What Library Staff are Reading – November 2014
This is quite a long list because not only did we miss a list in October but I have been on holidays so spent a few days along the couch with my nose in books – HC.
- Far from the tree: a dozen kinds of love by Andrew Solomon (score 3/5). I heard the author interviewed on the radio and thought that the book sounded interesting (and it was). This book is about parents who have children who are very different from them in some way, including chapters on: deafness, dwarfism, down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, prodigies, children conceived in rape, children who become criminals and children who are transgender. It was well-written, but for me, some of the chapters were too heart-wrenching and sad (hence only giving it 3/5).
- Splintered (score 4/5) and Unhinged (score 3/5) by A.G.Howard. I really surprised myself and actually enjoyed Splintered, a Young Adult read and the first book in the Splintered trilogy. The main character, Alyssa, is a descendant from the Alice that influenced Lewis Carroll’s character from his novels. Alyssa journeys to Wonderland to fix the mistakes that Alice made and save her family. Of course there is romance (and there should be a big fat red love-heart on the spine of this book)! I quite liked the sinister Wonderland A.G. Howard has created, though I did find Unhinged a little cheesy and way too much romance for me. I do want to find out how it ends – what’s going to happen to Wonderland? And who will Alyssa finally end up with – the dark and mysterious Morpheus or her mortal love Jed? I am looking forward to reading the third book in the trilogy, Ensnared when it comes out in January 2015.
- Fast exercise by Michael Mosley (score 4/5). This was an interesting book. Michael Mosley investigates the ‘fast exercise’ theory. I like the idea that doing three sessions of intense fast exercise a week seems to be just as good (if not better) than lots of moderate exercise a week. It appeals to a time-poor and slightly lazy me!
- Midnight burial by Pauline Deeves (score 3/5). Written as a series of letters, this book is set in 1860s Australia and is quite a good tale. Florence’s older sister Lizzie dies of a fever and is buried straight away. Questions are asked over her death. What is the truth behind Lizzie’s death?
- The living kitchen: organic vegetarian cooking for family and friends by Jutka Harstein (score 3/5). I enjoyed this cook book – especially as it has a recipe for Chestnut puree and other yummy Hungarian recipes that remind me of my Grandmother.
- The CSIRO home energy saving handbook: how to save energy, save money and reduce your carbon footprint by John Wright (score 3/5). Some great tips on how to save energy in the home.
- Zoid by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (score 3/5). I enjoyed this sci-fi adventure story. The story takes place on a huge spaceship. York is a human ‘scavenger’ who hunts and kills Zoids (robots/machine). On this spaceship, Zoids are the dominant inhabitants and are in-control. York has to help save his people – will humans and Zoids ever be able to end their conflict?
- Cadence by Emma Ayres (score 3/5). I enjoyed reading this story about Emma Ayres’ mammoth bicycle trip. I loved the section where she is crossing the border from Pakistan into India. Inspirational!
- Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve (score 3/5). This was a cute book about a little boy called Oliver, whose parents love adventures. Just when Oliver thinks that he is finally going to get to settle down for a while with his parents in their new house, Oliver finds himself in his own adventure.
- Loyal creatures by Morris Gleitzman (score 4/5). This book looks at the role that Australian horses played in World War One and the loyal relationship that the soldiers had with their horses.
- Tigers on the beach by Doug MacLeod (score 2/5). I didn’t really enjoy this one. There were a few moments of humour, but a little too much teenage angst for me.
- The Woven Path by Robn Jarvis (score 4/5). Robin Jarvis is a great writer! Neil Chapman is an eleven year old boy who moves to The Wyrd Museum with his father and younger brother. His father starts his new job as the caretaker of the museum, employed by the three Webster sisters. It is a dark, mysterious and sinister place. Neil journeys back into the past to fight the evil that has been unleashed there. I read this trilogy as a child and I am loving it just as much now.
- Sand by Hugh Howey
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau
- Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall
- I Know why the Caged Bird Sings, part of a multi-volume memoir by Maya Angelou. Maya and her elder brother Bailey lived with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, and were subjected to the many indignities black people endured in 1930s America. One day they were whisked away to St Louis, there to live for a while with their birth mother, who earned a living working in gambling parlours. Although some terrible things happen to these children Angelou is a fiercely intelligent, independent child with a solid moral foundation endowed by her grandmother – so no, it’s not a tale of misery, in the end. Totally recommended.
- The Sound of One Hand Clapping, by Richard Flanagan. Flanagan is often a hard read, so much darkness and pain. No shortage of that here – but the prose is strong and beautiful, the characters authentic, and the author’s sensibility and integrity always merit respect. He shines a forensic light on the inner life of European migrants who flocked to Australia after the Second World War. His “Narrow Road to the Deep North” has just won the Booker prize, but I’m too scared to read it.
- The Coincidence Authority, by J W Ironmonger. Thomas Post, a lecturer in applied philosophy at the University of London, is an authority on coincidence. When he meets Azalea Lewis (coincidentally) he is drawn into the web of coincidences of which her world seems composed, and which then challenge him in a way he has never before been challenged. Intriguing. Just a little mannered, but a good read.
- Orfeo, by Richard Powers. I’m quite enjoying this one, with its bracing prose, and will simply steal some commentary from Steven Poole of The Guardian (11 April 2014): “Our protagonist is Peter Els, a 70-year- old composer, of some obscure renown among the cognoscenti. One day before the events of the novel’s present-day timeline unfold, he reads about the DIY biology movement – people tinkering with DNA in their garages – and orders the appropriate equipment himself from the internet. Unfortunately, when the cops turn up for an unrelated reason, they become very suspicious on seeing Els’s lifehacking toys. Then something happens and Els becomes a wanted man, a bioterrorist on the run.”
- Letters of note : correspondence deserving of a wider audience / Shaun Usher – 4/5
- Fear and loathing in Las Vegas : a savage journey to the heart of the American dream / Hunter S. Thompson – Crazy! But interesting. 3.5/5
- Telling true stories : a nonfiction writers’ guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University / Mark Kramer – Excellent resource for people interested in non-fiction writing. 5/5
- Currently reading: Undaunted / Hugh O’Brien – who will be talking at Katoomba Library on Saturday 8 November, 2pm
Quite a bit of reading done this month, this is what happens when the boyfriend hits exam time and I have to entertain myself. There were a few other not on the list but I wasn’t too impressed by them so I didn’t put them down.
- Delirium Trilogy : Delirium, Pandemonium & Requiem – Lauren Oliver – I read the whole trilogy and I must say I really enjoyed this series! The whole “dystopian controlling government” has been done a million times but I finally found one that I liked. This particular series plays on the idea of “what if love was a disease?” The ending was left a little bit open, I think it could have done well to continue the story a little bit further. The only real complaint I have about this series is the unnecessary love triangle, like a lot of things they have been way over done. But overall I loved this series. 3.5/5 stars for me
- Panic – Lauren Oliver – After reading the delirium trilogy I just HAD to read another book by Lauren Oliver and I was not disappointed. To me the idea of Panic was new. I don’t know if something like it has been done before but I found this story very original. The story takes place in a small town, and I mean a very small town. They must really have nothing to do because someone (supposedly decades ago) creates this game called “Panic”. The graduating class participate in the game for prize money. The game basically involves a series of life threatening or just plain dangerous challenges. I’m sure if parents were to read this they would just sit there cringing through the majority of the book as these kids almost destroy their lives. I however found I felt just as much of a rush as the characters. I felt with the characters and fell in love with their stories (with the exception of the protagonist’s best friend Nat who drives nearly everyone insane). Overall I give it 3 out of 5 stars.
- Matched Trilogy : Matched, Crossed & Reached –Ally Condie – This dystopian book series was also a good one. I am finding it very rare to find ones that actually have good endings but I’ve been pleasantly surprised this month. In this series you pretty much have a highly advanced civilization, they’ve cure all the major and minor diseases and everyone lives to 80. The only thing is the “Society” determine everything (who you marry, what you read/watch, what job you do, how many children you have, what you eat… you get the point). Our protagonist is perfect citizen in the eyes of the society, but when her grandfather dies and leaves her a forbidden poem, it makes her start to question what society really is and whether or not they are as right about everything as she’s been taught to think. I can’t say too much more about the series but I think you get the idea. All and all it’s a good series and even though the ending was left a bit open I think it’s clear where the story was headed. 4/5 stars!
I don’t normally read a lot of standalone books as I prefer series but I got around to a few this month, they were reasonably good as well
- Thirteen reasons why – Jay Asher – This book is a little bit depressing. If you’ve ever been a victim of bullying or have ever been depressed it might be a bit of a trigger book. The story is about this girl who commits suicide, beforehand though she records a series of tapes explaining why she did what she did. She organizes these tapes to be sent around to those who she considers to be responsible for her death. Morbid I know. It’s actually a really great story and shows people the impact of their actions, not matter how small. It’s an interesting take on your average “moral of the story” tale as the damage has been done and they can’t fix it. This reminds me of a little quote I saw somewhere…
“Pick up a plate”
“Now throw it on the ground”
OK *plate breaks*
“Now say sorry to it”
“Did you fix it?”
I really loved this book and the message it spoke 5/5 stars I recommend this book to anyone 13+ everyone should read it.
- We were liars –E. Lockhart – I came into this book a bit sceptical, when I read the blurb I was bit intrigued but mostly I just though “wow a book about rich kids and the problems ugh” however the goodreads community insisted it was good a book and I should read it. I actually found this book quite interesting. The story is based around four cousins and their families. Every summer they all go to their private island we’re the mothers compete for the grandfather love and inheritance whilst the fours cousins are left to whatever they want. This is every summer till our protagonist falls ill and misses a couple of summers. Upon returning to the island she realizes that everyone one is on edge and more secretive than ever. No one will talk to her or tell her what happened during the summer she was gone and if no one will talk she will find out herself. I really enjoyed this book and the great twist I didn’t see coming till the end 4/5 stars.
- The truth about Alice–Jennifer Mathieu – This book wasn’t all that long, it only took me about 4 hours to read. This book wasn’t overly special. Basically we follow the POV stories from a few students as they tell you all the things they know/heard/made up about another student “Alice”…. That’s it… I honestly can’t think of anything else to say. Only reason I kept reading was to figure out which stories were true. It wasn’t a bad story just nothing that stood out. 2/5 stars.
- I have just finished reading The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner. This author was recommended to me by a library patron and I am very grateful. This author captured in this book what it can be like as you grow old and your world contracts and reinterpretation of past events from the perspective of reflections at that later time. The story, developed through rereading Joe A’s diary and conversations with his wife and others, is fascinating. More than all this, the way Stegner writes is wonderful. I never needed to look at his metaphors or turns of phrase twice, except just to enjoy them.
- This House is Haunted by John Boyne – classic gothic ghost story with a governess to two children with no parents in a remote mansion set in ‘pages and pages of fog’ feels a malign presence that obviously isn’t pleased she’s come along. Quite atmospheric and I enjoyed this novel and gave it 4/5
- Disgrace by JM Coetzee – I thought years ago when this came out, and again when Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature, that I ought to read this book but I am kind of averse to worthy authors and so I resisted. This book was chosen by someone in my book group and the pre-reading chatter did not inspire – too depressing, couldn’t we read something more upbeat? But you know what, I was hooked from the first page. You don’t ‘enjoy’ this story, there are not many likeable characters and yes, the story has some unpleasant themes but by gum the prose is wonderful and I’m glad we were asked to read it. The book group gave it a score of 3.8/5. I personally gave it 4/5
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – I both read the book and watched the film (I could watch George Peppard all day). This is another read for book group and I will be leading the discussion at our mid-November meeting so I will be reading it again. While I had seen the film before of course, I hadn’t read the book and what struck me was how modern the story and the language is. I quite enjoyed it and gave it 3.5/5
- The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson – This novel is one in a series commissioned by the Hammer Horror film people. It is based on the true story of the Lancashire witch trials in Pendle in 1612. I mostly enjoyed this slim volume and gave it 3.5/5
- Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid – Val McDermid is a master of her art; the thriller but this retelling of Jane Austen’s comic novel did not do it for me. In this version, a mobile phone touting 21st Century Catherine Morland visits the Edinburgh Festival with family friends and runs into the Tilneys, charming Henry, lonely Eleanor and scary Colonel Tilney. Northanger Abbey is translocated into the Scottish Borders and I thought that Austen, the borders and Edinburgh would make it unbeatable. I was disappointed. Without Jane Austen’s prose the story just isn’t write. I give it 3/5 – a bit generously I think?
- The Unexpected Professor : an Oxford Life by John Carey – as the title tells you, this is by an Oxford academic. He was asked to write his memoirs and did so by concentrating on his reading life; he was teaching, editing and critiquing English literature after all. This was my lunch time read for the 6 weeks or so of the last Springwood Library closure and I savoured every moment. He is an interesting man, in Oxford with a lot of the greats of 20th Century – Tolkien, CS Lewis, WH Auden, Philip Larkin and many more.
- The Two Faces of January by Paticia Highsmith – I read this because I’d been listening to a podcast where Patricia Highsmith had been praised very highly. It’s a novel that’s been made into a movie starring Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4YgVlb2s-U ) Another book with not particularly likeable characters and I really only continued to the bitter end because I wanted to know what happened. Perhaps that’s a sign of a good plot? Scored 3/5
- The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory – more historical fiction and another installment of the Cousin’s War series. This novel is based on the life of Margaret (de la) Pole who was the niece of Edward IV and of Richard III. She survives all the upheavals and bloodiness of the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Henry VII but is finally, brutally and with little warning executed on the orders of Henry VIII who fears her royal blood. In fact it was this royal blood that drove me mad throughout the book. If Philippa Gregory had Margaret Pole mentioning once she was a Plantagenet and therefore more royal than any of those who wore the crown, she said it too many times. Every other page it felt like. I give it 2/5
- The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel – we haven’t had the final installment in the Wolf Hall trilogy because Hilary got side-tracked with this (get on with it Hillers!) At university in Scotland while Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the granddaughter of a Scottish miner, I just had to read a book with such a gleeful title (I will get over it one day). It’s a collection of short stories about ordinary lives but Hilary Mantel makes ordinariness extraordinary and although short stories are not my thing at all I enjoyed this collection. I gave it 4/5
- Whisky Galore by Sir Compton Mackenzie – another book group book. It was a joy to read this, again based in fact, novel about two tiny islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland where after suffering several weeks without whisky a ship containing thousands of cases is run aground and suddenly there is whisky galore! Mackenzie’s larger than life characters are great and the story is a hoot, I can thoroughly recommend it. I score it 4.5/5. Book group gave it 3.7/5 – they’re a tough crowd.
- The Hollow Crown by Dan Jones – Non-fiction about the Wars of the Roses during which two branches of the House of Plantagenet fought over the crown of England. It was a little turgid and academic in places but I love my English history and scored it 3.5/5
- All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney – first in a series of thrillers featuring journalist Gerry Conway who is Political Editor for Glaswegian newspaper, The Tribune on Sunday. In this first one Gerry goes across the watter to Northern Ireland to follow a lead on a Scottish Nationalist Party politician accused of a murder during Northern Ireland’s Troubles. In the years leading up to the Referendum on Scottish Independence this has the potential to be an explosive story. Tense, gripping and real I give this 4/5
- Where the Dead Men Go by Liam McIlvanney – If you enjoy Ian Rankin you’ll enjoy McIlvanney. This time Gerry Conway is investigating the involvement of Glasgow gangland bosses in contracts for the Commonwealth Games (held in Glasgow earlier this year). Another 4/5
- The Quarry by Iain Banks – a favourite Scottish author of mine, Iain Banks sadly died last year and this was his last novel. Ironically the story revolves around a man with terminal cancer and a long weekend he and his son spends with old university friends. Lively and laugh-out-loud funny I wish I’d read this sooner. Score 4/5
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Perfect – another book group book. This is my second reading of this charming story of a retired man who leaves home way down in darkest Devon to post a reply to a letter sent by a dying former colleague in Berwick Upon Tweed on the Scottish border. On the way we learn about the disintegration of Harold’s marriage, how he lets people down, the sad estrangement and tragedy of his relationship with his son and we follow Harold on his journey. Poignant and funny by turns I give this one 4/5
- The Unknown Unknown; bookshops and the delight of not getting what you wanted by Mark Forsyth – this is an ebook I’ve borrowed from the Library to practice downloading ebooks. It’s a very short book which took all of 20 minutes or so to read but it is fun. The book starts with Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous quote “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know”. While Rumsfeld was talking about the Iraq war and the lack of evidence for chemical weapons, Forsyth is talking about book shops and the delights of browsing and finding some gem you didn’t even know was there. Score another 4/5
- Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor – Reminded me of “The Slap”. Gritty, real characters with a story set in Sydney. Not for the faint-hearted. 3 stars
- Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera – Lovely story about a Mother/Son relationship set in Britain with a cross-cultural background story. 2 stars
- Sapphire Skies by Belinda Alexandra – I always love Belinda Alexandra’s historical fiction – I come away much more knowledgeable about aspects of history – this time, Russia, Germany, WWII, Stalin and Artic Prisons. I also believe the atrocities of WWII need to be spoken about so we never forget. Wonderful, strong women characters. 2.5 stars
- Damascus – Taste of a City by Marie Fadel as told to Rafik Schami. Rafik Schami lived in Damascus for twenty-five years before going into exile and becoming a prize-winning novelist. But he never forgot Damascus, the Pearl of the Orient, the city he loves most in the world. As Rafik is far away in Germany, barred by “time and geography” from taking the culinary-cultural walk through the Old City himself, his sister Marie enthusiastically volunteers. The result is a thoroughly intriguing journey, nearly every step and turning there is somebody to visit, a particular dish to cook, or funny anecdote to tell. And then the next surprise: at the end of each visit or story a recipe, with the Arabic and English names of the dish at the top, and full instructions for preparation and cooking. I wanted to be reminded of the city I visited in 1993 and not the one we see on the news currently. This book is a keeper. 4.5 stars
- The Farewell Waltz by Milan Kundera – Didn’t love it as much as other works by Kundera but once I got into the story, and the characters got more selfish and nasty, I couldn’t stop reading! 3 stars
- The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes – written from the point of view of Alex, a teacher and Mel, one of the students, this story subtly weaves the past and present together into a page-turner! Clever use of Ancient Greek tragedies too. 4 stars
How busy have you been in the past 2 months? Let’s hear all about your reading.