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 http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xww&AN=435827&site=ehost-live&ebv=EB&ppid=pp_6

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.