What Library Staff are Reading . . .

So what  ‘Amazing Reads’ * have Library staff had in the past month?

  • I finished The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux – I dipped into it over a few months. I got it after it was referenced several times by Bill Bryson in Notes From a Small Island which I have loved for years. Not as charming or humorous as Bryson, in fact Theroux started to sound more British than the British and the whole thing became a bit of a whinge-fest. Less ‘amazing’ than annoying!
  • Waterline by Ross Raisin – this moving story of a man’s descent into homelessness following the death of his wife had me amazed because the authentic ‘Weegie’ (Glaswegian) voice of the main characters was written by a Yorkshire man.
  • Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg, translated by the appropriately named Sarah Death is a novel set in the Lodz Ghetto during WWII. It amazes on a number of levels – I’m always amazed at what the Jews lived through and survived. Sem-Sandberg, taking his time over 651 pages, has done some amazing research and weaves contemporary documents into the novel and gets the reader totally immersed in this awful tale.
  • Magnificent Obsession : Victoria, Albert and the death that changed the monarchy by Helen Rappaport – I’m amazed no one took Victoria aside and gave her a good slap! I bet Albert would have; he’d seen how Victoria had behaved after her mother’s death and disapproved.  I haven’t suffered the death of a partner or spouse so I don’t know how it feels but I would imagine it better to honour your lost one with a full and useful life than years and years of isolation and selfishness.
  • Using my iPad I’ve made a start on The Alice Behind Wonderland by Simon Winchester which is, according to a podcast I listened to, the first in a series commissioned by the Oxford University Press on ‘haunting pictures’. This one takes a picture of a very young Alice Pleasance Liddell photographed by Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll and tells the tale of the great author and his supposed muse.
  • Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier. I generally love fiction set in London during the 17th and 18th centuries, and this book is no exception. Based around the life of a shy teenage boy who has just moved to London from a cosy country town, it flows nicely – the interesting characters are what make this story really come to life.
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey. Fans of television comedy 30 Rock (especially Liz Lemon’s character) will enjoy this funny and supremely nerdy memoir.
  • I read Life, liberty and the pursuit of sausages : a comedy of transimensional tomfoolery by Tom Holt – Not what I usually would read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  A book full of people who turn into chickens ; a pig who turns into a very successful business man ; houses which are built, sold, then disappear ; a dry cleaners which is here one day and gone the next and a pencil sharpener which started out as a pig’s nose ring, but which is really the hub to a box which can do extraordinary things….. all add up to, as the subtitle of the book says … a comedy of transdimensional tomfoolery.
  • The Book of Rapture by Nikki Gemmel – Twins Tidge and Mouse and their older sister Soli, who wake up in an unfamiliar room. They don’t know how they got there or where their parents are.  As the book goes on, we discover that their scientist mother was working on a secret project to create a weapon of mass destruction capable of targeting members of a particular race. Her maternal love caused her to quit the project before it was completed, but now with her country torn apart by civil war and ethnic hatred, she has been kidnapped by those who insist on her finishing what she started.  The children’s father also worked on the project, but his crisis of conscience came earlier, and so his knowledge is not in demand. The children are told by a messenger that being hidden away in this basement room is part of their father’s plan to keep them safe, but as the days wear on and they become hungrier and more frightened, they begin to doubt they will see either of their parents again.  Not a book I loved and found it difficult to read.  Not my usual problem with Nikki Gemmels books.
  • Tea with Arwa by Arwa El Masri – an absolutely delightful story by Arwa El Masri, married to the ex-Canterbury Leagues Club player, Hazem El Masri.  This book has all my favourite ingredients (pardon the pun) – a story with recipes scattered throughout, a family story and scatterings of the Middle East.  It was lovely to hear how Arwa and her family had come to end up in Australia, and then the last part of the book was her sharing her love story with Hazem.  I really heard her own voice throughout the whole book and loved her honesty, care and love.  Thanks for sharing Arwa.
  • The Harp in the South by Ruth Park – as one of the books listed on the voting form for the NSW National Year of Reading Book, I thought I should refresh my memory with the story.  It was as good as I remembered.  How can you not love hearing about early life in Sydney (post World War II) – Surry Hills – with a struggling family doing normal, everyday things.  This book got my vote.
  • Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy – I hadn’t ready any Maeve Binchy for a few years as I overdosed on her.  This story took me a little while to get into as it was based around a hospital.  I hate hospitals – hate hospital TV dramas, comedies and books.  But once I got to know the characters and they spoke less and less about the medical stuff and more about their lives, I became wrapped.  Usual high standard, great storylines and interwoven with previous characters too.  I can highly recommend this as a book you want to go to bed with.
  • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch – After hearing the rave reviews given by fellow library staff, I couldn’t resist. It was well worth the time; I finished slightly bemused, but thoroughly entertained, by the antics (and stream-of-consciousness style ranting) of narrator/protagonist Peter Grant.  
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – I honestly don’t think there is anything Safran Foer could write that I wouldn’t like. I expected this novel, following 9-year-old Oskar Schell in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, to be simply depressing. It is, but only due to the topic of content. It is also very clever; the style of narration is reminiscent of John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Once again, a writer who writes from a child’s perspective so well it is truly believable, and all the more poignant.
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Poor Emma Bovary, married to a man who is the salt of the earth but lacking flair, subsists on a diet of romantic fiction, to which she adds her own full-blown fantasies. Life consistently fails to meet her expectations, until… Well, you can discover what happens to Emma yourself. Flaubert’s portrait of an ill-educated and under-exercised young woman is brilliant, and reminds me (as if I needed reminding) what can happen when you deny people a proper education and the chance to use and extend their abilities. Written in the 1850s.
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. His most recently-published book is a beautiful thing. The main character, Tony/Anthony Webster, shuffles carefully through life. He takes few risks, seeing himself as essentially good and peaceable, though he comes across as rather bloodless, his relationships guided more by politics than passion. In later life he is made to remember a cruel and vitriolic act of his own in the distant past. Clearly he has smudged over his own history, with time. Do we all? Now he is galvanised. What really did happen forty years ago to his intelligent, thoughtful friend Adrian?
  • Ghastly Business, by Louise Levene. This is shaping up to be light-hearted and entertaining, a whodunit of sorts, but I haven’t read much of it yet.

* The National Year of Reading and the Love2Read Twitter Reading Group theme for January 2012.

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