What Library Staff are Reading – October

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Too scared to leave the house? Find some inspiration in what Library staff have been reading recently!

All Together Now by Gill Hornby. Take a bunch of people living in a commuter suburb of London, a suburb whose heart is dying because nobody actually takes care of it any more. Herd them kicking and screaming into the local choir because its membership is diminishing – and see what happens to them all. If you have ever sung in a community choir you will recognise some of these characters, and you’ll enjoy Hornby’s jokey prose and insight, as she follows their antics. A rusted-on choir-person myself, I loved this one.

The Winter Sea by Di Morrissey. Young woman re-starts life in a South Coast village. Romance: family secrets: murder, mayhem. All the usual ingredients of a Morrissey novel. I am infuriated by the plethora of clichés she employs in her storytelling – and, simultaneously, interested in the history and geography she has clearly researched. You have to hand it to Morrissey, she wants to tell the story of the Australian places she chooses as her settings. She’s definitely a storyteller – but really annoying as a writer.

A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories  by Elizabeth Harrower. The wonderful thing about collections of short stories is that they tend to zoom in on the central preoccupations of the writer. In these stories we see Harrower’s view of gender relations, and it is not pretty. What is definitely pretty is her writing style, and that will win me every time. She was born sixteen years after Patrick White – but I can hear PW in her phrasing, her atmospheres. Fantastic writing. She enters that numinous space that PW occupies so naturally.

The last days of Jeanne d’Arc by Ali Alizadeh – I gave this retelling of the Joan of Arc story 4 stars.  The narration was unusual in that some of the story was straightforward narrative, giving the history, some was in first person through Joan’s eyes and some third person – but intermingled, but without warning in the same paragraph.  A bit disconcerting initially but the whole is quite beautifully done.

Working Class Boy by Jimmy Barnes – Barnes’ autobiography spanning the time from his early years in tough, working class Glasgow to his early 20s, before he became big in music, in tough, working class Elizabeth, SA.  Repetitive and not well written, I gave this 2.5 stars out of 5. I also listened to this via BorrowBox as an audiobook.  Narrated by Jimmy Barnes himself.

Uncle Dysfunctional: Uncompromising Answers to Life’s Most Painful problemsby AA Gill –this is an anthology of letters published in Esquire magazine.  These tongue in cheek agony uncle type questions vary in length but all are amusing.  A fun little book to dip in and out of. Scored 3.5 stars

Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pascoe – in this book Bruce Pascoe discusses how, when white settlers arrived in Australia, it was not ‘terra nullius’ as we (white people) have been told. He argues that Aboriginal people built structures, including towns with thousands of residents, farmed and looked after the land so it did not become degraded.  This was a book group read and we agreed that while the message is very important, the telling of it lacked something and could have been presented as a long essay rather than a whole (albeit slim) book. I scored it 2.5 stars (for the writing, not the message).

The Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson – this novel is set in rural England in the late summer of 1914 and early 1915.  Our heroine, Beatrice Nash, arrives in the small town to take up a post as Latin teacher in the local school.  In some ways a typical village tale with scandals and tragedies, with the family everyone looks down on, the romantic interest, the bossy woman who thinks she runs everything and the lord and lady of the manor.  The ending is almost as expected but it was a satisfying read, I got completely sucked into the story and wondered how the characters were getting on while I was away from the book during the day.

Tried reading A Far Country by Daniel Mason – tale of a young girl living a life of unadulterated poverty in an unnamed, possibly South American, country. A book group read. Supremely boring, I only got 2/3 of the way through so I could score it badly at the meeting (we have a rule about how much you have to read to be able to score). None of us liked it. Scored 1.5 stars

I’m almost half way through The Last Hours by Minette Walters – set in the 1300s with the first episode of The Black Death sweeping through England I’m liking it so far.

I have actually been reading some modern poetry the last few weeks. The three that stick to mind are:

Milk and HoneyRupi Kaur 4/5 stars

The Sun and Her FlowersRupi Kaur 5/5 stars

The Princess Saves herself in This One Amanda Lovelace 4/5 stars

All three books are a collection of poetry that read in a storyline of the authors experiences. All three start off with the subject of the book experiencing trauma or hardship in their lives. The books themselves are journeys of self-discovery and self-love. A very good inspirational read for anyone who needs a reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel!

Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W.Gortner – What a fantastic read – a novelisation of Chanels life.  Loved it 4 stars


The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood – the monster as Zenia, a villainess of demonic proportions, and sets her loose in the lives of three friends, Tony, Charis, and Roz. All three “have lost men, spirit, money, and time to their old college acquaintance, Zenia. Oh my goodness – Zenia was a train wreck and I could not look away 4 stars.


Celeste, Courtesan, Countess, Bestselling Author by Roland Perry – What a ground-breaking woman – far ahead of her time – and she lived in Melbourne for a number of years!  So interesting to see this crossover of Australian colonial history and where it sat in European history.  Well worth the read 4 stars


I am just concluding MC Scott’s Rome quartet with – Rome: the emperor’s spy: totally gripping and great fun to read. She found when she changed her writing name to MC Scott from Manda Scott, her sales to men doubled, funny that. I particularly liked the strong female characters and the insights into animal behaviour as you’d expect from a former Vet.

Rome: the Emperor’s Spy  “54 AD Rome is burning. Only one man can save it. Sebastos Pantera, the spy whose name means leopard, is out in the cold: a man who has ‘gone native’ in his last assignment in Boudican Britain (and yes, some of the surviving characters from the Boudican books do make an appearance here; some as cameos, some essential to the plot). Returning to Gaul, Pantera wants nothing more to do with Rome and its political machinery.  His mentor, tutor and spymaster is Seneca, the man who ruled Rome from behind the scenes for the first five years of Nero’s reign.  Exiled now, Seneca must work in secret, but when the Emperor Nero finds a prophecy stating that Rome will burn under the eye of the Dog Star, Seneca suspects that one of his other pupils will endeavour to make the prophecy come real: Saulos has made himself leader of a radical religious sect and burning Rome is the least of his ambitions.

Caught between the men of power is a chariot boy, Math, whose father once fought in Britannia.  Math despises warriors and everything they stand for, but he admires Pantera from the moment he tails him up from the docks, and finds himself the quarry of the man he thought he was hunting.  With Math as their lever, Seneca and Nero can level Pantera in from the cold, and set him on the trail of Saulos.  A boy’s life is at stake, but so is the survival of the first city of the Empire.”

Rome: The Coming of the King ‘Two men. Divided by hate. Bound by war. The new historical adventure in M.C. Scott’s Rome series.

AD 65: Two men can change the destiny of an empire. Sebastos Pantera, spy to the Emperor Nero, has undertaken the most dangerous of missions. Hunting often alone, with few he can trust, he must find Saulos, the most dangerous man in Rome’s empire, and bring him to bloody justice.

Against him is Saulos. Consumed by private enmities and false beliefs, Saulos is pledged to bring about the destruction of an entire Roman province. Brilliantly clever, utterly ruthless, he cares only for his vision of total victory — and not the death and devastation such a campaign would bring.

Between them is the huntress Ikshara. Beautiful and deadly, feared by men, loved by the beasts she cares for, she must decide who to support if she is to avenge her father’s death.

Fought in the alleys and palaces of a royal city and inside the rocky fastness of a desert fortress, this is a violent and personal war between two men who have everything to gain — and a kingdom to lose.”

See – https://uklesfic.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/q-and-a-with-manda-scott/

And – https://mandascott.co.uk/about/

Castle in the air by Diana Wynne Jones 4.5/5. This is a companion novel to Howl’s Moving Castle and is a wonderful tale reminiscent of the Aladdin story complete with a magic carpet and an all-powerful Genie.

Admissions: a life in brain surgery by Henry Marsh 2/5. I didn’t enjoy this book, as much as I love a good medical story. The author just seemed really depressed and battling with his conflicting feelings about his looming  retirement and a changing medical system where he felt powerless. This took over as the focus for the book and really I wanted more stories about brain surgery.

Oliver Sacks: the last interview and other conversations by Oliver Sacks 3.5/5. This is a collection of interviews with Oliver Sacks where he talks about his life and some of the interesting cases that he wrote about in his many books. The human brain is an amazingly complex organ!

Whistling in the dark by Shirley Hughes 4/5

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit 4/5

Booker winner Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders gets many thumbs up from me.

The new Millenium novel by Lagercrantz has a fascinating ‘twin’ experiment and I’m about half way through that one.

Just reviewed The Goldfish Boy for Magpies magazine and it was a great junior/YA read in the vein of Curious Incident… Colin Fischer and Wonder with a nice nod towards Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

Why weren’t we told? A personal search for the truth about our history by Henry Reynolds – My read this week. A must read for all Australians.


What do our scores mean?

1 star – I hated it / Don’t bother / It felt more like homework than reading for pleasure
2 stars – I didn’t like it / Not for me but worth trying / This book needed something different to make me like it
3 stars – I liked it / Recommended / This book was good. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad.
4 stars – I really liked it / One of the best books I’ve read this year / I’m glad I read it
5 stars – I loved it / One of the best books I’ve ever read / I will probably read it again


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