Dreaming of alternative endings

 The month of June is almost over, and with it, our daily book reviews of "Dream reads". To finish the month, here's something you may dream about....
Do you ever find yourself dreaming of alternative endings for the books you have read? Maybe you found the ending of a book abrupt, improbable or with just too many loose ends that left you wondering what happened next.

The ending of a book can make or break a story for the reader. In some books you may  have preferred to have left your characters living happily ever after, would have enjoyed a more believable ending or  maybe you would have liked to have had something left to your imagination.

There are certainly no rules saying that a fiction book has to end a certain way, and some fans have taken this to heart, dreaming up and writing countless alternative endings to their favourite books and series, posting them on the net as fan fiction. Some are indeed dreamy, whereas others you may regard as being the stuff of nightmares! Of course, this is because each individual reader experiences a story differently, with their own reactions, interpretations and thoughts about the story (if you are part of a book group, you would know this is true).

What do you think about this? Has your imagination ever run wild, finding you dreaming up alternative endings to books, and have you ever committed them to paper or even published them on the net?


The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith

The first female detective of Botswana, Mma Ramotswe has had a portentous dream.  Normally a sound sleeper she has a vision of a tall man under an acacia tree.  But what does it mean?

And so starts the thirteenth installment of Alexander McCall Smith's charming cozy mystery series the No.1 Ladies Detective set in Botswana.  In this novel Precious Ramotswe's assistant Mma Makutsi is having issues with the construction of her new home.  While at Speedy Motors next door the previously squeaky-clean trainee mechanic Fanwell is in trouble with the law.  Then the indomitable matron of the orphan farm Mma Potokwani is sacked!

Precious Ramotswe is a charming character who while maintaining the old Botswanan ways of politeness and respect always manages to catch the culprits and put things right.  Never one to rush, many a mystery has been solved over a cup or two of redbush tea.

Although this book stands alone readers of the entire series will get a special thrill when then meaning of the vision is revealed.  For those who want to start at the beginning see the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Book review: Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung

Having grown up as a white girl in the Sutherland Shire, it’s hard for me to fully appreciate the great sacrifices that many Australians have made in making a new home here. Alice Pung tells the story of her parents’ lives in Cambodia prior to their migration, as well as her own experience of growing up here. Alice found it difficult to understand why they were so protective of her. Her father, Kuan, struggled with how to get his daughter to understand what a “waste of time it was, that loss of four years of his life” living in Cambodia under the regime of Pol Pot’s Black Bandits. Kuan felt born again after coming to Australia; he “could feel feelings again!” and named his daughter Alice because to him and wife Kien, Australia was truly a Wonderland.

This memoir is a wonderful insight into the complexities of growing up the child of migrant parents with troubled histories. It is alternately heart-warming and heart-breaking and I found it a powerful eye-opener.


Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

If you're at all interested in how social networking via the web is changing the way society operates, here's a book for you!

Clay Shirky studies the effects of the internet on society and is a well known (in the web world at least) thinker and speaker. In this book he takes a look at how the increasingly social nature of the web, think Facebook, Foursquare, etc., is changing the very nature of our society.

One of the main themes of the book is that technological change can only really change a society once the technology has become ubiquitous. Call it a paradigm shift if you like but Shirky argues that we are only just heading into the territory where the Web 2.0 tools are 'not new' and that we are only beginning to see the ways that these tools will change the way society works. He poses a lovely tech history question to illustrate his point:
Which went mainstream first, the fax or the Web?
People over 35 have a hard time understanding why you'd even ask - the fax machine obviously predates the Web for general adoption. Here's another: which went mainstream first, the radio or the telephone? The same people often have to think about this question, even though the practical demonstration of radio came almost two decades after that of the telephone, a larger gap than separated the fax and the Web. We have to think about radio and television because for everyone alive today, those two technologies have always existed. And for college students today, that is true of the fax and the Web. Communications tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn't create change; it has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it. It's when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming.

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. p105.

When Web 2.0 tools become ubiquitous everyone becomes a content creator. This is what Chris Anderson calls the democratisation of production in his book, The Long Tail. Shirky argues that once the lines blur between producers or publishers and consumers there is a fundamental change in the way our society operates, that "the category of 'consumer' is now a temporary behavior rather than a permanent identity." (Here Comes Everybody, p. 108). The result is that previously impossible things start occuring.
The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolution cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the existing society. As a result, either the revolutionaries are put down, or some of those institutions are altered, replaced, or destroyed. We are plainly witnessing a restructuring of the media businesses, but their suffering isn't unique, it's prophetic. All businesses are media businesses, because whatever else they do, all businesses rely on managing of information for two audiences - employees and the world. The increase in the power of both individuals and groups, outside traditional organisational structures, is unprecedented. Many institutions we rely on today will not survive this change without significant alteration, and the more an institution or industry relies on information as its core product, the greater and more complete the change will be. (my emphasis)
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, p. 107.
The book is full of fascinating, real life examples and situations that the Internet enables, which would have been completely impossible pre-web. It's a few years old now but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I think it's just as relevant as ever.


The Witness by Nora Roberts

I swear Nora Roberts must be an Alien.

How is it possible for her to churn out so many books (under two author titles - J D Robb is the other) and for them to still be pretty good?

One of her latest, The Witness is about a young girl who in a fit of rebellion against her straight, impersonal mother goes out on the town and in a series of events, witnesses a horrific murder by a mob hit-man. Because of her photographic memory she recalls all details of the night and becomes a very valuable (or threatening, depending which side you are on) witness that could help take down a lucrative criminal mob.

Things go awry for young Elizabeth, when corruption blows her world apart and sets her running for her life. 12 years later we find her in a hermit-like state, making millions from a software security firm she has established under a fake identity. She is still very wary of everyone and has extremely poor social skills - stringing a sentence together is work for her. All seems to be going well for 'Abigail' until the local chief of police takes and interest in her. Her secure, anti-social world is slowly unravelled by this charming cop who feeds her multi-lingual guard-dog Bert rawhide bones and won't take no for an answer! This make Abigail think about the life she could have, which is only possible if the mob who are tracking her get brought to justice...

This is a really fun, charming and exciting novel. It has love, computer hacking, fighting and suspense galore. If you are after a light read that doesn't take too much effort to piece together I highly suggest The Witness.


Iain Oughtred: A life in wooden boats by Nic Compton

 Throughout history boats have played a pivotal role in pursuits such as exploration, war, transport, fishing and recreation.
Started in the 1970s by people sometimes referred to as 'Salt Water Hippies', there has been a renewal of interest in designing and building small boats in wood.
Based on traditional designs, plans are often adapted and improved to produce craft which are affordable, beautiful and functional.
Wooden boat festivals and shows are now staged annually throughout the world.
The best designers gather what could almost be described as a cult following and one of the best is the subject of this book, Iain Oughtred: A Life in Wooden Boats by Nic Compton.
This is not your typical biography as much of it is given over to Oughtred's drawings and beautiful photographs of his revered boats often on scenic lochs in the Scottish highlands.
The book also includes articles by Oughtred which were previously published elsewhere.
Australian born into a middle class, strict Presbyterian family, Iain was an awkward child who failed as a scholar.
He had an interest in boats and sailing would later bring him unsought recognition, but as a young man he grew to reject what he saw as a materialistic Australian culture.
Sailing to England, he lived the alternative lifestyle. Eventually after travelling through Scandinavia he realised that he had an affinity with boats which would not be denied. Settling into a frugal life in the north of Scotland, where he still lives, Iain began to put together what has become one of the best known catalogues of wooden boat designs.
Oughtred still designs on paper rather than computer. Whilst some are designed to be rowed, most are sailboats. His boats are regarded by some as works of art. The designs take their cues from as far back as the boats of the Vikings and other seafarers such as local fishermen. Some designs have been built in their hundreds, by professional and amateurs in sheds in back yards all over the world.
The author, Nic Compton, has given us a thorough and thoughtful insight into the alternative and sometimes reclusive but always interesting life of Iain Oughtred.
Obviously not a book that will have wide appeal, I found Iain Oughtred: A Life in Wooden Boats to be a very enjoyable read.

Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

One of the benefits of working in a library with such a good book stock is that I can indulge my passion for reading a wide range of non fiction. So when it comes time to write book reviews I'm happy to take suggestions of good fiction to read.
This weeks review is of a book chosen for me by a fellow member of staff and someone well known to many of our fiction loving customers.

During a post war summer in Warwickshire, Dr Faraday is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, a once grand Georgian house that is now gently crumbling. Its owners the Ayres family - mother, son and daughter struggle to make ends meet and keep pace with a rapidly changing society. The patient that first brings Dr Faraday to Hundreds is the Ayres one and only servant Betty, a teenager who claims that Hundreds is inhabited by something other than the family.  Mother, son and daughter have their own thoughts on their apparent house guests. There is no evidence of any evil force at work until the docile family dog savages a neighbour's child.  After this strange things start to happen with increasing in frequency.

In the meantime Dr Faraday has become increasingly entangled in the family's lives and becomes attracted to the daughter Caroline, a plain young woman.  Her brother Roderick has medical issues as a legacy of being burned during the war so a relationship of doctor and patient is formed as Doctor Faraday continues to treat Roderick's leg  The doctor is an educated man who is sure that there is a rational explanation for the strange happenings in the house.

The story is told from Faraday's perspective. The question that I was left with at the end were how was it that the doctor was always around for each major crisis and supernatural or rational?  The author lets the reader decide.  A good read that starts slowly but ultimately makes you want to keep reading.

Book Review: Mennonite in a little black dress

I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir by a very strong woman who faced a terrible phase of her life with spirit and fun .After her husband left her for a man  and she suffers injuries in a car accident Rhonda goes home to her wonderful and supportive family who happen to be Mennonites. Some of the funniest parts of this book are when she talks of her childhood, the horrible school lunches and the clothes. She also talks with great humour of the Mennonite foods and culture.
Rhonda is a sympathetic character and her family although of very religious persuasion always supportive especially her marvelous but wacky mother.it is a story with many funny moments but a tale that tells us all we can survive life’s hard moments and come out the other end a little older, a little wiser and with our humour and sense of self intact.I can recommend this book with no hesitation.

Book Review: Tudor Mysteries

The Matthew Shardlake mysteries, under Henry VIII, by C. J. Sansom
Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation and Heartstone
The Giordano Bruno mysteries, under Elizabeth I, by S. J. Parris
Heresy, Prophecy and Sacrilege
Matthew Shardlake is a hunch-backed lawyer, who initially carries out investigations for King Henry’s ruthless Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell. After Cromwell’s fall, Shardlake investigates mysteries which arise from his lawyer’s work in the tangled and corrupt legal system of Tudor England.
These investigations take Shardlake across England during the turbulent period after the start of the Protestant Reformation under Henry VIII. During this time he becomes embroiled in the dissolution of the monasteries, the massive changes to the state church and even in the changing fortunes of Henry’s queens, as he tries to solve a number of mysteries, involving murder and even treason.
Giordano Bruno is a radical philosopher and scientist, and an excommunicated Italian monk. Bruno resides in Elizabeth’s England, safe from the Holy Roman Inquisition, which is not happy with his philosophical views and published works. However, as a foreigner, and a Catholic as well, he is in a delicate position, and he cannot afford to antagonise his English hosts. He is recruited by Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s Chief Minister and spymaster.
Bruno investigates murders and treasonous plots for Walsingham. These investigations involve the underground Catholic community in England at the time and intricate plots against Elizabeth by both English and foreign enemies.
Both of these “detectives” are outsiders, either by appearance or nationality. Their investigations often open up matters which influential and dangerous people do not want disturbed, so they place themselves at great risk. While they are often given “official” (usually temporary) positions of authority to aid their investigations, this does not guarantee their safety. Plus they often find themselves under threat by their own masters, to solve their cases by deadlines, or face sanctions, or worse. Tudor threats definitely had a sharp edge to them.
In this way our intrepid Tudor age detectives carry on the great tradition of crime detectives throughout the ages: outwitting authority to solve a mystery, at great risk to themselves, and often at the end with no thanks from their bosses. They are often only left with the satisfaction of knowing that they solved the mystery and sometimes helped some of the less powerful in society either get justice or to escape from injustice. That and they still have their heads at the end of each book!
They are also constrained by the Tudor period. No CSI for these investigators. So clues have to be obvious and logical. This is where the higher education of a lawyer and a scientist aid them as they search for evidence to solve their mysteries. They also call on some knowledgeable helpers. Shardlake befriends an ex-monk apothecary, and Bruno is friends with John Dee, the Queen’s astrologer, a noted scientist of his day.
Good historical fiction emphasises the uncertainty of life - to convince the reader that nothing is certain or inevitable, and that the characters don’t know what is to occur next. Both authors do this very well in their Tudor England, using historical plots and intrigues in their story lines. The period is handled very well in both series, with rich details and descriptive touches. The books are atmospheric, with a strong sense of place.
Shardlake’s England is quite bleak, as perhaps would be the view of a man whose body is considered monstrous by many, and who experiences first-hand the depredations of the rule of the tyrant Henry VIII. Bruno’s view of his period is a bit more optimistic, befitting the image of the Elizabethan Age, although he is involved with the seamier side of society.
These mysteries are complex and the plots are well paced. Nothing is too obvious, with lots of suspects, as well as red-herrings. Of course historic characters and events figure largely in all the books, and are often woven into the story lines. These are two good series for those who like realistic historic fiction, but who also appreciate a good traditional who-dunnit mystery story.

Glenn Hogue

Book review: Mercy by Rebecca Lim

“ Exiled from Heaven, a lost soul seeks her soulmate …”

Mercy is a Fallen/ Exiled Archangel, who has lost a large chunk of her memory.
She doesn’t remember why she keep “waking” up having effectively possessed a strangers body and assumed their life, in an effort to hide from the eight unknown figures that the man in her dreams, Luc, (could he be from her past?) keeps warning her about.

The story begins with Mercy “waking up” in the body of a girl called Carmen; a talented solo soprano singer in her school choir. The school choir are visiting a town called Paradise to prepare and present a concert.
What could possibly go wrong?

While she doesn’t know much about herself including her true name, Mercy/Carmen knows there is something strange going on in Paradise.  A girl from the family that Mercy/Carmen is stating with has gone missing.  Luc warns her not to interfere, but Mercy finds it’s simply not in her to ignore a missing girl and a family in pain.

Ryan is the twin brother of the missing girl. He is hell bent on finding his sister, convinced that the dreams he’s been having are linked to her trying to tell him where she is and what’s happened. Could it be that they can help each other out? Ryan covers for Mercy’s slip ups while Mercy helps Ryan figure out who’s innocent, who’s lying and finding out just exactly what is going on in Paradise.   

While I truly enjoyed this book, when I first started reading it I felt like I was missing a chunk of back-story. However, this fits in with the story, as the missing parts are Mercy’s forgotten memories. Persevere, as events and facts are put together and explained as the story unfolds.


Book review: When my husband does the dishes...

I was motivated to read Kerri Sackville's book 'When my husband does the dishes.....A memoir of marriage and motherhood' after several friends attended her recent Author Talk at Sutherland Library.
Kerri Sackville is well known in the online world. She is a blogger, columnist and freelance writer. This is Kerri's first book (published by Random House Australia, 2011).
I enjoyed the book from the start. As a female who is employed, married, has small children, is a daughter, sister and friend, I frequently laughed out loud at Kerri's shrewd observations.
The author is also married, lives in Sydney and has three kids - Little Man, Pinkela and Toddler. I have a Little Man and a Toddler. This is a story about her life (and mine?) and daily crises as a working mum and wife.
Obviously I related to the book on many levels. The following conversation (also) occurs in my home (every night!) ......
Okay kids, eat your dinner.
Eat some of your dinner.
Eat three mouthfuls.
Just eat two mouthfuls.
Okay, one more mouthful.
Fine, don't eat it. See IF I CARE!
The book is light hearted and suited to reading in short burst (perfect for cleaners and mums).
Kerri's tips for household / small people management are classic and easy to apply. 'If you don't sit still in the car, we will all have to go to jail' and 'Do your homework and I'll give you a treat' and 'Cooking includes two minute noodles (especially if you use the flavour satchel)'. Her diagnostic guide for 'Man Flu' is useful information for any female.
Having just enjoyed a long weekend and 6 hour return car trip, Kerri's account of day tripping and holidaying with kids is spot on. Her list of playground 'joys' will be familiar with most mums. Pushing your kid on the swing for 10 minutes is fun, for the next three hours, not so much!
Kerri's descriptions and insights are honest, sharp, accurate, clever and very, very funny. Reading the book made me feel less overwhelmed in my own crazy, fun, stretched, fast paced world.
What I loved most about this book is despite acknowledging (a lot!) the exhaustion, frustrations, anxiety, drudgery, craziness, repetitiveness and effort of being in a relationship and a mother - her joyfulness, love for her family and sense of humour shines through.
Those surrounded by children are truly, truly blessed. Even so, I look forward to a few quiet and child free moments to read Kerri's recently released second book, 'The Little Book Of Anxiety: Confessions From A Worried Life'.


Miles Franklin Award, 2012 Winner

The winner of the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award was announced at the State Library of Queensland on Wednesday evening, 20th June.
congratulations to Anna Funder won the award for her debut novel, All That I Am. It was chosen from a shortlist of five books, including Blood by Tony Birch, Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears, Cold Light  by Frank Moorhouse and Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett.   Read this book review, of "All that I am". You may like to request a copy from the Library.  You can place your hold, and after you have read it, why not write a review, tag it, discuss it and/or rate in the new Library Catalogue.

The new Library Catalogue has arrived!

The next time you visit the shire libraries - either in one of our branches or online you will notice a change! We've had a brand new Library Management System installed. The new system includes a new library catalogue for you to explore. Features include:

  • A brand new look - much simpler and similar to the way you already search the web.
  • Easier searches including online articles incorporated into search results.
  • Rate your reads.
  • Create reading lists.
  • Book reviews.
  • Tagging items.
Log in to your library account using your PIN to update your email address, place holds on items you want to borrow, opt-in to keep your reading history and start rating and reviewing! You should also check all your personal account details are correct and up to date.

Another thing to remember, any holds you had suspended will be once again made active, so be sure to use your account to freeze them again should you want to.

We hope you enjoy using the new system, please feel free to ask staff for assistance. We are all learning as well so appreciate your patience! 

Try it out - Search the Catalogue Now

Watch a short overview of the new Catalogue

Into the unknown : the tormented life and expeditions of Ludwig Leichhardt / John Bailey.

Having read John Bailey's excellent Mr Stuart’s Track, a biography of explorer John McDouall Stuart, I was eager to read his latest book. Again he has chosen an Australian explorer, this time the enigmatic Ludwig Leichhardt and, again, he has done a masterful job.

The disappearance without trace of Leichhardt's 1848 expedition is one of the enduring mysteries of Australian history, and the author is clever in beginning the book with a brief account of that expedition. Read it and you will find it difficult not to carry on reading the whole book; such is the skill behind the kind of narrative history John Bailey writes.

Of course, the greatest event of Leichhardt's life was not that final ill-fated expedition of 1848, but his triumphant overland journey of1844-45. Making extensive use of diaries and published accounts, Bailey recreates all the struggles, setbacks, infighting and sheer exhausting hard work of that trip. The decision to quote Leichhardt extensively is a wise one, since Leichhardt himself is an observant and passionate writer. This is a full account of a life, not just the expeditions in Australia, and what emerges from the book is that the character of the man is just as great a mystery as his fate. Although highly intelligent, widely read and a skilled scientist, Leichhardt clearly had great difficulties being a leader of men on the three expeditions he led. So it is no surprise that Bailey focuses as much attention on the interpersonal problems that plagued the expeditions as he does on the physical challenges, such as heat, hunger and disease.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a clear picture of just how epic the challenges were for explorers of men of Leichhardt’s era. Seemingly simple setbacks such as horses or cattle wandering off during the night could become interminably long sagas as the expeditioners tracked their lost animals for days or even weeks, halting all progress on their journey, all the while consuming supplies and succumbing to ill health and sickness. I was almost nauseous when reading the detailed accounts of the failed second expedition's encounter with constant rain and sickness, to which all men on the journey succumbed at one time or another. The author surmises such sickness was caused by unsanitary slaughtering and cooking practices, as the following graphic passage illustrates -
"Leichhardt's party was camped on a patch of mud surrounded by the strewn bones and rotting flesh of slaughtered animals. Over time the carcasses mounted up into what Leichhardt described at Charleys Creek as a 'charnel house of killed goats and sheep'. Flies and maggots swarmed over strips of exposed meat. Dogs roamed the camp and nearby was a diarrhoea-ridden latrine. The entrails of sheep and goats, reserved for the dogs, were packed in sacks and stored next to meat for human consumption. At the call for supper men often walked directly from the toilet or from tending their horses and cattle without a thought to washing their hands. Preparing food over an open fire meant the meat was often undercooked. Flies were a constant accompaniment to any meal. In short, the camp was a perfect breeding environment for the salmonella bacteria."

Connecting Kids With Books - Sue Whiting Talks to Parents

Ever wondered how to get your child reading? 
Popular author Sue Whiting will be speaking to parents at Sutherland Library on Tuesday 26th June at 7pm on 'Connecting Kids and Books'. This is a talk for parents of children aged 5-12.
Previously a classroom teacher and now a writer and editor of children's books, Sue will draw on her experience to help parents identify the sort of books available today that will inspire their children to read. 
Come along for tips and information to help you get your child on the path to a love of reading. 
Bookings can be made online or by calling Sutherland Library on 9710 0178.

Book review: Eat, pray, eat: One man’s accidental search for equanimity, equilibrium and enlightenment by Michael Booth

Meet Michael Booth.  Food writer, father of two, cynic, glutton, married to Lissen yet having an increasingly torrid affair with full-bodied reds (Merlot and Burgundy for starters).  The downward spiral in the global economy sees Michael and his family reluctantly relocate from the centre of an English city to the remote countryside, a great distance from all the things he holds dear: ‘nori seaweed, fresh lemongrass, and couverture chocolate; from a decent selection of Burgundies; from fresh mangosteens and waiters who scrape your linen tablecloth between courses; from well-stocked deli counters, artisanal butchers and pistachio macarons‘.  This drastic lifestyle change in tandem with the confronting reality of middle age sends Michael careening into an existential crisis. 
 Watching her husband’s increasing unhappiness and alcohol consumption, the cluey Lissen decides that a 3 month family tour of India may help Michael overcome his malaise.  Telling Michael of her concern that their life together is no longer working she reveals her plan whereupon Michael’s immediate reaction is to argue against the poverty, disease, insects and traffic they will encounter.  But then his inner voice whispers ‘Just think of the seekh kebabs, Michael ...’  This deep longing to feast unabashedly upon the much-loved cuisine of the subcontinent is Michael’s main motivation for travelling. Yet, unbeknownst to him, Lissen has enrolled her spiritually-bankrupt husband in a month-long yoga and meditation boot camp which is what ultimately turns his life around.

This family’s Indian odyssey is in turn confronting, moving and hilarious, and I really enjoyed reading about Michael’s experiences of a country that I have never visited.  Being a card-carrying member of the Legume Brigade myself, I was (surprisingly) hoping that the story wouldn’t spiral into some hideous cliché with Michael morphing into a lentil-loving avatar saluting the sun at the drop of a hat.  I can happily report that by the end of his various adventures, Michael remains as endearingly human as he did at the tale’s outset; albeit with some tweaking (I have to admit it was a relief to see the rough edges of Michaels’ life become somewhat smoother).

If you love food, if you love travel tales, if you enjoy reading about the inner journey as much as the outer driven by a protagonist who is as sharp and honest as he is funny - then you just might like to take a bite out of this tasty treat.  I powered through this autobiography and thoroughly enjoyed it. A dream read for me.


Woman in black

 I love creepy stories and Susan Hill’s “The Woman in Black” is one of my favs. Both writing this review and with the release press surrounding

the recent film based on the novel first published in 1983, has brought back to me that creepy, unsettling presence of the woman in black which freaked me out many years ago when I first read the book and which still creeps me out today. Whether you believe in ghosts or not it is truly creepy stuff.

So, Susan Hill’s “The Woman In Black” takes us to Eel Marsh House, a  solitary home found in the middle of a marsh and was most recently the
home of a Mrs. Alice Drablow. At the event of her death, young  solicitor Arthur Kipps is tasked with going through her papers to find anything of value and send it back to London. But what should have been a simple task turns into a huge undertaking  as Eel Marsh House — and the community around it — seems to harbor a  secret that they are loath to share with Arthur Kipps.

Arthur begins to experience stranger and stranger phenomenon but can never truly account for any of it. He spends his days convincing himself that he is quite alright and steels himself to returning to the  spooky house and finishing his work, but by night the strange goings-on serve to unnerve, distract, and ultimately frighten him to his very core. This is a gothic story in every sense of the word. It’s a carefully constructed narrative that gently reveals aspects of the underlying back story, whilst all the time affecting Arthur in deeper and more nerve-wracking ways.

The success of The Woman in Black hinges entirely on description –  however there are no crude descriptions of cobwebbed halls or victims bathed in blood, wailing pathetically as they roam the halls of a  haunted manor – rather, Hill’s work relies on the creation of  atmosphere, of setting and the unsettling feeling of terror that  awakens, slowly, gradually, and subtly. I love it!

So go on be brave borrow a copy today - I would definitely recommend  reading this one in the dead of the night in absolute silence for full
effect – or if you want to go overboard read it by candle light. – Oh and a final warning, if you choose to read it in the evening (and  I recommend you do) you may end up having a little trouble sleeping that night!


Book review: Batavia by Peter FitzSimons

 Batavia : betrayal, shipwreck, murder, sexual slavery, courage : a spine-chilling chapter in Australian history. 
by Peter FitzSimons.

How surprising that I have never heard of the terrifying and shocking tale of the shipwreck of Batavia , I wish they had taught this as history in school it seems that this story of shipwreck and survival has been neglected.
Peter FitzSimons has based this book on extensive research and has written an absorbing tale of the tragic events that took place on Australia’s western coast in a rollicking read of brutality, murder and betrayal.
The account of the Batavia wreck and mutiny is a brutal Lord of the Flies tale but I think though, it was far more terrible. These renegades knew no limits and thought there would be no consequences. He has brought the events of 1629 to life with a chatty and easily accessible style and I will be reading more historical fiction although the next book will not be as brutal, I hope.

Book Review: The Weird West series, by Mike Resnick

The Buntline Special and The Doctor and the Kid
A variation on the Cyber Punk genre, but set in the 19th Century and so may be described as “Steam Punk”, these books are also set in the Wild West of America, to add an interesting theme. So, a historic setting, with the characters (many historical) reflecting the attitudes, customs and conversation of the 19th Century Old West, plus high technology, and also the addition of magic and the supernatural. This all makes for an interesting mix.
The technology comes from Thomas Alva Edison, who invents multiple gadgets, varying from steam powered horse-less stage coaches, to sophisticated weapons and robot “fancy” ladies. He also sports a mechanical right arm, due to an assassination attempt. These inventions are further innovated and developed by Ned Buntline. The historical Ned Buntline was one of the best known promoters of the original Wild West through dime novels (mostly using his imagination). Why Resnick chose to make him a major character and technical innovator in these stories is a mystery. Perhaps because of the imagination he used in his stories about the Wild West, or for an insider joke.
The magic comes from the Indians. They have not been conquered by the white men in this world, but have stopped the United States at the Mississippi River, by using their great magic. Geronimo is one of the powerful Indian medicine men featured in these stories. Edison and Buntline have been charged by the U.S. government to counteract the Indian magic using their new technology, and so enable the U.S. to expand westward.
However, some famous western towns, like Tombstone, Dodge, Wichita and Denver, are allowed to exist by the Indians, because they don’t worry about the mines that support them. Or cows, evidently, because there are also cowboys. In fact, everything that existed in the Old West seems to exist in this world, except the U.S. government. Also, the Indians still own the place.
This explains why Tom Edison and Ned Buntline are working together in Tombstone Arizona in the first book. So add Doc Holliday (who is the main character of the stories), Wyatt Earp and his brothers,  Bat Masterson, plus the Clanton gang and Johnny Ringo, and the scene is right for real western shoot out action. Plus vampires and zombies.
Resnick tries to keep historical accuracy with most of his “real” characters, in description and lifestyle. Also some of the events of the 1880’s. A bit difficult considering the story line, but he seems to do a good job. The reader may confirm this, even if they are not knowledgeable about the Wild West, because of the notes on the historic characters that Resnick provides in Appendices at the end of the books.  A fair bit of name dropping is done, with historical characters coming in and out of the story to add period colour.
In the first book, the climax at the O.K. Corral, and the violent aftermath follow the historical events very closely. Or as closely as Indian magic, vampires and zombies will allow.
In the second book Doc Holliday finds himself low on funds and so must return to Tombstone from Denver, this time in search of dangerous young gunfighter William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. Again, Indian magic plays a big part in the story, working for and against the “Doc”. So, Tom Edison and Ned Buntline are again involved to try to counteract the magic to help Doc Holliday, and also to start the expansion of the U.S. into the West.
The second book is a little short on action as the story builds. The first book has the shoot-out action leading up to the climax at O.K. Corral to keep it moving. The second book climax is the death of Billy the Kid, and the descriptions of this alternate Wild West and the characters aren’t so engrossing that they can carry the whole story. So the second book goes a little slowly.
There are also big holes in story background. Particularly how the Wild West could exist without the history of American westward expansion which led to the concept of the “Wild West” in the first place. Also, there are railways going everywhere, keeping with the 19th Century tradition, but going across supposedly sovereign Indian country. But to question all, as they say, there lies madness. So it is best to accept the background as is. After all, it is Steam Punk.
Resnick, however, is easy to read, and the stories flow well, with light humour throughout. The action sequences are sharp and quick. Our gunfighters are crack shots and have lightning reflexes.
Both books contain illustrations by J. Seamas Gallagher, which give an impression of what some of the characters would look like in this strange Wild West. Readers will have to decide if they think the robot “fancy” ladies are as attractive as the characters in the book find them.
Glenn Hogue

All That I Am : a novel by Anna Funder

All That I Am by Anna Funder
All That I Am: a novel by Anna Funder

Australian author Anna Funder’s first novel, All That I Am: a novel has had a dream response. It was recently named Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards and has been nominated for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards and the Miles Franklin Award which will be announced in a few days time on 20 June.

Although it is a work of fiction it is inspired by the author’s friendship with German Jewish activist Ruth Blatt (also known as Ruth Koplowitz) who emigrated to Australia.

In the novel Ruth is living out her final years in Australia and reflecting on her life with her husband a journalist Hans Wesseman, playwright Ernst Toller (also based on a real person) and Toller’s lover, fellow activist and early feminist Dora Fabian.

Ruth helped her cousin Dora hide and smuggle Toller's work out of Germany in the wake of the Reichstag fire of 1933. All four fled to London in the late 1930s from Nazi Germany and are trying to warn the British Government of the impending chaos of Hitler’s rise to power.
Toller is the second narrator of the book who is dictating his biography in New York as the Holocaust begins. This means the story bounces back and forward throughout time but because of Funder’s use of alternating narrators for each chapter it works.

World War II and the holocaust have been a prolific source of inspiration for many novels and other works of art but this very valuable addition to the genre. The characters are complex and flawed and the relationships they form dysfunctional and therefore realistic.

One of the messages of the book is the need to dream or imagine the sufferings of others in order to do something to stop it. As we know all dreams can't be sweet, sometimes they are nightmares.


Playground duty / Ned Manning

Ned Manning is a teacher, writer, actor and script consultant and a very likeable chap.
Ned writes about his experiences as a teacher in New South Wales schools. His face on the cover was familiar to me from his acting career so I wanted to read what he has to say about the teaching profession that my daughter-in-law is part of.
My curiousity about staff rooms, playgrounds, class rooms and all the extra duties teachers volunteer for was met in a very entertaining way. His optimism and enthusiasm for seeing young people excel seemed familiar from what I have observed within my family so the students in New South Wales schools can be very lucky. Facing up to a classroom of teenagers says "nightmare" to me ; it is enlightening to see other perspectives.
After Gunnedah and Tenterfield he tried a progressive "School without walls" but quickly moved on. As readers we meet students and fellow teachers good and bad. Other experiences led to Eora High in Redfern where he was a minority white male for years until TAFE took it over. 
Ned finally finds "teaching heaven" at the Newtown High School of the Performing Arts and he shares some interesting experiences, including an excursion to China with students from this school.
Most enjoyable.

Dead Witch walking by Kim Harrison

"Dead Witch walking" is a book where the creepy things that go bump in the night, live on the other side of Cincinnati, in a place called “The Hollows”.
Cincinnati has been spilt in two, with your ordinary humans on one side of town and  witches, vampires, pixies and werewolves, on the other.
 The protagonist, Rachel Morgan has quit her job as a runner for the Inderland Runner Services, catching criminals of the less than human variety, oh, by the way, she’s a witch! Now she’s marked for death by her former employers and trying to stay alive long enough to expose Cincinnati’s most prominent citizen as a drug lord.
How hard can it be?
Rachel is about to find out exactly what she’s made of and who her real friends are.

I couldn’t put this book down, it kept me wanting more.
Such unique characters featured,  my favourite being Jenks, a pixie that works as Rachel’s back up, with a refreshingly twisted, sharp sense of humour and personality.  Ivy, a living vampire, is Rachel’s business partner, who is doing everything she can to keep Rachel alive (and resisting making a meal out of her).
Lots of laughs, lots of snooping, lots of action amid a few spells misfiring.

Once I had finished this book I went in search of more, happy to find Kim Harrison has written quite a few in this series. The latest being
 “A Perfect Blood”.

Cronulla Library’s ‘Favourite Travel Destination Competition ‘

Bruny Island, Tasmania - Photo by Alex FotoMoto on Flickr

Cronulla Library held a 'Your favourite travel destination' competition during the month of May to celebrate the 'Escape' theme for the National Year of Reading 2012.

Our Winner Val Jory told us in 25 words or less why Tasmania was her favourite travel destination and why it means so much to her.

 “I thought my travelling days were over considering my age, but I was wrong. The craving never stops for those tantalising faraway places.”

Her words came right from the heart and proved that you are never too old to travel.
Our entries were comprised of so many wonderful and exotic destinations. Here are just a few to inspire you.

India “… embodies all facets of the human experience in a visceral assault on the senses. It has something everyone will both love and hate.”

Spain “I walked 840 kms last year along the ‘Camino De Santiago’. I loved the people, the passion, food and music, mountains , wildflowers and nature.”

France “My Grandmother’s home which I visit many times as a young man. Interesting  and civilized.”

Antarctica “I fulfilled a life time dream to visit Antarctica and walk with the Penguins.”

Hong Kong “It never fails to excite and surprise one . High rise, traditional China, superb views, outer Islands, busy, busy harbour. A jewel of the East.”

Egypt “Ancient history has captivated me since childhood. Experiencing Egypt’s wonders was breathtaking beyond expectation. I feel blessed to have witnessed these ancient wonders.”

Other destinations included:
  • Releasing the inner child at Disneyland L.A.
  • Skiing the snow covered mountains in Canada.
  • Experiencing the contemporary art world of New York.
  •  Revering the capital of Democracy, Washington DC.
  •  Visiting family in Malta.
  • Luxuriating at Dunk Island resort.
  •  Stepping back in time into the surreal and beautiful world of Venice.
  • Making a mini documentary about the villages of South America.
  • Admiring the picturesque setting of Lake Como in Italy.

Hawaii, The Great Wall of China, Orlando, Florida, Los Angeles, Czech Republic, Fiji, Grand Canyon, London, Dublin.

Guidebooks and travel information are always available at all our Libraries.

Book Review- Night Circus

"Le Cirque des Rêves- "The circus of dreams" appears from nowhere, opening at nightfall, and closing at dawn. This is the first thing you learn in "Night Circus", a brilliant debut novel by Erin Morgenstern.
It is certainly no ordinary circus, being the setting for a competition between two magicians, Prospero the enchanter, and the mysterious Mr A. H., who have each trained one competitor, Celia and Marco respectively, since childhood, to participate in a battle of magic which can leave only one survivor.  Celia and Marco, who are unaware that they are competing against one another, or of the ultimate outcome, spend their time trying to outperform each other by creating intricate magical attractions for the circus. Over time, they fall in love.

 This is a book that captures your imagination, in part by the descriptions of the circus and all it contains. 

Everything in this circus is themed black and white, with touchs of red.  The maze of black and white striped tents, the costumes worn by the performers, the big cats (a panther and a spotted snow leopard), right down to the smallest of  details, such as the tarot cards used by Isobel, and the refreshments for sale (including popcorn, dark and white chocolate mice and hot cocoa to drink), follow this monochromatic colour scheme.  Even the Rêveurs, who follow the circus, (some where ever it goes), are described as being dressed

 “ in black and white, with a single shock of red; a scarf or hat, or maybe a red rose."

The touch of red allowing them to recognise each other.

One of my favourite parts of this book are the beautiful descriptions of the attractions contained within each tent, randomly scattered throughout the book.  The Ice Garden, Bedtime Stories, Hall of Mirrors, The Pool of Tears, and The Cloud Maze, to name but a few. These are each described in intricate detail, enhancing the magical quality of the story, and leaving you wishing you could go to Le Cirque des Rêves, and visit these attractions.

Although the book does jump around in terms of time and place, this can be overcome by reading the date at the beginning of the chapter, and for me, didn't detract from the story at all.

 I really enjoyed this book, finding it original story that successfully combines magic, illusion, love and suspense, and I was quite unable to put this book down, reading it late into the night to find out what happened next. 

 I can’t wait to see the movie interpretation of the book, the rights of which have been optioned by Summit Entertainment,  the makers of the Twilight series of movies.


Sneak Preview - New Library Catalogue

12 June 2012 Update

As of today we are in the process of clearing out the temporary data from the new library system. Please don't try searching the new catalogue or viewing your account details from now until we launch next Thursday, 21 June (you will probably find that it doesn't work even if you do).

Regular readers will recall that we mentioned a little while ago the library has been working behind the scenes on replacing our computer system. Well the date for the switch is now official.

All Sutherland Shire Libraries will be closed from 5pm on Friday June 15 and will re-open for normal operation on Thursday 21 June - 9am at Sutherland, 9.30am at branches. There is one exception -  Miranda Library will be closed for building works before and after the system upgrade.

new library catalogue shown on iPad
New library catalogue shown on iPad

During the period that the libraries are closed we will be working to extract all the data from our existing Integrated Library System (ILS) - all the information about our collections, our borrowers, their loans, reserves, etc. (and yes, I'm sorry, fees owed). We then need to take all that data and feed it in to the new ILS and check, as best we can, that it is all correct.

What you will notice when the libraries open is that we have a brand new look to our catalogue. It is easier to use and has improved functionality. Searching is simple with a single keyword search box, just like Google. Once a search is done you can refine your results based on a range of different criteria. Many of the records in the catalogue now also provide suggestions for further reading - similar books and authors. In addition, searches are automatically expanded to include results from many of the library's research databases, improving your chance of finding information about more complex topics.

The good news is that you can try out the new catalogue right now!