What Library Staff are Reading – February 2015

Als best of 2014Righty-ho, there’s a bit of catching up to do – we missed doing a January list because we were knee deep in the Springwood refurbishment.

Some staff are doing the Popsugar Reading Challenge so we will let you know what we’ve been able to tick off on the Challenge.

  • My first book in 2015 was Ian Rankin’s The Beat Goes On : the Complete Rebus stories – this is a collection of short stories featuring Rankin’s famous Edinburgh detective, John Rebus. I’m not usually interested in short stories but with Rankin, Rebus and Auld Reekie I couldn’t resist and enjoyed the collection enough to award it 4/5. I ticked this one off against item #12 on the Reading Challenge list : A book of short stories
  • The Politics of Washing : Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles – Polly and her Italian husband go to live in his home town of Venice with their four children for a year. Polly describes the difficulties of living on a water bound city which is difficult to navigate – you can’t drive your car right up to your front door you see. The city flooded by tourists for a large proportion of the year and because of them life in Venice for locals is too expensive and they are being driven out by high rental prices. This was a point Polly drove home very forcefully. So forcefully and repeatedly that I began to feel guilty for my childhood trips to Venice. (My father was a British soldier. We’d spend a few years in England then a few years in Germany and back to England and back to Germany. When we lived in England we’d spend our summer holidays in Scotland. When we lived in Germany we’d go down to Jesolo near Venice.)  Not entirely unsympathetic, I found Polly’s rant against the tourists became tedious. I gave this 3/5 and ticked off #9 on the RC – A book by a female author.
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain – a wonderful memoir of WWI during which Vera Brittain, having given up a very hard-fought-for place at Somerville College, Oxford, worked as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse in London, Malta and France. During the war she lost first her fiancé, her beloved younger brother Edward and several close friends. I gave this 4/5 and ticked off #1 – A book with more than 500 pages
  • Moving on to WWII I read Murder on the Home Front by Molly Lefebure – originally published in the 1950s this has been made into a TV show in the UK so I was able to tick off #49 – A book based on or turned into a TV show. Molly Lefebure worked for a forensic pathologist in London during the war and this is a series of anecdotes of her experiences. She wasn’t just filing notes and taking dictation. Molly was having to attend dissections and follow her man to the scene of the crime. A fascinating if gruesome job. I gave it 3 ½
  • This next book is a book group read chosen by a Canadian friend – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery, #33 A book from your childhood. How wonderful to reread this book with the irrepressible, accident-prone, hilarious, always up-beat Anne. There should be more people in the world like her!  4 ½
  • Time and Time Again by Ben Elton – I had a number of motives for reading this a) I’ve liked some of Ben Elton’s previous novels, b) the reviews have been good and c) the theme for this year’s Readers’ Advisory seminar is Science Fiction, not my genre at all, and this novel involves time travel which I think counts? I’d asked my sons if they could suggest any authors/titles but everything they suggested had waaaaay too many pages. Rob did give me a book with time travel then this one arrived as a Hold and I was saved! Time and Time Again starts in the near future with former soldier, Hugh ‘Guts’ Stanton 2024’s answer to Bear Grylls, being recruited by his old Cambridge professor to go back in time to 1914 to try to prevent the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and therefore to prevent WWI from happening. But if you change the course of known history, might not something worse happen? This was quite a page turner, an exciting story that also taught me a bit about how WWI started. I gave it 4/5 and ticked off #35 – A book set in the future
  • Longbourn by Jo Baker #11 – a book with a one-word title – a better than average retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this time from the point of view of one of the Bennett family servants, Sarah. Score 4/5
  • The Forgotten World by Mark O’Flynn – set in Katoomba this is a beautifully written story of turn of the 19th / 20th Century living and working in the mines at the bottom of what is now Scenic World and follows the progress of half brothers Clancy and Byron Wilson. I was able to tick off #43 – a book that takes place in your hometown
  • The Passion by Jeanette Winterson – Set in France and Venice during the Napoloeonic wars (no mention of the tourists this time!). This had a little too much magical realism for my liking; I’m not sure what the point of the story is so look I look forward to the discussion soon. The language was beautiful though. And as it was a book group read I’ve ticked off #17 – a book a friend recommended. 3/5
  • I read a couple of Agatha’s back to back that I’d had on my shelf for a while – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (#10 – a mystery or thriller) and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (#45 a book set during Christmas). Hercule Poirot is great and naturally gets his man each time after a delicious twist. Nice and easy yet still satisfying – both scored 4/5 with me.
  • Mr Mac and Me by Ester Freud features one of Scotland’s greatest artist/architects and leading light of the Arts and Crafts movement, Charles Rennie Macintosh. The story is told by young Thomas Maggs who is drawn to Charles Rennie Macintosh and his wife, artist Mary Macdonald Macintosh, by his own love of and talent for drawing. A coming of age story with beautiful prose – “like the words were lovingly set by a jewel maker” says dark_phoenix54 on LibraryThing, I gave this 4/5 and ticked off #19 – a book based on a true story
  • The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy – I wanted to read this after listening to James Ellroy on BBC Radio 4s Bookclub and needed something for #31 – a book with a colour in the title. By coincidence I read a review of Ellroy’s most recent novel, Perfidia, by Christian Griffiths in The Australian Book Review January-February 2015 No.368 where Mr Griffiths describes Ellroy’s “demanding narratives, which inevitably leave one with the nagging feeling that there is a great deal one has failed to understand . . “ Absolutely! I didn’t understand a fair bit of the language of this detective novel set in late 1940s Los Angeles, or the motives of the main characters, but it was still a compelling read which I just had to finish. This first book in the LA Quartet is based on the true story of the (still unsolved) murder of Elizabeth Short, dubbed the Black Dahlia by the press. Very gritty and graphic, I gave this 3 ½ out of 5
  • Jam by Jake Wallis Simons – I borrowed this as a talking book and what a delight it was to have the story read by the author.  It really gave an insight as to how he saw each of the characters.  I wondered how exciting a traffic jam on London’s M25 could be but we got a little snapshot into people’s lives that I thought could be easily translated into a play.  Kind of like The Slap, a bit like Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – everyone’s lives will change after this event. I scored it 4/5
  • The Hive by Gill Hornby – A microcosm of school yard life with the mums!  Great characters and a cute storyline. Very easy to read. Do you want to hear Gill talking about her book? Click here.  Score 3.5/5
  • When Dogs Cry by Markus Zusak – This book is part of a trilogy.  I had not read the others so it stands alone well.  A dark and moody read, quite believable story about sibling rivalry with a few dark humour bits thrown in.  Much easier to read than anything else by Zusak.  Maybe YA fiction is his forte? Score 3/5
  • The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St. John – Having just finished The Women in Black and loved it, naturally I had to find other books by St. John.  This story does not disappoint – a tale of love and loss described in minutiae but is also a much bigger commentary on love between men and women.  Beautiful, simple language and a joy to read. Score 4/5
  • Bite Me by Christopher Moore – “Being the Chronicles of Abby Normal: Failed Nosferatu. Heartbroken Day Dweller. Deposed Backup Mistress of the Greater Bay area of Darkness”.  The sentence in the book that sums up this YA tale.  It is all like….eermergerd! interspersed with Manga “Whaaaas!”, hairstyles and big eyes plus a few OMGs and LOLs thrown in for good measure.  If you want to get a handle on how young people speak and you have a good dark sense of humour, you will enjoy this vampire tale with a twist as it also involves vampire cats and cadaverous dogs.  First 2 chapters available here for a taster (LOL). Score  3.5/5
  • A non-fiction book: Lady Gaga: Queen of Pop by Emily Herbert – want to know more about this performer?  Driven to sing/dance/perform from a young age, it is no wonder that Lady Gaga became a sensation by her mid 20s.  She chose her performance name in honour of Freddie Mercury and Queen, is an accomplished song-writer (wrote some songs for Britney Spears and other artists) and from a strict Italian background…all makes for a great read! 4 stars
  • A book you started but never finishedThe Vagrants by Yiyun Li – it had all the aspects that I normally enjoy – grim, about the cultural revolution in China, saga, interesting characters….but it was SO BORING!  I did stop and read Internet reviews to find out the ending. ½ star
  • A book with magic: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness – I did start this last year and put it down.  Well I picked it up again while on my Christmas holidays and could not stop reading!  Obviously needed to have less going on in my life to enjoy this dense saga full of magic, mystery and wonderful characters. 4 stars
  • A book based on a true story: Winter King by Thomas Penn – Really interesting precursor to the Henry VIII story.  If you are interested in the background to the Tudors, you will enjoy this very thorough rendition of Henry VII’s rise and reign. 3 stars
  • A funny book: I’ve got your number by Sophie Kinsella.  An impossible heroine – Poppy was so ditzy, she drove me wild! But I did come to love her and, as all these feel good novels do, she ended up with the right bloke in the end. 3 stars
  • Window Gods by Sally Morrison – I wanted to love this because it was a Christmas present from my son! Within 30 pages I was irritated, first by the brittle, egocentric characters (OK, not defensible) and then by the sheer weight of social detail about a million people I didn’t yet know: and finally by the colourless mode of storytelling. Where was the light and shade, the rise and fall any story needs, the rhythm of language that guides a reader forward? The author’s research was sticking out a mile; it should emerge naturally out of the lineaments of the story and its characters. It’s possible this should be read as a talking-heads book, but I have lost patience and won’t finish it.
  • The Golden Age by Joan London – As different from Window Gods as it’s possible to be. The Golden Age is a home for kids who have succumbed to polio, back in the fifties, when it raged here in Australia, before the advent of the vaccine. To quote the Random House review: It is 1954 and thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia. At The Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent Hospital in Perth, he sees Elsa, a fellow-patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond. Joan London focuses on a small, compelling cast: two of the children at the Home, and their families. It’s a brilliant, eloquent novel, full of grace, intelligence and humanity.
  • First Impressions by Charlie Lovett – A charming, attractive story with its secrets to be uncovered, written by a man who is clearly a Jane Austen aficionado. The novel runs two stories concurrently, one set in the 1790s and featuring Jane Austen; and the other set in the Present Day, featuring Sophie.
  • In My Mother’s Hands: a disturbing memoir of family life by Biff Ward –  The writer grew up with a father she loved and (mostly) respected – Russell Ward, Australian historian – and a mother who was a paranoid schizophrenic, at a time when that condition was neither understood nor correctly medicated. The nightmarish quality of life for a child in this setting is clearly shown. Ward offers a memoir whose honesty must have cost her, but freed her at the same time.
  • A nonfiction book: Not Dead & Not For Sale: A Memoir by Scott Weiland – an autobiography by the ex-lead singer of one of my favourite bands, Stone Temple Pilots. Sometimes poetic, sometimes a little ‘too cool’. Also, a bit bitter. It was a quick read and covered the beginnings of the band, as well as some highlights/lowlights from Weiland’s love life, drug abuse and recovery. Overall, made me very nostalgic for 90s alt rock. 2.5/5
  • A memoir: Fall to Pieces by Mary Forsberg Weiland – autobiography by the ex-wife of Scott Weiland (see above). An in-depth account of heroin addiction and recovery, mental illness, fame, rock and roll. I found this book insightful, rollicking and heartbreaking. Hopefully this book will help open a dialogue about serious drug addiction and mental health issues. 3.5/5
  • A book with antonyms in the titleBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – I love saving Moriarty’s books for holiday reads, and this one was the perfect book to read during the break. An Australian suburban murder mystery with a twist or two. 3.5/5
  • A book by a female author: Wonderful Tonight by Patti Boyd – this autobiography takes you through her childhood in Africa and England, her wild times as model during swinging sixties London and her largely unhappy marriages to rock stars George Harrison and Eric Clapton. The writing tends to be matter-of-fact and a little dry, but it is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a vibrant time in rock history. 2.5/5
  • A book with bad reviews: Wild Tales by Graham Nash – another musician’s autobiography – this one is fast-paced and conversational, peppered with lots of sixties slang. Nash’s pure passion for the technical side of making music is what stands out. Reviews online tended to be negative, saying that Nash’s autobiography paints himself as a self-centred womaniser. But I still enjoyed the book, and the stories of wild times. 2.5/5
  • A book set in another country: Be Here Now by Ram Dass – a soul-searching book set in India. A great book for those who meditate, or are interested in the practice of yoga. 3/5
  • A book of short stories: Ecstacy by Irvine Welsh – twisted, funny, touchingly human, violent and unbearably wrong. These short stories feature the party drug ecstasy in some small or large way. Worth a read if you don’t mind being at least a little bit disturbed. 3.5/5
  • A winter’s tale – by Mark Helprin – A book you started but never finished – I still was not half way through it by the end of 6 weeks.  A colleague convinced me to just give up.  It was a really tedious book.  Way too much description and to my thinking, disjointed, so that it was difficult for me to find the story line.
  • The fur person – by May Sarton – A book you can read in 1 day.  A lovely little story about a street cat who decides it’s time to settle down and find a home.
  • Chestnut Street – by Maeve Binchy.  A book of short stories/ a book set in a different country/ a book by an author you’ve never read before/ a book by a female author/ a book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit/ a book with more than 500 pages – (I couldn’t decide which single category of the reading challenge to put this one in).  A lovely collection of stories about the people who live in Chestnut Street.
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