Here are some suggestions for what to read when it’s too wet to go outside:
- I haven’t read any books by Neil Gaiman and The ocean at the end of the lane was recommended to me as a good starting point. I enjoyed the quirky world that slowly came in to focus, and then went out of focus again! 3/5
- I was a bit nervous about reading LaRose by Louise Erdrich as I know that her novels can take you on grim journeys through difficult lives, but she writes so deeply and well about the effects of colonisation and dispossession in America that I knew I would want to go on whatever journey LaRose would take. This is actually a surprisingly gentle and positive story, even though people go through great tragedies, and again her writing is so strong that I was drawn in to the lives that are so skilfully portrayed here. 4/5
- I loved reading Hag-seed: The Tempest retold by Margaret Atwood. It was a clever retelling of the Shakespeare, bringing both the play and its plot in to the current day. The story of producing Shakespeare in a prison environment was compelling and I even got to like the main character more as the story unfolded. 4/5
- I also read Murder at Myall Creek: the trial that defined a nation. This is a biography of John Hubert Plunkett, the Attorney General of NSW and the prosecutor of the 11 men who were tried for the murder of 28 Aboriginal children, women and men in 1838. It was almost unknown for whites to be tried for killing Aboriginal people at this time and Plunkett stuck to his belief in ‘equality before the law’ against most of the population of the young state. 3/5
- I wanted to recommend The Hawley Book of The Dead by Chrysler Szarlan. I give it 4 Stars, really enjoyed it. A creepy read on a stormy night.
- I have read all four books in Alison Croggon’s Pellinor series – a huge dose of fantasy fiction which I just devoured, some of them I read twice – 5/5
- I’m currently reading Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project this is for book group and although I haven’t finished it I would recommend it – 4/5
- The mapmaker’s children : a novel by Sarah McCoy – based on the true life story of the famous abolitionist John Brown and his family – mostly his daughter Sarah. 4/5
- The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. The action takes place in three ‘theatres’ – Amsterdam, early 1600s: New York 1958: and Sydney 2000. Sara de Vos and her husband Barent are painters during what later becomes known as the Golden Age of Dutch painting. Their beloved only child is taken by the Plague. To assuage her grief, Sara paints something that is now reverberating down the centuries in surprising ways. Riveting read, totally recommended.
- Nutshell by Ian MacEwan. Imagine an unborn baby boy, upside down in his mother’s birth canal because D-Day is near, listening to all that goes on in the outside world, which shortly he will enter, and not liking what he hears. His mother and her lover plotting to do away with his father! This baby is seriously displeased. He thinks in majestic prose, with Shakespearean flair. The humour is dark, but this is finest example of MacEwan’s linguistic bravura I’ve ever seen.
- The Good Guy by Susan Beale. Here’s another novel with a baby close to its epicentre, in a more roundabout way. Ted needs to be admired, so when wife Abigail doesn’t provide enough of this he finds his way to Penny, who does. Ted tries to live two lives in parallel, with more lies than you can poke a stick at. Beale manages this subject well, by situating herself at a slightly ironic distance from the characters. I liked this one a lot. It’s her first published novel.
- The Fields by Kevin Maher – there were parts of this book that I really enjoyed, parts that made me think, parts that needed to be shared and then parts that were utterly absurd. If you enjoy the Irish fiction genre, it covers all those bases but be prepared to go where you have never been before. 3 stars
A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy – I keep picking this one up and putting it down after reading only 1 or 2 stories – only because I want to savour them and not rush them. Each short story in this collection is a gem. 5 stars.
- A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon. This book has inspired me to look at what is important – what would I keep? And to take it one step further (as it did in the book) and capture my 100 moments of 2017. 4 stars
- Bittersweet by Colleen McCulloch – I love a good saga, spanning several decades and involving sisters. Great read and set in the Depression era of Australia. 4 stars
- The Promise by Jamie Zimmerman. I listened to this one on Talking Book – not sure if I could have read it. It really went there with the background to being in the army and the toll it takes on those around you. Jamie is an Australian Commando and outlines Australia’s involvement in the middle east. Worth reading if you want to know. 4 stars
- The Fabulously Fashionable Life of Isabelle Bookbinder by Holly McQueen – If you love chicklit, a hopeless heroine, great characters and a story that works out in the end, then this is for you. 3 stars
- The Travelling bag by Susan Hill – this is a collection of ghostly short stories. Susan Hill is great at creating a creepy atmosphere and is somewhat Dickensian in her telling. 3 ½ stars
- Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell – Maxwell’s tale of a short year with otter, Mijbil, on a secluded property on the west coast of Scotland is just glorious and had me laughing and weeping by turns. Maxwell was a tortured soul and the next two books in the trilogy demonstrate that clearly. This first one scores 5 stars for me though.
- Line of Fire by Ian Townsend – Townsend explores the little known story of Australian ex-pats caught in Rabaul , New Britain in Papua New Guinea as the Japanese army advances in 1942. Among those who surrender to the Japanese after hiding out in the hills for several months are 11 year old Dickie Manson, his mother Marjorie, his step-father Ted Harvey and his uncle. Unbelievably, Dickie and his family are executed for spying – I’m not spoiling the plot here, it’s all there right from the start. 4 stars
- Tulip by Celine Marchbank – a beautiful book of photographs taken by Celine Marchbank in the last year of her mother’s life. 4 stars
Books staff have been reading over the past month or two. Here’s the rating scale used:
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 way back home by Freya North – I didn’t really like this wishy-washy heroine and it frustrated me that there was a big secret in the plot line that I had to wait to find out. But it was still a page-turner and I had to find out what happened. 2 stars
- Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod – This book was recommended to me and I LOVED it. If you are familiar with the Artists Way, then this book will appeal to you too. Well-written and entertaining – so jealous that she managed to change her life! We should all downsize, stop going out, save up and run away to Paris – here is the guide: 4 stars
- Now is the time to open your heart by Alice Walker – I have always loved the writing of Alice Walker – this was quite different but still intriguing. If you like journeys, physical and spiritual, this is the story for you. 3 stars
- Ours are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota – Not a comfortable read, but very compelling. If you are interested in exploring the idea of home and how an isolated youth can become radicalised… This is a sensitive and poignant story of our time. 4 stars
- Fall Girl by Toni Jordan – Very original storyline – never sure where it was going to end up. Really enjoyed the ride. Romantic comedy/chicklit at its witty best. 4 stars
- No one ever has sex in the suburbs by Tracy Bloom – catchy title but then I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. But once I got to know the characters I was sad to leave them at the end. I didn’t realise it was a sequel as it does work as a stand-alone read. I found it a fun, light read. 3 stars
- The Commitments by Roddy Doyle – this was a re-read as I wanted to see how it held up after all these years. Still a raucous and entertaining read. It captures a slice of life in Dublin at the time. 4 stars
- You had me at hello by Mhairi Macfarlane – (Mhairi is pronounced ‘Vari’ by the way) Ben and Rachel were a couple at university, when they cross paths again 13 years later will the old spark still be there, and what will they do about it? I’ve had this on a to-read list for quite some time. I either read or heard a review that said it was absolutely hilarious. I didn’t find it that amusing. 2 ½ stars
- The Toymaker by Liam Pieper – Adam Kulakov runs the family toymaking business which appears to be going well, but Adam has made a mistake which threatens his business, his marriage. Adam’s grandfather, Arkady, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and given an impossible choice. The past is catching up with both men. A compelling story with a twist I didn’t see coming. 3 1/3 stars
- In the dark room by Susan Faludi – a biography and discussion on gender politics. The subject of the biography is Susan Faludi’s father Steven Faludi who, after twenty-five years absence, invites Susan to get to know her now as a woman after sex change surgery. She’s a slippery character though and the truth is not easy to get at. 3 stars
- Springtime: a ghost story by Michelle De Kretser – a very disappointing novella. Not even suspenseful and not much in the way of a ghost. 1 star
- Sheila: the Australian beauty who bewitched British society by Robert Wainwright – an interesting biography of Sheila Chisholm, born into a wealthy squatter family in Australia who who arrives in England just before the outbreak of the First World War, married a lord and finds herself mixing with the aristocracy including the Prince of Wales and Duke of York (the future George VI) with whom she had an affair. Well written and interesting. 3 stars
- Nora Webster by Colm Toibin – Nora is newly bereaved and trying to get on with life and do her best for her family. This is usually the type of book I hate with no beginning, middle or end, just a meandering along through a few years but Colm Toibin is such a beautiful writer the language carried me along and I was at the end before I knew it. 4 stars
- The woman who walked into the sea by Mark Douglas-Home – I found this book somewhere and had it on my bookshelf for a while. Cal McGill is an oceanographer and one who assists families find the bodies of loved ones involved in drownings, man overboard situations, etc. In this book he is helping a young woman find out what really happened when her mother walked into the sea 20+ years previously. This is the second in the Sea Detective series, I think I’ll take a look at the first one too. 4 stars
- No 2 Feline Detective Agency by Mandy Morton – had some amusing plays on human names and concepts, but as it was about cats running a detective agency and living human lives I couldn’t quite get into it – 2 stars
- The readers of Broken Wheel recommend by Katrina Bival – a light and fluffy, happily ever after – was a good Christmas holiday read as it was not at all taxing – 3.5 stars
- Papadam preach by Almas Khan – I persevered to the end but did not enjoy it at all – 1 star
- A Christmas carol and other Christmas stories by Charles Dickens– read it right the way through over the Christmas break – enjoyed A Christmas Carol the best – 4 stars
- The Better Son, by Katherine Johnson. This novel is set in the vicinity of Mole Creek, which is east of the Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair area of Tasmania. We are in limestone (karst) country, where water has, over the centuries, hollowed out huge caves. Those caves are central characters in this story. In 1952 two brothers find a secret cave, and one day only one of them returns home. Great storytelling, suspenseful, and best of all for me, I meet some brilliant Tasmanian wild country I didn’t know existed. I even contacted the author to congratulate her!
- Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy – Very funny, micky-taking. Struan Robertson leaves his home in Cuik, Scotland, to look after a London-based playwright who has been disabled by a stroke. Brilliant portraits by Clanchy of a cast of characters, each one of whom is engaging and gently satirised.
- Reckoning by Magda Szubanski – This well-known Australian comedian/actress has written a memoir which searches for the truth of her father’s history, and examines her own troubled existence. The charm of this work is Szubanski’s honesty.
Oh my, we’ve been having a busier time that we thought. We haven’t posted a What Library Staff are Reading since February!!!
Anyway, here’s some reading staff have been doing that might provide some inspiration to you as we head towards the warmer weather. It’s almost jacaranda time – my favourite.
Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Brackman – I wasn’t sure I was going to like this novel, written with a distinct Swedish flavour, but the character Britt-Marie and the author’s sparse writing style somehow drew me in to this strange, funny, sometimes confronting story about a rather difficult character. Almost against my will I came to barrack for Britt-Marie. An uplifting tale of the value of belonging and community, and that it is never too late. Scored 4 stars.
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach – the film is due to be released soon so I thought I’d give this another read. Set in Amsterdam in the 16oos there are plenty of references to Dutch art of the period – the story revolves around the parallel romances of wealthy young woman, Sophia, married to a much older and that of her maid, Maria. Atmospheric and evocative of both time and place – 3 ½ stars
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta who usually writes YA fiction. This thriller is about the suspected terrorist attack on a bus of school children on tour in France. Suspended policeman Bish ends up investigating the bombing when he goes to fetch his daughter who has survived. Questions start to be asked when it is revealed that one of the other students is the granddaughter of a man that set a bomb of in a supermarket whose mother is currently in jail as an accessory. A page turner – 4 stars
The Yalda Crossing by Noel Beddoe – a book group read. This is the story of white settlers to the Murrumbidgee River in the 1830s/1840s and their interactions with the aboriginal peoples. It has parallels with the much more famous The Secret River by Kate Grenville which is also the better book. It took two goes to read this. I tried it several months ago and, despite it ticking a number of my appeal boxes – history, Australia – I couldn’t get into it. With a deadline I did a bit better – 4.5 stars
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet – about a murder set in the remote north west of Scotland in the late 1800s and told in the form of a confession by the perpetrator, court documents and newspaper articles. The authentic-seeming presentation of this is apparently confusing some who are reading it as true crime. This is another book that seems familiar – this time it reminds me of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – perhaps because of the similar time setting and the similarities between the lives of Icelandic peasants and Scottish crofters of the same time? Scored 4 stars
Unsuitable Men by Pippa Wright. Fun chick-lit book – great concept – what to do when you get out of a long term relationship? Date the unsuitable men. 3 stars
Unbearable Lightness by Portia di Rossi. Do you want to know more about anorexia? The intricate, nitty gritty thoughts and day to day gruel? This was an eye-opener for me. Not recommended for teenage girls with low self-esteem as Portia goes into way too much detail on how she learnt to survive on eating very, very little. 3 stars
The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. Fantastic characters – could not put this down. 4 stars
Stories I only tell my friends by Rob Lowe – like I was sitting with Rob with a wine (except he no longer drinks) and he was telling all his funny stories from the movie industry. 4 stars
Everywhere I look, by Helen Garner. This is a set of essays and observations. What IS the magic of Helen Garner? I’ll try to describe it: she is devastatingly honest, she is a central pole of quiet wisdom in a noisy world, she approaches difficult subjects in a spirit of curiosity and without moral judgement. Compassion, and a desire to understand, drive all of what she writes. She pares her writing back until it says just what she means it to, no more, no less. She is a literary hero for me.
The Mud House, by Richard Glover. If you’re a sucker for Kevin McLeod’s Grand Designs, if you just get off on the building process, you will bathe luxuriously in this memoir of Glover’s, in which he details how he and his wife join with two friends, to build a house of mud brick on a remote and difficult block somewhere in the general area of Wombeyan Caves, central NSW. Glover is habitually entertaining, but he is also on a voyage of discovery. He has never built anything in his life. He learns as he goes. So, eventually, do his children. The house isn’t perfect, says Richard, but we built it ourselves!
Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty. Three couples meet in a backyard for a barbeque. Their three kids and a dog are there too. Nothing very startling about that? But start reading the book and I guarantee you won’t want to do anything else until you get to the last page. Riveting. Moriarty sustains tension to the last.
If you’re eternally curious about Aboriginal culture and are looking for a wise, unsentimental understanding of it, read Kim Mahood’s Position Doubtful. She was raised on a cattle station in the Tanami desert country, and returns to it on and off, because this is her blood’s country, as Judith Wright puts it in South of my Days. As aboriginal paintings look down on country from above, Mahood seeks to do something similar, engaging in a mapping exercise of sorts: mapping country, mapping relationships, mapping the black/white nexus. An extraordinary book, from an artist working across several disciplines.
Calming down after the silly and school holiday seasons, getting back to what passes for normal and celebrating Library Lovers Day, these have been enjoyed by your colleagues:
- I saw the stage version of Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and very much enjoyed it so it spurred me to get around to reading the book. It was interesting to see the scenes and storylines that had been incorporated in to the play and to find out the extra background and information that had been left out. I enjoyed reading the book, the writing style was easily flowing and the characters and story drew me in even though I knew what was going to happen next. 3/5
- My grandmother sends her regards and apologies by Fredrik Backman is another of those slightly fantastical novels from Scandinavia. I haven’t read his earlier novel A man called Ove but the title and cover caught my eye. It was a good read, dealing with some deep issues of parenting, social conscience and war through the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother and an imaginary world the grandmother creates for them to inhabit. 3/5
- I had to read The secret chord by Geraldine Brooks, even though there were some less than rapturous reviews, as I always love her writing. This was certainly a story of a violent and misogynist time and yet the unfolding stories and lives were fascinating. I learnt a lot about the biblical period of King David. 3/5
- I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy Give the devil his due, the latest in the Raymond Sinclair series by Sulari Gentill, as much as the six previous books in the series. I think that it was probably just that car racing was the background subject matter and the story was not quite as clear and held together as the last ones. There are still great characters, Sydney and NSW in the thirties being one of them, and great discussion of subjects such as feminism and women working, and also the rise of fascism in Germany. If you haven’t tried this series it is a great historical detective/crime series set in a very alive 1920’s + 30’s world. 3/5
- I finally got around to reading the original Mateship with birds by Alec H Chisholm, the book that Carrie Tiffany’s award winning book of the same name was inspired by. It might not be for everyone as the writing style is very old fashioned and flowery, but I just loved his enthusiasm and passion for the birds of Australia. He looks mostly at the birds of the east coast and there are some surprising and some sad stories, and some great photos, in this non-fiction collection. 4/5
- Covet by Tara Moss – the next instalment in my Tara Moss read-a-thon
- Grief Girl by Erin Vincent – Oh my goodness – how do you deal with losing both your parents in an accident while you are a teenager?
- Shining : the story of a lucky man by Abdi Aden – a young Somalian man’s incredible journey of escape from the violence and bloodshed in Somalia to eventually reaching Australia as a refugee,attending school, gaining citizenship, attaining university qualifications, getting married and having a family. An amazing book. Well worth reading. 5/5
- The reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didier Laurent – a lovely read. 5/5
- Recently I read Books 1 and 2 of Karl Ove Knausgard’s series, entitled A Death in the Family: my Struggle and A Man in Love: my Struggle. I couldn’t put them down. I am waiting for the next book, and am keen to read other titles by him. I know there must be controversy over him writing so accurately and honestly about the people in his family life and friends in such a public way…I would have concerns too…except that I find his writing so brilliant and the portrayal of life as he experiences it so revealing of myself that I can only praise it. 5/5
- Half the World & Half a War by Joe Abercrombie – These are the second and third books in the Shattered Sea Trilogy. This was a YA fantasy Trilogy where each book focused on a handful of different maturing characters. I really enjoyed seeing how the characters grew and changed (some for the better, others not) throughout the series. As with his other books Joe Abercrombie writes fantastic battle scenes with plenty of blood and gore. The series surprised me with a great plot twist at the end! 4/5 stars
- Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke, Before Watchmen: Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair by Len Wein & Before Watchmen: Night Owl/ Dr. Manhattan by Michael J. Straczynski – These graphic novels focus on the background stories of the main Watchmen characters and even some of the more secondary characters who are only mentioned in passing in the original story. It felt like these books weren’t really necessary and that they were just cashing in with the original Watchmen hype. Still they were an entertaining read and I enjoyed the artwork. 3/5 stars
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – This book was fantastic! Its set in the future where most people live their lives in a virtual reality. The creator of the virtual world (who is obsessed with the 80’s) dies and leaves his fortune as an Easter egg in the game. Whoever can solve the clues and beat the challenges he leaves behind with inherit his multi-billion dollar fortune. Anyone who’s a bit of a geek and enjoys 80s/90s pop culture will really love this book. 5/5 stars
- Mad Max: Fury Road by George Miller – This graphic novel gives some background to the characters from the latest Mad Max: Fury Road movie. It actually helped clarify a few things that weren’t explained in the movie. It’s written by the director of the Mad Max movies himself, so you know it’s part of the canon! I’d recommend watching the movie first . 4/5 stars
- Generation A by Douglas Coupland – in the near future a disparate group of people become the focus of government and media attention. “life after bees” 3 stars
- The Martian by Andy Weir – an astronaut is stuck on Mars, and uses his wits to stay alive. ”boys own adventure in space” 3.5 stars
- The Lunch Witch1 by Deb Lucke – a junior comic about a witch trying her best to be bad and failing. “undiscovered gem” 4 stars
- Johannes Cabal series 1, 2 & 3 by Jonathon Howard – a necromancer seeks to perfect his art. “tries very hard to be funny” 3 stars
- The First Bad Man by Miranda July – guaranteed to polarise opinions, a woman fantasizes, has fist fights, falls in love, and finally gets what she needs (maybe). “not for the faint-hearted” unrateable
- Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene – the moon men rise up against the disciples of the sun – “if you have ready any fantasy, you have read this” 3 stars
- Winter be my Shield by Jo Spurrier – a woman uses the pain of others to fuel her own power in a harsh, wintery landscape. “lots of lovely (blood stained) snow,” 3 stars
- The Women’s Pages, by Debra Adelaide –This novel plaits together three seperate realities: Emily Bronte and her novel, Wuthering Heights; a contemporary woman named Dove, and her life experience; and Dove’s fictional creation, Ellis, who came to young womanhood in the late 1960s. It’s a book whose sub-text is the creative process, and whose frontline action reflects on the lives of women and men in post-war Australia. Though this plaiting can get confusing, I loved the book, and honour Adelaide’s intentions in writing it.
- Ransacking Paris, by Patti Miller – Patti and her husband lived in Paris for a year after their children had left home. This is her memoir of that year, during which time she ‘meets’ various French writers, her favourite being Montaigne. As always with this writer, I enjoy her honesty and the grace of her prose.
- One Fifth Avenue, by Candace Bushnell – Excellent fun, especially on Talking Book. Bushnell satirises the inhabitants of a posh New York apartment block. Great storytelling.
- The Truth According to Us, by Annie Barrows – I’m not far into this, but it shows the same lively, humorous vitality you’ll remember from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. She’s setting this one in West Virginia, USA.
- The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey – about John Manners, 9th Duke of Rutland who died in 1940 at Belvoir Castle. Ms Bailey gained access to the castle archives. She was hoping to write a book about the men from the estate who served in WWI but fell across a more intriguing story – she found the rooms wherein the archives were kept had not been open to anyone since the 9th Duke’s death, that the 9th Duke had spent his last weeks there frantically working on something – frantic to the point of not seeking medical help – and that there were several significant gaps in the archives. The mysteries are a little bit of a let down once they are revealed – present day sensibilities are so different – and Ms Bailey inserts herself into the narrative a little bit too much for my liking. I gave this 3 stars out of 5
- The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff – I wanted to read this before seeing the film. It’s a novel based on the true story of Lili Elbe who was born Einar Wegener and who was one of the first people to undergo gender reasignment surgery. The book was certainly better than the film which I just found tedious and over-acted, but I struggled to maintain interest and I gave it 3 stars.
- Bellwether by Connie Willis – Connie Willis writes humorous science fiction novels and this one is typical. In it stressed-out researcher Sandra Foster is trying to understand how and why crazes like the hoola hoop start by attempting to track down the source of past fads. At work she runs into Bennett O’Reilly who is doing research on chaos theory. Finding their research may overlap, they begin some experiments working with sheep. Confounding all their efforts is anarchic girl Friday Flip. A fun book. I gave it 3 ½ stars.
- England’s Queens from Boudicca to Elizabeth of York by Elizabeth Norton – a densely packed book of brief biographies of, as the title says, English queens from the 1st Century AD to the very early 1500s. Until I was back on familiar ground with the medieval queens it was quite confusing with several names recurring or sounding similar – Edith, Elfleda, Elfrida, Elgiva, Ethelfleda, Ethelgiva. There were also lots of Isabella’s, Elizabeths, Matilda’s, Henry’s and Louis’ – often at the same time. 3 stars
- The Courtiers: splendour and intrigue in the Georgian court at Kensington Palace by Lucy Worsley – so with that title we know exactly the scope of the book – court life at Kensington Palace during the reigns of the Hanoverian kings George I, II and III. I have enjoyed Lucy Worsley’s forays into history on TV and this book is delivered in her familiar lively prose, eg. “In the 18th century, the palace’s most elegant assembly room was in fact a bloody battlefield. This was a world of skullduggery, politicking, wigs and beauty spots, where fans whistled open like flick knives.” I gave it 4 stars
- The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt. When I finished this book I had no idea what to make of it. I really wasn’t sure whether I enjoyed it or not. It’s what might be called Western noir, a darkly comic book set in Gold Rush era America and is narrated by Eli Sisters, the younger of the infamous hired assassins Charlie and Eli Sisters. I found it a bit confusing initially and laid it aside happy to be distracted by something else for a while but it’s a book group read so I had to finish it. It was simultaneously so different to anything I’d read before yet kind of familiar. It was quite filmic and I was thinking the Coen brothers would do a film with a story like this – think Fargo or The Sopranos. I was very interested to find out what the rest of my book group made of it. Oh, the joy of being able to discuss a book with insightful people who can articulate what you can’t yourself. One astute member of the group likened the story to The Odyssey. After the discussion I scored the book 3 1/2 but was bordering on 4.
- I’ve tried and given up on two books at least this month, another book group read, Washington’s Spies by Alexander Rose – I know nothing about the American War of Independence and this book was not the gentle introduction I think I need; The Lost Princess by Alison Weir – about Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox who was mother of Henry Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots’ second husband and in her youth very high in the English succession. The length of the book defeated me.
Welcome back to WLSAR for 2016.
How about this crazy hot & dry/cold & wet weather? You know what though, whichever one is happening you have the perfect excuse to stay indoors with your nose in a book. The former makes it too onerous to be out and about and the latter too damp.
I hope you are feeling rested after the Christmas break, or is it a distant memory already? I spent a lot of my days off horizontal along the length of the couch. My sister gave my husband the first 3 series of Luther on DVD so my first 3 days break were spent watching Idris Elba (oh how I hope he does become the next James Bond!) – Elba is really good but everyone who knows Luther tends to say, “Isn’t Alice (played by Ruth Wilson) a great character?” Yes. She is.
The other days I read myself silly.
Here are the books Library staff have been enjoying over the last month:
- Soup’s Song: Mark O’Flynn. There’s more than a soupçon of word-play in the new collection of poems by this Blue Mountains writer. I’ve long admired the wit, humanity and glorious language he brings to all his work.
- The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Wood. Ten young women wake from a drugged state to find they have been kidnapped and dumped in a large enclosure surrounded by an electrified fence. Two men and a woman keep them subjected, filthy and starving, until they find ways to reclaim their strength and will. Only gradually do we understand why the women are held captive; the reasons are frightening, the mode bureaucratic, Kafka-esque. There is no easy redemption here. Wood’s prose has a visceral bite and a power that keeps you reading. You may view modern life differently once you have read it.
- The Simplest Words: a storyteller’s journey, by Alex Miller. This is a collection of essays, excerpts and reflections by an Australian writer I have honoured for many years, especially for his Journey to the Stone Country.
- The Secret Fate of Mary Watson, by Judy Johnson. 1879, Cooktown, far north Queensland. Definitely frontier country. Mary Watson, having no resources but her intelligence and taste for adventure, goes to do secret work on Lizard Island (even further north) as the wife of a redneck named Bob Watson. Great story, especially on Talking Book.
- Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver – the first novel from Scottish archaeologist & historian familiar from the Coast series, among others. Not unsurprisingly this is an historical novel. Set in Scotland and Turkey, based very loosely on actual events, but with an element of magic. Not my usual but not bad and I gave it 3 ½ out of five stars. And I was going to put it onto the 2016 Reading Challenge list under A book with a blue cover but have just spotted A book written by a celebrity and reckon this might be my only chance to tick off that category so I’ll save the blue cover for later.
- Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith – the latest in the Cormoran Strike series by JK Rowling under her crime writing pseudonym. PI Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robyn Ellacott are both likeable characters. A shade darker than the previous two books I thought, the villain more menacing. 4 stars and let’s pop it onto the 2016 Reading Challenge under A murder mystery.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – set before and during WWII this beautifully written novel follows the parallel stories of blind French girl Marie-Laure, and German orphan boy Werner Pfennig. Although Marie-Laure doesn’t know it, she’s harbouring a priceless jewel which the sinister Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel is searching obsessively for. 5 stars and I shall tick off A book set in Europe with this one.
- Looking at my list (I record my reading in LibraryThing by the way) I’ve done a fair bit of war-time reading over the holidays. In WWI I’ve read Generals Die in Bed by Charles Harrison – similar to All Quiet on the Western Front. Harrison was an American who signed up to fight in the Canadian army and based this novel on his experiences in the trenches in France – 4 ½ stars – and In Pale Battalions by Robert Goddard 4 stars. And in WWII I read Wartime Lies by Louis Begby – a semi-autobiographical novel about a little Jewish Polish boy hiding in plain sight amongst the Christians with his Aunt (4 stars) and When the Children Came Home by Julie Summers which discusses the various experiences of child evacuees in WWII Britain and the long-lasting effects of those experiences on families (4 stars).
- Also with war as a backdrop is Spike Island: the Memory of a Military Hospital by Philip Hoare which is the history of the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, southern England which was built in 1856 and was used as a military hospital through the African wars, World Wars I and II and on through to its demolition in the late 1970s. The building was vast – on its completion it had, at a quarter of a mile long, the world’s longest façade – the US Army who used the building in WWII used to drive jeeps along the corridors to get from A to B. Even then WWI and WWII saw a vast array of temporary structures being built in the grounds to accommodate patients some of whom stayed for years.
- I also read Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave, a frank and beautiful account of his relationship with John Caleo which was made into a film last year by Neil Armfield. 4 stars and put under An autobiography for the Reading Challenge.
- Paving the New Road by Sulari Gentill – one of the Rowland Sinclair series set between the wars. This time Rowland and his pals are in Germany trying to head off the threat of fascism taking a strong hold in Australia. 3 ½ stars.
- The King is Dead by Susannah Lipscomb – Henry VIII, as we know, was a man who liked to get things his own way and thought he could still control what happened in England after his death via his will. Historian Susannah Lipscomb discusses the background to the will and shows how it took no time at all for most of it to be ignored or overturned.
- Mistresses: true stories of seduction, power and ambition by Leigh Eduardo – I found this a bit dull I’m afraid. 2 stars.
- Hester & Harriet by Hilary Spiers is one of those sweet, funny, quirky little stories the British do so well of two sisters who take in a homeless foreigner one Christmas. 4 stars
- For the A play category of the 2015 Reading Challenge I read the ‘Scottish Play’ (Macbeth) by William Shakespeare and have ticked off A book you haven’t read since high school – 3 stars. One reason for choosing this one is that in September 2015 I went to Birnam Wood in Scotland –
SCENE I. A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.
Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him.
- And for a bit of Australian history I’ve not long finished Long Bay by Eleanor Limprecht who has written a novel based on the true story of Rebecca McDowell Sinclair who ended up in goal under sentence of manslaughter. I’ll tick off A book set in your home state for this one. 3 ½ stars
- Currently I’m pursuing a recommendation by an ex-colleague which will fit into the A book translated to English category nicely – The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen which has been translated from the Finnish by Lola M Rogers.
- A rip-roaring insomniac, I listen to talking books all night so that when I wake up I can drift off to the sound of someone telling a soothing tale rather than start thinking about all the stuff I need to do. I have been listening to Bill Bryson books, At Home which is narrated by Bill Bryson himself, I could listen to him forever, and Down Under which is narrated by American William Roberts who is valiantly giving his all to Aussie accents.
- Digital Gold: The Untold Story of Bitcoin – Nathaniel Popper 4/5 and The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money Are Challenging the Global Economic Order – Paul Vigna & Michael Casey 3/5 – I read these two books one after the other and I think I read them in the right order. Digital Gold follows Bitcoin from its very beginnings right up until recently. It follows the major players on the development side and the finance/business side. Excellent introduction if you feel the need to know how and why Bitcoin was created. The Age of Cryptocurrency focuses a lot on Bitcoin but also gives more in depth explanations of cryptocurrency in general and some of the possible competitors to Bitcoin. This book talks a lot more about the Blockchain and other uses that it might have. I wouldn’t say one book is better than the other, they both complement each other well.
- Gilliamesque: A Pre-posthumous Memoir – Terry Gilliam 5/5 – My earliest memory of film is watching Monty Pythion and the Holy Grail on TV in Perth, which means I was six years old or younger. The scene I remember is the black knight having his arms and legs chopped off. Gilliam was one of the directors of this film and went on to be a very successful director (depending how you measure success). I really love all his films and some of them are my all-time favourites. This book looks back on his life with a focus on the art he was producing at the time. It spends little time on the Pythin years which is covered in great detail elsewhere. If you are a Gilliam fan then this is for you.
- Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection
- Batgirl, Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends
- Batman Incorporated, Vol. 1: Demon Star
- Batman: Detective Comics, Vol. 2: Scare Tactics
- Batman: The Dark Knight, Vol. 1: Knight Terrors
- Batman: The Night of the Owls
- Batwing, Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
- Batwing, Vol. 2: In the Shadow of the Ancients
- Batwoman, Vol. 2: To Drown the World
- Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Trouble in Mind
- Birds of Prey, Vol. 2: Your Kiss Might Kill
- Catwoman, Vol. 2: Dollhouse
- I, Vampire, Vol. 1: Tainted Love
- I, Vampire, Vol. 2: Rise of the Vampires
- Justice League Dark, Vol. 1: In the Dark
- Justice League, Vol. 2: The Villain’s Journey
- Nightwing, Vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes
- Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 1: Redemption
- Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Basilisk Rising
- Teen Titans, Vol. 1: It’s Our Right to Fight
- Worlds’ Finest, Vol. 1: The Lost Daughters of Earth 2
- Continuing on with my Tara Moss read-a-thon, this month I tackled – completely out of my comfort zone – Fetish and Split. – Both very well written and it helps that I love “hanging out” with the heroine, Makedde Vanderwall. While I thought reading about serial killers would make me squeamish, it was the character development and the descriptions of fashion, Sydney, Vancouver, etc that kept my interest. If you want to cross over into crime from your normal chick-lit read, these are the books to do that with. I am reading the next instalment….4 stars
- Adultery by Paulo Coelho – I always love Coelho’s books – they make me think. Whether I want to or not! This book was no exception. You immediately relate with the main character and start questioning your own decisions in life….4 stars
- Cloudstreet by Tim Winton – how had I put off reading Tim Winton for so long? This book is a gem and I found myself re-reading passages to savour the characters and keep them with me a bit longer. 4 stars.
- Monday to Friday Man by Alice Peterson – very cute story set in London. What happens to Gilly Brown when her fiance calls off the wedding last minute – how do you go on when you are 34, single and living in London? 3.5 stars
- The Margaret Thatcher School of beauty – by Marsha Mehran – a book chosen purely on its lovely cover. Not really my cup of tea – contained lots of poetry interwoven with the story. 3.5/5
- Animal Farm – George Orwell – something I have never actually read even at school so thought I should. I found it very sad. 4/5
- Gentlemen prefer blondes – by Anita Loos – the original 1920’s novel which inspired the Marilyn Monroe film. Well, the main character may well have been your stereotype ‘dumb blonde’ but only in so far as her spelling and general knowledge went. She seemed to be extremely clever as she knew how to play wealthy men into giving her all sorts of lovely jewels, trips and meals by just batting her eyelids and being ‘blonde’ . I’ll have to track down a copy of the Marilyn Monroe film how the book was interpreted in film. An enjoyable read. 4/5
Here is our last What Library Staff are Reading for 2015. Thank you to all staff who have participated this year.
Merry Christmas to all Blue Mountains residents and, for those who are having one, Happy Holidays – may the days be long and relaxed.
The little Paris bookshop – by Nina George. Lovely story – 4/5
The peculiar life of a lonely postman – by Denis Theriault – didn’t see the ending coming – enjoyable reading – 4/5
The princess bride: S. Morgenstern’s classic tale of true love and high adventure-the ‘good parts’ version, abridged by William Goldman – “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Anyone who loved the film will at least like the book. They are remarkably similar, which isn’t surprising since the author was a screenwriter, and wrote the script for the film. The introduction is hilariously un-PC and rude towards his not quite accurately depicted family. definitely grounds for a divorce if he meant it.
The heart goes last by Margaret Atwood – always nice to get a feminist take on our seemingly inevitable dystopian future.
Australia Under Surveillance: How Should We Act? – Frank Moorehouse (A book that scares you) – I don’t enjoy scary films or books so I read a book about ASIO. The power and secrecy they have scares me. 5/5
Surveillance – Bernard Keane (A book with a love triangle) – I enjoy Bernard’s journalism so I thought I would check out his book which is about ASIO, hacking, politics and the links between private companies and government. All of those things were not a bad story… but the sex scenes and dirty talk were terrible. Mostly unnecessary and the female characters were very one dimensional. Many other reviews at Goodreads thought so also, so I hope he takes this on board as he has the potential to write some really great techno thrillers. 2/5
How Music Got Free: What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime? – Stephen Richard Witt – Fantastic book that follows three threads that all play a part in the rise of digital music and pirating. It follows the team of German scientists that invented the MP3 technology, one of the most successful record executives ever and a guy who leaked the most pre-release music CDs to the internet. The author was about my age and he also wrote some of it from his perspective of experiencing all this as it happened which I could relate to. Highly recommended. 5/5
Seveneves – Neal Stephenson (A book with more than 500 pages) – One of my favourite authors. This book did not disappoint. I loved it that two thirds of the way through the book it just states “One thousand years later”, I don’t know if many authors could pull that off but Stephenson does it flawlessly. 5/5
Zombie Apocalypse! Endgame (Zombie Apocalypse! #3)
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain – Oliver Sacks
The Walking Dead, Vol. 23 & 24 – Robert Kirkman 5/5
The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks – Alan Moore 3/5
Saga, Volume 4 & 5 – Brian K Vaughan 5/5
OINK – John Mueller 4/5
Batman, Vol. 5: Zero Year – Dark City
Batman, Vol. 4: Zero Year – Secret City
Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth
Batman and Robin, Vol. 1: Born to Kill
Batwoman, Vol. 1: Hydrology
Detective Comics, Vol. 1: Faces of Death
Catwoman, Vol. 1: The Game
Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin
Kick-Ass 3 – Mark Millar and John Romita – I’d heard of the movies but didn’t realise it had been based on a graphic novel! If you loved the movies then you will definitely like the graphic novel series. This was the last volume in the series and it was basically more of the same; OTT violence and gore, foul mouthed 11 year olds and mafia men. I was sad it was the last one but felt it tied up the story well. 4/5
Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others – Robert Trivas – Written by an evolutionary biologist the book looks at how and why we deceive ourselves and others. I was mostly interested in the idea of how we unknowingly deceive ourselves in order to survive. The author gives interesting case studies and examples such as how self-deception has led to numerous aviation and space disasters or how 65% of people think they are better looking than they actually are! Though being interesting, I couldn’t finish it. The books arguments felt disjointed and the author would make sweeping statements and then follow it up with 2 sentences of evidence. That, and using his own personal (sometimes inappropriate) behaviour as an example was off-putting. 2/5
Legion and Legion: Skin Deep – Brandon Sanderson – I was thrilled when the library got in two new books by my favourite author!! I had been planning to read these for a while. Both are novella’s so I was able to finish them in one sitting. The books follow Stephen Leads AKA ‘Legion’ who has a unique mental condition which allows him to generate multiple personalities; hallucinations all with highly specialised skills to solve bizarre cases. If you’re looking for a twist on the classic detective story or like Sherlock Holmes you’ll probably enjoy these books. 4/5
Chew, Volume 1 : Tasters Choice – John Layman – In this graphic novel the main character has ‘cytopathic’ powers, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It’s basically about a detective who eats murder victims to track down their killers. I made the mistake of reading this one over lunch! Both the story line and the art didn’t appeal to me in this one. I don’t think I’ll try the second volume. 3/5
Elantris – Brandon Sanderson – This was the first audio book I had listened to since listening to the ‘Muddle Headed Wombat’ in the car when I was a child. I absolutely loved the story and the narration. Brandon Sanderson is a master at writing about ‘believable’ magic systems (if that’s such a thing) and sneaking in killer plot twists. Really enjoyed this one. 5/5
Nimona – Noelle Stevenson – I’d seen some good reviews on Goodreads about this one and a few pages in I realised this book was targeted at teenage girls…. but kept reading anyway and actually didn’t mind it. It’s a great light hearted read. Later I found out this was originally a popular web comic which had been compiled into a book. 3/5
Slaine: The Horned God – Pat Mills – A colleague recommended this one to me. Knowing he had excellent taste in graphic novels I borrowed it immediately! It is an epic Celtic tale about a Slaine the warrior King who seeks out heroic weapons and battles the powers of darkness to save his people. It’s worth borrowing this book for art work alone! 4/5
A Place for Us by Harriet Evans – it had all the makings of a good character-based saga except I hated all the characters! Nasty and self-centred, I did not want to spend time with them. This book reminded me of how shallow and mean families can be to one another. 2 stars.
The Blood Countess by Tara Moss – if you love a good supernatural novel with a New York backdrop, this book is for you. I want to move to the fictitious suburb of Spectre now!! 4 Stars
The Spider Goddess by Tara Moss – The next book in the Pandora series – I am hooked and will have to read all of them….4 stars
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling – really hard to get into. I really want to like it so persevered and finally am now enjoying it – but took more than 200 pages into it to be able to say that J. . . 3 stars
The Lost Daughter, by Elena Ferrante. Leda, having raised two daughters and divorced her husband, leaves her work-life behind and takes a holiday on Italy’s Ionian coast. She spends her days at the beach. There, she becomes involved with a Neapolitan family. What follows throws into sharp relief the way she has lived her life. Ferrante writes with ferocious honesty.
Island Home, by Tim Winton. I see Tim Winton becoming an Elder, someone who has the ability to stand outside our human maelstrom and see it truly. This set of essays explores Country, both in the South-Western corner of Australia where he has spent most of his time, and further north into the Kimberley, and further east across the Nullarbor. The last essay is for the First People, with good reason. It is they who understand the gift of country, a gift many of us have ignored and undervalued. I hope that is becoming less the case.
Flesh Wounds, by Richard Glover. I listened to this riveting memoir on Talking Book. You will know Richard Glover from ABC Radio. A terrific piece of work, interesting to the end, and spiced always by Glover’s wit – though his parents were a nightmare.
Last Chance Café, by Liz Byrski. Another entertaining and thoughtful Byrski novel whose characters are older, and have experienced life. I enjoy her work for that reason.
I am reading Christians, Muslims, and Jesus by Mona Siddiqui. I have found it to be a respectful and leisurely comparison of theological viewpoints from Muslim and Christian faith perspectives through history. There is no commentary on current issues, nor on issues of peaceful coexistence or conflict through history, simply a comparison of viewpoints, citing respected voices from both faith traditions. However the author demonstrates a thoughtful and empathetic understanding of both Islam and Christianity and in the last chapter speaks of how exploring the differing Christologies deepened her own Muslim faith journey. 3/5
A book I read with glee each night was Gulp : adventures on the alimentary canal by Mary Roach. Every chapter was fascinating, and rather humorous. 5/5
Two books that expanded my mind, from the children’s picture book collection, are The Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend by Felicity Gardner and David West and York’s Universe by Heidi Goh, 5/5 and 4/5.
A book from the Young Adult collection that I found very moving is Woolvs in the Sitee by Margaret Wild and Anne Spudvilas. It is a short read, brilliantly written, and in reading it I entered into the mind of another. 5/5
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett (3.5 / 5) – The final discworld novel. This is the last book in the Tiffany Aching series too. I enjoyed it for sentimentality reasons and even though this wasn’t up to Pratchett’s usual superb standard, it was still enjoyable and I love the characters.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (3 / 5) – A young adult fantasy love story about faeries. A little too gory and soppy for me. I did like that the faeries were nasty, as they should be. Sarah J. Maas wrote the much acclaimed Throne of Glass series.
The Vanishing of Billy Buckle by Sally Gardner (3.5 / 5) – The fourth instalment in the Wings and Co. series. A jolly fine case of a vanishing giant for the fairy detective agency to solve.
Fangirl: a novel by Rainbow Rowell (3.5 / 5) – This was actually quite fun and I liked that there was a novel within a novel. Cath and Wren are identical twins who have just finished high school and are about to start college in a new town. This book is about their experiences – love, college life, and family issues (as well as fanfiction).
Clarice Bean spells trouble (3 / 5) by Lauren Child. I enjoyed this, but not as much as I enjoyed Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola series.
The trouble with Beezus and Ramona and The unstoppable Ramona and Beezus by Beverley Cleary (3.5 / 5) – I loved these books when I was little and it was great to go back and revisit them. Ramona Quimby is a great character!
Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ by Giulia Enders (4.5 / 5) – This was an excellent book about the gut and how important it is to maintain good gut health. It even tells you how to sit on the toilet properly! Fascinating.
Emergency: real stories from Australia’s Emergency Department Doctors by Simon Judkins (3 / 5) – Amazing what Emergency staff have to deal with and the situations that they can find themselves in. I had a few tears in my eyes reading this book.
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: the truth about OCD by David Adam (4 / 5) – Thoroughly fascinating. An inside into what it is like to live with OCD.
One life: my mother’s story by Kate Grenville (3 / 5) – I enjoyed reading the story of Kate Grenville’s mother. What a strong woman!
I finished off the Insurrection trilogy about Robert the Bruce with Renegade and Kingdom both scoring 4/5 each. The series ticked off my history, Scottish history, character and plot boxes nicely.
For the 2015 Reading Challenge ‘A book that came out the year you were born’ category I read Where the Wild Things are by Maurice Sendak – 4/5
My favourite Scottish crime writer, Ian Rankin, brought the protagonists of his two series together in Even Dogs in the Wild – 4.5/5
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks was slightly disappointing, not sure why. Perhaps it was the misogyny and violence as a colleague pointed out last month? 3.5/5
For ‘A book written by an author with your same initials’ I read Missing You by Harlen Coben, a competent enough thriller but I’ve forgotten the plot already – 3.5/5
For book group I’ve just had to read The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. Even the author must’ve got bored with this one because the resolution took all of 5 pages at the last! – 2/5
Now I’m reading Fashion Victims: the Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Alison Matthews David as my at-work, lunch-time read. We all know about internal organ crushing corsetry, mercury in hats, arsenical greens and lead-based complexion potions in days gone by but did you realise danger is still all around the fashionista? Today platform soles inhibit the ability to brake a car within safe limits, botox and plastic surgery present obvious danger and did you know that lipsticks can still contain lead? Because it is a ‘contaminant’ not an ingredient, lead is not listed on lipstick labels – a 2011 study by the US FDA found lead in all 400 of the lipsticks tested! (p.24) Sobering reading indeed.
And I’m a few pages into Elvis Costello’s biography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink which I think I will put on the Reading Challenge List under ‘A book based entirely on its cover.’ It’s got way more pages than I usually like but I’ll see how I go.
And I listened to Magda Szubanski reading her autobiography, Reckoning. First on CD in the car and then on my iPad using the Bolinda app trial we’ve had. Wonderful stuff.
How are you going with the 2015 Reading Challenge by the way? I’ve only got half a dozen to go I think – unless we are allowed to pop books under more than one category – HC