Reading Rewards - reviews

Book Chat reviews

From Stephanie Laurens to Paul Cleave to David Suzuki – where else would you enjoy such a genre-busting discussion but at Emerald Library’s Book Chat! In the last session for the year, both staff and library members relished chatting and recommending titles they had recently enjoyed, like these:

The Australian Book of Heroism: stories of courage and sacrifice by Larry Writer
From explorers, soldiers, doctors and nurses to charity workers, religious figures, and everyday mothers and fathers, the author offers a fascinating look at some truly inspirational Australians. Each chapter focuses on a different hero from the 19th century to the present day, e.g. Matthew Flinders, Don Bradman, Peter Lalor, Dr Fiona Wood, Rev. John Flynn etc.

Dot said: “The thing about this book is that it makes you want to find out more about them all. Sometimes these days, it seems the word ‘hero’ is used too often – but not here!”

The Lady Risks All by Stephanie Laurens
Miranda has spent most of her life taking care of her younger brother Roderick and just when she thinks he is of an age to not need her constant mothering, he disappears. She turns to her illustrious but infamous neighbour, gambling kingpin Roscoe, to help her find him. The pair takes off on a fast-paced rollicking adventure through the English countryside as they search for Roderick and his abductors, discover each other’s secrets, and, of course, fall in love along the way.

Dot said: “This book is good fun, with good characters you’ll enjoy and a few old friends in the mix – the old Stephanie is back! But the sex scenes do waffle on a bit.”

Fallout from Fukushima by Richard Broinowski
In March 2011, Japan experienced a triple disaster: a force 9 earthquake in the Pacific ocean east of the country, a 21 metre tsunami crashed into the coastline and then as a result of the tsunami, explosions and meltdowns in the nuclear power reactors in Fukushima. This book tells the history of the major nuclear accidents of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and now Fukushima. Richard Broinowski, a former diplomat, travelled to the irradiated zone to speak to people living and working there.  The Japanese nuclear power company TEPCO initially failed to notify people of the immense danger unfolding. The book reveals attempts to downplay suppress and obscure the consequences.

Ali said: “There is a fair deal of technical terminology here however this book is a compelling and incredible expose of an industry which, despite some renewed interest from a handful of countries (Australia included) is probably on the decline. Highly recommended for those of you who are interested in what’s really happening globally with the nuclear energy industry."

The Cleaner by Paul Cleave
Joe is a cleaner in a Christchurch, New Zealand, police station. Everybody assumes he is mentally challenged – his nickname is Slow Joe. By day, he can keep an eye on police files and get away with his own crimes by night. When he discovers that an extra murder has been added to his tally, he sets out to find the real killer and mete out his own form of justice – because he knows it wasn’t him.

Dot said: “With each of the characters wrongly assuming something about the other characters, it is surprisingly funny at times. Creepy, horrifying, and with some scenes that really shock you as well, it is a very good read.”

The Legacy: an elder’s vision for a sustainable future by David Suzuki
David Suzuki has written a heartfelt, wise and beautiful book covering what it means to be a part of the human species on an earth which has seen a tripling of the population in just his lifetime alone. Along with the ecological footprint of the 21st century and a huge growth in technology our well-being and the earth’s eco-system is suffering. Where is the precious earth headed? Our population simply cannot increase exponentially and survive.

Ali said: “Suzuki eloquently discusses the importance of the elements (Air, Water, Earth, Fire) along with the web of living things, biodiversity, and our fundamental need for love. Sukuki’s love and respect for his family shines through; his father while dying stated that despite never being wealthy, he was “so rich”; his wealth being family, friends, neighbours and things they’d done together - his memories. Now that David Suzuki is an elder he too has turned his mind to his own mortality and the interconnectedness of us all. He is filled with hope that the world is capable of greater things, to rediscover our home and live in balance. This book is gentle yet powerful in its message. Highly recommended for those who care about life.”

And some titles highly recommended by borrowers:

Todo in Tuscany: the dog at the villa by Louise Badger & Lawrence Kershaw
Todo had been waiting at Poggiolino since his mistress died over two years before. The house lay empty and neglected and yet he wouldn't leave. He seemed to know that someday the right people would come along and make it a home again. Enter Louise and Lawrence. With Todo as their faithful companion they began to restore Poggiolino. A memoir of moving country and starting a new life.
The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans. James Keir, the main character in this book, is such an awful person that you wonder how the author could redeem him. In a case of mistaken identity, he is believed dead and only then finds out how much he is despised. This Scrooge-like tale is a very moving and inspirational story that has just as many laughs as tears.
Marjorie Bligh’s HOME: Hints On Managing Everything Edited by Natalie Wood
This book full of Marjorie’s Hints on Managing Everything is an absolute joy. There are hints on everything from sponge cakes to dog jackets, and though it may not be a book to sit down and read from cover to cover, it is surely one to dip into at random and enjoy what you find.

Emerald Book Chat will return in 2013.  There is no cost to attend but bookings are required for catering purposes.  Keep an eye peeled early next year for a flyer detailing dates and times.
Deb.

Good Reads Best Books of 2012

Goodreads, the social website for book lovers, has released a few interesting reading lists for the year (being the season for that sort of thing). :)

Goodreads Choice Awards have been announced. These were chosen on the basis of popular votes on the Goodreads website. The top 5 are:

Goodreads have also released their Best Books of 2012 list, which is based on readers' ratings of titles published in 2012.  Interestingly, it is a very different list to the Choice Awards. The top 5 are: I must admit I haven't read any of the titles in the top 5, but I will be investigating further and will definitely be placing a hold on Fault in our stars.
Do you think either of the lists are an accurate reflection of the best books in 2012?
~ Michelle

Top 10 Aussie Books ...

This list is sure to start a few conversational fires over your morning coffee!  These are the Top 10 Aussie Books to Read Before You Die, as voted by viewers of the ABC's First Tuesday Book Club, last night, 4 December 2012:

10. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
9. The Secret River by Kate Grenville
8. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
7. The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay
6. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
5. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
4. The Harp in the South by Ruth Park
3. A Fortunate Life by Albert Facey
2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
1. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton




What do you think should be there, should not be there, or are you happy with the top 10?   Join the conversation - we'd love to see your comments!
Deb.

Poet's Cottage

I became inexorably drawn into this book after reading the short prologue. Laden with atmosphere and menace, it quite stopped me in my tracks – enough to pass it on to someone else and say: “whoa, get a load of this!” 

Tasmanian born Josephine Pennicott is an award-winning writer* and she has created some great characters in Poet's Cottage – from the near 100 year-old biographer, Birdie, to Sadie’s Aunt Thomasina – a forbidding character who lives a reclusive life in a house at the rear of the cottage; and of course, the lead character, Pearl, who reminded me of the talented tragic Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

Although the genre is hard to pigeonhole - a little bit gothic ghost tale cum mystery whodunnit and with mother/daughter relationships blended in – the story is loaded with atmosphere, wonderfully Australian, even down to the Huntsman spiders, eek, that populate Thomasina’s house and with an ending I didn’t predict. Unfortunately there was a ‘come on, get on with it’ lull part the way through, but that aside, it was a very entertaining read. 

The Author said in one interview that her story was inspired by the life of children’s author, Enid Blyton, whose daughters to this day have conflicting opinions on her role as a good mother. During a family holiday to a coastal town in Tasmania, Josephine was mesmerised by a big white Georgian style cottage by the sea that became known as Poet’s Cottage and she set out to create an English-style mystery but within this Australian setting.

 * In 2001 Josephine Pennicott won the Scarlet Stiletto for a short story, and she has won the Kerry Greenwood Domestic Malice Prize twice in 2003 and 2004. Josephine has written three novels, 'Circle of Nine' (2001), which was named as one of the year's best debut novels, 'Bride of the Stone' (2003) and 'A Fire in the Shell' (2004) which was shortlisted for Best Horror Novel in the 2005 Aurealis Awards.

Deb.

Scarlet Stiletto Award

Josephine Pennicott is one happy author now she has a pair of shoes! 
It is the second time Josephine has won the Harper Collins first prize of $1000 and the Sisters in Crime 2012 Scarlet Stiletto Award.  An elated Josephine told the crowd at the presentation last Friday night, 23 November, that she’d been trying to win a second shoe for 11 years.  “It was almost worth killing for”, she quipped. 
Under Sisters in Crime’s rules, once you’ve got a pair you are unable to compete and are invited to become a judge. 
Josephine won her first Stiletto in 2001 for ‘Birthing the Demons’; this year for her short story ‘Shadows’.  Josephine is also the author of this year’s hit mystery novel, Poet’s Cottage.  Watch out for Deb’s review coming this week!

Vale Bryce Courtenay

Popular author Bryce Courtenay passed away at his Canberra home last night, November 22, 2012, aged 79.

The author had been suffering from stomach cancer and he left behind an emotional video message on YouTube to fans in which he said he had a "wonderful life". 
[photo left by:  Graham McCarter]

 Born in Johannesburg, Courtenay spent most of his early years in a small village in the Lebombo Mountains in South Africa's Limpopo province.

In 1955, while studying journalism in London, Courtenay met his future wife, Benita, and eventually emigrated to Australia. They married in 1959 and had three sons – Brett, Adam, and Damon.

Courtenay entered the advertising industry and, over a career spanning 34 years, was the Creative Director of McCann Erickson, J. Walter Thompson and George Patterson Advertising. His award-winning campaigns included Louie the Fly, the original Milky Bar Kid commercial and the ALP's 1972 election campaign, It's Time.

Courtenay divorced Benita in 2000 and later lived in Canberra with his second wife, Christine Gee.

His novels are primarily set in Australia, his adopted country, or South Africa, the country of his birth. His first book, The Power of One, was published in 1989 and, despite Courtenay's fears that it would never sell, quickly became one of Australia's best-selling books by any living author with more than 8 million copies sold around the world. The story was made into a film, as well as being re-released in an edition for children.

Courtenay was one of Australia's most commercially successful authors. His best-known book, The Power of One, was published in 1989.  His published titles are:


The African books:
The Power of One (1989)
The Power of One: Young Readers Edition (1999)
Tandia (1992)
The Night Country (1998)
Whitethorn (2005)



The Australian Trilogy:

The Potato Factory (1995)
Tommo & Hawk (1997)
Solomon's Song (1999)


The Nick Duncan Saga:
The Persimmon Tree (2007)
Fishing for Stars (2008)

Other fiction:
A Recipe for Dreaming (1994)
The Family Frying Pan (1997)
Jessica (1998)
Smoky Joe's Cafe (2001)
Four Fires (2001)
Matthew Flinders' Cat (2002)
Brother Fish (2004)
Sylvia (2006)
The Story of Danny Dunn (2009)
Fortune Cookie (2010)
Jack of Diamonds (2012)

Non-fiction
April Fool's Day (1993)

Vale Bryce Courtenay.
Deb.

RIP - Bryce Courtenay

It is with sadness Penguin Books Australia wish to advise that Bryce Courtenay AM passed away peacefully at 11:30pm on Thursday 22 November in Canberra with his wife Christine, his family and his beloved pets by his side. He was 79.

More details on this popular author will be posted soon.

50 shades of grey matter

Saw the title - 50 shades of great matter - and couldn't resist, both a humorous play on a best-selling title and an exploration into the human brain. Cool! Add to that, the author is our own Dr Karl and who could resist.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Doctor Karl: where oddities are embraced, facts reign supreme, curiosity is king and brightly coloured shirts are compulsory! In his brand new book, our much beloved and National Living Treasure Doctor Karl Kruszelnicki applies his trademark straight-talkin'-no-high-falutin' scientific sense to a brand new range of Big Questions that you never knew you even wanted to ask, but now desperately need to know the answers to. Have you ever walked into a room and immediately forgotten the reason you're there? A solid thought convinced your legs to move, but by the time you reach your destination, you realise the thought has abandoned you en route. No, it's not dementia. It's the doorway. Impress your friends (and potential dates) by being able to answer such questions as: Why the sky is blue? Why is it dark at night? Why does lunacy erupt under a full moon? What's the truth about Spinach and Popeye?

50 shades of great matter was as intriguing as I thought it would be and more. Although there are only 41 chapters (with some chapters covering multiple items), they were short and easy to consume. And fascinating too!  Did you know an Australian astronomer has discovered over 35 comets and over 400 asteroids? That eyes can make the difference between lies and truth and that your microwave can affect your WiFi?

The science behind all these dilemmas and more is easily accessible in this great read, in bite-sized pieces. Even if you are not very scientific, this one is easy to digest and entertaining whilst you do so.  Highly recommend it as part of your lifelong learning journey.

~ Michelle

PS. Check out this ABC Radio interview with Dr Karl, for more interesting information.

Mawson

If you have not heard about, not learned at school, nor yet read the numerous accounts of the expeditions of Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen and Mawson, this book will prove a stellar introduction. 

From the cover of Mawson: and the Ice Men of the Heroic Age - Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen by Peter FitzSimons

Douglas Mawson, born in 1882 and knighted in 1914, was Australia’s greatest Antarctic explorer. On 2 December 1911, he led an expedition from Hobart to explore the virgin frozen coastline below, 2000 miles of which had never felt the tread of a human foot. After setting up Main Base at Cape Denison and Western Base on Queen Mary Land, he headed east on an extraordinary sledging trek with his companions, Belgrave Ninnis and Dr Xavier Mertz. After tragedy struck, Mawson found himself all alone, 160 miles from safety, with next to no food. Peter FitzSimons tells the staggering tale of Mawson’s survival, despite all the odds, arriving back just in time to see his rescue ship disappearing over the horizon. He masterfully interweaves the stories of the other giants from the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration - Scott of the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Roald Amundsen - to bring the jaw-dropping events of this bygone era dazzlingly back to life. 

I downloaded the e-Audio version from Bolinda through our catalogue and became immediately absorbed in this story that is so much a part of Australia's history. 
FitzSimons mentions that he sets out to "breathe life and colour" into tales that have been long forgotten. In my opinion he did this brilliantly in Batavia, and once again steps up to the plate with his hefty research bat swinging and making a powerful home run. Initially I was quite surprised to be hearing about Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen as I didn't notice the subtitle under the Mawson name - "and the ice men of the heroic age", so don't be surprised if Mawson's story doesn't seem to be on the agenda for quite a while. The author does say Mawson's story really could not stand alone as Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen's paths crossed continually in the short but intense 'glory age' of Antarctic expedition. 
This was a wonderful book, so absorbing, and one I highly recommend. 
Deb.

Melbourne Prize for Literature

The 3rd Melbourne Prize for Literature was awarded last night, together with the Best Writing Award.  The $60,000 Literature Prize considers a Victorian writer's entire output and is not limited to fiction.  After being shortlisted in the previous two years, the award went to Alex Miller. 



The Best Writer's award is $30,000 and for a single work, together with a residency at the University of Melbourne. Craig Sherborne was the recipient for The Amateur Science of Love.  

The finalists' exhibition is now open at the Atrium, Federation Square, from 5-19 November for people to vote for the $5,000 Civic Choice Award 2012 - to be announced on 23 November.  Voters will go into a draw to win a luxury stay at the Sofitel Melbourne on Collins. Voting slips are available from the Atrium or you can vote online at http://melbourneprize.org/#finalists
Deb.

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

I picked up Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan after reading the blurb and was quickly enthralled by the mix of technology, middle-age mysticism and old fashioned human foibles.

'Clay Jannon, twenty-six and unemployed, reads books about vampire policemen and teenage wizards. Familiar, predictable books. Books that fit neatly into a section at the bookstore. But he is about to encounter a new species of book entirely: secret, strange, and frantically sought-after. These books will introduce him to the strangest, smartest girl he's ever met. They will lead him across the country, through the shadowed spaces where old words hide. They will set him on a quest to unlock a secret held tight since the time of Gutenberg—a secret that touches us all.But before that, these books will get him a job. Welcome to Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.'

Part Da Vinci code, with a smidge of Harry Potter and elements of near-future science-fiction thrown in, as the search for the secret of eternal life is brought into the 21st century.

There are twists and turns, some I enjoyed, others I didn't, but at all times they were plausible and written in a way that kept me engaged and intrigued.

This is a very different book to much I have read before and I have read quite widely. Even if you aren't very tech savvy, its entertaining, but if you know a bit about technology, you can appreciate it more.

Its well worth the time to step back into the past, with the tools of the future, to discover something that we should have known all along.

- Michelle

Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D


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The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier   From the cover:  Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident.  But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth’s journals, they reveal a woman far different from the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew. The new portrait of Elizabeth – her troubled upbringing and her route to marriage and motherhood – makes Kate question not just their friendship but also her deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage.  The more Kate reads, the more she learns the complicated truth of who Elizabeth really was and rethinks her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional in the wary time period post 9/11. 
This is not my usual fare – a gentle “women’s novel” where there’s much navel gazing and philosophising but strangely enough, I enjoyed it.  The characters are strong and the issues real enough – as a working mother those battles of being the all-round Wonderwoman sure hit a nerve, the balancing acts of ‘so many hats, so little time, is what I’m doing good enough’.  Resonating throughout the story is the thought of seeing, truly seeing and knowing, the essence of your best friend.  How deeply do you really know your own best friend? This, and many other personal questions, wafted around in my mind for quite some time after finishing the book – it’s just that kind of thought-provoking story.  Very well written and flowing easily, Nichole Bernier has managed to mix in a little bit of mystery with the poignancy and intimacy of a love story – a love for husbands, children, best friends, and of course, self. 
Deb.

Nine Days

Nine days by Toni Jordan is a novel concerning three generations of the Westaway family and the communities they live in. 

It is set in Richmond and begins on the eve of World War 11.  Each chapter relates a day in the lives of the nine main characters.  The concept was inspired by a photograph held in the State Library war photographs collection (pictured on the cover) of a girl being lifted up to kiss her soldier boyfriend as his train departs.  

Although we only get brief snippets from the characters’ lives, an intense and colourful story is told.  We follow each generation as they face poverty, grief, life changing events, and hardship.  We also share their loves and dreams.  We are strongly reminded how although times are not as hard now some decisions are still just as difficult to make.  This is particularly poignant in how two women face the dilemma of unplanned pregnancy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It is a wonderful social history of Melbourne and the characters are carefully and realistically portrayed.  I have not read the author's other two books but discovered this title listed in the” 50 books you can’t put down” booklet for 2012. 

If you enjoyed Shadowboxing  by Tony Birch you will appreciate Nine Days.

Marg







Kinglake-350

"As someone who was superficially but nonetheless touched by Ash Wednesday in 1983 – my parents were evacuated from Anglesea – I wasn’t expecting how powerfully this book would affect me."

Kinglake-350 by Adrian Hyland 
From the cover: On 7 February 2009 Sergeant Roger Wood found himself at the epicentre of the worst bushfire disaster in Australia's history... Black Saturday. Wood, who's a country cop with twenty years experience was the only officer on duty in the small community of Kinglake. As the firestorm approached he was called out to numerous incidents including multi-fatality car accidents. He led a group of fifty people from a store west of Kinglake four kilometres to safety through burning bush just minutes before it was completely destroyed. Then, as the fire raged around him, he phoned his family ten kilometres away to warn them what was coming. When his wife answered, she screamed that the fire had already hit their property. Then the line went dead. Black Saturday was a many-headed monster in whose wake stories of grief, heroism and desolation erupted all over the state of Victoria. This book is about the monster—and the heroism of those who confronted it. 

As someone who was superficially but nonetheless touched by Ash Wednesday in 1983 – my parents were evacuated from Anglesea – I wasn’t expecting how powerfully this book would affect me. I recall taking a photo of our outdoor table where I had written in the dust with a wet finger – “hottest day ever” (see pic right) [48oC] and looking at the blood-orange sun and smoke-filled sky before heading inside for another cool drink, complaining that our one fan was doing bugger all to keep us and our disabled son cool. Then it started, the media hype of Black Saturday, the dead count, the shock of hearing about Brian Naylor, Sam the koala, all the mudslinging to lay blame, the endless repetitive TV clips that were replayed for days … But it was all ‘distant’, to the point where you’d turn the channel over because you’d seen it all before. This one book does more to bring home the heart-wrenching reality of it all than actually watching the vision as it unfolded at the time. It’s quite a shock to find tears in your eyes, even though you tell yourself you already know all about it. 

Although non-fiction, Hyland writes this in a novel style from country cop Rodger Wood’s point of view.  The language, flow and narrative are spot on in portraying the ‘Australian-ness’ of the disaster [ignore the few F-bombs].   It’s also well paced, with the personal stories punctuated with some factual reading about weather and how a fire of such intensity occurred; alarming facts about arson; the psychology of human behaviour in crises; our environment and how little we’ve learned from past mistakes; plus of course, systems and procedures that worked on that day, and those that didn’t. 

Hyland himself doesn’t appear in the story, but this is his own community he’s writing about as he lived, still lives, in Kinglake’s neighbour, St. Andrews. He and Roger Wood are good friends, and after driving their daughters to school daily through a blackened, post-apocalyptic landscape, the two men would talk. They had lost a lot of friends, went to about ten funerals, and Hyland said he first started writing just to try and understand how such a nightmare came to be. 

Kinglake-350 is powerful, informative, and deeply disturbing. It also engenders pride, one that makes you want to shake the hand of each and every person who put their lives on the line to help those in distress. This book should be compulsory reading for every Australian, regardless of postcode. 

Deb.

Premier's & Booker Awards

The Biggest Estate on Earth: how Aborigines made Australia has just earned Bill Gammage Australia's richest literary prize - the Victorian Premier's Literary Award of $100,000.  It also took out the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction.  The awards were presented by Victorian Premier and Arts Minister, Ted Baillieu, at the Regent Theatre overnight.
In other categories, the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction went to Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears and the CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry was awarded to John Kinsella for Armour.
Meanwhile, Britain's most prestigious award for literary fiction, the Man Booker Prize, was presented at a gala event in London last night, 16 October.  Hilary Mantel won the c$80,000 prize for the novel Bring Up The Bodies, the second book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. Mantel won the prize for the first book in the series, Wolf Hall, in 2009. She is the first woman to be a two-time winner of the prize.

Deb.

Curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I had originally read the Curious incident of the dog in the night-time not long after it came out, to much acclaim and award winning.  Having had a bit of experience with children on the Autism Spectrum since then, I decided to give it another read, to find out if my new insights would make any difference to my reading of the story.

It did.

"Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. He does not like to be touched, hates yellow and brown, and begins screaming when confronted with unfamiliar circumstances. Nevertheless, he has an affinity for mathematics and science and almost total recall of anything he has read, heard, or seen. Life with his father is relatively routine until Christopher finds a neighbor's dog that was killed with a garden tool. Because of his compulsion to solve puzzles and his fondness for Sherlock Holmes, Christopher sets out, against his father's objections, to find out who killed the dog, with unexpected repercussions."

Although not autistic himself, author Mark Haddon gained good experience with those on the Spectrum whilst working with people with disabilities.  He captures the Asperger nature in his character Christopher beautifully and it takes a bit to not only get in sync with how the autistic mind works, but also in how the story jumps around, much as Christopher's mind does.

Although originally aimed at the adult market, the book has found a niche in the young adult collection, but still appeals to a readership across many age levels.  It is an intriguing exploration not only of autism, but of human relationships and reactions to a range of experiences.

If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it. It has become a mainstream text for secondary school students, but still has much to recommend it to adult readers too. A mini mystery, not only of the crime of dog slaying, but of the nature of a different mind, well worth exploring.

Michelle


Casual vacancy - J K Rowling

I was first introduced to J.K. Rowling in 1999, when a publisher gave the bookshop I worked in a free copy of “Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone” and “Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets”.  They were hoping that we would read them, fall in love with them and then recommend them to our customers.  The publisher was right; we did fall in love.  I became a huge fan straight away, and have been ever since.

So it was with some trepidation that I picked up a copy of J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy.  It’s her first foray into the adult market and described by the publisher as “Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising”. Would it live up to my expectations?  And what exactly were my expectations?  I was hoping for a novel that would grab me and hold me enthralled, as I was by Harry Potter.

Within twenty pages I came across three different characters who could have been Vernon Dursley in different moods.

Within 50 pages an observer noted that I couldn't be enjoying it that much, as I was frowning while reading it.

A third of the way through I was ready to give up, but I persevered, because it’s by J.K. Rowling.

Three quarters of the way through, I didn't care that it was by J.K. Rowling, I wanted to give up; but by then I’d already spent so much time on it I had to see it to the end.

I think by now it’s obvious that I didn't enjoy reading “The Casual Vacancy”.  I tried to analyse why. I read; I read A LOT and all types of genres; yet I discovered that all the books I read have one similarity.  They contain at least one character who is trying to do something “for the greater good” – The cop who has to wade through filth and gore to find the clues to catch the killer. The young boy wizard who fights to destroy an evil tyrant. The list could go on and on.

In “The Casual Vacancy” the only character to give a damn about anyone but themselves dies on page two.  All the others only think of themselves, or if they do think of others it’s about how they can inflict pain and anguish on them.

By the end of the novel, a few of the many characters started to be less self-centred; but for me it was too little, too late.

Leanne

The Randa wrap up


More than 30 people thoroughly enjoyed our Get Reading author event at Hampton Park Library last Friday (28/9), despite wild thunderstorms and lightning! We heard about Randa’s writing journey as she introduced each book she’d written - from her first attempts through to getting Does My Head Look Big In This? published and more recently, her amusing first novel for adults No Sex in the City. While most of her books are great for young adult readers, Buzz Off! is a junior storybook suitable for boys in the popular Mates series. Randa spoke of her passion for writing, how she got her ideas for characters and plots and her role as a human rights activist in providing an alternative voice. The Q & A session was great! One comment was ‘interesting to hear her views on current affairs involving Muslims' as the diverse audience were keen in exploring identity and cultural differences and how Randa approaches her writing.  Randa mentioned attending the major exhibition: Faith, Fashion, Fusion: Muslim women's style in Australia from Sydney's Powerhouse Museum  (which should also be coming to Melbourne) as a way to increase cultural understanding.    Thanks to the Get Reading campaign for their touring author program and Deb from Collins Booksellers in Berwick for the sales and book signing opportunity!  Tuzana (left), pictured above with Randa, certainly appreciated it.                                                    - Pru

You'll Be Sorry When I'm Dead

I opened this book with no preconceived ideas of the woman named Marieke Hardy, except for the intruguing blurb contents; "At the age of eleven I decided with no small sense of certainty that when I grew up I wanted to become a prostitute...".
You'll Be Sorry When I'm Dead is less an extensive autobiography than a small collection of humourous stories from various stages of Hardy's life. Yet after only a few chapters, I found myself feeling as though I knew her personally. Her writing takes you on a rollercoaster of emotion and hilarity. Her retelling of her friend's fight with cancer is both sincere and entertaining without being disrespectful, and she relives childhood boy obsessions with a similar mood of reflective nostalgia that is laughter inducing.
I actually laughed out aloud on the tram on a number of occasions and had to practise yoga breaths to regain some composure... particularly when she remembers numerous letters that she wrote to people and companies, and the responses she then received; "I was twenty-two years old in 1998 and already sounding like the sort of stitched-up biddy who distrusts the coloureds because they hum to themselves while they sew".

Her writing is not for the faint hearted as many of her anecdotes are explicit, however all are vivacious and you can't help but want to read more about the ins and outs of her past. I highly recommend this as a winning read, but only so long as you're not a "stitched up biddy", a sense of humour is definitely a prerequisite to enjoying and understanding Marieke Hardy!

-Nick

Book Chat books

Book Chat is a great opportunity to share the stories we've been reading.  At Emerald Library Book Chat recently, staff and participants really got into the swing of things over a cuppa: the following are just a handful of titles that were discussed:

QUIET: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain
At least one in three people hankers for silence and solitude after a party, conference or crowded train journey. The reason is that they have an introverted personality type which is more comfortable with lower levels of stimulation. Introverts prefer one on one conversation and are often slower, quieter and more deliberate than extroverts. Introverts prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying and prefer working on their own rather than brainstorming ideas. Susan Cain suggests that these days, “quiet” is undervalued.  This book took the author five years to research and it shows. It is a powerful exploration of psychology, physiology, personalities, human relationships and life. This is an extraordinary book which I very much recommend to all readers. Please read! (Staff - Ali)

THE DAUGHTERS OF MARS by Thomas Keneally

Naomi and Sally Durance are daughters of a dairy farmer from the Macleay Valley.  Bound together in complicity by what they considered a crime, when the Great War begins in 1914 they hope to submerge their guilt by leaving for Europe to nurse the tides of young wounded.  They head for the Dardenelles on the hospital ship Archimedes; continue on to the Greek island of Lemnos, then on the Western Front.  Here, new outrages – gas, shell-shock – present themselves. The descriptions of the horrors of war, the suffering of the wounded, the courage of some participants and the stupidity of others makes for harrowing reading at times. This book was inspired by the journals of Australian nurses who gave their all to the Great War effort and the men they nursed. (Staff - Dot)

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE REAL WINNIE THE POOH by Shirley Harrison
For a bear of very little brain Winnie the Pooh has had a remarkable life and this engaging biography was written to celebrate Pooh’s 90th birthday last year.  The book chronicles his story - from the factory in which he was crafted, through his life with the Milne family, his world travel and emigration to the USA, and finally to his life now in his retirement home in the Children’s Section of the New York Public Library.  Pooh has always remained a humble, hunny-loving bear and has never let celebrity and fame go to his fuzzy little head.
The illustrations in the book add to the spirit of the whole volume – including pictures of the World Poohsticks Championships, and Pooh and friends in their retirement home with a young couple celebrating their engagement beside them.  An enjoyable read for those bear-lovers among us.  (Staff - Fay)

STICKS AND STONES  by Ilsa Evans
Sticks and Stones is the second and final book of the story of Mattie Hampton. This again is a great read with some interesting twists throughout. Mattie and her children have developed a new life, a new start in a small country town. Life is fine until the old complications of Jake, his temper and his abuse arise again. Mattie is a stronger person with many avenues of support. Mattie has allowed herself to get help and in so develops a career in helping others. Is her life going to be clear of this continual abuse, physical and mental, or is Jake never going to give up? This story is a heart rendering true to life epilogue with a incredulous ending. A must read after Broken-- you may need to grab the tissue box.  Highly Recommended. (Judy)

THE UNCOMMON READER by Alan Bennett
Led by her yapping Corgis to the Westminster travelling library outside Buckingham Palace, the Queen finds herself taking out a novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett. The following week her choice proves more enjoyable and awakens in Her Majesty a passion for reading so great that her public duties begin to suffer.  And so, as she devours work by everyone from Hardy to Brookner to Proust to Beckett, her equerries conspire to bring the Queen’s literary odyssey to a close.  A very fast little book to read and great fun. (No name)

Margaret recently read some very interesting non-fiction books which she thinks would appeal to fiction readers.  Here's a selection:

Ian Potter by Peter Yule.  "An excellent background story of Melbourne and its people."
Freud's Couch, Scott's Buttocks, Brontes' Grave by Simon Goldhill.  "A quite different kind of travel book."
The Office: a hard working history by Gideon Haigh.  "Told with wit and plenty of photos, it's a fascinating trace over the centuries."




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