December 30, 2012

Book Review - Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

This book intertwines the fairy story of Rapunzel with that of a witch in Renaissance Italy, and that of an actual historical figure, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, a French writer who is said to have been a great influence on Sir Walter Scott, the father of modern fiction. Charlotte collected words:

"I liked to roll words over my tongue like a lump of molten honeycomb, savouring the sweetness, the crackle, the crunch. Cerulean, azure, blue. Shadowy, somber, secret. Voluptous, sensuous, amorous. Kiss, hiss, abyss.

Some words sounded dangerous. Pagan. Tiger.

Some words seemed to shine. Crystal. Glissade.

Some words changed their meaning as I grew older. Ravishing."

Charlotte's story covers her Huguenot family's fall in fortunes and her time at the sensual and extravagant French court of the Sun-King, Louis IV. Rapunzel's story is told by a nun in a strict convent and also in the first person by the witch's victim. And the witch's story becomes rather more complex than first thought. The author incorporates a great deal of historical detail seamlessly into the story, for example, you learn about Charlotte's clothing as she plays a game of strip poker with her lover; and about the food of the day as her childhood household prepares a great banquet for the visiting King. The chapters are headed by excerpts from different poets exploring the Rapunzel story, which adds to the deliciousness of the experience. This is a great read by an accomplished Australian wordsmith and highly recommended.


December 27, 2012

Book Review - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Harold Fry has been retired for some months when he gets a letter from a woman he had worked with many years before. As a result, he sets off, unexpectedly, on a walking pilgrimage to the nursing home where she is dying of cancer. Harold is an unassuming quiet man who has had an unexciting life but as he walks, he gains a broader perspective:

"He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life may appear ordinary simply because the person living it had done so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human."

This a beautiful novel, full of immersive descriptions of the countryside and gentle observations of people. How Harold and his wife deal with the emerging issues from their lives is an addictive read, and a redemptive one.


December 23, 2012

Book Review - The Love Letter by Fiona Walker

Fiona Walker is firmly in Bridget Jones territory as her characters inhabit both the world of business and that of English country homes where complicated family trees and fortunes wreak havoc with continuity of the local hunt and arts festivals. Allegra (Legs) North ran out on her fiancée, Francis, to have an affair with her married boss, Conrad. She has to return to the family home to set up a deal for her publishing company's best author, Gordon Lapsis, who she only knows via email. Along the way, she meets Byrne, a long lost Irish family connection as she tries to sort out her parents' marriage breakdown and resolve her own feelings for all the difficult and demanding men in her life. As Sir Walter Scott said in the Lay of the Last Minstrel , "What shall be the maiden's fate? Who shall be the maiden's mate?" This is a funny contemporary romance with a large & attractive cast and lovely English coastal setting. Suspend disbelief and enjoy!


December 22, 2012

Book Review - Return to Grace by Karen Harper

This is a mystery romance and includes a clash of cultures as Grace, a lapsed Amish woman returns to her community after an act of violence against her worldly friends. Who has attacked her group? What is the secret of the Amish graveyard and will the FBI agent and the Amish barn builder be able to work together to solve the mystery while they compete for Grace's love. As the mystery unfolds and more people are victims of whoever is spreading violence in their erstwhile peaceful valley, Grace has to decide whether her future lies in the valley or the outside world. Karen Harper has set several novels in this fictional Amish community and although not Amish, she has made several research trips to Amish areas. Her portrayal of their culture feels authentic (although less immersive then Jodi Picoult's Plain Fact) and her characters are believable, apart from the fact that whilst still recovering from a wrist injury, Grace takes on a job as a cleaner. This is an enjoyable escapist read.

December 20, 2012

Kerstin Ekman provides Swedish literary nourishment

I read Ekman's Blackwater after reading The Dog - a beautifully written story of a puppy lost in the woods and struggling to survive. The seemingly simple tale offers a more complex exploration of trust and friendship and the relationship between man and dog. I enjoyed her writing style so much that I looked for more of her books and ordered Blackwater via inter-library-loan through Camden library - and I was glad I did. I haven't enjoyed a book this much in a long time.

Blackwater is a literary thriller set in the far northern forests of Sweden. The story spans 20 years and centres around Annie Raft and her involvment in an unsolved double murder of two tourists on midsummer's eve in 1974. The description of the long-lit midsummer nights create an eerie atmosphere and the complex, intricately woven plot and realistic and interesting characters drew me right in and I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. It was, for me, one of those books that reminds us why we love reading.

I found this review in an unpublished archive and thought it was worth sharing. We still have The Dog and it sounds very enjoyable - Wendy

December 18, 2012

Chick-Lit Christmas? Yes Please

This time of year is a great time to get into Chic-Lit. Relax, take a load off and immerse yourself in a world of girly problems and triumphs. You're bound to love one of these fab reads (I like the look of the Hindi Bindi Club myself, there in the centre). Click the title to view more details, or pop into Camden and Narellan branches. And good luck with your Christmas shopping!

December 16, 2012

Better together by Sheila O'Flanagan

Shelia O'Flanagan is one of the reliable group of Irish writers bringing you stories of people and relationships with a serious undertone but a light touch. Settle down for some pleasant entertainment as journalist Sheridan Gray takes a job on a small regional newspaper after being made redundant by a big city sports desk. Sheridan’s landlady, Nina, has a TV soap actor husband who is having a fling with his attractive young co-star. And what a pity that the devastatingly handsome man at the junior soccer match is married…. or is he?

December 15, 2012

National Year or Reading: Love2Read

How can it be? The National Year of Reading is coming to a close. We hope you've enjoyed our monthly booklists, our book reviews, our thematic spotlights and reading goodies. Thankyou for sharing your favourite reads with us- we've enjoyed every single one of them. To finish off our NYOR booklists, we've decided to pull together your top authors- authors that made you laugh, cry, smile, frown, giggle and everything in between.

But that's only the beginning? Won't you share your favourite author with us? Comment in the box below.

December 12, 2012

Book Review - The Secret Life of Poems: a poetry primer by Tom Paulin

If you love words and how writers use them, try dipping into this little book with an entertaining review of 42 poems by well-known English poets including Coleridge, Tennyson, Byron, Hughes, Larkin and Wordsworth. Starting with a short and fairly painless explanation of technical terms for rhythm, rhyme and metre, each short chapter focuses on one short poem or excerpt, analyzing it for poetical devices to understand how the poet gets his or her effect. A discussion of the historical context and influences adds layers of meaning to each one. For example, did you know that Keats and Wordsworth were dangerously radical and political? Or that many of the allusions in their poems would have been understood by their contemporaries to have political connotations? You can also just read the poems and enjoy them – revisting old friends like Coleridge's :

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round:

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

Incidentally, this last word, greenery, was invented by Coleridge in this poem! And yes, I think you should read them to the cat or any other family member willing to listen or just say them out loud to yourself!


Sci-Fi Awesomess: Digital Shelves

Oh la la! Science Fiction reads are all ready to go. Grab one in your Christmas travels and travel to new worlds at the same time. You know you want to. Pick from these classics and new titles or pop in to your local branch.

Christmas Fiction: Great Novels about this lovely time of year

December is here!!! With all the mayhem of Christmas preparation, you'll need a good detox when you get a spare moment. Why not relax with a Christmas read? Fuzzy endings, fun plots and cheeky twists, Christmas fiction is a once-in-a year treat! Try these on for size!

What about you? Do you have a good Christmas Read to recommend? Or your favourite Christmas movie?

December 11, 2012

The Art of Annemieke Mein : wildlife artist in textiles

This book is filled with interesting and unique artwork. The way Annemieke Mein combines different materials together to create birds, butterflies, frogs and other wildlife is truly fascinating. This is definitely a book to browse through when you're looking to be inspired.


December 10, 2012

Book Review - The Wife who Ran Away by Tess Stimson

Kate is nearly 40 and has taken on all the responsibility in her family, using her demanding but highly paid job to support her husband and children, her mother and help her sister's family. One day, following a series of disappointments and stresses, she leaves the family home in a bit of a fugue state and finds herself seeking refuge with an old friend in Rome, rediscovering her love of art history and trying to find out where she lost her own self along the way. Her husband and children deal with the shock of her absence, once they notice it, in their own ways. An entertaining story of how relationships get mired in roles that grow to overshadow the inner needs and desires of the people who start out whole but end up transformed into shadow people they don't want to be. How will Tess find out who and where she wants to be?


Book review: A fortunate life by A.B. Facey

This autobiography is not a new book but I have only just recently read it. Albert, or Bert as he is called throughout the book, was born in 1894 and truly had a remarkable life. Bert had to start working at the age of eight and from then on worked extremely hard for the rest of his life which, even with all he endured, he still considered to be fortunate. He loved the Western Australian outback and found solace in sitting and watching and listening to the wildlife. Bert’s descriptions of the land bring it to life and his writing style is simple, everyday language.

Bert worked on the land in many varied jobs, learning a range of skills that he put to use all through his life. His account of his experience at Gallipoli is moving and educational and really gives the reader an honest picture of what it was like. The second half of the book has a very different feel to the first half, which is probably because of the romantic way we all feel about our childhood and his recount of his adult years is more “matter of fact”.

I’m glad I finally read this book because it is an Australian classic with insight into Australia’s history.


December 08, 2012

Book Review - The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

We begin with Grace, meeting with her solicitors..

"We'd better present her as sane….They laughed and poked their cigarettes in the air and talked about me as if I wasn't there as we walked back to the courthouse where, along with two other women… I was to stand trial for my life."

Part story of the trial and part flashback to the events that take place as passengers and crew from a sunken ship try to stay alive in a lifeboat adrift for many days, The Lifeboat brings us into the mind of Grace. We learn her back-story, just married to wealthy Henry who has surely not survived the sinking. Grace is a survivor but will this current trial be too much for her to overcome? Beautifully evocative writing details the lifeboat's occupants grappling with religion, morality and ethics as life and death choices need to be made on the open ocean. I didn't expect to be as gripped by the story as I was, nor as fascinated by the inevitable 'What would I do?' speculations the book engenders.


Coming Home: A Booklist

This is the time of year that families and homes are important. For this reason (seeing as you might be in the mood for something a little softer), here are some reads that focus on the theme of coming home and returning to the family.

Do you have your suggestions? Why not leave them in the comment box below?

December 06, 2012

Book Review The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

A rich family in a large English country house prepare for a birthday celebration for the daughter of the house, Emerald. Sadie Jones gradually reveals the family's uncertainties and passions. They are not Old County but newly arrived and their grip on the house, which they all love in varying ways, is under threat. A slightly otherworldly collection of visitors arrives, including a gaggle of third class passengers from a local train wreck, like a Greek chorus, and a strange and mesmerizing figure in Charlie Traversham-Beechers. Emerald goes to greet them…

"And as she stopped, there came, of a sudden, a hard gust of wind behind her, striking her through her dress, forcefully blowing all thoughts of convention from her mind. The heavy front door was closed, but the chill struck Emerald's back, finding its way through the jamb and hinges – through the solid wood itself, it seemed, as a cold wave will sometime catch one as one leaves the sea and knock the breath from one's body."

These uninvited guests completely transform the expected weekend and provide a cathartic turning point for future family relations. I particularly liked Imogen, known as Smudge, the youngest daughter, much younger than her brother and sister, and her solution to getting realism into her animal portraits on the wall of her upstairs bedroom. The older children undergo several shocks as they grow to understand some of the adult figures around them and take some tentative steps towards their own futures. They learn that it takes a crisis to understand how strong family bonds can be.


December 04, 2012

Book Review: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green

This novel starts out small and builds layers of complexity. We meet Max’s imaginary friend Budo and learn about Max’s life. Going to school, dealing with parents, teachers and other children and growing-up . One of my favourite parts of the book is the characterization of several teachers - the good and the ordinary. I love Mrs Gosk, who is a teacher who really teaches….

“They talk to kids in their regular voices and say things they would say in their own living rooms. Their bulletin boards are always a little raggedy and their desks are always a little messy and their libraries are always a little out of order, but kids love them because they talk about real things in real voices and they always tell the truth”.

Another gem is the interaction between a varied bunch of other imaginary friends. Each is imagined with characteristics specifically created to help their human friend so communication, brains and movement are all up for grabs in their creation. So, some can speak and go through walls and some can't move at all. Budo is unique in being very nearly fully formed in a human image. This is a story of love, loss and bravery as an extraordinary thing happens to Max and Budo tries to save him. I was swept away by this author's ability to create a whole reality of the imaginary friend and his masterful ability to evoke emotion.


Book Review - A Roomful of Bones by Elly Griffiths

This is not your straight forward story complicated as it is by indigenous Australian repatriation requests for ancient bones, druid dreaming, a trans gender bishop and a murder mystery centred on a race horse training stable. That all sounds complicated but we are in the hands of a very good story teller, so relax and enjoy the ride! The book characterized by wry humour . Dr Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist, has a daughter, the result we learn of a brief affair with a policeman.

“You’re very brave,’ someone said to her recently, ‘to bring her up on your own.” What choice did I have? Ruth wanted to say. Expose her on a hillside? Leave her to be adopted by a friendly wolf pack? But she did have a choice, she recognises, right at the beginning. A choice she supports. It was just that when it came to it she realised she wanted a baby very badly indeed. And, if she never sees him again, she will always be grateful to Nelson for this.

She does indeed see Nelson as they try to solve two mysterious deaths and a parallel investigation into a drug smuggling ring. This is the fourth in a series based on Ruth Galloway but I hadn't read the earlier ones and the story stands up as a read alone. It contains many twists and turns, lots of highly idiosyncratic individuals and some evocative scene setting. I thoroughly enjoyed it.



We were passing the cooking shelves at the library today and had to snap this one! What an unusual mix of books on display- it really demonstrates the vast range of food and cooking books available for loan at your library. Click one to view more details, and as always, we'd love to see you in person at our Camden and Narellan branches.