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    Recommended reading from local bookshops – June 2024

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    THE EXTINCTION OF IRENA REY

    Book cover of The Extinction of Irena Rey

    By Jennifer Croft

    I picked this one up because the author, Jennifer Croft, translated the works of Olga Tokarczuk, who wrote Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, another favourite in the store. The Extinction of Irena Rey has a playful premise – the fictional protagonist has written this book in Spanish, and the novel we are reading has been translated into English by her hated colleague who is also a character in the book. This sets up a delightfully unreliable narrator who tells the story of eight translators who enter a primaeval Polish forest to translate the new work of their idolised author, Irena Rey. When she disappears a short time into their stay, their task turns from translating her magnum opus to attempting to trace her whereabouts. 

    This book is a fun mystery, often witty and sometimes dark, with a strong ecological message throughout. Croft includes many of what we must presume to be her own thoughts on the art of translation which are fascinating to read, and the uncovering of the mystery and the true nature of the characters is surprising and striking. Highly recommended for readers with an interest in translations, and lovers of mysteries or Polish literature. 

    With gorgeous illustrations of the forest life, from small critters who burrow through the undergrowth, to owls and eagles that fly overhead, we learn about the vast community who relies on the tree. Combining research with beautiful poetic language, readers get a sense of the changes through the tree’s life, from aging, changes from day to night, and from human intervention. A very special read overflowing with heart. 


    O CALEDONIA

    Book cover of O Caledonia

    By Elspeth Barker 

    A gorgeous gothic coming of age novel, set in Scotland during mid-last-century, O Caledonia starts with a murder, but it’s not a mystery novel. Sixteen-year-old Janet is found dead at the bottom of the stairs in her Highland home, dressed in her mother’s “black lace evening dress” and her family think only of burying her quickly so as to forget her. 

    The novel attempts not to investigate who killed Janet, but provides an account of her short life, from birth to death. Janet is disobedient, selfish and finds herself connecting with animals far more than with people. Despite this, I found Janet entirely loveable. Her clashes with other people are relatable, as is her love of reading and her distaste for boys, which adds a comic twist to the novel. Barker’s prose is well crafted and witty and shows her love of the Scottish landscape. The joy that reading Janet brought me was akin to the joy I felt reading Matilda as a child. Anyone who has ever felt on the outer but has rejoiced in being themselves will fall in love with Janet and this book. 

    Reviews of The Extinction of Irena Rey and O Caledonia from Chestnut Tree Bookshop – thechestnuttree.com.au 


    LOVE, DEATH & OTHER SCENES

    Book cover of Love, Death & Other Scenes

    By Nova Weetman 

    This is a truly special book from a Melbourne Gen X-er who generally writes children’s literature. Nova Weetman has mined deep into her experiences of profound loss during her life and the love that accompanies it to produce this devastating memoir. Nova revisits her 25-year relationship with partner Aidan Fennessy, a successful playwright, with its sparks as well as its challenges. Aiden’s death from cancer during the COVID lockdown is written about with unflinching honesty as her family grieves and navigates this trauma while life continues. 

    The book also touches on other aspects that most of us can relate to as time passes: our relationship with our parents, their eventual loss and the grief that comes with it; raising children as they offer a mirror to our own growth when they grow from teenagers to young adults; ageing and reflecting on a life lived; loneliness; and making milestone life choices by oneself. 

    Those we love change us forever and Nova is to be commended for writing about it. 


    SHOWER LAND: BREAK THE CURSE

    Book cover of Shower Land: Break the Curse

    By Nat Amoore — ages 7–11 

    This is a hilarious middle-grade book for young readers who want to get lost in a wild imaginative ride! When Felix jumps in the shower to escape another dreaded Monday, the last thing he expected was to be sucked into a magical medieval world with dragons and battles. 

    How will Felix get back home? 

    The first in a new series, this book will appeal to kids who love humour mixed in with their fantasy. As Felix learns to help the friends he makes along the way and begins to miss his family, there is a sweet lesson about friendship and kindness at the story’s heart. 


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