September 16, 2020

Dean Koontz' "Devoted"

You can find this book here.

If you know of Koontz, this writing is like a lot of his others. To be honest, I found it a little gorier or adult than other books he has written, but you might have a different opinion. Or you might think I am right. Maybe we will see in the comments section?

The story itself covers a very short amount of time for a lot of the main characters: Megan Bookman, Woody Bookman and Kipp. In fact, it only spans a couple of days. The novel itself is separated into parts that show the time frames, even though a lot happens throughout the novel across this short amount a time. This means that even if there is a lot of content, the story moves rather quickly.

As far as plot goes: Megan Bookman’s husband died, leaving her alone with her autistic son who does not speak. They are trying to live their lives in safety, even though Woody believes that his father’s death was no accident, but in fact murder. Through looking for the people responsible for his father’s death, Woody and his mother’s lives become threatened by the same people. If this were not enough, there is also something else out there, something “becoming”, intent on Megan Bookman.

I also hear you say, “Where is Kipp in this plot?” Well, Kipp is there, as important as Megan and her son. But I don’t want to give away anything special about Kipp. If you read the novel, you’ll love him as much as I do anyway ­čśŐ

The book is a thriller / light horror novel, so I don’t want to give away all the horrors involved. If you have read any of Dean Koontz’ other work, you will see similarities between this and others. For example, the theme of how everything always seems to universally work out in strange ways; as if the way chance or coincidence works is also a character that plays with the motions and choices of actual characters in his books. You will also have a very distinct definition between good and evil characters: these are always well-defined and not much grey exists in-between.

If you like more grit in this type of story; sorry, but this will be missing from ‘Devoted’. However, I have always enjoyed how the world moves in Koontz’ work so I recommend giving this one a shot. It is slightly darker, as I have said, than other novels I have read of his; but nothing that will turn any stomach. Also be aware that some of the writing is repetitive. He does re-explain things you have already learnt a couple of times. This may become frustrating, particularly if you aren’t a fan of Koontz. Or maybe even if you are.

I still think the book is solid Koontz, with elements of his classic writing style in there. If you have never read a novel of his before, maybe don’t start (or end) here; but, it is a light and quick read that will get you through an evening or two.

Other versions of the same novel can be found on our catalogue here.

Links for you:

Koontz in the Library:

A big little life (nonfiction)


Life expectancy

Koontz in cloudLibrary:

Anthologies in the Library:

Koontz has no work in these anthologies. they are both edited by Stephen King (and others), and are short, sharp stories that hold to elements of over-arching themes found in Koontz' work at times.

This is edited by Jonathan Maberry and contains short, sharp stories that hold to elements of over-arching themes found in Koontz' work at times. be aware that some in this anthology will be written as poems.

Author read-a-likes in the Library:

Jonathan Maberry

The library does have other Maberry books. Be aware that the genres may be different between these authors; however, the writing is similar in terms of being fast-paced, action-packed and focusses on the battles between good and evil. Also note that Maberry may be a darker, heavier writer than Koontz.

September 09, 2020

Stop! Grammar time.

Prasoon, S. (2015). English grammar and usage: Read swiftly, speak fluently and write correctly. New Delhi: V & S Publishers, [97]. Retrieved from

In this Grammar Time, I would like to look at passive voice. However; the example from above also mentions transitive verbs. So I think we should start there. 

A transitive verb is a verb that takes or demands an object be given to a subject (person or thing). When you look at the sentence that contains transitive verbs, the object (another noun in a sentence, but one that has actions done to it, not like subjects discussed in an earlier post where they cause the action) comes directly after the verb:

Sally kicked Sam.

The dog barked at me.

Terry eats ice cream every day.

Laverne wants Shirley, but Shirley doesn't notice her.

In the above examples, the words in purple are the transitive verbs. The words in red are the objects directly affected by the verb: the verb is demanding or transferring what it does to an object (person or thing).

Everyone still on board? 

Now, passive voice. This is something you might have seen working in any kind of electronic document. The squiggly line underlines your sentence and says 'passive voice', and never quite offers up how to fix it. Or even if you should fix it (I'll get to that later).

What is passive voice? Passive voice is when you kind of turn your sentence around so that the object in your sentence becomes the subject. If you would like examples, visit this link here. Your Dictionary also have an option to look at a very solid PDF of examples and definitions of passive and active voice on this page (active being the way we learnt our basic sentence structures previously).

Is the passive voice a little clearer? 

We all do this in every day language and in our writing. It also doesn't mean, that just because squiggly lines are there, that the sentence is incorrect or shouldn't be used:

Booher, D. (2013). Write to the point. United States: Dianna Booher, [24]. Retrieved from

In this resource, changing sentences so that some are passive are good for variations in your writing. It is not recommended for essays or academic writing; but letters, emails, creative writing, passive voice can work well here.

So do not always be disheartened when you see this popping up in what you are doing. It doesn't make it incorrect. It is just a different way to write a sentence that can help vary pace or add variety to the paragraph.

September 02, 2020

Marlon James' "Black leopard, red wolf"

You can find this book here.

James' book is epic in nature: in length and scope of the book, which by the way is the first in a trilogy, known as the Dark Star Trilogy.

In the first of this series, Tracker is hired as a mercenary to find a missing boy. the reason for this is because "he has a nose" for tracking anyone down. The book's perspective is all Tracker's and as it progresses it shows how whilst he is used to working alone, he teams up with a band of people with different abilities and secrets to find the boy. One of these is a shape-shifter who turns into a black leopard, mentioned in the book's title.

So, when I say this book is epic, I mean it. It draws from African history and mythology and James' own imagination to create a layered novel that looks at themes of power, ambition and truth. I think truth is very important in this novel, particularly as you only gain one character's perspective throughout. However, the trilogy itself will focus on different characters in each of the other two books to look at the same events in different ways; really bringing a look at what truth is to people, or at least these characters. 

Not only this, but the writing style is not linear and there is always a lot going on that may be hard to follow. I found that it took awhile for me to understand this flow; but once I did, it was a really strong read. You just have to make it through the first thirty pages or so. The language is very strong and it is a very gritty and descriptive book, also something to be aware of. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart. but if you are looking for a strongly written, gender-bending, fantastical epic, this book should be a go-to.

The settings and characters are well described; incredibly diverse in their abilities, personalities and cultures; and once you get past the jumping through non-linear storylines, you feel very enmeshed in the story, the characters and their fates. 

I hope you make it through the beginning of this novel, because it is a great read once you adapt to the prose.

Links for you:

Read-a-likes in the Library:

Who fears death
Nnedi Okorafor

The novel is set in an African-inspired setting where outcasts with powers go on a dangerous and violent quest. The difference is this novel is more futuristic, whereas James' is timeless.

Fifth season
N. K. Jemisin

Jemisin's book is lyrical with strong world-building. It is also Afrofantasy and has a large cast of complex characters. it is also the first in a series, though it is more apocalyptic than James'.

August 26, 2020

Samanta Schweblin's "Little eyes"

You can find this book here.

'Little eyes' was this year shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. Her previous novel 'Fever dream', was the same in 2017. With two shortlists under her belt, this book is worth a look.

The plot of this book is about the movement of kentukis across the world. Kentukis are small machines that are dressed as animals (from rabbits to dragons) owned by "keepers", that are controlled by "dwellers". I hear you say I am moving too fast for you. A keeper is a person who owns a kentuki, treating it anywhere from a toy, to a pet, to a member of their family. A dweller is someone who controls the kentuki from a computer screen, watching the life of the keeper on the other side of the world from their office space or bedroom.

The book therefore looks at how connected we are in this way; and how disconnected we may just be or become through the use of such technologies.

'Little eyes' is told from a variety of voices, though some have more focus than others; such as Alina and Emelia. These voices are diverse, culturally and through their individuality. If; however, you do not like jumping across perspectives, this book may become a little overwhelming. yet the voices and behaviours of these different characters show the varied emotional connections made through technology and with it. It, at times, created a sense of unease with some of these perspectives that gives the book a thrilling edge to it.

in terms of depth, I do think this novel focusses on the impact of technology such as this with and between humans more than character development. I did not find a lot of depth to characters and readers may not relate as well; however, because the themes are strong they carry the text to its end well.

Links for you:

Read-a-likes in the Library:

Mathangi Subramanian

This book was chosen for its culturally diverse perspectives and issue-oriented focus. However, the issue is not technology-based, it will make readers think and offers multiple perspectives like Schweblin's novel. 

Angela Chadwick

This book was chosen as it is issue-oriented and thought-provoking. Whilst the issue is not as subtly written in this novel as Schweblin's, as LGBTQIA fiction it offers a different perspective.

Nick Clark Windo

This book was chosen for being issue-oriented in regards to technology and its global impacts.

August 20, 2020

Staff pick: Matthew Reilly's "Ice station"

This book can be found here.

This book is action-packed, fast-paced and an all-out knock-out boy’s fight. I loved it.

This is the story of a well-trained group of US men sent to secure a classified item in Antarctica. Intrigue, fighting and natural hazards made for some unexpected twists and complications. This book was funny and eventful, making it exciting to read and talk about. I would relate it to watching a superhero movie with some of the sequences pulled off; however, the twists in this book are possible because nature is unpredictable.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read military themed novels, who enjoys twists, exciting fight sequences and humorous characters.

-- K

It is also book one (1) in Reilly's Scarecrow series; but it is not necessary to read them in order.

August 19, 2020

Lang Leav's "Poemsia"

You can find this book here.

Leav's book is a young adult novel that encourages readers to see the passion of poetry. Whilst there are none of Leav's poems within this story, at times she writes with poetic descriptions from her protagonist to show her craft.

Verity Wolf is nineteen and obsessed with poets, like Mena Rhodes, and poetry (reading and writing it). With the help of her best friend Jess and an Instagram post that highlighted a favourite poem from an old book called Poemsia, Verity is thrown into a social media frenzy where poets like her can become famous in an instant.

I would argue this is a fairly standard young adult novel: friendship, love, betrayal ... elements that make a teenager's life exciting and overwhelming. However, the protagonist is fresh. Verity is not modelesque, and she may not even be girl-next-door; which makes her unique. The backdrop of books, literature and poetry also brings something fresh to the table as this would be an element seen as possibly outdated to some readers.

In saying that, the book is also very focussed on social media presences, behaviours and attitudes. The book has Twitter feeds, for example, as part of its writing style. This, as well as the writing, make it a fast-paced read and easy to get through.

Even if poetry is not your style, the universal themes within this book are great for hooking youth readers.

Links for you:

Leav in the Library:

Be aware this is a book of her poetry.

Read-a-likes in the Library:

#Find the girl
Lucy and Lydia Connell

Permanent record
Mary H. K. Choi

These books were picked as coming-of-age stories where the main character needs to find some form of identity amidst dealing with relationships (familial, friend and romantic) and social media.

August 12, 2020

Stop! Grammar time.

Grammar and usage. (2011). Irvine: Saddleback Educational Publishing, 8. Retrieved from

This resource can be found here. It is part of our online nonfiction collection of items that you have free access to with a library card. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of this page, and log in.

Remember that sentence work we started here? Well, we are going to break it down even more. A sentence is a full thought that contains the 'who' and 'what they did'. Sentences do this by dividing into a subject and a predicate.

Let’s start with subject. The subject in a sentence is a noun that names a person, place or thing. A noun can be a name like Bob; a word that defines an animal or object like cat, dingo or chair; a place like Blue Mountains, Hollywood or forest; a feeling like fear, happiness or anger; a quality like laughter, plumpness or strength; or even something more abstract like biology, holiday or friendship (abstract because these aren’t tangible [able to touch and see them] nouns).

That is so many different types and examples!

It can be very confusing understanding even that little list; so we will go into more detail of nouns in another post; but for now, this list is a good example for working through sentences.

The predicate in a sentence tells a reader what the subject (noun) does or is. This means a predicate is a verb. Before I give you examples of predicates: there are two kinds. There are the action verbs (also known as doing words) that show action; and there are linking verbs that show “what is or seems to be”. When thinking about these two types of verbs; action verbs are much more recognisable: running, flew, ducked, steaming. Linking verbs are harder to spot: is, are, seems, appears, was, must, should.

So, let’s have a look at some examples and hopefully clear this up even more.

The boy jumped.

Boy is the subject because it relates to a person and jumped is the verb because the person is doing something; e.g. jumping.

The cat sat on the mat.

This is a sentence everyone hears about. In this short sentence the subject, or noun, is cat. Sat is the verb because the cat has done something; it has performed an action. Mat is also a noun, but because it follows the verb (remember verbs are doing words) and so is receiving action, not doing or completing an action, it becomes an object within the sentence.

The chair is in the kitchen.

In this short sentence the subject, or noun, is chair. Is, is the linking verb because it does not show an action; instead it links the subject with the object, which is kitchen.

And so that is sentences; at least short ones. Easy? We use them everyday; but maybe breaking it down shows how complex they can be so we can build on them and create new ones.

August 10, 2020

Staff pick: Philippa Gregory's "White princess"

This book can be found here.

I found this book to be detailed, compelling, thought-provoking and shocking. 

It is an historical romance, with so much detail given to the time period and the political and economical struggles at the time that I had to rethink what I knew of the English Monarch during the Tudor reign. The story is told from the female protagonist’s point of view and it sheds light on the royal family and the struggles of a person perceived as lesser or of little value other than to bear a male heir. The woman in this story is a unique and untold hero who faces real villainy.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves historical novels, a strong female protagonist; stories revolving around historical Royalty; or, who is interested in learning an in-depth account of a story already told a thousand times before.

-- K

Here are other formats you can borrow of Gregory's book (including a television series).

It is also book five (5) in Gregory's Cousin's war series; but it is not necessary to read them in order.

August 07, 2020

Staff pick: Rachel Aust's "Less"

This book can be found here.

This book is about minimalising and simplifying things in your life and focus on what is really important, which we all could do with a bit of help along the way. It covers: the mind; the home; essential items; your wardrobe; the pantry; home furnishings, and staying minimal long-term.

Even the book's design is to appear clutter free: its A5 size and it's light to hold. Even the wording on the pages and graphics are  simply set out, bit of a go to pocket bible. here is an example below:

I absolutely loved reading this book!!

-- Lillian

August 05, 2020

Alvydas ┼ťlepikas' "In the shadow of wolves"

This book is originally titled ‘Mano vardas – Maryt─Ś’. The translated book can be found here.

┼ťlepikas has written what I would deem a short novel; but definitely not sweet. Before that puts you off, this book was also a Times Book of the Year for 2019, so even if it isn’t gentle, it may be a book to read.

If you do not know this Lithuanian author, he apparently is multi-talented: writing and directing for films; a poet; and a playwright. In this book, he has written an historical work that has been influenced by a couple of ‘wolf children’ themselves who wanted the world to know what it was like for them in post-war Prussia after World War II.

‘In the shadow of wolves’ follows the Schukat family and their lives in Prussia after World War II. It does not follow all their lives equally, and for most of the novel, it focusses on Renate. However, it looks at post-war conditions, issues with World War II, how children feel and survive during these times and what it is like for ‘wolf children’.

As an historical note, and for some background; ‘wolf children’ are children who have found themselves alone in east Prussia and have had to do many things in order to survive. Outside of this novel, if you would like an historical article for reference, you can visit National Geographic’s article here.

The plot may sound very singular, but the focus is on the gritty reality of trying to survive. In fact, it appears this is the most important part of the writing in order to help readers come to know the truth of what post-war situations can be like for children: a part of history that might not be well known by many. If you are looking for in-depth character creation or emotional tugs towards one human protagonist or another, you probably won’t find that here.

┼ťlepikas does not shy away on details of what can happen to humans and humanity during times like those. It is gritty, raw and very, very real. However, it is an important story to tell. As the writer has gone to great lengths to find stories to incorporate into the novel, it also makes it more authentic. If this is too difficult, particularly where it comes to children, probably skip this book.

But people should be aware of such histories.

Links for you:

Usually I do Readers’ Advisory here; however, ┼ťlepikas has no other works in our library and there is not, as far as I can find, any nonfiction specifically on the wolf children. So, I have created a list of fiction and, mostly, nonfiction information and biographies that relate to children and their family’s experiences during World War II or afterwards.


Bryan Malessa


Anonymous Members of the Kovno Jewish Ghetto Police

Kazimierz Sakowicz and Yitzhak Arad

Julija Šukys

Annette Janic

Wilbur and Charlotte

This image comes from Camden Library and its creative staff!

In times such as these friendship (with correct social distancing), is important for maintaining our emotional and mental health. Connecting via online options isn't as great as meeting people face-to-face like Charlotte and Wilbur were able to do; but connections are important to maintain anyway we can. 

Hopefully all of you are still maintaining relationships with family and friends and talking through anything that may still be overwhelming as restrictions tighten and ease across Australia (depending on where you are). 

Wilbur had Charlotte to talk through his worries about being fattened up and eaten (different kinds of problems, I suppose). But with the help of his friend; it all worked out (if you haven't seen the film or read the book, I won't spoil too much of the ending). 

If you haven't read this book or seen the film, you can find a list of the available items here. This list also offers a book on the story of the writer E. B. White. 

Happy reading ... and tell your friends and family about the reading experience, amongst the other important conversations we are all having ­čśÇ

August 04, 2020

Thubten Chodron's "Awaken everyday: 365 Buddhist reflections to invite mindfulness and joy"

You can find this book here.

A book to highlight compassion, wisdom, mindfulness and joy could not have come at a better time for me. Living in times like these, reaching for supports of any kind will often include finding a great read. I found just this in Chodron’s book from the shelves at Oran Park Library. 

This is a nonfiction title you can dip in and out of, read page to page or open randomly and absorb the positivity. I have enjoyed many moments of peace and inspiration at any time of the day. Wise words and reflections that are touching make this a must read if moments of serenity is what you are craving. Some of my favourite snippets so far include; “Happiness is for everyone”, “Two ears, one mouth” and “Pure generosity”. Look out for this one soon.  

-- KW

July 29, 2020

Margaret Pemberton's "Summer queen"

You can find this book here.

Pemberton’s novel is a well-detailed historical novel, following three grandchildren of Queen Victoria: May, Alicky and Willy. If you are well-versed in modern history or the British royals, you may well know these characters already, or maybe you don’t know them as well as you think you do.

The novel follows the lives of May, Alicky and Willy and how they were bound together one day through a blood pact. If you read the tagline on the cover: ‘Her broken oath would cast an empire into turmoil’, then you can be sure that the consequences of their future by these characters are linked to the fact that the blood pact between the three of them does not remain. Whether their futures become what they do because a blood pact was broken or not, can easily be debated by you.

Their futures could also be shaped by who they are. May for example, is not a true royal and living with this truth around royals makes her feel like an outsider. Alicky is strong-willed, but never recovered over her mother’s death, even when she falls in love with the man she thinks she will be with for eternity. And finally, Willy, who was born with a birth defect that his parents were ashamed of and tried hard to “fix”, making him hide who he really is and becomes someone else.

Pemberton has researched her history well to create a family saga that is rich, and dare I say gritty, with detail. The characters are relatable; even when things start to break down for each of them, I still felt for them: I wasn’t distanced from them. Pemberton writes with flair regarding the settings, the architecture, the clothing … everything you need for a strong historical saga. I will say; however, that some things are repeated in the descriptions and memories. Whilst this could be reminiscent of human reminiscences, I found it a little jarring.

I did also find the list of characters sometimes confusing and couldn’t keep up. However, the more I made it through the novel, the better I became at handling this. Without it, would it really be so saga-like? There are family trees at the beginning for you to be aware of; but you can also be sure that the three main protagonists are not lost in this novel either.

If you enjoy reading about a lot of characters, historical fiction, or even royal families, this book is a good read. Whilst I am unsure how much is poetic licence (it is fiction, so there will be some); I still really enjoyed it.

Links for you:

Book list of Pemberton in the library here.

Title read-a-likes in the Library:
Philippa Gregory

This book is set further in history, but is within the same genre, is descriptive and has a strong sense of place. The characters are strong females (which May could be), though it is a much more suspenseful novel.

Christopher (or C. W.) Gortner

This book is also historical; however, is more focussed on mystery than family sagas.

Read-a-likes in cloudLibrary:

Barbara Taylor Bradford

This series is historical in nature and has elements of family saga within. It is also written as descriptively as Pemberton’s novel.

A select bibliography:

Deborah Cadbury

Miranda Carter

Virginia Rounding

Robert Service

Catrine Clay

James Pope-Hennessy

Helen Rappaport

Julia Baird (also Julia Woodlands)

Matthew Dennison

July 27, 2020

Staff pick: Canna Campbell's "Mindful money"

This book can be found here.

I recently finished ‘Mindful Money’, a book by Australian financial planner, new mum and YouTuber, Canna Campbell. This book not only offers practical tips for how to structure your income and spending, but also weaves a modern, mindful philosophy into the whole process. Canna explores the relationships and values we all have towards our money and invites readers to further explore this in a positive way. This approach is a side to personal finance that I haven’t seen represented before and is such a welcomed point of difference, especially for younger investors.

It broaches a wide range of financial topics and clarifies some big buzz words (hello franking credits!) The topics are easy to follow, clearly written and presented in a way that encourages beginners and informs rather than instructs. It’s a very poignant topic and gave me a sense of comfort and clarity, especially within
 the current worldwide environment.  

-- Lauren

July 23, 2020

Staff pick: Sophie Hardcastle's "Below deck"

This book can be found here.

On the surface, a simple story of a young woman deciding to take her life in an unexpected direction after the death of her grandfather. A chance meeting with people who ‘get’ her more than she has ever felt from her parents, takes her part of the way on this journey and they remain a support system as she travels on by herself.

The words flow seamlessly in circles of colour, in streams of light and dark, in visceral description and battered and baffled feeling. The story of Oli, of how she meets, evades, excels and ignores other people’s expectations is tender and hopeful. She goes to sea which is both the answer and a terrifying question. She finds people who will test her and some who will support her but eventually she must go back to the sea to find her own answers. Oli has synaesthesia which means she hears the world in colour, but she has the same difficulty as any other young person in making sense of her world. There is a large cast of supporting characters who are developed enough to move the story forward, but this is Oli’s story alone and we hear it in her own voice and in her own colours.

 ’Someone told me a special story about death,’ Maggie says. ‘She told me that we are like rivers, all of us. We begin as clouds, and then one day we rain down and become a trickle. We grow into a stream…thicken into a river. We travel great distances, wind through all kinds of valleys and forests. Sometimes we come together with other rivers, flow together, swirl together in great lakes, part ways, flow alone…But we all meet again in the end at the river’s mouth, where we empty into the sea.’ pp. 54-5.

Oli’s sailing takes her to the Great Barrier Reef and the Great Southern Ocean; seeing whales, penguins, icebergs and the vast, restless colours of the waters of the earth. On land, she works in an art gallery and meets creative women developing their craft and asserting their own identities.
This is a debut adult fiction although the author has already published a memoir re mental illness and a YA novel. But this is grown-up territory, a poetic muse on being an adult and making adult choices; about finding your own voice and making your own space to live.

I imagine that this wind first circled in Antarctica, that it was born of silence. I imagine how it thickened, changed shape, changed direction. I imagine how it licked the sea, clawed at it, dug up waves from the deep. I imagine how it screamed in the night, shaking sailor’s knees.
And as it tears through my hair and up behind me, I find a sense of awe blooming inside my body, a deep and unswerving respect for these coarse grasses, that mother with her child, this purple earth, these people, all these wildflowers.
It’s a wild wind. Fierce and bitter and alive. Ushuaia endures.
And in that thought, I find solace. For I, too, endure. P. 252

For other books (or versions of this one), go here.

To read an article on Hardcastle's writing process, go here.

-- Wendy

July 22, 2020

Stop! Grammar time.

Grammar and usage. (2011). Irvine: Saddleback Educational Publishing, 6. Retrieved from

This resource can be found here. It is part of our online nonfiction collection of items that you have free access to with a library card. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of this page, and log in.

The image gives the perfect summary for what a sentence is: a full thought that contains the 'who' and 'what they did'. So as long as you have both of those elements and it is a complete thought, then you have a sentence. It will also always start with a capital letter (ABC) and have punctuation like a full stop (.) at the end. And the resource allows you to practice this on following pages; so feel free to use them if you are trying to show or explain to someone how to write a sentence.

But, stop! What if I have a question? Or, you need to understand how I feel! Or, I need to tell you to do something. ... Well, a sentence does not have to end in a full stop (.). Ending a sentence with a question mark (?) or an exclamation mark (!) still shows a complete thought; as long as the 'who' and the 'what they did' or 'how they felt' is in there.

What sound does a dog make?

I wanted the last piece of chocolate!

He jumped on the trampoline. 

Go over there now!

The fireworks are pretty.

Now I know that these sentences seem small; especially since the sentences I am writing are very long. Books like 'Grammar and usage' go into more detail; but ease you in to learning things that seem much more complicated than they first appear. And we have a lot of books you can use to help you!

But 'Grammar time' will also break things down ... and over time there will be a lot more about sentences coming. So, watch out! It's time to break grammar down.

July 15, 2020

C. J. Tudor's "The chalk man"

This book can be found here.

Tudor’s ‘The Chalk Man’ is a pretty fast read, and whilst I am going to review it as much as any other book I have read … cloudLibrary classed it as part of the genre “Horror”. Depending on your definition of the genre, you may or may not agree with this when you read it.

Eddie is a kid, part of a “gang” of youths who find a dead body when they are young and then need to deal with the consequences of this once they are older. Seems like a simple storyline; and it is, because we have heard this many times before (even Stephen King’s ‘Dreamcatcher’ does this in part). However, this book has a very different feel to it, even though it follows common tropes. 

The reason I believe this novel is different is because of the characterisation. I found the characters; not exactly interesting per se, but so damaged and flawed that the situation, consequences and the writing sat with me much longer. Perhaps this was why it was placed in horror? The mentalities, attitudes and lives of these characters are so flawed, so pained at times, and seemingly so … off … that perhaps this is the horrifying element all along. Not anything violent that actually happens in the novel: it is the psychology of the characters themselves that is off-putting or creepy. It was what made the book interesting. And sad (not in a crying way, but in a “oh, humans are so pathetic and tormented way”, you know?). It’s also what I take away from this novel the most.

The story itself changes chapter by chapter through the past and present. Mainly between 1986 and 2016. This really worked and made the novel even poetic and cyclical by the end. 

“Everyone has secrets, things they know they shouldn’t do but do anyway.”

You may not see it now, but you will if you read this novel. 

If anyone says they could not connect with the characters; that makes sense. Because it is filled with dark humour and the characters are all flawed, broken and well, human. But the story itself is well written and complete; you have everything you need by the novel’s end. I just kept going back to its cyclical nature and found this part the most enjoyable.

Links for you:

Tudor in the Library:

Tudor in cloudLibrary:

Title read-a-likes in the Library:

Luca Veste

Both novels are menacing and have a murder of the past that leaves a mark on individuals into their older selves. However, Veste is more police procedural.

Ruth Ware

This was chosen because of the flawed nature of characters and the psychological impact of past events on characters.

Karin Slaughter

Chosen because characters were flawed and shows the impact of small-town life.

Author read-a-likes in cloudLibrary:

Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawkins

Hawkins' work is similarly creepy, complex and nonlinear. These works also focus on the psychology of characters and their unlikeability.

July 13, 2020

Staff pick: Maggie O’Farrell's "Hamnet"

This book can be found here.

“She cannot understand it. She, who can hear the dead, the unspoken, the unknown, who can touch a person and listen to the creep of disease along the veins, can sense the dark velvet press of a tumour on a lung or a liver, can read a person’s eye and heart like some can read a book. She cannot find, she cannot locate the spirit of her own child.”
[The sibling however] “hears [them] in the swish of a broom against the floor…in the winged dip of a bird over the wall…in the shake of a pony’s mane, in the smattering of hail against the pane, in the wind reaching its arm down the chimney, in the rustle of the rushes that make up … the … den’s roof.” p. 298

The book opens with Hamnet finding his sister, Judith, ill in bed and when he looks for the rest of the crowded household, no-one is home. His father is away in London, his mother in the fields at her old home farm where she grows medicinal plants. His grandparents and other household members are out on various errands in Stratford.

The book is based on Shakespeare’s family of which very little is known. What is known has been taken and woven into a beautiful story of love and loss. A story of the Latin tutor, giving lessons to pay off his father’s debts and meeting his future wife; a strong and individual woman with gifts of her own. A story of parents whose connection is very strong but is sorely tested by the loss of a child. A story of the love between twin children. The story does not feature Shakespeare’s life in the theatre world which stays mostly on the sidelines: the meat of this story is how people deal individually and together with their sorrow.

And there is an interesting side story on how the plague came to Stratford via some enterprising fleas and the thriving trade with the Mediterranean ports. And some beautiful descriptions; e.g. kittens with “faces like pansies and soft pads on their paws”. All the senses are engaged as O’Farrell takes us to bedrooms, kitchens, workrooms and fields.

I have liked anything I have read by Maggie O’Farrell but she lifts to another level here. Her prose is beautiful, luminous and enthralling. Her characters are complete people with strengths and weaknesses, bluster and frailties. Her speculation based on such few facts and a lot of research into the period is believable. Her people spring off the page as if you had just passed the time of day with them in the marketplace on your way to buy gloves from John Shakespeare.

This is a very readable and engaging book. I am happy to learn it has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020.

-- Wendy

July 08, 2020

Stop! Grammar time.

Tense. Yes, you may feel this way when it comes to writing, whether informally or formally (for work or educational purposes). But 'tense' is also important for understanding what people are talking or writing about: whether it is in the past, present or future.

Tense takes a base word (basically any word in the dictionary) and changes its ending so either a listener or reader understands the time period someone is writing or speaking about.

Cleary, B. P and Lew-Vriethoff, J. (2010).

This resource can be found 

So, take an example like the word tolerate. As the image above shows, this word will change its ending to show its tense.

  • Mike tolerates Mitchell : This is the present tense for third person use. Because you can switch 'Mike' for 'he' and the sentence still makes sense, the present tense is used and the -s is added to the end.

  • Mike thought he was tolerating Mitchell well :  This is the present tense for first or second person use. In the sentence, 'Mike thought' shows his internal monologue and perspective, suggesting that for present tense -ing is added to the end of the word.

  • Mike had tolerated Mitchell for long enough : This is the past tense of the word and can be used for first, second or third person writing. The sentence shows Mike has been around Mitchell in the past, for possibly a long time, and has found he can no longer take what Mitchell is like anymore. To show the past relationship; therefore, -ed is added to the end of the word. 

These are past, present and future 'simple' tense examples. That doesn't mean it is always easy to stay consistent and clear in your writing though, particularly for essays.

Whilst you can write past and present tense in essays at the same time:

Smith argues that ...

Smith has argued that ...

You want to make sure that the work is consistent, clear and makes sense before you hand it in. 

As seen above, mixing tenses can also add a lot more depth to creative writing pieces. You just need to make sure your time periods and phrasing work well with each other.

The best way to know if a paragraph or sentence is working the right way for essays or stories? Rewrite them using different tenses! Then you get some well-worn practice in and you will see which works better for the point or plot you are creating.

July 01, 2020

Brian Bilston's "Diary of a somebody"

This book can be found here.

This book is filled with poetry. And you know what? I wasn’t too bothered.

Bilston is known for his poetry; starting there and gaining a huge following on social media. This book was his first novel and it is interspersed with his poetry as well. And as I said, I didn’t mind the fact that I was reading poetry as I was reading this book.

So, let’s talk about the poetry first, and bear in mind I am no expert (on anything probably, and yet here I am). There was a lot of humour in the poetry (some I didn’t get), but most I did. I enjoyed the linguistic jokes and the cultural references and I am sure anyone who enjoys his social media presence (check out his website here) that you would not be disappointed.

Since that’s all I know about poetry, let’s get down to the novel. The book is about a life; a “somebody” if you will. The character, Brian (possibly written because it reflects his own life? Hard for me to say, but it is interesting they share the same name), is a regular human. Maybe even less than regular as there is a typical dejection that follows him (or is created by him). The character; therefore, may be unlikeable to a lot of readers because of this naturalness of the character. Brian is unable to enjoy life, unable to see the good side, and often blames anything else but himself for his situation. What I found with the character however; is this didn’t bring me closer to Brian, it distanced me. However, there is a lot of humour and development of the story (not necessarily the character); that kind of ties it together. There’s almost a “Gumpness” to the character – but in a less positive way.

The remaining characters in the novel also do not seem to develop much, and as the story is told in the first person, you cannot fully understand what happens behind the minds of any of the other characters. 

In terms of story; it is rather slow. It basically follows the year in the life of Brian. There is not a lot of conflict or heart-racing moments; just like real life. The story itself is crowned by the poetry (this being its centrepiece and the story flowing around it). It may take some time to get into the story (for example the days about garbage); but every day is not full and exciting, and so it at least reflects life the way it should be. Or is.

I do think the novel is fun. It’s a short, quick read; even when there is no real pace. I will say that the poetry was great. Brian was interesting because he was so average, and it is nice to have a break from Adonises and Herculeses (if these can be the plurals?). If you don’t want an almost anti-heroic protagonist who is too human, don’t read the novel. But, you should definitely read it for the wordplay and poetry. If you must, skip the story … though I suggest you give it a shot anyway.

Links for you:

Title read-a-likes in the Library:

Andrew Sean Greer

Author read-a-likes in the Library:

Tom Hanks

This author was chosen for their use of dialogue and tone.