Category Archives: Book Review

Alison’s picks – February 2017


The Better Son by Katherine Johnson. Tasmania, 1952: two boys explore in the karst country of Central Tasmania, and find a cave. It becomes their secret, their refuge – until, one day, only one of them returns home.

The Woman Next Door by Liz Byrski. This one focuses on retired couples who are also neighbours, and the demands and pleasures that entails. Byrski is always honest and insightful.

Freeing Grace by Charity Norman. David, curate of an inner-city parish, and Leila, his Nigerian-born wife are unable to have children of their own. When they finally hear they’ve been approved to adopt a baby, Grace, they are overjoyed. But it turns out not to be that simple.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Alice Love has an accident at the gym – and the last ten years of her life are wiped from her memory in the brain injury that results. Gradually bits of memory return – but she is alarmed by what she discovers about herself. As usual with Moriarty, a gripping read.


What Library Staff are Reading October 2015

A rather large list this month! Enjoy!breakfast-867822_640

When Hitler stole pink rabbit by Judith Kerr (4/5) –  This was recommended by one of my colleagues and I really enjoyed it. An autobiographical tale of Judith Kerr’s escape from Nazi Germany.

A grief observed by C.S. Lewis (3/5) – I enjoyed reading parts of this book and it was heartfelt. For me, there was too much religious reference, but I appreciate and respect that the death of his wife made him question his faith.

Stuffocation: living more with less by James Wallman (4/5) – Preaching to the converted with this one!

Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville (4/5) – This is the sequel to The secret river. A wonderful writer and an interesting tale, showcasing the bravery and passion of the female protagonist and the hardship of life in colonial Australia.

Blueback by Tim Winton (4/5) – A lovely tale of a boy, his friendship with a fish and his love of the sea and country where he grew up.

Robe of skulls by Vivian French (4/5) – A fantastic book and the first in the Tales from the five kingdoms series. Wonderful characters and a nice little adventure.

The 9 lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemel Marciano (4/5) – A cautionary tale, macabre and very enjoyable.

Murder most unladylike and Arsenic for tea by Robin Stevens (4.5/5) – These were wonderful! Daisy and Hazel start a schoolgirl detective society to investigate the murders that occur at their boarding school and Daisy’s family home.

Run, Pip, run by J.C. Jones (3/5)

Darth Vader and Son by Jeffery Brown (3.5/5) – Very funny and if you like Star Wars, you should check this out.

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner (4/5) – Emily Vole is adopted, but her new parents are mean and cruel. She befriends her neighbour, Mrs String and her cat called Fidget. Mrs String unfortunately dies and leaves Emily a mysterious inheritance of an old shop and a bunch of small golden keys. A great little detective story.

Nanny Piggins and the race to power by R.A. Spratt (4/5) – Another wonderful and giggle-some Nanny Piggins story.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline 5/5

A great new science fiction author, I really enjoyed this book. If you watch or read a lot of scifi particularly Star Trek you would be aware of the cliché of having a character that is obsessed with 20th/21st Century pop culture. This book takes the cliché and builds the whole plot around it, and does it well. I imagine the author is about my age or a bit older because there were lots of references to 80s video games and music and films. Almost the whole bopok takes place inside a virtual world. Highly recommended.

Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of US  by Matt Fitzgerald 4/5

Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All by Philip Houston 5/5

Ascendance by John Birmingham 3/3

The final book in a trilogy. Not enjoying this series anywhere near as much as his previous ones. There are going to be more apparently and I am really not into this world at all.

The Mongoliad Book Three – Neal Stephensen et al. 3/3 A long drawn out ending to a trilogy. I think I enjoyed it but I was glad when it was over.

The peripheral – William Gibson 5/5

Great near future science fiction from Gibson. I thought all the themes he had in it were very well

Dust – Hugh Howey 5/5

Loved the whole trilogy, great finale.

For the reading challenge – a trilogySmall World and Nice Work by David Lodge numbers 2 & 3 of the Small World trilogy – academic life in the 70s and 80s. Mildly humorous but not as funny as I expected – 3.5/5

A book with bad reviews! Go set a watchman – Harper Lee – not a patch on Mockingbird. Large sections of boring with snatches of lovely 3/5

A funny bookMrs Harris goes to Paris and Mrs Harris goes to New York by Paul Gallico – saw this on a visit to Lawson Library and, as I will be visiting Paris in October, thought, “I’ll give that a go.”  Charming stories about Char lady Mrs Harris who wins over all she meets. 4/5

Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale – set in the Blue Mountains and loosely based on Mark Foy and the Hydro Majestic this kept me turning the pages. It has some nice plot twists -there’s me thinking I knew what was coming . . . I look forward to him appearing at Katoomba Library later in the year – 4/5

The Port Fairy Murders by Robert Gott. A sequel to the Holiday Murders which I haven’t yet read, fine as a stand alone story. Detective and mystery set in 1940s Victoria 4/5

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. A book group read. Oh dear, not enjoyed by many in the group but by gum the discussion was lively!  2.5/5

A book with nonhuman characters H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald – a memoir of a year or more following her father’s death when Helen Macdonald retreated from the world and took on a goshawk called Mabel to train. (Mabel is the nonhuman character for the purposes of the reading challenge).  Interspersed with Helen’s story is that of TH White who wrote, among other things, The Sword in the Stone.  I just couldn’t feel any sympathy for Helen I’m afraid and got completely bored and irritated by her unrelenting grief and I found TH White’s story much more interesting.  This was a book group read and I was in a definite minority, in fact I was the only one who didn’t like it. 2/5 for me but the group scored it 3/5 (without my low score that would have been higher).

The Road to Character, by David Brooks. In this study of the development of human character, Brooks draws a distinction between the résume virtues and the eulogy virtues. Resumes proclaim the skills we bring to an external market; whereas eulogy virtues are the deeper qualities talked about at your funeral – kindness, courage, honesty and so on (or not). The book examines the lives of a number of well-known people, to see how their characters developed. Brooks feels that modern parenting encourages a child to think too well of himself, that egoism is the reigning philosophy. He thinks that is counterproductive. I guess we’ll have to watch that generation move through to see if he’s right.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is a book about the creative life, a subject dear to my heart. Gilbert is chatty, confiding, sensible, encouraging. Every now and then an over-developed egoism (qv above) leaps off the page to annoy me, but in general I’ve enjoyed this one, as I have her Eat Pray Love and The Signature of all Things. There is a forthright honesty and courage that appeals.

Our Tragic Universe, by Scarlett Thomas. Having trouble sleeping? The pills don’t work? Here’s your solution: a story on Talking Book that strangles itself with so much really quite boring detail that it brings on instant fatigue, or a desire to throw the CD player out the window. Talk about irritating. Self-conscious navel-gazing, pseudo-science. The title is the best thing about it. But hey – live and let live.

Six Bedrooms, by Tegan Bennett Daylight.  This is a collection of short stories by a writer whose fearless honesty I have always admired. She shines a spotlight, with no sentimentality, on the process of growing up, and the small betrayals and acts of shame that accompany us on that journey.

Can’t we talk about something more pleasant? By Roz Chast. This is a gritty memoir in graphic-novel format, about the ageing and death of Chast’s parents. I note she waited till they were dead to say the things she wanted to say about them. Wise move. This is quite a compelling read.

Dear Leader, by Jinsung Jang. A country where the year is 104 not 2015; where a trip to the hairdresser can only end in one of 28 approved haircuts; where owning a pair of jeans could land you in gaol; where the government kidnapped a famous South Korean director and actress to make propaganda films; and which is simply a black patch of earth when seen from space at night. North Korea is equal parts fascinating and terrifying. Dear Leader offers a rare insight into a country which is usually opaque and mystifying.  The narrative effortlessly interweaves the author’s personal story with the internal politics of North Korea. Living and working under the rule of Kim Jong-il’s regime Jang Jin-sung proves a loyal citizen, penning a nationally renowned poem and becoming one of ‘The Admitted’ (a title given to those who have met the ‘Dear Leader’). Through a series of events Jang Jin-sung begins to see the true nature of the regime and decides to flee across the border into China, eventually finding his way to South Korea. The book paints a disturbing picture of a calculating and manipulative leader and a people living in desperation under brutal control. Although the leader has since changed there is little evidence that much else has for North Koreans.  3.5/5

Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick is another must-read book about North Korea that follows the lives of six citizens living through the death of Kim Il-sung and the rise of Kim Jong-il. Both books (Dear Leader & Nothing to envy) are fascinating and personal glimpses into a country shrouded in mystery. 3.5/5

The October issue of Good Reading magazine is ready for you to read

The October issue of Good Reading magazine is available for you to read from our Library website. 

goodreadingIn this issue of gr, Geraldine Brooks tells us about her new historical novel, The Secret Chord, in which she investigates the hidden stories behind David, the boy who slayed Goliath. We also look to the stars and beyond this month, with a revisit of Carl Sagan’s classic sci-fi novel Contact, a guide on what to read after  A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and a visit from Irish-born astrophysicist Dr Alan Duffy, who tells us which books made him fall in love with space. For those who prefer their stories to play out in our own planet, check out an article about spiritual exploration in Tibet, or our special feature on the world’s most exceptional tree houses. Also find out about the dark secrets of Hollywood stars in an interview with Todd Alexander, and get the tissues ready for when we revisit Tim Conigrave’s classic memoir Holding the Man on the 20th anniversary of its publication. All this and more, plus plenty of reviews to help you find your next great read!

Happy reading!

What Library Staff are Reading September 2015

The Eye of the Sheep by Sophie Laguna.hyacinth-744061_640 This novel won the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Central character Jimmy Flick is a little boy on the spectrum somewhere. His mother adores and protects him, his father is an alcoholic who can’t manage being the father of such a child, can’t manage much at all really. By and by Jimmy is cast into the treacherous seas of non-belonging. Read this one for the gripping, authentic Jimmy-voice in which the story is told. Beautifully written and compelling.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. The setting is Holt, Colorado. Addie Moore, long widowed and lonely as she ages, walks a block down the street to make a surprising proposal to a man she has known for years, Louis Waters, also a widower. The storytelling is mature and stately, a last statement from Haruf, who died at the close of 2014. A beautiful book, with the elements of joy and sorrow firmly plaited.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. The setting is ancient England, when Britons and Saxons were at war with each other. The story concerns the journey of old Axl and Beatrice, searching for their son. They meet warriors, traitors and a bewitched boy. I presume the whole is an allegory, whose precise meaning I am not sure of. Is the buried giant the tide of forgetfulness that prevents us seeing the truth? The graceful storytelling rises and falls like poetry. A story with mythical components tells far more than it appears to.

The loveliest chocolate shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan – It took a while to get into but then I didn’t want it to end.  It made me want to go to Paris to taste all their lovely chocolates! – 4/5

Villette by Charlotte Bronte – (from the reading challenge a book over 100 years old – the second I’ve read this year from this category) It was quite a difficult read as it was written in old-fashioned English (of course!) and it had lots of French conversation in it which I was not able to follow, but it was well worth the effort.  5/5

The love song of Miss Queenie Hennessey by Rachel Joyce – (not a reading challenge book) Loved it!!!!!!! 5/5

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – (not a reading challenge book) – Very, very clever 5/5

Book by John Agard – from the reading challenge a non-fiction book (my 3rd for this challenge) and a memoir – A children’s book about the birth of writing and books told by Book – it is after all a memoir of its life – a really fun read.  5/5

A book your mum loves:

Dance of the Seagull by Andrea Camilleri – This is an Inspector Montalbano mystery, a great crime thriller with a minimum of gore. Set in Sicily, there is lots of talk of delicious food and seaside atmosphere amid the mystery. Fun for both the armchair traveller, foodie and the crime lover.  3.5/5

A book with a love triangle:

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner – set in the 1970s, this book follows a young female artist/motorcyclist trying to make her way in New York art world. She falls for an Italian motorcycle empire heir, and becomes caught up in political tensions, social unrest and terrorism in Italy. Unflinching and gritty, though beautifully written. 4.5/5

A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit:

Mezza Italiana by Zoe Boccabella  – The author resisted her Italian heritage during her youth, growing up in 1970s and 80s Australia. She just wanted to fit in with the other kids, but encountered racism every step of the way. But as she got older, she realised the significance of her heritage and family. She and her partner Richard decide to explore her ancestral homeland, Fossa in Abruzzo. What unfolds is a wonderful acceptance and embracing of her family’s history and legacy. 3.5/5

Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas – loved it – highly readable and revolting characters that test your ethics. 4 stars

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George – hard to read which was a shame as I thought it had all the elements I would normally enjoy. 2 stars

Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven. A collection of stories interwoven. An interesting slice of Australia. 3 stars

A book published this year:

Anzac Voices Gallipoli from those who were there – ABC Classics

Recorded between 1953 and 1990, the compelling and deeply emotional first-hand accounts drwn from the ABC Archives recall in graphic detail the circumstances and events of the Gallipoli campaign, from the innocence of enlistment to the horror of the landing and – for those who lived to tell their story – the bitter relief of homecoming. 3 stars

Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Jolie Amin – such a beautiful story about a boy, his flute and how it changed his life living on the streets of India. 4 stars

The Crossroad by Mark Donaldson VC.  Worth reading just to know the level of involvement Australia had in Afghanistan.  4 stars

Noah Barleywater runs away by John Boyne (4/5) – A lovely story, I really enjoyed it (though it may make you cry). Noah Barleywater runs away from his home. He finds himself in a village and in front of a mysterious and magical toy shop. The toy maker tells Noah the story of his life and slowly, Noah reveals his own story and what it was that made him run away.

The Pause by John Larkin (3/5) –Suicide is a difficult theme and I really liked the beginning of this story and John Larkin’s bravery in tackling this topic. But the ending was disappointing and cliché.

Interview with the vampire by Anne Rice (3.5/5) – This was written wonderfully, but I just didn’t like the characters.

The ice dragon by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Luis Royo (3.5/5) – A sweet little tale about a young girl born in the winter and her relationship with the ice dragon and her family.

The Last Refuge by Craig Robinson

carolyns pick novThe Last Refuge by Craig Robinson (2014)

Found on the Adult Crime Fiction shelves at ROBINSON

Plot Summary : You can run from your past but you can never hide from yourself. The Faroe Islands.  One murder in twenty-five years. Until now.
When Ryan arrives on the Faroe Islands, determined to sever all ties with his previous life and make a new start, he is surprised by how quickly he is welcomed into the close-knit community. He soon finds a job in the fishing industry and makes friends . . . and enemies. But no matter what he changes in his outward life, the debilitating nightmares that haunt Ryan’s dreams just won’t leave him alone.
Then the sleepy peace is shattered by an almost unheard of crime on the Island. Murder. A specialist team of detectives will have to be brought in all the way from Denmark to help the local police, who are completely ill-equipped for a manhunt of this scale. But when tensions arise, and the community closes rank to protect its own, outsider Ryan will have to watch his back if he is to avoid being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. But then, why can’t he shake the suspicion that it could have had something to do with him? (Source : Fantastic Fiction)

Review : I loved this thriller as it was set in an unusual place and different to thrillers I have read of late.

I will be reading more of Robinson’s books now as they are so easy to read.

Reviewed by : Carolyn


Divergent by Veronica Roth


Divergent‘ by Veronica Roth

HarperCollins Children’s Books | 2011 | 486p.

Found on the YA shelves at YA ROTH


Plot Summary : Divergent is another book I have read recently that is set in a dystopian society. The society in which our central heroine lives in is a large city that has been walled off from the “Outside”.

Centuries ago the city was divided into five factions: Abnegation – The selfless, Amity – The peaceful, Candor – The honest, Erudite – The intelligent and Dauntless – The brave.

These factions each contribute in their own way to help continue to keep the city functioning and efficient. For several millennia these factions have each lived by some very strict rules and traditions, because they fear the violence and mayhem that disorder could bring.

This is the society our main character, Beatrice Prior, lives in. Beatrice was born into Abnegation and has spent her life so far caring for other people – Catching a later bus so other people can take a seat, taking the stairs to let other people take the almost full elevator and giving food to the factionless.

Once every year the city has a “choosing ceremony” where every sixteen-year-old must choose a faction — choosing a faction other than the one you were born into is the worst kind of betrayal, but when choosing day comes, will Beatrice make the first selfless decision she’s ever made? Or will she stay trapped in a place she knows she doesn’t belong?

Review : Divergent is the first book in ‘The Divergent trilogy’. A brilliant story line that had me sitting on the edge of my seat. The story does seem to plateau in the middle but I promise that if you persevere it’s worth it.  I strongly suggest you read it before going to see the movie. Happy reading! (or not… I needed a box of tissues for the last book!)

Reviewed by : Rebekah


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