August 05, 2020

Alvydas Ŝlepikas' "In the shadow of wolves"

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

Ŝlepikas 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.

Ŝlepikas 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, Ŝlepikas 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 😀

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