What Library staff are reading uncovered – June 2015
A Mystery or Thriller: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – I had seen the movies (yes, both the Hollywood and the Original) but not read the book. And as Mystery/Thriller is not my preferred genre I was a bit worried as to what I was going to read to fulfil this part of the Reading Challenge. I am glad I chose this book as it fleshed out some of the bits in the movies I did not quite grasp. From a fairly dry beginning, this book took on a life of its own once the characters and story was firmly established. 4 stars.
A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet: The Woman who Stole my Life by Marian Keyes – one of my favourite authors. Marian Keyes always manages to bring you into her stories and love her characters very quickly. This is a wonderful rags to riches story via a debilitating disease. I kept wanting to flick to the end to see how if finished! 4 Stars
A book set in a different country: Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy – a wonderful collection of short stories based around the one street in Dublin. These stories were written over decades and have been posthumously collated into a novel/collection of short stories. Wonderful little snapshots into people’s lives. 4 stars.
A book that came out the year you were born: The Foot Book by Dr Seuss – who doesn’t love a rhyming book of opposites? 4 stars
A book written by an author with your same initials: The Military Operations at Cabul, Which Ended in the Retreat and Destruction of the British Army, January 1842 : with a Journal of Imprisonment in Afghanistan by Sir Vincent Eyre – Okay, I was really stretching it to find an author with the same initials as me – but here it is! A book published in 1843, goes into great graphic detail on the British Army attempt at takeover of Cabul (sic) and was written to relieve the boredom of incarceration in an Afghan prison. I can’t say I read every word of this 442 page tome (not including preface pages and glossary), Leiut. Vincent Eyre, of the Bengal Artillery has outshone himself in giving a blow by blow account of this military manoeuvre. Plus it is an interesting snapshot into British colonialism. 4 stars.
A book by an author you have never read before: Amy, My Daughter by Mitch Winehouse – a tragic biography – warts and all – of Amy Winehouse written by her father. This is a train-wreck of a story that shows the day to day tedium of drug addiction and how powerless family and friends are throughout. I came to appreciate the talent of Amy alongside the terrible story of her addictions. 3 stars
A book with a one word title: Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil – a book set in 1970s/80s Bombay based in the underbelly of the city. Interesting characters described in a poetic language. This is a first novel written by poet, Jeet Thayil. Narcopolis was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, it won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2013 at DSC Jaipur Literature Festival and was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize (2012) and The Hindu Literary Prize (2013). A haunting book that will stay with you long after finishing – but not for everyone. 3 stars
A play: The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis – okay this was a BBC Radio Full cast dramatisation (yes I listened to it). The story is the fourth novel in Lindsey Davis’s series featuring the Roman private eye Falco. It has been dramatised by Mary Cutler. So highly entertaining that I now want to go back and read the original books. Apparently there are 18 in the series. Anyway, thoroughly enjoyed myself with this one. For for more on the radio plays visit this link here. 4 stars.
A classic romance: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – this is one I had not read before. It was a lovely vignette into life at Mansfield Park. Apparently it is the least loved novel by her fans. I really enjoyed it. 4 stars
This House of Grief : the story of a murder trial by Helen Garner – a harrowing read about the trial of Robert Farquarson who went on trial for the murder of his three young sons – he was accused of their drowning deaths after his car went off the road one night and into a dam. His motive? Revenge on the wife he had fairly recently separated from. 4 stars I borrowed this from the Library’s eBook collection.
The Poisoned Chalice by Bernard Knight – a medieval mystery in the Crowner John series. Another Library eBook. I was reading it on a trip to the UK and I don’t think I gave it the attention it might have deserved but it was the right kind of easy read after This House of Grief. 3 stars
Mr Phillips by John Lanchester – one day in the life of Mr Phillips who has recently been made redundant and spends all day out of the house because he hasn’t been able to tell his family. Again, a Library eBook (much easier to carry 3 eBooks in my iPad than the ‘real’ thing). 3 ½ stars
My History : a memoir of growing up by Antonia Fraser – nothing really startling in this memoir but it was well-written so I gave it 4 stars
Fatal Rivalry, Flodden 1513: Henry VIII, James IV and the Battle for Renaissance Britain by George Goodwin – a dense history only for real history nuts. 3 stars
Not My Father’s Son : a memoir by Alan Cumming – I don’t usually go for memoirs by film stars as they usually just end up as a tedious list of films they worked on and don’t reveal much of the person. This memoir is different and I read it (Library eBook) after listening to Alan Cumming In Conversation with Richard Fiedler on the ABC. Not for the faint-hearted though, Alan Cumming’s father was physically and emotionally violent with his sons. 4 ½ stars
I’m working on my trilogy and have just finished Changing Places by David Lodge, the first in his Campus Trilogy. 3 ½ stars
The Philosophy of Walking, by Frederic Gros. Committed walkers will find this one interesting. The author discusses walking, not as a sport but a way of life. He also examines the walking lives of a number of philosophers, including Kant, Rousseau, Proust, more… where they walked, why they walked, how walking enriched their lives, or indeed made them bearable. A number of them sounded more than a bit crackers! But I had an immediate urge to go put on my walking boots and get out on a track. Maybe I’m crackers too.
Anybody Out There? by Marian Keyes. I’m listening to it on TB, and quite liking it. The actual theme is not funny at all – the lead character’s husband has been killed in a car accident, which also damages her quite a bit. She refuses to believe he’s dead; then when she does believe it, haunts clairvoyants so she can communicate with him. Lots of black Irish humour, a fast-paced story with a great variety of amusing characters.
The Children Act, by Ian McEwan. Fiona Maye, a respected British High Court judge, is given a case to adjudicate on which proves to be an ethical minefield – at exactly the same time as her 59-year-old husband of many years tells her, “I love you, but before I drop dead I want one big, passionate affair.” McEwan’s writing is graceful, powerful, measured. It’s such a pleasure to take a literary/ethical journey with a writer of this calibre.
A Short History of Richard Kline, by Amanda Lohrey. In (very) brief, Richard Kline finds an emptiness at the core of his comfortable, middle-class Australian life and seeks to fill it, by looking to the East. Geordie Williamson’s perceptive review (see The Australian, Mar 7 2015: I commend it to you) sees Lohrey’s book as an allegory. It’s a discomforting read, but a good one.
Still going on the Luminaries on my ebook. I am going for a world record for the longest time ever to read a book.
In between I let myself read something slightly easier…
The Last Time We Said Goodbye by Cynthia Hand, a young adult title which was an excellent read. If I say that the narrative is about teen suicide that makes it sound like a sad and trying read but it was a perceptive book that is both moving and funny in parts. If you like John Green’s writing and The Fault in Our Stars then you will probably enjoy this.
The returned – by Jason Mott – from the reading challenge A book based on or turned into a TV series. Well. What can I say? Apart from the names of the 4 main characters (i.e. the little boy, his parents and the FBI agent) and the name of the town in which it took place, the TV series bore very little resemblance to the book. I didn’t finish watching the TV series either part 1 or part 2 and am curious to see how they wrapped things up, but……… 3 stars.
Sadako and the thousand paper cranes – by Eleanor Coerr – from the reading challenge A book with a number in the title. Excellent. Even though it was a quick read, being a children’s book, it was really powerful. 5/5
The room – by Jonas Karlsson – from the reading challenge A book based entirely on its cover. The cover of the book had me intrigued so I gave it a go. I did finally get to the end but am unable to say whether it was a good read or not…. If anyone else has read it and can tell me what it was about ….. baffling
Hard times – by Charles Dickens – A book more than 100 years old. Apart from finding the language/style of writing a bit difficult, I enjoyed the story. 4/5
Book by a female author: A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill. The first in a series along the lines of Phryne Fisher but set in Sydney, and our hero is the filthy rich and artistically sensitive bohemian Roland Sinclair. Roland solves a murder against the backdrop of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, meeting members of the New Guard organisation including Eric Campbell and Francis de Groot along the way. Really interesting at least for its historical content, I wasn’t aware that such a fascist-leaning group was so prominent here between the wars.
Pulitzer-prize winner: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. A collection of short stories set in a small New England town, with a narrative arc held together by the character of Olive Kitteridge who makes a more or less prominent (sometimes merely glancing) appearance in each. Olive is a tough and not particularly warm character who is hard to like (her friends and neighbours find this too) but she is quite magnificent and these stories are melancholy and beautiful.
Final in my trilogy: The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. I finished this one on the day the dawn arrests of all those FIFA officials was announced, so that was pretty neat. I ended up enjoying each of these books more than the last and got quite attached to Lisbeth by the very satisfying end.
Graphic Novel: Black Hole by Charles Burns. A dark allegory of teenage angst set in the 1970’s, with a mysterious plague spread by sexual contact causing varying degrees of deformity. Critically acclaimed and personally recommended by two people I know, this was not my favourite read of the month – too grim, but the black and white art is fantastic.
Book with a one-word title: Nest by Inga Simpson. This is a slow-paced mystery, where the actual whodunnit takes a back seat to the protagonist’s personal renewal. Moving back to her small Brisbane hinterland home town, a recently heart-broken wildlife artist has to revisit her tragedy-struck childhood when another local child goes missing. Uses the passing of the seasons and changes in the natural environment to terrific effect. Ties for favourite with Olive Kitteridge this month!
That’s all for just now but according to my spreadsheet it brings me up to 22 of the 50 categories – time to rest on my laurels for a bit before I tackle Shakespeare’s Richard III 🙂
A book set in High School: Paper Towns by John Green (Young Adult) – a fun book with lots of twists and turns. Sometimes reads a bit like an American sitcom in the pace of the zippy, witty dialogue, but I always enjoy Green’s books. This one is an easy read – a heartfelt, lightly philosophical and amusing mystery-romance; the type of book you can’t put down until the end. 3.5/5
A book set during Christmas: Zac and Mia by A. J. Betts (Young Adult) – a heartbreaking tale of two teens trapped in limbo as they fight cancer in hospital. It is a gentle romance and coming-of-age story. This book has drawn lots of comparisons to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, because of the similar themes – teen romance, the main characters having cancer…but there are many differences, too. Zac and Mia is set in Australia and the characters are very different to Green’s protagonists. It may be an unpopular opinion, but I actually enjoyed this book a bit more than TFIOS, and found it more believable. 3.5/5
A book that made you cry: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed – a well-written advice column like no other. Sugar’s answers are wise, raw and cathartic; dealing with issues such as grief, addiction, relationship problems and career aspirations. This would be a good book for someone going through a hard time. 3.5/5
A classic romance: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – this book is an epic, melodramatic romance, but it’s so much more than that; it looks at personal moral conviction, the disparity of the class system, and seeds of feminist thought. Perhaps it’s a little heavy-handed occasionally with the moralising, but I really loved this book and the characters. The descriptive language is lavish and transporting. I already miss the landscapes of Jane Eyre’s world – I didn’t want to leave! 4/5
A book that became a movie: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – Expecting a gothic, windswept romance, I was suprised to find this classic novel to be a stew of horrible characters being cruel to each other. Heathcliff is more sociopath than romantic lead. Without much relief, the pages flow with animosity, injustice, cruelty and bad behaviour. I wouldn’t want to stay the night in Wuthering Heights. 3.5/5
Dracula by Bram Stoker (4.5 stars) – The classic vampire book! The character of Dracula is so powerful, creepy and evil. Some of the other characters can be a little annoying in their simpering and cloying behaviour – but overall it is a fantastic story.
True history of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (4.5 stars) – Written in diary format by Ned Kelly to his daughter, this story tells the tale of Ned’s life and how he came to be one of Australia’s most famous bushrangers. It is wonderfully written – the characters are believable and you feel such empathy for them. I have really enjoyed this tale.
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James (2 stars) – I just didn’t like this book. I think it is because I absolutely love Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. I felt that the characters that I knew so well from the original, were wooden and unsubstantial in this book and I didn’t like what the author did with them. I have enjoyed other P.D. James books though to be fair, just not this one.
Northern lights: the positive policy example of Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway by Andrew Scott (4 stars) – A very interesting book, Australia could learn a lot from these Scandinavian countries. Definitely worth a read.
Mothers and others: Australian writers by Maggie Scott (3 stars) – A collection of essays/stories from Australian writers on the topic of Motherhood.
The Door that led where by Sally Gardner (3.5 stars) – The main character is AJ Flynn, a 16 year old boy with a horrible home life. At his new job, AJ finds a key with his name and birth date on it. AJ eventually ends up in nineteenth century London and must decide where, or when he really belongs.
One life : my mother’s story by Kate Grenville. I really loved reading this book, it was a very deep, understanding and loving story of the life of one “ordinary” woman of the depression and World War II era and right up to the twenty-first century. Kate Grenville has based her work on her mother’s journals so you get a sense of her mother’s thoughts and feelings about her life, which is both ordinary and extraordinary, as well as a chronological spread of information and background. Nance Gee and her family were directly affected by the depression and the war, and Nance became a pharmacist when she was one of only six women in her year at University and went on to own two pharmacies. So far this is my ‘book with a number in the title’, though that may change, and I rate it a 4/5.
As a tribute to Terry Pratchett I read The truth, one of his Discworld novels. I have read quite a few of the series but not all of them, and every time I read another I enjoy the world that he has created and his clever, and gently satirical, writing style. This story covers the beginnings of tabloid journalism in the city of Ankh-Morpork and is full of recognisable characters from that world. A pleasure to read and a good antidote to the real world 3/5.
I also read An ordinary epidemic by Amanda Hickie, I found it a thoughtful and insightful look at an ordinary person and her family facing, what is to us so far and luckily, an extra-ordinary situation. An outbreak of an new unknown virus comes to Australia, to Sydney and specifically south of the Harbour Bridge. Areas are locked down in quarantine, families hide in their houses, water and power are lost and return, and the threat of danger and death hovers and grows. How Hannah and her family cope with the various stages of the tragedy, with each other and their neighbours, and the outside world, is fascinating, ordinary, compelling and really rings true. My Goodreads rating was 4/5.