Another month has come (and pretty much gone… can someone tell me where August went?), so here we are again with the five books we think you should be reading – should’ve been reading – this month.
August’s five selected titles are one for the history lovers, with historical fiction well represented. There are novels set in the Viking Age, and in Colonial Australia, but this time women are at the fore. We’ve also got the latest novel in translation from one of Indonesia’s most influential authors, as well as the much anticipated autobiography from an Australian national treasure.
You should be able to find all five titles in all the usual places, both online and IRL, but as always I do recommend visiting your local independent bookstores. It was Love Your Bookshop Day earlier this month, but they really do need your support for more than just one day a year – go check them out!
Here are this month’s five recommended reads…
The Half Drowned King – Linnea Hartsuyker
I do enjoy a good historical novel, it’s something few people know about me. I’m also somewhat fascinated by all things nordic. So The Half Drowned King, a novel which draws its inspiration from the Icelandic Sagas and features Vikings kings and raiding parties, was always going to grab my attention. The Half Drowned King tells the story of Ragnvald Eysteinsson, a descendant of kings and fierce warrior, and his sister Svanhild, as they try to navigate the world, and reclaim their birthright following a betrayal. As you would expect the novel features plenty of thrilling battles, sieges and raids; and Hartsuyker doesn’t pull her punches presenting the world in all its gritty detail.
The Half Drowned King, although a work of fiction, draws from true historical events and the saga of Harald Fairhair as written by Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. Though its also infused with just the right amount of myth, magic and superstition. What sets The Half Drowned King apart from other historical novels about this time period, a period often dominated by the stories of male heroics, is the inclusion of a strong, complex and nuanced female character in Svanhild. The Half Drowned King will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the TV show Vikings, but with more than its fair share of violence and intrigue, readers and watchers of Game of Thrones might also find there interests piqued. And being the first in a trilogy, there is plenty more of Ragnvald and Svanhild’s story left to be told.
The Half Drowned King is available now through Little Brown / Hachette Australia
How To Stop Time – Matt Haig
Getting old is a fact of life, we all do it, except some people, people like Tom Hazard do it much slower than others. Or at least this is the central conceit of How To Stop Time, the new novel from bestselling author Matt Haig. The novel’s main character, Tom Hazard, a history teacher, has progeria, a rare (and fictitious) genetic condition that causes the sufferer to age ten times slower than the average person. So whilst Tom may look 40, he’s actually 408, and has seen it all, and met some of history’s most celebrated characters, some of whom even make an appearance.
Haig is an impressively versatile writer, adept at writing for both adult and young readers, and that versatility serves him well here, How To Stop Time is a glorious mash-up of a novel, with elements of romance, fantasy, thriller, and more all blended into one wild whole. Haig’s brand of wry and witty humour is on full show too, with more than enough quips and asides to satisfy, as our 400+ protagonists attempts to navigate the modern worlds of social media and dating. How To Stop Time has already been picked up for a big screen adaptation, with Benedict Cumberbatch slated to star, so why not pick up the book now before everyone else does?
How To Stop Time is available now through Allen and Unwin
Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash – Eka Kurniawan
I know you shouldn’t judge a book by a cover, but what about its title? Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is the third novel in translation from Indonesian author Ela Kurniawan, and a serious contender for best title of 2017. The novel follows the story of Ajo Kawir, a lower-class Javanese teenager, who witnesses a horrific rape of a beautiful woman in his home village, with the event leaving him traumatised and impotent. The novel is pulpy and gritty, but not without humour, despite its sometimes dark themes.
Ela Kurniawan is recognised as one of Indonesia’s most influential writers, and has had his work long listed for the Man Booker International Prize. He’s also written movie scripts, as well as graphic novels, and by all accounts it shows, with the novel peppered with car chases, fights and unsavoury characters, all of which could just as easily have come from the mind of Quentin Tarantino. Its an unusual and provocative novel, what with its narrators passionate discussions of erectile dysfunction, but it is a page turner, and well worth your attention.
Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is available now through Text Publishing
Bridget Crack – Rachel Leary
Van Diemen’s Land, 1872. Bridget Crack arrives at the penal colony, grateful to be on dry land, but a life of indentured domestic servitude doesn’t really seem all it’s cracked up to be. So she pushes back, resists, and well life doesn’t get too much better from there. Australia’s colonial past has been a well-tapped period in both literature, film and television; but all these stories are often told from the male perspective, as if somehow women didn’t exist in colonial Australia, and if they are included they’re often portrayed unfavourably or as deviant. But with Bridget Crack, author Rachel Leary, brings the women back to the forefront, thanks to a strong and well-realised lead female character in Bridget.
As with so many Australian novels, the landscape plays a vital role in the story, and having grown up in Tasmania, and returning there for further study, Leary has a great knowledge of the area, and you should expect it to be beautifully and brutally realised in this novel. Remarkably, Bridget Crack is Leary’s debut release, but somehow I doubt it will be her last. Bridget Crack compares favourably to other recent Australian historical fiction debuts, and should appeal well to readers of historical fiction, especially if they like a strong heroine at the front of the action.
Bridget Crack is available now through Allen & Unwin
Detours – Tim Rogers
A good rock ’n’ roll biography, like a good celebrity biography is actually surprisingly hard to find. Too often they descend into an exercise in name dropping – an exercise in “look how many famous people I know and hang out with”. Either that or you find out that out of the spotlight your heroes are in actual fact pretty boring. But if there is one thing you can’t accuse Tim Rogers’ of being, it’s boring! He’s flamboyant, he’s witty and charming, and thankfully he can write, and write well! And by all accounts he’s not in the business of name dropping either.
Detours promises to be a revealing, warm and witty read, with Rogers ruminating on some of his favourite subjects – music and AFL included – not to mention masculinity, anxiety and drinking. Detours has Rogers’ likened to Patti Smith (another purveyor of the quality rock biography) and Dylan Thomas, by way of Banjo Patterson of course, poets one and all, and that doesn’t seem all that surprising really, anyone who listened to Rogers’ guest hosting on Double J should’ve been able to pick up on his wry poetic sensibilities. Detours is charming, witty and just little off kilter, like its author, and promises to be one of the must read biographies of the year.
Detours is available now through HarperCollins Australia