THIS IS THE MONTH FOR HAMMOCK READS, BUT FORGET THE EVERMORE FORMULAIC BESTSELLER LIST. WHILE YOU ARE LYING THERE, YOUR LIFE COULD CHANGE.
Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), Sphere, $32.99
Fans of Cormoran Strike and his business partner Robin were teased when, at the end of JKR’S third novel about their detective agency, Strike burst into Robin’s wedding. She smiled at him and then turned to say “I do”... to the lugubrious Matthew. Nooooo! It’s a murder mystery, of course. But so much more. Rustle the curtains of this plot and you’ll see needs that cry out to us; those who are helpless against exploitation and need kindly minders, those whose greed undermines our efforts to maintain a civil society. But this is JKR — no lecturing, just bewitching entertainment.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS
Clementine Ford, Allen & Unwin, $32.99
Clementine Ford is probably known to you. She wrote Girls Will Be Girls, a book to fortify young Australian women against a society that aims to educate and protect them but often fails. Her ‘boys’ book is nothing short of horrifying. Be prepared for foul language and foul deeds and all of it here in Australia. Don’t lose faith in humanity. In the end the perps are victims, too. So start reaching out now.
AN ANONYMOUS GIRL
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, Macmillan, $29.99
And here’s yet another exceptional piece of fiction to send shivers down your spine. There’s an advertisement: “You’re invited: seeking women aged 18 to 32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality conducted by a pre-eminent NYC psychiatrist. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. Call for more details.” A very intelligent make-up artist, barely surviving in New York, is sucked in and who wouldn’t be? The suspense builds right up to the last pages. Read it in one fell swoop.
Paul Ham, William Heinemann, $45
It’s about a Christian sect that flourished briefly 500 years ago and was expunged. In his afterword, Ham says we are in danger of such a thing happening again — he cites jihadism but hints at something closer to home, hunger for leadership driving us to follow strong men even when wisdom and humanity are lacking. Basically, this is the tale of John of Leiden, who in the 1530s, like Luther, recoiled from what Catholicism had become — a hotbed of corruption and exploitation. He started a movement dedicated to the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. The city of Munster, where Lieden held sway, was besieged by a bellicose bishop who starved the New Jerusalemites into submission. In the meantime, John had taken 16 wives and, when one stood up to him, he clumsily beheaded her in the city square and trampled her corpse. John and two henchmen were executed and suspended in cages from the church spire. After 50 years what remained of them was tidied away, though the cages swing there to this day.
FEAST FOOD OF THE ISLAMIC WORLD
Anissa Helou, Bloomsbury, $80
Middle Eastern food has always made more sense for Australia than what our colonial heritage handed down. Instead of knives and forks and hunks of meat, we should choose more casual dining, a selection of flavoursome dishes to be deftly scooped into flatbreads. There is a snag. Helou’s food originated in kitchens full of women with no distractions, happy to shop, chop and deal with a tympany of pots and pans. However, by making large quantities and freezing in portions, the modern cook can save time and effort. North African breads are pure delight, Saudi camel meatballs can be made with kangaroo. Among the faster food options are syrup-soaked fritters (you shape the batter with your bare hand) and swordfish skewers rolled in cumin — vapours waft up from the fire like mountain mist. Incidentally, Helou recently moved from London to Sicily where Arabs ruled more than a thousand years ago. You could call it the cradle of fusion cooking.
Sally Hepworth, Macmillan, $29.99
I don’t think I’ve ever before had such a feast to spread before you. Here’s a third treasure to join JKR’S and Harrison’s (read on). Hepworth’s novel pits stern parenting (yes, the mother-in-law) against affectionate but ad hoc rearing (three very young children and then the family business fails). Before you know it there’s a dead
body and taunting scenarios. Inherited wealth — masses of it — poses the usual questions. By the time the five potential suspects had been put on the spot, my vision of the situation had undergone a 180-degree swerve. Which is what you want from a novel, isn’t it?
FLY! LIFE LESSONS FROM THE COCKPIT OF QF32
Richard De Crespigny, Penguin Viking, $32.99
Four hundred and sixty-nine people aboard QF 32, eight hours flying time to Sydney Airport, and then an engine explodes. Twenty-one of the 22 systems go down. This is shaping up to be the worst disaster in Qantas’s history. Thanks to the crews on board and on the ground, the plane lands safely and no-one is hurt. De Crespigny, captain on that fateful trip, decided that there were life lessons to be learned. Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way are the choices. There are plenty of surprises, evidence that turns instinct upside down. (Try the cushion test on page 147.) Towards the end of the book Coral, Richard’s wife, adapts his global reasoning to strategies for a happy marriage. Having looked at her checklist you may want to settle for an almost happy marriage. As Richard says, failing well is part of the plan.
ALL AMONG THE BARLEY
Melissa Harrison, Bloomsbury, $29.99
Here’s a novel I’d take with me to that legendary desert island. It starts in what is, for me, familiar territory — a farm where modern equipment, medication, methods and expertise are welcome but not always affordable. The old ways live on. However, this is further back in time than I remember. In 1934 south-east England, 13-year-old Edith has just left school and occupies herself on her parents’ farm. Her only recreation is reading. Her mother knows Edith is young for her age but her father insists Edith will go to the annual dance, moreover, even in a bad year, she will have a proper frock, not her sister’s cast-offs. The birds, the wildflowers, the trees, the surging scents, the old men with uncanny skills, the old women in witchcraft flood past, unleashing memories if the reader is older and an intense curiosity in younger readers. Constance, a self-styled journalist from London, turns up wearing trousers. Tsk. She has ideas about the farming life that most farmers would describe as ‘highfalutin’. “Oh, you should make your own butter,” she says to Edith’s flat-to-the-boards mother. The sandalled scribbler then scoops up Edith and paints a future where Edith’s brains can flourish and she can meet sophisticated men as opposed to grabby farm boys. I’m not going to give away the fabulous plot switch but what Constance brings to this hallowed place is deadly. There’s a tiny twig of hatred in almost everyone that can flame forth and destroy. Today we are on the brink of dangers, which Constance had the power to bring to pass. Beware.