Sutherland Shire Libraries Staff Picks 2010

The Sutherland Shire Libraries staff would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year. May it be filled with lots of love, laughter and resolutions you can keep.

As our final blog post of the year, we'd like to share with you some of our favourite books of 2010:


For Kids - Mirror by Jennie Baker. This book gives an insight into the lives of two boys and their families: one from inner city Sydney and the other from a remote village in Morocco. There are some great pictures with a great contrast between two cities. Adults will enjoy it too.

For Teens - A waltz for Matilda by Jackie French. This story is rooted in the words of our most famous national song. It is told from the points of view of those who had no vote in 1901: the women, indigenous people, the Chinese market gardeners and Afghan traders. It's a fantastic historical fiction read showing true guts and adversity of the young protagonist.

For Adults - Kitchen : recipes from the heart of the home by Nigella Lawson. This is a nice accompaniment to the show just screened on the lifestyle channel.


Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This is the story of King Henry VIII and those around him including Thomas Cromwell. A riveting, beautifully written book whose final sentence left me keenly anticipating the sequel.
It is no small feat by the author that, despite the reader's knowledge of the history of  Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII,  Anne Boleyn, and the rest, the suspense is gripping nonetheless.
The heart of the novel is Mantel's creation of Cromwell's character, her imaginative leap into the workings of his mind, and - in particular  - the sharpness of his wit. There are some truly wonderful passages of description. Those who enjoy reading for the sheer joy of figurative language, rather than just a chore to get to the end of the story, will find much in this book that is rich and rewards your patience.


The Anthology of Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction by Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver. This collects the best examples of Australian gothic short stories from colonial times. It took me back to being a Kid and reading all the old Australian ghost stories I could find.


Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks. Imagine you have the technology to record a persons mind completely down to their emotions and feelings to allow full personality and memory backups in case of accidents. Imagine then these virtual versions of people are so complete they can feel and think virtually which has led some races of the loose Galactic association, to create their own versions of digital Hells where their virtual citizens can suffer or just be punished according to their ideals. Of course there are some other races philosophically opposed to the idea of hurting your citizens (virtual or not), and are willing to go to Virtual war to bring about the closure of these digital torture realms. The story starts when one side realises they are about to lose this simulated war and decide that they will have to take the conflict to the 'Real universe' to win.
Iain Banks "Culture" novels are darkly humorous and very often deal with the dichotomy of an advanced, generally non violent and benign society, dealing with less technically and socially advanced peoples through the agents of "Contact" and "Special Circumstances". I really enjoyed this book and while in my opinion it is not the best example of Bank's work it is engaging and entertaining and I read through all 600 odd pages of it in only a couple of sittings.


Room by Emma Donoghue. Narrator Jack (5 years old) and his mother live in a 11-foot square, sound-proof cell in the yard of a sociopath who kidnapped Jack's mother 7 years earlier. This book tells the story of their nail biting escape. It is so rare to find a book so original in concept and style of writing but is still fresh and a joy to read, instead of deliberately difficult and obscure like so many literary books. And a book that can deal with a fairly gruesome theme without being salacious.


Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. The Capitol is angry that Katniss Everdeen has defied the rules and survived the Hunger Games twice. Katniss, her friends, family and community may be held accountable. It was the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy and I had not been able to put either of the first two down until I had finished them. Most of the questions asked in the previous two books were answered and the ending wasn't bad. Highly recommend to anyone that likes a good survival story and being a young adult book it is not too heavy a read.


Born to Run : the hidden tribe, the ultra-runners, and the greatest race the world has ever seen by Christopher McDougall. Explores the world of the Tarahumara (mexican Indians), reputed to be the best distance runners in the world - in 1993, one of them, aged 57 came first in a 100 mile race wearing a toga and sandals. The author and a group of elite athletes make the journey to meet this tribe and take them on a 50 mile course, exploring the secrets of being a runner.


Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Don't know if I can say I 'enjoyed' the book, but I found it a very powerful, informative and interesting read about the raising of animals for food. It is also about the ending of small family-run farms and the corporate presence in what is now agri-business.
What I liked about the book is that Foer didn't undertake writing this book at all. As an expectant first-time father, he wanted to make informed choices about the food he would be feeding his child. Foer had been an on/off vegetarian for many years and didn't seem particularly swayed to raise his child as a non-meat eater so he decided to investigate where 'meat' comes from. He wrote to a large poultry corporation which pushes a 'family friendly' approach to ask whether he could visit some of their facilities to see what goes on for himself, but never received a response. After many months and letters with no contact from these people, he decided to undertake his own investigation. He was confused about the evasion and secrecy. His findings form the basis of this book.

I like that his book isn't just factual - there are plenty of statistics for those that want facts, but he also is a wonderful storyteller and weaves part of his own family's history into the tale and what food means in terms of identity, family and culture. I also like that Foer's book could easily have been a book based on the horrors of factory farming, but instead he has presented a well researched account on the impact of eating animals. Foer also presents various viewpoints - eg he visits and talks to 'old-fashioned' farmers who care about their animals and the products they're producing, an animal rights activist, and workers on the kill floor in abattoirs. I believe Foer has written a very powerful book that is easy to read. It isn't a preachy book but it's certainly about ethics and the important question of whether to eat animals or not. It's about how we choose to live our lives and the impact of the choices we make - do we support an industry based on the suffering of voiceless beings which have minimal rights as they are technically commodities and not individuals (unlike our pets).


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I've read quite a few books this year so it was hard to pick a favourite, but this book was an interesting, as well as a surprisingly moving, read. I'm not sure why it appealed to me as I'm not a mad animal lover and I've never had a great interest in circuses - I think it was just very well written and wonderfully evocative of a bygone era. The story has it all - tragedy, romance, cruelty, love, injustice, intrigue and more than one murder. It will however, destroy any romantic notions you may have of circus life.
The book opens with the reminiscences of old Jacob Jankowski who is languishing in a nursing home. He relates how, as a 23 year old, he was about to sit his final veterinary exams when his parents were involved in a fatal car accident. When Jacob discovers that his father's veterinary practice was in dire straits and that there was no inheritance (because his kindly father was most often paid "in kind" and not in hard cash), he suffers a meltdown, abandons his studies, and runs off and joins the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Set in the Great Depression era, the author apparently did extensive research on circuses and conditions of the time and so she manages to create an exciting and convincing environment for her characters. As you would expect of a circus, the cast includes misfits, freaks and grifters but somehow Gruen manages to imbue all of them with qualities that make you either love or hate them, there is no middle ground. The story regularly jumps from Jacob's memories as a 23 year old to the present day. The author portrays old age as a most undignified and pitiful state, particularly in a nursing home, but still manages to make Jacob a lovable curmudgeon. While the ending was a little 'twee' and improbable, I'll admit it felt just right to me and I finished the book feeling very satisfied with the outcome.


My sister challenged me to read this insisting that I'd love it. While resisiting for a good few months (my sister and I have very different tastes) I finally picked it up and started reading it on my way to Nepal and I'm glad I did. Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a woman in her thirties was supposed to have - a marriage (and plans to start a family), a successful career, house and car. Yet she found herself suffering from depression and anxiety. One divorce and one heart break later, Elizabeth decides to embark on a journey of self-discovery around the world. She travels to Italy, India and Indonesia over the space of a year in the search of pleasure, devotion and balance.
I thought it was an enlightening book. There is so much of Gilbert's personality I could identify with (especially her love of travel) and there were times when it felt like the she was talking directly to her reader. The section on India was the most interesting and it's the place where Gilbert seems to really discover who she is. Written with raw honesty, I'd recommend this book to any person who has sometimes felt like there is something missing from their life.


A fine balance by Rohinton Mistry is probably my favourite book I have ever read. I liked the Indian setting, offering a glimpse into life in India in the 1970's, during the State of internal emergency. The characters and storyline are both very well developed, allowing the reader to feel both affinity and empathy with them and their situation. It is again, very well written and easy to read.

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi is a detailed and candid account of this Australian actresses battle with anorexia and coming out. It is really easy to read, I kept thinking she must have had a ghost writer!(she didn't)! Reading this gave me a new perspective on Portia de Rossi, showing hidden depths!

The maze runner is my new favourite Young adult novel. (replacing the "Tomorrow when the war began" series. It is a great dystopian book, combining adventure and suspense that keeps you guessing right up to the last page. I am now devouring the second in the series "Scorch trials"- awesome reading!

So do you have a favourite book of 2010?

Let us know by leaving a comment. We're always looking for new books to recommend and we'd love to hear from you.

See you in 2011!