The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain

First published in 1934, the same year as Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Ngaio Marsh’s debut A May Lay Dead, James M Cain’s first novel is crime of a very different kind to the murder mysteries of the Queens of the Golden Age. 

Laced with violence and lust, The Postman Always Rings Twice caused a scandal, and was banned in Boston. But it’s also the foundation stone of American noir and hardboiled crime, has been adapted for operas, radio plays, stage plays and several films, and regularly features on best novels of all time lists. So, what was all the fuss about? 

Frank Chambers is a young drifter who gets thrown off a hay truck in the California desert, and meets amiable diner owner Nick Papadakis, and his sullen wife, Cora. At first Frank just wants to con a free meal, but quickly his gaze settles on Cora. This chance meeting leads to deadly consequences for all involved. At only a shade over 100 pages, Cain’s debut is a stick of dynamite; small but explosive. It hauls readers into Depression-era America, makes us witness to a bleak, sordid underbelly, and through his taut prose packs more into its slim form than many modern novels four or five times the size. 

A classic well worth (re)reading; grab the recent 2022 edition with a foreword by James Ellroy (LA Confidential) or the 2005 version with a foreword by the great James Lee Burke, to gain further insights into the influence of James M Cain on the crime genre. 

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

 

James M Cain, author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James M Cain was born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1892. Having served in the US Army in World War I, he became a journalist in Baltimore and New York in the 1920’s.

He later worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Cain died in 1977.

Visit the publisher’s website

Red River Road by Anna Downes

Is it safe for a woman to travel alone around Australia? That is the premise of Red River Road. As you arrive at stunning location after stunning location you encounter the same travellers. You share your amazing experiences on social media, but who is really following you? Solo female van travellers have started to go missing, is there a Wolf Creek-like serial killer on the loose?

Such is the worry for Katy, whose sister, Phoebe, disappeared a year ago after beginning her solo van journey around Australia. Katy gives up her job to fly across the country, buy a van and begin to trace Phoebe’s journey, hoping to find out what happened to her sister.

Katy starts in Perth, following Phoebe’s route through Instagram.

Then Katy comes across the mysterious Beth hiding in the back of her van, clearly terrified. Something very bad happened to her but she refuses to say what. 

And then there is teenager Wyatt who desperately misses his mother, who apparently left her family to head back on the road, but no-one has heard from since. 

From Perth to the Ningaloo Reef, touting the wonders of WA with its pristine beaches, white sands, and blue water, Red River Road showcases the amazing scenery of the west coast. But there is someone following Katy and Beth, threatening them. Did Phoebe have an Instagram stalker, and if so, are they about to catch up with them? 

If you are a fan of the Australian outback crime noir you will enjoy this well-written and twisty story, although I found it a bit too slow paced for my liking.

Reviewed by Joanne Brewer

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Downes, Australian authorAnna Downes grew up in Sheffield, UK. She studied drama at the University of Manchester before winning a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and moving to London to pursue an acting career that included credits in EastEnders, Casualty and Dalziel and Pascoe, as well as a long-running stage production of The Dresser in London’s West End. She moved to Australia in 2011 and started writing a few years later just after her second child was born.

Anna’s internationally bestselling debut novel, The Safe Place, was published simultaneously in Australia, the US and the UK in 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2021 Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards. Her second book, The Shadow House, was published in 2021 in Australia and New Zealand followed by publication in the UK and the USA in 2022.

She lives on the NSW Central Coast with her husband and two children.

Visit Anna Downes’ website

Seed to Sky: Life in the Daintree by Pamela Freeman

This lusciously illustrated book tells the story of the Daintree Forest from over hundreds of years ago through to today. We begin at a time 200 years ago when seeds from a Bull Kauri pine explode into the air, dropping slowly to the ground. 

Some of the Kauri seeds are being eaten. One by a Musky Rat-kangaroo, another by a bush turkey. ‘But one lies unnoticed …’ . This little seed takes root and begins to grow. 

As we follow the story of this little seed, growing taller and taller, we learn all about the forest. Kauri pines have been growing in Australia for more than 200 million years. Trees can be up to 600 years old. 

It’s now 180 years ago. Our little seed continues to grow and reach for the light. Nearby a dingo has caught the scent of a bandicoot and a water dragon is munching on a Rhinoceros beetle. ‘Beetles make up around one-quarter of all species on Earth!’

As we travel through time, we travel up through the canopy with our Kauri. Seasons come and go, we meet butterflies and the Hercules moth, white-lipped tree frogs calling in the night and pythons who slither around tree branches. There is 430 species of birds in the Daintree. There is much to learn and see on every page. All the while our Kauri pine is growing stronger and taller. 

As we reach today, our Bull Kauri pine is now 650 metres tall, towering about the treetops.

This book is as much a work of art as a fabulous reading experience and learning tool. It’s a storybook surrounded by small chunks of information about the animals and plants that call the Daintree home. I was swept along with the tale, searching the page for our Kauri, filled with a sense of wonderment for this oldest rainforest in the world. 

Buy it, borrow it, but please put Seed to Sky into the hands of a young reader and let them be inspired.

Reviewed by Rowena Morcom

Age Guide 4+

Teachers’ Resource

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pamela Hart / Pamela Freeman authorPamela Freeman is an award-winning children’s author who has also worked as a freelance business and technical writer. Pamela’s work ranges from picture books to young adult novels and she is best known for her Floramonde series of fantasy novels which include The Willow Tree’s Daughter, Windrider and The Centre of Magic.

The Castings Trilogy is Pamela’s highly successful fantasy series for adults published by Hachette Australia. In addition to this, she teaches creative writing to adults at the Sydney Writers’ Centre. Victor’s Challenge won the 2009 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Short Fiction/Illustrated Work/Picture Book and was a Notable Book in the Younger Readers Category, Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards, 2010.

Visit Pamela Freeman’s website

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

Liz Anelli once had a job dusting dinosaurs at London’s Natural History Museum. Nowadays she draws every day and illustrates picture books; combining collage, printmaking and paint into digitally composed artworks. These have collected numerous shortlistings and awards. In between books she creates quirky illustrated maps.

Having spent 10 glorious years in Australia she and her husband are now living in Cambridge, England. Liz loves sharing her passion for making pictures at festivals, libraries and schools around the world.

Visit Liz Anelli’s website

A Plant-based Farmhouse by Cherie Hausler

Cherie Hausler has had a remarkable career pioneering plant-based foods from small-scale production in her Barossa kitchen to national, commercially available products in supermarkets today. Her extensive experience – from growing up on a farm, opening EAT ME, a Bangkok restaurant, to launching her vegan food products ALL THE THINGS in 2017 – is generously shared in this sumptuous new cookbook featuring over 80 recipes. 

Wholesome, dairy-free (plus some gluten-free) recipes in the book are based on traditional plant-based country foods but notably share Cherie’s lifetime of learning. The heart of the book is a philosophy that focuses on growing, harvesting, reinventing and sharing food. In A Few Extra Notes and Staple Provisions, Hausler recommends cooking tools and pantry basics and there is some interesting nutritional information on gut health.

We all know that fibre is essential but did you realise we should aim to eat 30 different plants a day? If, like me, you find that too daunting, Cherie illustrates how this can be easily achieved. 

A Plant-Based Farmhouse is a great kitchen companion. The step-by-step illustrations covering sourdough baking are terrific too, especially if you are new to it.

I loved the variety of recipes throughout the book and was inspired to try the Quince Hummingbird Cake with Tahini Caramel. 

Reviewed by Karen Williams

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cherie Hausler is a Barossa Valley-based cook, baker, podcaster, community builder and founder of the plant-based food business All The Things. She’s happiest drinking tea and feeding family and friends at her big, welcoming country table. She hosts a television show, also called All The Things, screening on SBS.

Make a recipe from the book

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Quince Hummingbird cake from A Plant-Based Farmhouse by Cherie Hausler

Alex and the Alpacas Save the World by Kathryn Lefroy 

Originally published in 2019, Alex and the Alpacas Save the World was shortlisted in the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards. It is a fast-paced middle-grade fantasy set on a farm in Tasmania. Alex and her mum are about to spend the summer holidays visiting her cantankerous grandfather on his property. As her mum and grandfather have a difficult relationship, Alex has never been there before but from the moment she arrives, strange things start to happen.

Alex discovers she is the Fortieth Sun, destined to defeat the evil spirit Kialia who is bound inside an olive tree in her late grandmother’s olive grove. She also finds that she can talk to the four alpacas on the farm, which are not what they appear. Working out what the key is and how to defeat the evil threatening the world takes all the ingenuity of Alex, her friend Leeuie from the property nearby, the grandfather who turns out to be a Guardian and the alpacas. However, the epilogue casts a shadow over the ending of the book and the good vs evil battle continues in Alex and the alpacas ride again.

This is a well-written story with a fast-moving plot and well-drawn characters. The alpacas in particular are warm, endearing and funny. Whether the fantasy scenario is plausible enough for the reader is up to them to decide. 

Reviewed by Lynne Babbage

Age Guide 9+

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathryn Lefroy, author for childrenKathryn has story in her blood. Her great-great-great-uncle was Jane Austen’s inspiration for one of literature’s most well-loved figures, Mr Darcy. She writes fiction novels and screenplays, and nonfiction content for some of the world’s top brands.

Kathryn has a first class honours degree in Art History from the University of Melbourne, a PhD in Marketing from Monash University, and is a graduate of UCLA’s professional screenwriting program. She not-so-secretly wishes she lived in a dance movie.

Visit Kathryn Lefroy’s website

Table for Two by Amor Towles

Any new release from Amor Towles is eagerly anticipated. To have six short(ish) stories plus a novella in one book is nothing short of an early Christmas gift. The six short stories have the subheading, ‘New York’. The novella set in LA could have been a book on its own.

‘The Line’ begins in rural Russia, just as the Bolshevik Revolution begins. Before concluding in NYC. Pushkin, the protagonist from that story, shares a naivety with the eponymous protagonist in ‘The Ballad of Timothy Touchett’. Even in each character’s confusion and despair, Towles’ empathy for his characters is evident. That care continues in ‘Hasta Luego’, where the narrator shares an evening with a charismatic figure hiding a fatal flaw.

The narrators in both ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘The Bootlegger’ watch on as their partners make logical decisions with less-than-ideal consequences. The narrator in ‘The DiDomenico Fragment’ proves too smart for his own good. These stories are a skiful weave of whimsy and irony, backed by meticulous research and told in unique narrative voices.

The novella, ‘Eve in Hollywood’ reprises a character from Towles’ debut novel, Rules of Civility. Miss Evelyn Ross travels to Hollywood in the years just prior to World War II. She makes friends with a retired policeman she met on the train, and those involved in the movie industry, from current and forgotten actors, to lawyers and studio heads. Her friendship with – and willingness to protect – Olivia de Havilland is central to a plot told from the perspective of seven characters.

Evelyn’s calm insouciance belies her inner strength: great for her friends; an insurmountable obstacle for those with malign intent. She is a singular protagonist – everyone should have a person like Miss Evelyn Ross in their lives.

Towles’ use of idiomatic language captures each timeframe and setting perfectly. Anton Chekov and George Saunders are regarded as masters in this genre. Towles isn’t just worthy company but has unmatched command of narrative voice and character development.

This is storytelling at its finest.

Reviewed by Bob Moore

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amor Towles authorBorn and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. Having worked as an investment professional for over 20 years, he now devotes himself full time to writing in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.

His novels Rules of Civility, A Gentleman in Moscow, and The Lincoln Highway have collectively sold more than six million copies. Both Bill Gates and President Barack Obama included A Gentleman in Moscow and The Lincoln Highway on their annual book recommendation lists.

Rules of Civility (2011) was a New York Times bestseller and was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of the year. The book’s French translation received the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald.

A Gentleman in Moscow (2016) was on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. It was named one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, and NPR.

The Lincoln Highway (2021) debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Towles’s short stories have appeared in the Paris Review (#112), Granta (#148), British Vogue, and Audible Originals.

Visit Amor Towles’s website