2014 Staff and Reader Picks

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Best of 2014

Our staff share their favourite reads of 2014.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Adult Fiction)

This moving, complex story about the disintegration of a family explores our relationship to animals and what it means to be human.

Picked by Denise


The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Adult Fiction)

This was an impressive debut novel from Jessie Burton and a winning combination of mystery and historical fiction.

Picked by Fiona


Carsick by John Waters (Adult Non-fiction)

Imaginative, crazy, and good fun (If you like the “King of Filth”, that is!).

Picked by Julie


Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah (Young Adult Fiction)

Educates children in different forms of terror and how easily we can get manipulated through simple acts.

Picked by Ryan


The One by Kiera Cass (Young Adult Fiction)

The gripping final book of The Selection Trilogy. Who will America choose? The prince or the guard?

Picked by Michella


The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Adult Fiction)

The interesting thing I like about this book is that it is a beautiful and sad story of a High Court Judge forced to choose, literally, between life and death.

Picked by Zico


Jamie’s Comfort Food by Jamie Oliver (Adult Non-fiction)

Page 320…say no more…Happy days!

Picked by Brigid


This House of Grief by Helen Garner (Adult Non-fiction)

A fascinating exploration of human relationships and the modern day court system.

Picked by Patra


Lists of Note by Shaun Usher (Adult Non-fiction)

It gave some personal insights into everyday life, for example a 3000 year old Egyptian list of why workers had called in sick; lists famous people had written to improve their life, work or mothering skills; a list of alternative names that were considered for the seven dwarfs.

My favourite list however, was Johnny Cash’s list of ‘Things to do every day’: "No. 1 Kiss June".

Picked by Corinna


The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill (Adult Fiction)

A good bedtime read, intriguing but no violence to disturb any sleep.

Picked by Joan


In the Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty (Adult Fiction)

Third in the excellent Sean Duffy police procedural/thriller series set in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s – it won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction and a fourth is due out in 2015.

Picked by Trish


Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney (Adult Fiction)

I loved this book. A great read - it was funny, sad and very real.

Picked by Dianne

Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah

Terror Kid

They say we should not judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately I did exactly that - I borrowed this book just because of the cover. Being a slow reader, I finished this book in a mere four days.

Rico Federico is a computer whizz, but due to living in the wrong neighbourhood it is automatically assumed he will move into a life of crime. One day he meets a man that will change his life forever.

While the world is gripped with stories of terrorism at the moment, this book explores issues around cyber terrorism. Zephaniah‘s novel sheds a new light and teaches everyone (not just children) that we should be careful who we make connections with, while also touching on social justice issues.

December 2014 Staff Pick reviewed by Ryan, Senior Lending Officer

Around the Block (DVD)

Around the Block

There have been some great Australian films produced over the last 20 years from Rabbit Proof Fence, to The Piano to Howzat (all available to borrow from Woollahra Libraries). Around the Block should be added to this great list.

Dino (Christina Ricci) has a passion for Shakespeare and takes on a job as a Drama teacher at a school in Redfern, in Sydney. She befriends Liam (Hunter Page-Lochard), a 16 year old who wants to be an actor but is intimidated by his older brother.

This uplifting film takes Hamlet to the modern age and has themes such as freedom, coming of age and independence. I borrowed this film as I am a fan of the actress Christina Ricci but all of the cast give impressive performances, including Hunter Page-Lochard as Liam and Jack Thompson as the school principal.

Around the Block is cleverly written and will leave every viewer with the thought there is always hope in this world.

November 2014 Staff Pick reviewed by Ryan, Senior Lending Officer

Still Foolin' 'Em by Billy Crystal (Audiobook)

Still Foolin Em

There are memoirs and then there are memoirs that are page turners. When Woollahra Library purchased the audiobook of this memoir and it was read by Billy Crystal himself, I had no doubt in choosing the audio over the physical book.

Billy Crystal is turning 65, and he’s not happy about it. With his trademark wit and heart, he outlines the absurdities and challenges that come with growing old; from insomnia to memory loss to leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. Crystal reflects on his life, his love affair with Sophia Loren, his career and what makes him mad.

If you are looking for something factual that will make you laugh out loud, borrow this memoir now.

October 2014 Staff Pick reviewed by Ryan, Senior Lending Officer

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Franny and Zooey

When most people think of J.D. Salinger they think of the cynical, wry, disillusioned Holden Caulfield and the world of phoniness he resolves to abandon. You can’t be blamed, then, for picking up this book, rambling through an opening chapter of an effete college-age Franny who’s quickly losing respect for everything around her and think “here we go again.”

Franny becomes so removed from the insular world of her college that eventually she breaks down and drops out to move back home with her parents, reciting the mystical Jesus Prayer with the hope of attaining a sort of nirvana. Here she re-encounters Zooey, her similarly brilliant but pompously arrogant brother. Nearly the entire novella takes place in their family’s living room as the two discuss mysticism, humanity, academia, religion, and a family fractured by the suicide of their eldest brother Seymour several years ago.

The brilliance of this story is its unexpected ending. Not in terms of plot (very little actually happens) but in terms of the change in tone and motivation of Zooey and his mother. Salinger leads you into his trademark malaise of bitterness and out of its shadows pulls characters that, almost shockingly, leave you with a strong sense of true compassion. It rejects high-minded navel-gazing mysticism in favour of a fresh resolve - to help strive not just for one’s own salvation, but the world’s together.

September 2014 staff pick reviewed by Chris, Library Trainee

Deserving Death: An Ella Marconi Novel by Katherine Howell

Deserving Death

I love a good murder mystery and after wandering the shelves of Double Bay Library I saw an attractive looking book with a Best Seller sticker. Having not read Katherine Howell before, the back cover convinced me that it would be a worthy read. Howell is an Australian author who in a former life was a paramedic. She uses this experience to set the scene for her latest Detective Ella Marconi mystery, which is set in contemporary Sydney.

I found the book to be a quick easy read, if sometimes a little repetitive in its content. The characters are believable with Howell giving each one a significant life issue to address within the novel. The Library has all the previous Ella Marconi novels in the collection.

August 2014 staff pick reviewed by Vicki, Library Manager

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by South African born writer Lauren Beukes takes a fresh approach to the serial killer crime genre by throwing a bit of time travel into the mix. Harper Curtis is a depression era drifter who gains access to a house that opens onto other times. But time travel comes at a cost. Harper must kill the "Shining Girls" - bright young women who burn with potential .While the story follows Harper as he travels between decades from 1931 and 1993, it also follows his victims or his "Shining Girls" before they meet their untimely end. One woman in particular is Kirby Mazrachi - the only victim who survived one of his attacks. As Kirby tries to piece together links between her and other crime victims, Harper becomes a man constantly out of time with his surroundings , meeting his victims when they are younger then returning years later to kill them, leaving tokens from the other murders behind.

The Shining Girls is a taut and exciting crime thriller and is also a well-researched chronicle of the city of Chicago with the windy city feeling like a major character at times.

The Shining Girls is recommended for those who like their crime novels to take a slightly different turn.

July 2014 staff pick reviewed by Fiona, Librarian

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites June 2014

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites was one of the major Australian literary success stories of last year. Shortlisted for major awards in Australia and overseas and the winner of the Victorian  Premier’s Literary People’s choice awards and the 2014 Christina Stead Award.

Burial Rites is a historical novel set in 1830 that chronicles the final year in the life of the last woman to be publicly executed in Iceland. Agnes Magnúsdóttir is a servant charged with the brutal murder of her former master and is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. The family who own the farm are horrified at the prospect of having a convicted murderer sharing their home. Over the course of the novel we see her uneasy relationship with the family members develop and her meetings with Thorvardur Jonsson, the young reverend charged with bringing her back to god before her execution. It is in her encounters with Thorvardur that we uncover what happened to Agnes and the circumstances that have led up to her conviction. The novel is well researched and direct translations of historical documents appear as extended epigraphs to each of the thirteen chapters.

Kent gives the reader a real sense of the starkness of the landscape and the lives of the people. In Agnes ,Kent has developed an intriguing and complex central character. This is a beautifully written an impressive debut novel. Highly recommended, available in Adult Fiction, Fast Reads and e-book via Bolinda Digital.

June 2014 staff pick reviewed by Fiona, Librarian

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

Madd may 2014

MaddAddam is the third in Atwood's speculative "crakeverse," trilogy. To therefore label it a conclusion would do a disservice; like so many of Atwood's novels, it leaves much suspended, frozen in the no man's land between creation and destruction - perhaps a reminder on Atwood's part that although battles may finish, the wars with injustice and misery always struggle on.

Atwood's inventiveness and craftiness of plot shines through in the whole trilogy and this instalment is no exception. Threads arrive seemingly out of nowhere, only for a reader to follow them back through the parallel timelines of the previous novels and discover them spun elegantly and furtively from the very beginning. Characters don't so much "leap off the pages," as retreat inwardly into their shells, inviting readers to pursue hungrily in their wake. In a trilogy so strongly laced with metaphor, the meaning Atwood projects is clear; like our own universe, to understand the future of the crakeverse requires unseemly escapades into our pasts.

The novel and the trilogy are most certainly science fiction, but those not lovers of the genre have so much to gain from reading too. As has always been the case, Atwood's true strength in writing is her mysterious command of prose; gelid, contemplative, by turns witty and then suddenly rich with sorrow - and always present the soft undercurrent of rage from an artist who's seen the world change so much, and hardly any of it for the better.

May 2014 staff pick review by Chris, Library Trainee

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Good Luck

After reading the reviews from the Huffington Post, I thought I would give Matthew Quick’s new novel a go even though I did not enjoy his previous novel ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’

Nevertheless, if I could describe this novel in one word it would be ‘Pure’. The novel is based around a thirty-something gentleman by the name of Bartholomew, who has lived all his life with his mother until she dies of a brain tumour. Lost, he turns to the actor Richard Gere hoping to find some answers. Through his letters to the actor, you get a sense of innocence and you can’t help but a keep a special place for Bartholomew in your heart.

Quick’s new novel is funny and I will admit the ending brought a small tear to my eye.  I recommend this book not just because of its quirky humour but also its message that there are always two sides to every story and that we should never judge and hold on to what we see initially. We should dig deeper to find clarity.

The book is available now as a standard loan and fast read.

April 2014 staff pick review by Ryan, Senior Lending Library Officer

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Pardonable

This is the third novel in an historical mystery series featuring Maisie Dobbs, private investigator and psychologist. The novels are based around mysteries that have their origin in the First World War.

Jacqueline manages to convey to the reader the emotional carnage created by the First World War in her stories and the sadness created between families and friends as a result.

I feel when I read her novels a sense of dark brooding regarding the war that a factual account of battles and losses miss. In this year of the centenary of the commencement of World War 1, my recommendation is for readers to try the Maisie Dobbs novels which can now be downloaded through the library webpages as Ebooks.

March 2014 staff pick review by Joan, Librarian

Real Estate Uncovered by Peter O'Malley

Real estate uncovered

Whether you're buying or selling, knocking down or adding on, this is the Bible for all those interested in bricks and mortar. And isn't that most of us in the eastern suburbs?

Peter O'Malley started in the game as a young man of 19 years of age, progressed through the ranks, and now has his own agency. All the tricks of the trade and traps for the first time buyer, as well as sound advice for the seasoned investor are outlined in easy to read language.

What's the best way to negotiate with an agent? Should I pay for advertising up front? What's the real yield on an investment property? What are the risks associated with buying off the plan? All these questions and many other dilemmas are addressed, including the legalities designed to protect both buyer and seller.

This slim volume is essential reading for anyone wanting to buy, sell, invest, or arm themselves with 'inside' knowledge before embarking on any real estate deal.

February 2014 reader pick reviewed by Mary-Jo