wife, a sophisticated and subtle novel about a family and a community tested when an arsonist wreaks havoc in a small town.

Caroline Baum: Frankie is back from being an Aid worker in Africa. She's come home to Pomeroy, the small New Hampshire town where her parents live and where her mother is increasingly anxious about her father's memory lapses. Frankie is not sure how long she is going to stay, or what her next move will be. She's ended an affair and is at a loose end, dreaming about maybe going to New York to start a new chapter. But in the meantime, an arsonist is lighting fires in Pomeroy and the community is unsettled. 

As more and more houses burn, Frankie finds companionship and affection from local newspaper editor Bud. He treads carefully, sensing that she  does  not want commitment. 

I really enjoyed the slow build-up of emotional tension in this beautifully nuanced, slow moving novel with its finely drawn characters. Scenes in which mother and daughter converse about Frankie's father's deteriorating health are especially deft, addressing uncomfortable truths with subtlety. The dynamics of a small town are explored with sharp-eyed finesse and there is a clean, spare intelligence and sensitivity in Miller's unadorned prose: its economy gives weight to every phrase and detail, making this a very satisfying  read.

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Australian author
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WIN A VINTAGE BIKE!

Click here for more details or to order LUIGI'S FREEDOM RIDE
by Alan Murray


Caroline Baum: Apparently there was an Italian Bicycle Corps during World War Two. It's a small detail in a big conflict and one that forms the basis for a refreshingly different perspective.
 
When Luigi leaves his Tuscan village home together with two friends to join the Bicycle Corps, he is already a talented cyclist (and adept at repairs), having been given a damaged bicycle by a British visitor. Until then he has been innocent and carefree, cherished by his close knit family. But when he and his friends join up to Mussolini's forces and are sent to a bicycle unit on the Adriatic, his life darkens as war edges closer. Eventually he joins the Partisans in their bold acts of sabotage, before leaving his beloved Italy for adventures that take him as far as Australia.

Written in a light, sunny, and often playful tone, this is a gently beguiling tale of one young's man's adventures in a world that changes forever before his eyes.

Read Terry Purcell's review of Luigi's Freedom Ride here

Click here to order Luigi's Freedom Ride
Australian author
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MEMOIR
Click here for more details or to order TO BEGIN TO KNOW
by David Leser


A deeply moving and searingly honest memoir about fathers and sons.

Caroline Baum: First, a disclaimer: David Leser is a friend and I worked briefly for his father Bernie. So I know the key players in this very candid memoir. That means I can vouch for its sincerity and authenticity; rarely  has a man laid himself  bare (at one point quite literally) so comprehensively, revealing his inner demons regarding his own striving ambition, his desires and conflicts, his fears and flaws. He is, at times, perhaps too hard on himself, particularly when writing about his failings as a husband. At others he is downright hilarious (his account of his Mrs Robinson-style deflowering and the libidinous surges he experiences in Israel are particular highlights).

Leser's experience as a journalist is wide and varied, and he embraces every assignment, whether in New Orleans or on the West Bank with open-minded curiosity and highly-tuned instincts (except for one potentially fatal episode). Underpinning his restless drive is a searching and deeper questioning and a need to prove himself as being worthy of his father and yet able to step out of his father's considerable professional shadow. (The restlessness is at time quite literal, described in his desperate quest to cure an ongoing battle with insomnia)

Touching, honest, brazen and funny, this memoir is both affecting and entertaining and captures the complexity of a life grasped with both hands.

 
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Australian author
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DIET/FOOD/HEALTH
Click here for more details or to order THE BIG FAT SURPRISE
by Tina Teicholz


Caroline Baum: Forget everything you thought  about  weight loss and fat. Turns out, eating it does not make you it.  That's a pretty big reversal to swallow I know, but by the time you've read this compelling analysis of how we came to believe that the Mediterranean diet was  the one to follow, that there was no more health enhancing ambrosia than olive oil (and other vegetable oils) and that we should avoid  butter, cream and meat, you too will realise how misguided most diet advice has been till now and how it has been determined by inconsistent  weak science. Meanwhile voices presenting an alternative viewpoint have been smothered.

This is clear, well-written, and more importantly well-researched, unbiased health journalism that documents the complex route that led to the developed world's current obesity epidemic by making the wrong choices. Guaranteed to have a significant impact on the way most of us regard fat, sugar and carbohydrates.

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BY THE BEDSIDE
ANALOGUE MEN
by Nick Earls
  SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL
by Herman Koch
  OUTLAWS
by Javier Cercas
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EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF THE FAKIR WHO GOT TRAPPED IN AN IKEA WARDROBE
by Romain Puertolas
  THE SILKWORM
by Robert Galbraith
  SURVIVAL OF THE NICEST
by Stefan Klein
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Click here for more details or to order CONGRATULATIONS, BY THE WAY
by George Saunders


Caroline Baum: Commencement speeches are a big deal in the US.  The most famous is probably the one made by Steve Jobs, in which he delivers three key messages and which is often used as a model of the perfect speech because he makes important life-lesson points but delivered in a very personal way.

Novelist George Saunders is less well-known than some celebrity commencement speakers, except to readers of the New Yorker or fans of his books, including Tenth of December. He is enjoying a moment, as the media likes to say.

In this admirable speech, Saunders focuses on an unfashionable quality that we could all do with more of: kindness.  It is not something the young usually think of because they are in such a hurry to get somewhere and striving does not leave much room for consideration of other people. But Saunders reminds his audience, and us, gently, of how significant small gestures of thoughtfulness lubricate social interaction with friends and with strangers and cure us of our ingrained, instinctive selfishness.

It's never too late to start practising what he preaches.
 
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POP CULTURE/BIOGRAPHY
Click here for more details or to order REMEMBER THE TIME: PROTECTING MICHAEL JACKSON IN HIS FINAL DAYS
by Bill Whitfield, Javon Beard


Caroline Baum: I still miss Michael Jackson. Or rather, I miss the Michael Jackson I choose to remember from his heyday. I went to see him perform live once and though the stadium was full, he struck me then as intensely lonely and shy. He did not connect once with his audience. It was as if we were not there or he were performing on the other side of a thick piece of glass.  He never even said 'Hello Melbourne, it's great to be here'. He could have been anywhere, or nowhere.

Now two of his bodyguards have written about their time providing Jackson and his children with security.  Their loyalty and affection for their boss weather periods when they are not paid for weeks on end for their service. They witness his generosity, profligacy and complete disengagement from financial reality first hand with increasing alarm and frustration.  They watch his management put their snouts in the trough as he becomes increasingly isolated. They witness the chaos that ensues when he is recognised in public, when he does not enter buildings through the smelly, distinctly unglamourous back doors of venues. They observe his ease and joy as a parent, the politeness of his children, the relative normality of their private time together as family.

This is fascinating shameless A-list voyeurism from insiders with access-all-areas goss.

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AS SEEN LAST MONTH...
Click here for more details or to order THE LIE
by Hesh Kestin


Caroline Baum: There is no more secret secret service than Mossad. There is no lower flash point than the Middle East. Any thriller set in this part of the world is playing with the highest stakes. Kestin knows that, and has constructed a tight, tough plot full of plausibly terrible twists and turns. At the heart of this briskly paced, jump-cutting novel is Dahlia, a 44 year old human rights lawyer who is recruited by the Israeli police to serve as arbiter in interrogation procedure. Until now she's been an advocate for the Palestinian cause, making her appointment extremely controversial and uneasy. Her mother, a feisty activist, is appalled. Dahlia is defiant, confident that she can prevent the Israeli apparatus from resorting to torture.

Of course the plot skewers her certainty: when Dahlia's soldier son Ari is captured  by Hezbollah and tortured, she stops at nothing to get him back. All too real, this is a powerful, urgent, heart-racing page turner that will no doubt be turned into a film any minute.

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BIOGRAPHIES

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GRAVITY: MY YEAR WITH THE PRIME MINISTER
by Mary Delahunty
  TONY WINDSOR
by Ruth Rae
  STOP THE PRESSES!
by Ben Hills
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FICTION
GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT
by Alyson Foster
  A MAN CALLED OVE
by Fredrik Backman
  A SONG FOR ISSY BRADLEY
by Carys Bray
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ALL SOULS TRILOGY:
BOOK OF LIFE
by Deborah E. Harkness

THE MINIATURIST
by Jessie Burton
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The exciting third installment in the All Souls trilogy following the No.1 internationally bestselling A Discovery Of Witches And Shadow Of Night

Fall under the spell of Diana and Matthew once more in the stunning climax to their epic tale, following A Discovery Of Witches And Shadow Of Night.

A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew - the forbidden love at the heart of it.

After traveling through time

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This is a sensational feat of storytelling for fans of Sarah Waters and Donna Tartt. There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed...On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home.

It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations more...

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LET HER GO
by Dawn Barker

WHAT CAME BEFORE
by Anna George
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A powerful and haunting novel about family, motherhood and letting go.


How far would you go to have a family?
What would you hide for someone you love? Confused and desperate, Zoe McAllister boards a ferry to Rottnest Island in the middle of winter holding a tiny baby close to her chest, terrified that her husband will find her or that her sister will call the police.

Years later, a teenage girl, Louise, is found on the island, unconscious and alone. Flown out for urgent medical treatment, when she recovers more...

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'My name is David James Forrester. I'm a solicitor. Tonight, at 6.10, I killed my wife. This is my statement.'

In Melbourne's inner west, David sits in his car, dictaphone in hand. He's sick to his stomach but determined to record his version of events. His wife Elle hovers over her own lifeless body as it lies in the laundry of the house they shared. David thinks back on their relationship - intimate, passionate, intense - and what led to this terrible night.

From her eerie vantage point, Elle traces more...

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Australian author
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Book of the Month

Science

British Fiction

Australian Fiction

American Fiction

Win a Vintage Bike!

Memoir

Diet/Food/Health

By the Bedside

In Case You Missed It

Pop Culture/Biography

As Seen Last Month...

Biographies

Fiction

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