Category Archives: Books and reading
Looking for some Spring reading inspiration?
There is something for everyone in this selection of books that library staff have been reading recently. We didn’t love them all, but maybe you will!
Lorimer and Brightman (series) by Alex Gray –If you love a well-written police procedural with well-developed characters and engaging plot lines, then consider reading Alex Gray’s Lorimer and Brightman series. William Lorimer is a police detective who often enlists the help of a criminal profiler, Solomon Brightman, on his cases. Although the series is set in Glasgow, Keep the Midnight Out (#12) goes on holiday with Lorimer to the Isle of Mull where a grisly find has echoes of a Glaswegian cold case from Lorimer’s past. The Darkest Goodbye (#13) deals with a series of suspicious deaths of chronically ill patients, raising issues of trust and quality of life. Both these recent novels can be enjoyed without delving further back into the series – but after you have read either of them, you may well find yourself more than a wee bit tempted.
House of Names by Colm Tóibín – This is a retelling of a Greek myth and so wouldn’t normally take my fancy but I’m a big fan of Colm so I gave it a go. It didn’t disappoint. Left in the hands of Colm this story was very readable and as with all family sagas, the themes of loyalty, honour and betrayal are timeless. 4/5 stars
Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir of a family and culture in crisis by J. D. Vance A memoir about Vance’s childhood in rust-belt, white, working-class Appalachia with themes of poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and despondency. Yet Vance’s deep love and connection to family and place takes the edge of things and remains somewhat hopeful in that Vance himself managed to achieve upward mobility and graduated from Yale Law School. Touted as a book to explain the rise of Trump it isn’t politically and should find a broad readership. 4/5 stars
The Spy by Paulo Coelho – I was really looking forward to this fictional story based on Mata Hari – I enjoyed the first half of the book but it seemed to run out of steam in the second half and did not have nearly as much espionage or intrigue as I expected. The website is way more fascinating with links to national archives 3/5 stars http://paulocoelhoblog.com/the-spy/
The Naked Witch by Fiona Horne – an autobiography by a truly fascinating individual who bares her soul. I agree with the blurb on the back of the book – At once heartbreaking and inspirational, you will wonder how one person could pack all this into one life – Maybe she really is a witch. 3/5 stars https://www.fionahorne.com/book
The Gospel according to Drew Barrymore by Pippa Wright – Esther and Laura live their lives and friendship based on Drew Barrymore films – starts off light hearted and quickly gets to the nub of friendships. 3/5 stars https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/pippa-wright/the-gospel-according-to-drew-barrymore
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter – this beautifully written story says so much with so little. Apocalyptic, relationships, disasters, not for the faint hearted as it is a story that will stay with you and you will have to re-examine again and again. Resonates with the events and politics of today. Good for a Book Club. 5/5 stars https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33858905-the-end-we-start-from
The Fast Diet by Dr Michael Mosley & Mimi Spencer – change the way you think about food. The chapter on the science of food is worth it plus good high-protein recipes. Based on the 5:2 diet – give yourself permission to fast. 4/5 stars https://thefastdiet.co.uk/
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – so lovely reading a story from childhood and enjoying it just as much. Does not feel dated at all. 5/5 stars https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24178.Charlotte_s_Web
The Girl with the Dogs by Anna Funder – we should all read more novellas – more than a short story and not quite a novel but leaves you with a snippet of life that is interesting and worthwhile. Everyone has a storyline in them of the life they could have lived….here is one examination of that idea. 5/5 stars
I’m still going through the Game of Thrones saga by George RR Martin.
The Good People by Hanna Kent (audio book) – I’m only about half way through and at the moment I have mixed feelings about it. At the moment I’m thinking 2.5/5 stars, I just wish she’d get on with it!
Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin – I am not a crime reader, but the Edinburgh setting seemed like a good enough reason to call it ‘research’. I am prepared to believe that his books get better, but this one was pretty dire. The writing was juvenile, with Rebus frequently lamenting the fact that tourists are taking photos of landmarks and having a good time, cluttering up the city and never getting to know the crime ridden back streets and seedy pubs. Frankly if you live somewhere desirable enough to be a tourist attraction you can consider yourself lucky IMHO. Stop whinging and catch the killer! 2/5 stars
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – I have read it more than once as a Young Person, but I am in the mood for some comfort reading. My copy is an ancient Collins Illustrated Pocket Classic that is disintegrating after 100 or so years of active service. I found it my grandmother’s house and devoured it during a hot and boring family holiday at the various family farms and establishments that we were destined to visit that Christmas. It fills with me with warm nostalgia to remember the trouble I got in each day as I read it at the dining table, embarrassing my parents with my antisocial behaviour. Now of course kids are told to put away their phones while eating, but perhaps all they are doing is reading the classics? 5/5 stars
Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe (Junior Fiction) is a moving story about a girl and a horse which also talks about fitting in, or not, and about death and grief. 4/5 stars
I really enjoyed the Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Young Adult), Calpurnia is eleven in 1899 in America and is fascinated by the natural world. This is thought to be an unusual interest for a girl but she is encouraged by her grandfather. Her slow realisation of the difficulties that she will face and the picture of her life and the town where she lives all felt quite real to me. 3/5 stars
Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell (Junior Fiction) which is the second Stella Montgomery book, following Withering-by-Sea. It didn’t grip me from the beginning in quite the same way as Withering-by-Sea but by the time I had finished the book I believed the fantastical world that was created and was waiting to find out what was going to be revealed next. 3/5 stars
In my grown-up mode I read Kate Grenville’s The Case against fragrance, which rang a lot of bells with me and I was pleased that someone had started the conversation. 3/5 stars
I finally read Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey after watching it come and go over the counter a few times and thinking that it looked interesting. I wasn’t disappointed, it was both sad and clever, and both a modern and an historical mystery. I’m not sure if people living with dementia do have the experiences and feelings of the main character but it certainly felt believable and true to me. 4/5 stars
I have enjoyed Inga Simpson’s fiction writing very much, Mr Wigg, Nest, and Where the trees were, so I was interested to read Understory:a life with trees. It is the memoir of a period of time living in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. I loved the detail of Inga’s learnings about and attachment to the trees and the bush and the region. 3/5 stars
My reading – which never includes the stuff I can’t get into and give up on – Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News which I only could do up to page 66 or so. Tried reading it years ago and had no idea what was going on. Same again this time round. I can appreciate the clever writing but the story just didn’t resonate with me.
Quarterly Essay 65: The white queen: One nation and the politics of race by David Marr – a review of the Hanson phenomenon, how she got into Parliament both now and the first time 20-odd years ago. How the refusal of the major parties to condemn her racism let it happen, how the electoral system has been played (depending on your point of view I guess) to allow her and other fringe political parties disproportionate power. There’s a much better review than mine here. 3.5 stars
The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein – this YA novel is a prequel to the Code Name Verity series. It documents one summer when Lady Julia Beaufort-Stewart goes home to help pack up the family castle after her grandfather’s death. She becomes involved in a murder investigation when Dr Housman who was cataloguing the treasures of the castle, goes missing. If you are over 25 don’t let the YA designation put you off, these books are worthy of adult attention. 4/5 stars
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I read this around the time it came out and, while I couldn’t remember the intricacies of the plot, remembered I’d enjoyed it and I binge-watched the recent SBS TV rendition one snotty, fluey day in bed. I can’t fault this feminist dystopian tale. Read it NOW! 5/5 stars
Moonglow: a novel by Michael Chabon – a book group read. We had our meeting last night but the member who’d chosen this book wasn’t there and I was the only one at the meeting who’d read the whole thing and the other who’d got anywhere near it was only half way through but enjoying it. This book has a deliberate subtitle – this is memoir masquerading as fiction masquerading as memoir –speculative autobiography I read somewhere. It’s the life story of the grandfather of a fictional Michael Chabon. The stories Michael is told are not told chronologically with each of the stories being build upon little by little interspersed with each other. I really enjoyed the writing style as well as the stories. Grandfather was an interesting character involved in all sorts of things including the NASA space missions. I gave this 4/5 stars.
Now I’ve started on The Last days of Jeanne D’Arc by Ali Alizadeh.
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
The September issue of Good Reading magazine is ready for you to read!
You will find the online version on our website, or you can borrow a physical copy from the library.
Carolyn reads a variety of genres so you’re bound to find something that resonates.
Best Read : The Obsession by Nora Roberts
Crime : My Sister’s Secret by Tracy Buchanan
Australian Author : Fearless by Fiona Higgins
General Fiction : Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Saga/Romance : Ruby Flynn by Nadine Dorries
My best-of list for this year has an all-Australian cast – hardly surprising. Australian literature is astonishingly good, and varied, and shows us our country. I read a lot of Australian writing: this is a small but enjoyable selection.
The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood’s dystopian novel set somewhere in outback Australia: a disparate group of women, and an enemy.
Ransacking Paris: a year with Montaigne and friends. Patti Miller spent a year living and writing in Paris, and this is the charming result. Clarity, truth and imagination characterise her prose.
One life: my mother’s story. Kate Grenville tells her mother’s life, a captivating biography of a strong woman.
The Last Days of Ava Langdon, Mark O’Flynn’s re-imagining of the life of an eccentric writer, loosely based on Eve Langley, who wrote The Pea Pickers and who lived in Katoomba. Mark is also a poet, and it shows.
The Dressmaker, by Rosalie Ham. An amusing story of revenge, involving the deft use of a sewing machine.
Truly Madly Guilty. Liane Moriarty is an accomplished storyteller, there is edge-of-seat suspense here, as well as keenly-observed suburban psychology.
The Mud House. Richard Glover, and his family and friends, built a house of mud brick, in the sticks. He learned to build as he went. This is the very engaging story of that journey.
Everywhere I Look. The unique Helen Garner offers us her set of essays about – well, life. Everywhere she looks there is something singular and interesting to ponder over. She’s a national treasure.
The Boy behind the Curtain. Tim Winton is possessed of a depth of perception, a wisdom, that is a little eerie. His prose is strong and beautiful, as always, in this autobiographical memoir. He’s clearly a national treasure too.
A rather large list this month! Enjoy!
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 trilogy – Small 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 book – Mrs 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