What Library Staff are Reading – November 2015

woman-945427__180Perhaps all this rain has kept us indoors with a noses in a book?  Here’s what your dedicated band of Library staff have been reading this past month or so:

Divas by Rebecca Chance – Wonderful, glorious chewing gum for the eyes.  Fashion, gossip, friendship and betrayal feature in this book best suited for a holiday on the beach. The rise and fall of Lola Fitzsimmons that spans London and New York with a few other glamorous destinations thrown in for good measure. 3 stars.

The Empress of Ice Cream by Anthony Capella – Everything you wanted to know about the development of ice-cream in Italy, France and England, cleverly woven around a fictional story that involves the ice-cream maker, the courts of Italy, France and then England – including the English King Charles II and his mistress, the French Louise.  A real page turner that will make you seek out those exotic ice-creams at the supermarket to complement the story – salted caramel & macadamia with a dash of white pepper, anyone? 4 stars.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – a modern American fairytale.  So good to re-read this as an adult and it has not lost any of its wonder. 4 stars.

The Schumann Frequency by Christopher Ride – An Australia SF writer – well worth it. 4 stars.

Antarctica on a Plate by Alexa Thomson – this story was a mixed bag – some bits I loved – especially hearing about the other bases and the characters that are attracted to work in Antarctica – but some bits I was left scratching my head.  The build up to the first meal that Alexa had to cook when she got to Blue 1 (her camp) was a HUGE anti-climax.  We heard about how the ordering had been messed up, how the kitchen had not been set up properly, how food was taken out to defrost – how would she pull a meal together?  I wanted to hear about the first triumphal meal.  I also found it unprofessional how Alexa would sleep in and not cook breakfast.  And I wanted to hear about the meals at the bases she visited – what did the Russians cook (besides drink vodka), what was the Indian food like (mentioned briefly as curries).  Could have made my mouth water so much more with details. 2.5 stars.

Karl Ove Knaussgaard, A Death in the Family  A Death in the Family is book one of his six volume memoir, My Struggle.  One of my favourite contemporary writers – highly recommended.

The Wonder lover by Malcolm Knox – I was hoping to enjoy this more. A man has three different families in three different countries, and it all falls apart when he falls in love with a fourth woman. Told in the first person plural perspective of his multiple children, it charts his rise and fall as an unlikely polygamist. Thumbs up for being Australian and having a Madmen style cover, thumbs down for being boring at times. 3/5

The Age of reason by Jean- Paul Sartre – an enjoyable book about revolting people set in Paris shortly before WWII. 3/5

The Peripheral by William Gibson – I have only just begun this as it was stolen from my bedside table by My Significant Other, but so far I am enjoying it. There is no hand holding in this one. Set in the near future and the not so near future, the reader is left to puzzle over the vocabulary and scenarios with no explanation of what is going on. I can only assume it will make sense later on.

I’ve been reading William Napier, first his two books Clash of Empires: the Great Siege about the Siege of Malta and Clash of Empires: the Red Sea, on the Battle of Lepanto, which arguably changed the course of European history. My appetite whetted, I am now half way through his Attila the Hun trilogy, which also includes, just as a side plot: The Fall of the Roman Empire.  Score: Gripping historical reads = 5/5  But be warned – Blood and Gore quotient = 6/5

The trivia man by Deborah O’Brian – really enjoyed it.  5/5

The world according to Bob : the further adventures of one man and his streetwise cat by James Bowen – 5/5

Wide sargasso sea by Jean Rhys – from the reading challenge list – A book which came out in the year you were born.  A book in 3 parts which purported to be based on “Jane Eyre’.  It wasn’t until half way through part 3 that I worked out what the connection was and I got really disappointed.  I won’t spoil it for anybody else, but as a huge fan of the original “Jane Eyre”, I was very disappointed.  Why can’t people leave the classics alone? 3/5

Thornfield Hall by Jane Stubbs – Once again a book about Jane Eyre, this time told from the point of view of the housekeeper, Mrs Fairfax.  Once again I was very disappointed at the negative portrayal of Mr Rochester which put the blame on him for causing his first wife’s madness. I repeat, why can’t people leave the classics alone?  2/5

Go set a watchman by Harper Lee – from the reading challenge A book with bad reviews.  It was a very slow paced book – nothing really ‘happened’  just a lot of description really until near the end of the book, and I was wondering why such a celebrated author had published this book after such a great book as To kill a mockingbird, but the last few chapters explained what it was all about.  4/5

Glenda Larke The Lascar’s Dagger and The Dagger’s Path  – I just drank them in and now have to wait some months for the third in the trilogy.  5/5 for both

Robin Hobb Fool’s Assassin and Fool’s quest – Robin Hobb is always very readable. Again I have to wait for the third in the trilogy. 4/5 for both.

I had a bit of a long train trip in October (Perth to Sydney) so I read a few books with a Western Australian connection that I bought at the King’s Park shop in Perth. I checked and we do have the ones that I’m going to mention in the Library too.

So, ‘The life and loves of Lena Gaunt‘ by Tracy Farr – I had fun reading this book about a woman of twenties and thirties Sydney who became famous playing the Theramin, a strange new electronic musical instrument of the time. Much of the book takes place at Cottesloe Beach in WA but also ranges around Singapore, New Zealand and Europe following her life, loves, times, and ups and downs, from beginning to end. 3/5

‘Becoming Kirrali Lewis‘ by Jane Harrison is a Young Adult book about an Aboriginal foster child coming of age in the 1980’s. We also flash to her mother’s life in the 1960’s and the book is an interesting look at issues of social justice as well as a fairly believable teenage coming of age story. 3/5

I was inspired by a review last time to read ‘Book’ by John Agard, a joyful Junior read of the autobiography of ‘the book’. Great illustrations, poems, quotes and a nice cheeky voice for Book. 3/5

I recently saw the movie of Timothy Conigrave’s book (and play) ‘Holding the man‘, so I decided to have a read of the book itself. It was a no holds barred portrait of young love and the difficulties of growing up gay and a visceral history of the era of AIDS in Sydney and Melbourne. I cried in both the movie and the book! 3/5

I also read ‘Go set a watchman‘ by Harper Lee and followed it with a reread of ‘To kill a mockingbird‘. I was prepared to be very disappointed by ‘Go set a watchman‘ as it had had some fairly bad reviews so I found myself pleasantly surprised. It is not engrossing and moving in the way that ‘To kill a mockingbird‘ drags you in every time, but I enjoyed reading it as a stand alone novel and was very interested in it as a clear precursor to the better book. ‘Go set a watchman‘ may well have been a first attempt that was unpublished for good reason, but now that it is out there it is an enlightening interesting read. 2.5/5 and 4/5

Finally I read the LAST Discworld novel ‘The shepherds crown‘ by Terry Pratchett as I had been reading the Tiffany Aching witch series. It is clearly unfinished in parts but a good finish to the series and comes back to the great theme of the oneness of all things in very nice ways. 3/5

I too was on holiday so my reading was slowed somewhat – getting into bed late and very, very tired meant I read the same page several nights in a row.  At the beginning of my holiday things weren’t helped by the fact that I was reading The Empress Lover by Linda Jaivin – a book group read. I didn’t understand where the story was going, thought I must have missed something. I’ve read it again since getting back and I still don’t know what the point of the book is! I doubt it’ll make 2/5.

A friend back in Scotland recommended a trilogy by Robyn Young based on the story of Robert the Bruce. As I’ve just come back from Scotland and during that time visited the Bannockburn Centre my nationalist juices were up and I thought I’d give it a whirl and have read the first in the Insurrection series called Insurrection.  In this novel, Robert Bruce knows he has a claim to the Scottish throne which is vacant because of the deaths of Alexander III and then his heir, Margaret of Norway, but is still a vassal of Edward I of England. I enjoyed it and have given it 4/5.

Another book group read was The Cleansing of Mahommed by Chris McCourt. Set in Broken Hill in 1914 this story was based on a true event where a picnic train was fired upon by Afghan cameleers.  The story is told from the point of view of one of the men, Gool Mahommed and touches on a lot of the problems we are seeing today with muslim youth – racism, social isolation.  At our discussion I was disappointed to find there was another book with almost the same story  (Oddfellows by Nicholas Shakespeare) and we were agreed that the novel just didn’t punch as hard as it could have.  I gave it 3/5

The Road to Little Dribbling: more notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson – Classical, funny Bryson. I’ve given it 4/5

Meanwhile I was also reading The Real Peter Pan: the tragic life of Michael Llewelyn Davies by Piers Dudgeon. I’ve given it 3/5 as I enjoyed most of it but there were some bits that were obscure and possibly relied on previous knowledge to understand.  Anyway it’s about one of the Llewelyn Davies boys befriended by JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan, the younger brother of the possibly more famous Peter.  There are grave doubts as to the healthiness of the relationship and indeed Michael Llewelyn Davies ends his life drowning – the official report says by accident but the author isn’t so sure.

I’m cantering my way through the second Insurrection book now – Renegade.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks – Thank goodness Geraldine has redeemed herself after Caleb’s Crossing (in my opinion anyway). Skip over the gore and enjoy the writing and narrative. 4/5

The Red Shoe by Ursula Duborsarsky – Set in 1950s Australia The Red Shoe is beautifully written but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. 2.5/5

The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry – Roseanne is 100 years old, and has been living in an asylum since the days of her youth. We see clearly she is not unhinged: we soon understand she has been incarcerated against her will. This story slowly unravels in all its pain and glory, in Irish-accented prose of great beauty. Barry is painting a picture for us of an Ireland racked by political and social torment. A beautiful book, and a story that needs telling.

Goodbye Sweetheart by Marian Halligan – William, a successful Canberra lawyer, dies suddenly in the swimming pool. His grieving wife discovers his other liaisons after his death, those secrets he had managed to keep from her. Great writing by Halligan, wise and trenchant and unsentimental.

Flesh Wounds by Richard Glove – A fantastic autobiography, riveting. Richard grows up a dysfunctional household, finds his own satisfying way eventually but continues to be haunted well into adult life by his parents’ difficult behaviour, and the need to unravel their secrets.

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