We love reading... Staff picks May 2015

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Lyrebird hill by Anna Romer

Ruby Cardel lives on the NSW coast is a successful bookshop owner, in love with her partner and set on a path to security and happiness.
Whilst attending her estranged mother's art exhibition, an unguarded comment from an old neighbour, pulls at a thread that will unravel all that Ruby had believed about herself, her mother and the death of her sister Jamie.
Ruby deciding that she has been running from her past long enough, returns to Lyrebird Hill in the hope of reclaiming her lost memories from the year of Jamie's death.
One newly returned memory results in the discovery of old letters of Brenna Magavin, a long forgotten relative imprisoned in Tasmania for murder, which reveal Ruby's family line to be littered with tragedy and violence.
The story follows both women as they uncover family secrets and deal with the ramifications of that knowledge.
Lyrebird Hill is easy to read as it keeps you wondering what's going to be revealed next.
~Reviewed by Jacinta


The Meredith Trilogy   by George Johnston 1912 - 1970
My Brother Jack (Book #1) This trilogy I could read and re-read, for its richness both of content and prose. It is semi-autobiographical, with David Meredith an alias for George Johnson himself,  and it plots his life as a child, then as a journalist on the Melbourne Argus, his marriage, divorce and self-exile with a new family to the Greek Island of Hydra in the 60s, then his return to Australia, all  the while seeking  the unattainable. Most people are familiar with the best-seller first book My Brother Jack  from its dramatisation, or school study. Even though I first read it 40 years ago, many bits remain vivid, such as the memory of the different colours of stained glass in the front door, so fascinating for a child, and the relationship between the brothers, one a practical Aussie battler, the other the intellectual. It won the Miles Franklin Award in 1964.

The second book Clean Straw for Nothing depicts David and Cressida Morley (in reality Charmian Clift the author) seeking to escape the cultural wasteland in Australia in the 50s and 60s in a bohemian community on Hydra, and the children growing up bi-lingual. But even this is fraught with personal problems and they return to London. Meanwhile David has serious lung problems.

The final (unfinished) book, "A Cartload of Clay", sees the now aging and ailing David making sure he is able to walk the distance to his daughter's traditional Greek wedding, and sitting breathless on a bench in a Melbourne street, reminiscing about his life. This is beautifully crafted, as it brings together all the themes of the previous two books, and contains such nostalgia and wisdom. I love the characters of the prim piano teacher, crackling with starch, and the ignorant but kind man who cannot believe anyone would own so many books. The author passed away before he could finish this slender volume, but somehow that is appropriately poignant, and just enough.

A true Australian classic.......
~Reviewed by Janet

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
 This was a captivating read with a fairytale like feel to it. The story is about two sisters, Gillian and Sally Owen, who being orphaned at a young age, go to live in a small Massachusetts town with their mysterious and eccentric aunts, who just happen to be witches. The aunts are known for their  love potions that come with a warning- be careful what you wish for... 
 The sisters can't wait  to grow up and get away from the aunts to pursue 'normal lives'. Being polar opposite in personality and outlook, the sisters lives follow very different paths, but ultimately they discover family,  friendship and love are what life is about.   This book is not all about witchcraft, it's more magical realism, with storylines focusing on relationships, love and loss, along with some supernatural elements such as a vengeful ghost wrecking havoc thrown in.  The characters were well drawn and the writing is beautiful - with vivid descriptions of the settings. Friendship, family, love and magic, you'll find them all in this delightful book. 
~Reviewed by Monique



Assisted by Bernard and Isobel Pearson

Derived from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, “The World of Poo” is a book written by those who know what makes kids laugh. Adults will have a decent chuckle as well. It is also a source of interesting facts about, er, excrement. For Discworld fans there are many informative foot notes, as the story’s hero, young Geoffrey, explores the famous city of Ankh-Morpork, from his Grand-Mama’s house to the domain of the “King of S..t”, Sir Harry King, the man who turns dung into gold. In his search for exhibits for the new Geoffreys Poo Mooseum (sic), our intrepid hero leaves no stone unturned, or turd undisturbed, if you will. We learn of such faecal heroes as the night-soil men, dunnakin divers and gongfermors, who didn’t have many friends, but were well respected - as they walked down the street everyone would quickly step out of their way and let them pass. And how dog droppings helped make the very best leather (white was the best – the “pure”). You will also come across many, many words for the subject “matter”. Pratchett at his humorous best, with appropriate period illustrations throughout by Peter Dennis. For Discworld and Pratchett fans, but also for anyone who likes a laugh. And you never know, you might learn something!
~Reviewed by Glenn


Half broke horses by Jeanette Walls
This is the book for people who complain that kids are too cosseted and protected these days. There is not greater contrast than the fictionalized biography of the author’s Grandmother, Lily Smith. She was born and raised in a dirt house (a big disadvantage in wet weather) and was fearlessly breaking horses at six years of age. The knack she said, was knowing the right way to fall.
She was passionate about horses but also about education and learning. She loved school and was devastated when her education was stopped. Her feckless father had spent the tuition fees on buying a couple of exotic dogs, which, chasing cattle in rural Texas were shot and killed.
Lily never let a setback stop her and it was with this dauntless spirit that found her at the age of 15 riding alone to a teaching position 500 miles from her home and family.
This dauntless spirit continues throughout book. The writing catches her strong personality brilliantly and I loved some of the phrases she used to depict some of the dodgy characters or “crumb bums” she meets. My favourite had to be her description of some pretentiously genteel city women as “honking lace panties”.
This humour and her gobsmacking reactions to so many tragedies and hardships made this a riveting read.
~Reviewed by Kaye

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