Review: The Pachinko Parlour – Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins

The Pachinko Parlour

Elisa Shua Dusapin

Translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins

Scribe

ISBN: 9781922585172

Description:

From the author of Winter in Sokcho, which won the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature.

The days are beginning to draw in. The sky is dark by seven in the evening. I lie on the floor and gaze out of the window. Women’s calves, men’s shoes, heels trodden down by the weight of bodies borne for too long.

It is summer in Tokyo. Claire finds herself dividing her time between tutoring twelve-year-old Mieko in an apartment in an abandoned hotel and lying on the floor at her grandparents: daydreaming, playing Tetris, and listening to the sounds from the street above. The heat rises; the days slip by.

The plan is for Claire to visit Korea with her grandparents. They fled the civil war there over fifty years ago, along with thousands of others, and haven’t been back since. When they first arrived in Japan, they opened Shiny, a pachinko parlour. Shiny is still open, drawing people in with its bright, flashing lights and promises of good fortune. And as Mieko and Claire gradually bond, their tender relationship growing, Mieko’s determination to visit the pachinko parlour builds.

The Pachinko Parlour is a nuanced and beguiling exploration of identity and otherness, unspoken histories, and the loneliness you can feel within a family. Crisp and enigmatic, Shua Dusapin’s writing glows with intelligence.

My View:

Another beautifully written book which has been excellently translated, a joy to read.

Shua Dusapin writes with intelligence and with a deep understanding of what it is to be human. Her writing evocatively reflects on aging, culture, belonging … The writing has a sense of innocence that is peaceful yet confident; vignettes of the ordinary that are so revealing.

Review – Daisy Darker – Alice Feeney

Daisy Darker

Alice Feeney

Macmillan

ISBN:9781529089813

Description:

The New York Times bestselling Queen of Twists returns…with a family reunion that leads to murder.

After years of avoiding each other, Daisy Darker’s entire family is assembling for Nana’s 80th birthday party in Nana’s crumbling gothic house on a tiny tidal island. Finally back together one last time, when the tide comes in, they will be cut off from the rest of the world for eight hours.

The family arrives, each of them harboring secrets. Then at the stroke of midnight, as a storm rages, Nana is found dead. And an hour later, the next family member follows…

Trapped on an island where someone is killing them one by one, the Darkers must reckon with their present mystery as well as their past secrets, before the tide comes in and all is revealed.

My View:

Love the cover art. Love the writing; evocative, some really beautiful prose, full of surprising revelations.

This is a very cleverly plotted and written book; there are plenty of surprises, some reflections on the meaning of “family” and lots of exploration of family dynamics in general.

Daisy Darker pays homage to 2 well known narratives ( no spoilers see if you can pick them) this was a clever device, but for me it took a little of the gloss of the reveal away. If you like a “locked in” mystery, like a twisty plot, then this book is for you.

If you have read this what did you think?

I think its time I read her previous acclaimed book, Rock Paper Scissors.

Guest Review: The Brink – Holden Sheppard

The Brink

Holden Sheppard

Text Publishing

ISBN: 9781922458643

Description:

A group of school-leavers: free at last, ready to party, expectations high.

A remote island on the Western Australian coast wasn’t exactly the plan, but they’re not going to let that hold them back.

Leonardo, geeky, asthmatic, shy and prone to anxiety, has landed with them. He’s terrified—he’s definitely not part of this cool gang. Super high-achiever Kaiya is trying to forget her frustration with her drug-addicted sister as well as dealing with pressure from the popular girls to lose her virginity. Mason, footy jock with the physique to match, is coming to terms with his secret desire for his best mate, Jared. And Jared wants a week off from his relationship with Val so he can have sex with as many girls as possible.

But the party takes a dangerous turn when Val is drugged and a man is later found dead on the beach. Blame, fear, mistrust, coverups, power plays and dark secrets tear the group apart and expose the deadly tensions beneath the surface. And each teen is forced to confront demons that will lead them either to devastating tragedy or transformative triumph.

Whoever survives the week will never be the same again.

The Brink is a raw, powerful novel that pulls no punches in its authentic exploration of masculinity, sexuality, mental health, drug and alcohol use, relationships and sex. Holden Sheppard takes the teenage experience to the next level

Rachel’s View:

Holden Sheppard’s second novel, The Brink, perfectly captures the feelings of excitement, uncertainty and expectation that come with the end of high school. Mix these swirling teenage emotions with the euphoria of leavers, a remote and menacing location, and a splattering of secrets and it would be enough for a thrilling read – throw in a body on the beach, and things get explosive.

One thing is for sure, no one in this group will be the same again – that is, if they even make it home.

Holden Sheppard is a unique voice in the WA literary scene, creating in vivid detail the recognisable locations that local readers will really connect with. In the follow up to his award-winning debut, masculinity and sexuality are again key themes but this time explored through the heady mix of alcohol, drugs, and wild nights of leavers chaos, and the deadly tensions and power plays that lurk beneath the surface in a group of friends.

A raw and powerful read that really cuts deep, the tense mystery kept me turning the pages late into the night.

Review- Marlo – Jay Carmichael

Marlo

Jay Carmichael

Scribe

ISBN: 9781925713695

RRP$24.99

Description:

A novel of two men, love, and aching loneliness.

It’s the 1950s in conservative Australia, and Christopher, a young gay man, moves to ‘the City’ to escape the repressive atmosphere of his tiny hometown. Once there, however, he finds that it is just as censorial and punitive, in its own way.

Then Christopher meets Morgan, an Aboriginal man, and the two fall in love — a love that breathes truth back into Christopher’s stifled life. But the society around them remains rigid and unchanging, and what begins as a refuge for both men inevitably buckles under the intensity of navigating a world that wants them to refuse what they are.

In reviving a time that is still so recent yet so vastly different from now, Jay Carmichael has drawn on archival material, snippets of newspaper articles, and photos to create the claustrophobic environment in which these two men lived and tried to love. Told with Carmichael’s ear for sparse, poetic beauty, Marlo takes us into the heartbreaking landscape of a relationship defined as much by what is said and shared as by what has to remain unsaid, and unlived.

My View:

I have mixed feelings about this book. I guess my biggest issue was inconsistency. Some of the writing is absolutely beautiful. But somewhere along the way it got a little lost, disjointed ( I got lost) the narrative was evocative, reads like a creative memoir – a “diary” of a time in the recent past that is largely missing from our (Australian) history books and for that point alone is worth reading.

Review: The Reunion – Polly Phillips

The Reunion

Polly Phillips

Simon & Schuster

ISBN:9781398513600

RRP$29.99

Description:

An utterly addictive, deliciously dark look at the underside of glamorous university life . . . An absolute five star read’ GYTHA LODGE

‘I was completely hooked. Reminiscent of Big Little Lies‘ VICTORIA SELMAN

A chance to reconnect.
A chance to get revenge . . .

Emily Toller has tried to forget her time at university and the events that led to her suddenly leaving under a cloud. She has done everything she can to forget the shame and the trauma – and the people involved. She has tried to focus on the life she has built with her children and husband, Nick.

But events like that can’t just be forgotten. Not without someone answering for what they’ve done. 

When an invitation arrives to a University reunion, everything clicks into place. Emily has a plan.

Because if you can’t forget – why not get revenge?

My View:
Picture this…… a long fuse….you hear a match strike, you see a flicker of light, and the flame “catches” and the fuse ignites, a gentle trail of red/orange/gold fizzes slowly along the fuse…you are mesmerized by the flame. BOOM!!! The dynamite explodes – as does this read!

A powerful read with a conclusion that will knock your socks off.

Review – When Only One – Meg Gatland-Veness

When Only One

Meg Gatland- Veness

Panterra Press

ISBN:9780648987666

Description:

‘There’s someone in the school. Someone who’s not supposed to be there. This person is walking towards the classroom. They’re holding something in their hands. Something terrifying.’

Sam lives with his mum, dad and four brothers in a small farming town. At his school, there are three main factions: the rich kids, the mid-grounders and the farm kids who live on the outskirts. Sam is a comfortable mid-grounder and life is pretty good. He works as a lifeguard at the local surf club, is saving to buy his first car, he’s training with his friends for the Ironman challenge, and on Sunday afternoons he and his family take care packages to their less fortunate neighbours. Then, five years since they last spoke, Emily Burrow climbs back into Sam’s life and everything changes.

Emily’s life is very different to Sam’s – her absent father has returned and her mum struggles with her mental health. Sam does his best to be there for Emily when he wasn’t for so long, but there seems to be no right way to help her.

When Rei starts at school, Sam is smitten. Rei’s parents are social workers, she’s from the rich side of town, and her life seems a thousand miles away from how the kids on the outskirts live. In a world that’s ill-equipped to support kids struggling with unseen burdens, is there a way to help Emily before the worst happens?

From the bestselling author of I Had Such Friends comes a novel that’s gritty, full of heart and shines a light on kids who are doing it tough in a rural Australian town.

My View:
Where can I start? I was so impressed with this read! It’s gently written despite the emotive, evocative and difficult material it discusses. And for some readers, some of the issues raised here could trigger memories of events or actions that are distressing, Panterra Press hope those so affected will connect with https://au.reachout.com/

The book – the prologue sets a disturbing scene; a shooting in a school, who is involved, why? A grim but intriguing introduction to the narrative.

Each chapter begins with brief recollections of the incident by various people at the scene. These recollections juxtaposed against the chapter contents that recount events before and leading up to the shooting create tension and is a powerful and seductive device to engage the reader in this story of moral dilemmas, of life in a small rural town, of domestic violence, of poverty, of loss, of grief, of addictions, of mental health issues…this gently spoken book touches on so many contemporary issues. It doesn’t preach, it allows the reader to think, to assimilate all the background information and to ask their own questions.

A powerful and emotional read. 5 stars.

Review: A Caravan Like A Canary – Sasha Wasley

A Caravan Like A Canary

Sasha Wasley

Panterra Press

ISBN: 9780648987505

Description:

Two road trips. Twenty years apart. Can the memories of a troubled family past finally be put to rest?

When Tara Button’s mother asks her to drive the bright yellow family caravan from one end of the state to the other, it’s her charming but unreliable brother, Zac, who convinces her it’s a good idea. Besides, the road trip might keep Zac out of trouble – and that’s always been a second job for Tara.

Tara doesn’t expect Zac’s enigmatic friend Danh to come along for the ride. Or the bikies that seem to be following them up the coast .

As they travel along the open road, memories of the Buttons’ last trip in the caravan engulf Tara, while a rediscovered love for the wild, glorious ocean chips away at her reserve. When forced to face her past, will Tara find the courage to let go and discover her dreams?

My View:

Outstanding! The best read of the year!

I loved every moment of this read; the characters – so well developed I can visualise this one the big screen, the settings – some I recognise, some I have been to – in a caravan :), the trauma and PTSD I recognise and empathise with the characters and their situations, the narrative….engaging…just so much to offer the reader in this book!

This is a fabulous read and I think the best of Sasha’s work thus far. I eagerly await the next offering from this amazing author and lovely human.

Review: The Mallee Girl – Jennifer Scoullar

The Mallee Girl

Jennifer Scoullar

Penguin Random House

ISBN: 9781761046650

Description:

A heart-warming new rural romantic suspense set in the Victorian High Country by the bestselling author of Brumby’s Run.

Armed with nothing but some loose change and her beloved dog Duke, Mallee girl Pippa Black has finally found the courage she needs to escape a dangerous relationship. Two cryptic words written on a paper napkin send her in search of the one person who might help her – a long-lost brother she has always dreamed of finding.

Pippa’s quest leads her to the remote town of Currajong, high in the beautiful Victorian alps. As a runaway seeking refuge among strangers, Pippa learns that she’s been mistakenly implicated in a shocking crime. She finds her way to Brumby’s Run, a wild-horse sanctuary, where she begins work assisting the enigmatic farm manager Levi, and becomes entranced by Thowra, a magnificent golden stallion who leads a herd of brumbies in the region. Both man and horse will teach Pippa more about herself than she ever thought possible – including when to run, when to hide, and when to stand up and fight.

Set among the majesty of the High Country snowgums, The Mallee Girl is a moving and heartfelt story about the power of love and the land to heal old wounds, and the freedom that comes in confronting your greatest fears.

My View:

This is Jennifer Scoullar at her very best. I love her settings, the relationships she explores, the relationships with dogs and horses. This one is particularly poignant and answers the question ” why didnt she leave before now?” .

Family violence comes in many forms. This book will illuminate some of those situations.

This book has a dramatic yet eventually, happy ending…phew.

A great read.

What I Am Reading This Week

Banjarwarn

Josh Kemp

UWA Press

ISBN:9781760802141

Description:

Winner of The 2021 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript

Garreth Hoyle is a true crime writer whose destructive love affair with hallucinogenic drugs has sent him searching for ghosts in the unforgiving mallee desert of Western Australia. Heading north through Kalgoorlie, he attempts to score off old friends from his shearing days on Banjawarn Station. His journey takes an unexpected detour when he discovers an abandoned ten-year-old girl and decides to return her to her estranged father in Leonora, instead of alerting authorities. Together they begin the road trip from hell through the scorched heart of the state’s northern goldfields.

Love, friendship and hope are often found in the strangest places, but forgiveness is never simple, and the past lies buried just beneath the blood red topsoil. The only question is whether Hoyle should uncover it, or run as fast as his legs can take him.

Banjawarn is an unsettling debut from Josh Kemp. Echoing Cormac McCarthy’s haunting border trilogy and narrative vernacular that recalls the sparse lyricism of Randolph Stow and Tim Winton, this is a darkly funny novel that earns its place amongst the stable of Australian gothic literature.

This week ….

This week sees another work by a West Australian author land in my post box. I think this is the year that WA authors will shine. Banjarwarn is the debut novel, winner of The 2021 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript written by Josh Kemp, a resident of the South West of Western Australia.

This book is about landscapes both familiar and alien, and sometimes they are both at the same time. 🙂 The red dirt, the remoteness, the regional towns of Kalgoorlie and Leonora are all too familiar, we took a caravan trip through these towns ( and further) last year ( and lots of my recent abstract landscapes were inspired by these areas, their remoteness, their bold colours, their atmosphere). Kemp captures these moody, vast, isolated, locations perfectly.

The landscape of drug abuse – PCP and ‘meth is one I am not so familiar with and Kemp paints a picture that shocks and yet informs and somehow is empathetic.

This book defies being defined as this or that. It is a love story, it has gothic echoes, it is a story of drug abuse, it is a story of compassion and friendship…it is a story of a harsh landscape and ultimately it is a story of hope.

I do hope you get an opportunity to read this one.

PS the cover art perfectly depicts the remote and wild country that the book rests on.

Review – The Banksia House Breakout- James Roxburgh

The Banksia House Breakout

James Roxburgh

Ventura Press

ISBN: 9781920727857

Description:

When Ruth Morris is moved into Banksia House by her workaholic son Michael, she is eighty-one years young, mourning her loss of independence, and missing her best friend Gladys terribly.

So when she learns Gladys is dying a state over in Brisbane, Ruth is determined to say goodbye. Enlisting the help of her fellow residents, Ruth makes a daring departure from Banksia House alongside renowned escape-artist Keith, and her formidable new friend Beryl.

The journey from Sydney is far from straightforward, featuring grimy hotels, hitchhiking, and a mild case of grand theft. This unlikely trio finds themselves on the trip of a lifetime, where new connections blossom amidst the chaos. But the clock is ticking and Gladys awaits – will they make it across the border in time?

In this joyous and captivating read, debut author James Roxburgh delivers a heart-warming tale that will have you cheering for Ruth from beginning to end.

My View:

This is a standout debut novel. Character based – there will b e some you will love and some you are glad to see them get their “just desserts” 🙂 Perhaps this book could be best described as a “coming of old age” novel; nursing homes, dementia, cancer, elder abuse, power shifts in relationships….adventure, trying new things, new relationships, helping others…its all here.

A poignant start that might resonate with the baby boomer generation (now looking at the health/housing situation of their aging parents) the book then offers adventures with hilarity, compassion and a tinge of sadness. The overarching theme I think is “live in the present, not the past, not the future” and that relationships matter.

A great read.