Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Martha S’s Picks

December 29, 2014

I enjoy reading realistic fiction, with some humor thrown in from time to time, and and occasional work of nonfiction.  These are my favorites books discovered this year, but published prior to 2014:

LookawLookaway, Lookawayay, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
Meet the Johnstons: Jerene and Duke are the heads of a socially prominent, highly dysfunctional Charlotte family. Duke is an ardent Civil War reenactor; Jerene is the manager of the Jarvis trust, her family’s collection of landscapes by minor American artists. They are the parents of Annie, an outspoken, brash real estate person on her third marriage, minister Bo, gay son Joshua who is not officially out of the closet, naïve daughter Jerrilyn. There is also Jerene’s outrageous, dissolute brother, Gaston Jarvis, who has squandered his literary talent on a series of Southern potboilers. This is a blisteringly funny satire of just about any contemporary Southern thing you can think of.  Read another review.

The PostmistressThe Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Three women’s lives intersect after Frankie Bard, a reporter from wartime London during the blitz, meets a doctor in an air raid shelter who asks her to deliver a letter to his wife in Massachusetts. The postmistress of the town in Massachusetts also has a mission from the same doctor to deliver a letter to his wife in the event of his death. This is a gripping story of the war in London, its effect on the three women and other people in the small town in Massachusetts.

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
After a childhood spent in foster care, Victoria has nowhere to go and has no people in her life. Through luck she finds work in a florist’s shop and is able to expand her knowledge of the language of flowers that she has been interested in since childhood. Victoria is able to help others with her skill with flowers while she struggles with her own past.

 

TransatlanticTransatlantic by Colum McCann
The novel uses three events that actually happened as the basis for his novel; Frederick Douglass’s visit to Ireland in 1845, the 1919 flight of British aviators Alcock and Brown, and the attempts by U.S. senator George Mitchell to broker peace in Northern Ireland. One of the fictional characters, Lilly Duggan, who is first seen in the Frederick Douglass chapter boldly leaves all behind and immigrates to America, becoming the mother of a long line of descendants in America, some of whom return to Ireland in later times. Fascinating and brilliantly written.

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a brilliant, but socially awkward professor of genetics at an Australian university. Nearing his 40th birthday, he decides to find a wife and devises a questionnaire to rule out all unsuitable candidates. Soon Rosie Jarman enters the picture and Don mistakenly believes she has submitted a questionnaire and been vetted by his coworker. Rosie and Don hit it off in spite of the fact that she fails to meet some of his requirements. Rosie does not know who her biological father is, so together they embark on the Rosie Project to attempt to learn his identity. Hilarious and heartwarming events ensue.  Read another review.

Advertisements

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

March 4, 2014

If you wanted to meet the perfect mate, would you leave it to chance, or would you create a 16 page (double- sided) questionnaire that will eliminate all those who have habits you don’t like? If you were a highly logical person, like genetics Professor Don Tillman, a questionnaire would seem like the only solution. To implement his plan, Don takes his questionnaire to places he might meet single women, such as a singles party, where he passes it out at the door.

As you might expect, Don’s Wife Project does not go according to plan. He never seems to meet anyone who would pass the test and few women seem interested in filling out the questionnaire. On top of this, he finds himself spending more and more time with Rosie, someone who is the complete opposite of his ideal woman. Rosie smokes, does not exercise, and is never punctual. When she first arrived at his office, Don mistakenly thought she was there because of the Wife Project so he asked her to dinner. But Rosie just wanted help in tracking down her real father and was referred to Don because of his expertise in genetics. Despite her unsuitability, Don’s Wife Project keeps getting delayed because of the work he’s doing on Rosie’s Father Project.

Don’s lack of social skills makes for some very funny incidents, sometimes predictable, but most often not. I have read reviews that compared the character of Don to Sheldon from the TV show, “The Big Bang Theory.” I do see similarities, but Simsion‘s Don seems much more real to me and the situations in the book seem more natural than a sitcom could ever be. In fact, none of the characters in the book are stereotypical or perfect. More importantly, Don is an adult who continues to learn and grow. He frequently stops to analyze his behavior and see how he can better himself.

The Rosie Project is more than a comedy or a love story, it is about how we make connections with other people and how we overcome our preconceived notions of everyone, including ourselves. I found it to be utterly charming. It could possibly be the feel good book of the year.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

January 16, 2014

You’ve probably never heard of this book, but in Australia it’s a classic, and everyone reads it in school. It has something for just about everyone. Part of the book is a war story, part is an adventure story in the Australian outback, and there’s also a love story. But mostly, A Town Like Alice is a story of the quiet heroism of ordinary people.

Jean Paget is a young Englishwoman living in Malaya when the Japanese invade the country during World War II. Along with other women and their children, Jean is taken prisoner. Because there is no prison camp to put them in, and because no Japanese commander wants to be responsible for feeding them, they are forced to walk hundreds of miles over the next several months, passed from place to place. As the only one who speaks the native language of Malaya, Jean takes a leadership role in helping the women obtain food from whatever village they are staying in for the night. Still, over half the women and children die of exhaustion or disease. Along the way, they meet an Australian prisoner named Joe Harman, and he and Jean feel an instant attraction to each other that is not acted upon because Joe mistakenly believes that Jean is married. Still, Joe helps the women by stealing chickens from the Japanese commander currently in charge of them. He is caught, and the women must watch as he is crucified and beaten to death by the Japanese.

Finally, the war ends and Jean returns to England where she takes a secretarial job. She lives a quiet life, emotionally cut off from the people around her. Then she learns that she has inherited rather a lot of money from an uncle she hadn’t seen since she was a child. She must now decide how to spend the money and her life. What she decides to do will surprise you and touch you. It’s a beautiful story.

This story, narrated by Jean’s lawyer, is told in a quiet and straightforward way. There are no superheroes, superspies, or superpowers. Just everyday people helping each other to do what has to be done.

I hope you will read this book. If you do, please refrain from reading the summary on the back of the paperback. In my opinion, the summary gives away a plot point that should be a pleasant surprise for the reader.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Greatest Hits: Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee

January 8, 2014

bay of firesKick off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2013! 

Bay of Fires, a wonderful debut novel by Poppy Gee, is set in a remote holiday town on the east coast of Tasmania. Sarah Avery has lost her job and is spending some time with her parents in the cabin they visit every summer. Her idea of hiding away quietly is shattered when she finds the body of a young woman on her favorite beach. Last year, another young woman was found dead in the same area, at the same time of summer. Suddenly, Sarah’s family, and the friends she has known her entire life, become suspects. Their lives and their secrets are splashed across the national news. Families who have known each other for years become divided between the wealthy owners of the holiday cottages and the poorer vacationers who stay in the campground. People point fingers at the disfigured man who lives alone with his cats at the edge of the woods. Suspicion and distrust infect what was once a close knit community.

The arrival of reporter Hall Flynn does nothing to ease the pressure on the locals, especially Sarah. The reasons why she left her job, her boyfriend, and the home she recently bought to live with her parents again, become topics of discussion. Even worse, she finds herself attracted to Flynn despite all her attempts to avoid him.  Flynn himself is also in a bit of a bind. His publisher is on his back over his lack of recent moneymaking stories.  No one in town wants to cooperate with him, though, because he is an outsider. Eventually, Flynn and Sarah have to join forces to track down the murderer.

I loved the unusual setting and the spooky atmosphere of this book. The author does a wonderful job of describing the wild nature of Tasmania’s east coast, and the insular nature of a small, isolated community. The novel is more a character study than a traditional mystery, and the setting becomes an important part of the puzzle. While the pacing may seem slow to some, I enjoyed the way it gradually built up the suspense. I would recommend this book, especially to fans of Elizabeth George or Tana French.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Best New Books of 2013: Pam W’s Picks

December 11, 2013

My reading tastes are kind of all over the map, but I especially enjoy mysteries and historical fiction.  This year my list is full of lots of new authors.  I’ve read and really liked many of the books that are at the top of the best seller’s lists, but here are five of my favorites that might be less well known.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Conkin’s novel alternates between the story of Josephine, a slave in Virginia during the 1850’s at a failing plantation; and Lina, a first year associate of a large corporate law firm in present day New York who is working on what her boss calls a history making case. Lina’s case requires her to find a descendant of a slave who would like to be a plaintiff in a case over who painted a series of famous paintings that have long been attributed to Lu Ann Bell, but now are believed to have been painted by her slave.  As Lina investigates the case, the novel switches back to tell Josephine’s story.  Josephine’s was the more riveting tale, but the modern story was interesting as well. I look forward to more by this author.

Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee
Bay of Fires, a wonderful debut novel by Poppy Gee, is set in a remote holiday town on the east coast of Tasmania. Sarah Avery has lost her job and is spending some time with her parents in the cabin they visit every summer.  Sarah is fishing when she finds the body of a young woman on her favorite beach.   Suddenly, Sarah’s family and friends become murder suspects.  I loved the unusual setting and the spooky atmosphere of this book.  The author does a wonderful job of describing the wild nature of Tasmania’s east coast, and the insular nature of a small, isolated community. Check out my full-length post here.

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
Pochoda’s novel starts off with two bored young girls on a slow, hot evening in Brooklyn.  The girls want to do exciting, something that will make their lives more interesting and prove they are more grown up.  Later that evening, one girl is found on the shore unconscious and the other is missing.  What happened, and who is responsible?  Is it the teacher who found the unconscious Val?  The young man who was known to be the last to speak to the girls? Pochoda’s focus is less on the police investigation than on the description of the neighborhood and its residents.  But this is the beauty of her book.  By the time I finished, I felt like had visited Red Hook, Brooklyn, and that her characters had become my neighbors.  I hated to leave them when the book ended.

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley
Amity and Sorrow is a moving tale of a woman trying to undo a terrible mistake she made when she was young.  After losing her family, she took up with a charismatic man who took her to live in a remote area.  Years later, she is fleeing from him and the cult he has created. Amaranth is terrified that her husband will follow her to force her and her two daughters to return.  The girls are unable to imagine what their lives will be like outside of the family.  The older daughter, Sorrow, has no intention of leaving the only life she has ever known and is fighting her mother every step of the way.  The younger daughter, Amity, is caught between her mother and her sister.  Riley’s writing is spare but she is able to paint a vivid picture.  You will find yourself hoping for redemption for Amaranth and her family, no matter what she has done in the past. See my full-length post here.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Honor Bright is from a Quaker community in England.  Jilted by her fiance, she decides to go with her sister to Ohio for her sister’s wedding.  Tragedy strikes, though, and when her sister dies, Honor doesn’t know what to do except finish the journey and bring the news to the man who was to be her brother-in-law.  Along the way, she is introduced to the issue of slavery and the return of escaped slaves in a frightening incident.  As a Quaker, Honor is firmly against slavery.  But the small community she has come to is in a difficult situation.  If they are seen to help the runaways, they risk losing their own lively hoods or more.  This dilemma is what Honor has to navigate in her new unexpected situation. She is dependent on the kindness of people she is not related to, and cannot upset them.  But she also wants to live according to her morals. Chevalier’s take on the issue of slavery is unique, and Honor was an engaging character.  Fans of historical fiction will really enjoy this one.

Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee

July 3, 2013

bay of firesBay of Fires, a wonderful debut novel by Poppy Gee, is set in a remote holiday town on the east coast of Tasmania. Sarah Avery has lost her job and is spending some time with her parents in the cabin they visit every summer. Her idea of hiding away quietly is shattered when she finds the body of a young woman on her favorite beach. Last year, another young woman was found dead in the same area, at the same time of summer. Suddenly, Sarah’s family, and the friends she has known her entire life, become suspects. Their lives and their secrets are splashed across the national news. Families who have known each other for years become divided between the wealthy owners of the holiday cottages and the poorer vacationers who stay in the campground. People point fingers at the disfigured man who lives alone with his cats at the edge of the woods. Suspicion and distrust infect what was once a close knit community.

The arrival of reporter Hall Flynn does nothing to ease the pressure on the locals, especially Sarah. The reasons why she left her job, her boyfriend, and the home she recently bought to live with her parents again, become topics of discussion. Even worse, she finds herself attracted to Flynn despite all her attempts to avoid him.  Flynn himself is also in a bit of a bind. His publisher is on his back over his lack of recent moneymaking stories.  No one in town wants to cooperate with him, though, because he is an outsider. Eventually, Flynn and Sarah have to join forces to track down the murderer.

I loved the unusual setting and the spooky atmosphere of this book. The author does a wonderful job of describing the wild nature of Tasmania’s east coast, and the insular nature of a small, isolated community. The novel is more a character study than a traditional mystery, and the setting becomes an important part of the puzzle. While the pacing may seem slow to some, I enjoyed the way it gradually built up the suspense. I would recommend this book, especially to fans of Elizabeth George or Tana French.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Greatest Hits: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

January 4, 2013

Join us the next five days and kick off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2012!

 

What Alice Forgot“What if you could skip ahead ten years, and spend time with your future self?  Would you recognize who you’ve become?  This is the premise for Liane Moriarty’s novel What Alice Forgot.

 

One morning while in a step aerobics class, 39 year old Alice falls and hits her head.  When she wakes up, she believes it is 1998, and she is care-free, kind, in love with her husband, pregnant with their first child, and just beginning to restore their dream home.  The reality is that her 39 year old self doesn’t match up with that Alice – 2008 Alice has a beautiful home, three children, a marriage that’s crumbled, and a personality that is nothing like her former self.

 

As the story unfolds, Alice learns not only who she has become, but how and why she’s changed so dramatically.  She must figure out who Gina is, what has happened to her relationship with her sister, and why she and Nick have gone from happily married to fighting over everything, all the while trying to recapture her memories, and manage her busy life and children.

 

There’s also the story of Elisabeth, Alice’s sister, woven throughout the novel – told through letters to her therapist, as well as through letters that Frannie, Alice and Elisabeth’s grandmother, writes.  While seemingly two different stories at first, they cleverly help expand upon the novel’s exploration of the way in which time, and our experiences fundamentally change our personalities, subtly, until we’re forever altered by them.

 

What’s lovely about this book, which appears from the start to be a light-hearted read, is that it develops slowly in depth as one reads it.  It lends itself to reflection on the reader’s part, all the while continuing to be an engaging, fun read, with equal parts drama and comedy.  The epilogue is one of the most eloquent I have read – wrapping up the story in a few beautifully written pages.  I look forward to reading more by this Australian author.”

 

Find this book in our catalog.

Greatest Hits: Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCullough

January 3, 2013

Join us the next five days and kick off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2012!

 

TMorgan's Runhe settlement of Australia started because England could no longer ship their convicts to the colonies after the American Revolution.  With the prisons in England overflowing they needed to find another solution rather quickly. Fortunately, they had just laid claim to the Eastern half of the Australian continent. McCullough’s novel tells the story of Richard Morgan, who was a respectable business and family man in Bristol until he ran afoul of a smuggler with powerful connections.  He was framed for a crime and he was not allowed any defense at his trial.   He spent two years in prison in England before being put on the death ship to the new colony.  After surviving the difficult sea voyage, it was discovered that the ship had not carried enough food for the colony to survive a whole year.  The first days of the colony were extremely difficult. Many of the convicts, and also the soldiers guarding them, were in danger of starvation.

 

After a few months some of the prisoners, including Richard Morgan, were moved to Norfolk Island; a tiny speck of land out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  These prisoners were sent with several free men and no soldiers and were simply left there with little supplies.  They had to build their own shelters and grow or catch their food.  Norfolk Island was a bit better for the settlers than the inhospitable Botany Bay, though. The soil was rich enough for planting and there was ample fishing off the coast. England wanted this island settled so they could produce hemp and would no longer have to buy it from Russia.  The experiment ultimately proved unsuccessful even though the settlers survived.

 

This fascinating story is based on a real person who was an ancestor of McCullough’s husband. The book mentioned at the end that McCullough would be writing a sequel to Morgan’s Run, but unfortunately this has not happened yet. Still, I highly recommend this book for fans of historical fiction, or anyone with an interest in Australia.

 

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Morarty

October 3, 2012

“What if you could skip ahead ten years, and spend time with your future self?  Would you recognize who you’ve become?  This is the premise for Liane Moriarty’s novel What Alice Forgot.

One morning while in a step aerobics class, 39 year old Alice falls and hits her head.  When she wakes up, she believes it is 1998, and she is care-free, kind, in love with her husband, pregnant with their first child, and just beginning to restore their dream home.  The reality is that her 39 year old self doesn’t match up with that Alice – 2008 Alice has a beautiful home, three children, a marriage that’s crumbled, and a personality that is nothing like her former self.

As the story unfolds, Alice learns not only who she has become, but how and why she’s changed so dramatically.  She must figure out who Gina is, what has happened to her relationship with her sister, and why she and Nick have gone from happily married to fighting over everything, all the while trying to recapture her memories, and manage her busy life and children.

There’s also the story of Elisabeth, Alice’s sister, woven throughout the novel – told through letters to her therapist, as well as through letters that Frannie, Alice and Elisabeth’s grandmother, writes.  While seemingly two different stories at first, they cleverly help expand upon the novel’s exploration of the way in which time, and our experiences fundamentally change our personalities, subtly, until we’re forever altered by them.

What’s lovely about this book, which appears from the start to be a light-hearted read, is that it develops slowly in depth as one reads it.  It lends itself to reflection on the reader’s part, all the while continuing to be an engaging, fun read, with equal parts drama and comedy.  The epilogue is one of the most eloquent I have read – wrapping up the story in a few beautifully written pages.  I look forward to reading more by this Australian author.”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

Albert of Adelaide by Howard Anderson

August 8, 2012

Every once in a while, it’s nice to read something different, the type of book that one doesn’t usually read. Albert of Adelaide is decidedly different, and probably not like anything that most people usually read, because it is such an unusual novel. This debut novel is fun, full of adventure, and is about a platypus named Albert who escapes from the zoo in Adelaide and heads into the Australian outback looking for a place called “Old Australia.” Yup, that certainly sounds like a different kind of novel, but despite being different, it’s definitely still worthwhile.

That also happens to be one of the main lessons in this story – that just because someone is different, it doesn’t mean that they are bad. Albert’s journey brings him to an odd world with creatures who judge and mistrust him because he’s different from them. His early life was traumatic. His mother was attacked by a wild dingo when he was very young and Albert was captured and put in the Adelaide zoo. This is where he first hears rumors of a mythic and strange place called “Old Australia” where the many different species of animals live in peace and harmony. He was able to escape and hops a ride on the South Australian Railroad traveling north of Alice Springs to the outback.

Albert meets a wombat named Jack, who befriends him and teaches his some of the basics of survival in the desert. The two friends get into some trouble at a local pub and trading post when Albert gets very drunk and becomes very lucky at a game of chance. To escape Jack sets fire to the place and he and Albert are soon on the run with the kangaroo proprietor and other local animals posting wanted posters for Albert’s capture. Despite the fact that they’ve become good friends, Jack and Albert split up figuring it will be safer for each and Albert soon meets a new friend, TJ, a raccoon from California. Their friendship works well because they are both animals not native to the outback. Other creatures that Albert meets along his journey include two drunken bandicoots named Alvin and Roger, a mean and thieving pair consisting of a wallaby called Bertram and a possum named Theodore, assorted dingoes, and the Famous Muldoon, a Tasmanian devil. Muldoon and Jack were close friends and traveling companions once, but Jack’s pyromania led to their separation eight years ago.

Themes of friendship, revenge, survival, loss and self discovery are set against the backdrop of Albert’s journey across the outback desert. The story alternates between scenes of action (including many fight scenes and a huge shoot out at the end) and those of survival in the harsh environment and contemplation of life in a strange place among strange animals. In the end, Albert has come a very long way from where he started, both geographically and metaphysically.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


%d bloggers like this: