We love reading... Staff picks February 2016

The heart goes last by Margaret Atwood
Set in a near future dystopia, Stan and Charmaine are barely surviving;  living  in their car and surviving on Charmaine's waitress tips, their future is bleak. When they see an advertisement offering the opportunity to participate in a social experiment where they alternate monthly between two very different homes-  the suburban bliss of Constilience and a prison cell in Postiron, they quickly sign up. Is appears to be a perfect solution to their problems. Is it all too good to be true?

Of course it is. Things start to go off the rails and the dark truth behind this social experiment is slowly revealed, with lots of unexpected twists and turns along the way. Touching on serious themes, this highly imaginative and entertaining book is both provocative and thought provoking. A great satirical read.
~Reviewed by Monique

 The marriage of opposites by Alice Hoffman
Today I indulged myself and finished reading Alice Hoffman's "The marriage of opposites" and I most certainly wasn't disappointed, in fact it's one of the best books I've read in a while.

A forbidden and the sweeping romance,  this  historical fiction  novel(mid nineteenth century), is set in St. Thomas in the West Indies, where the world is lush and full of exquisite beauty. The writing is strong and passionate. It follows the story of a girl, a wife, a mother, a lover, a friend and the relationship between a mother and son. This fiction is based on a true story - that of Rachel and her son Camille Pissaro who is considered to be one of the best impressionist artists of the twentieth century.

Aside from the beautiful writing and images I conjured up in my mind of Caribbean and surrounds I am taking from this book "Love more, not less".
~Reviewed by Donna

The hiding places/ Catherine Robertson
This book made me think of how we sometimes punish ourselves for events we had no control over. April lives a life of penance barely living after her small son is killed. She gives up everything and everyone who gave her happiness. Five years later she receives an inheritance of an abandoned English house. She goes over to sell it but finds herself drawn into a small group of quirky people especially Sunny an amazing old lady, Oran a faithful husband to a faithless wife,her solicitor  and a mysterious lover who lives in the woods. Can they bring April back to a real life? A well written and intriguing tale.
~ Reviewed by Meagan

Plain-speaking Jane / Jane Caro
Advertising writer and regular guest commentator on the Gruen Transfer, Jane Caro has written a memoir ‘Plain-speaking Jane’.  Pitched as a story about overcoming anxiety it is more than that highlighting her groundbreaking entry and success in the male-dominated field of advertising and her daily struggle for work-life balance.

It is a useful and entertaining read, encouraging woman to speak up and not waste energy worrying about the things they can’t control.
~Reviewed by Kelly

Babi Yar/  Anatoly Kuznetsov
This is a monumental book. For those who have never heard the name before, it refers to a natural landmark ravine in the Ukraine, which in World War Two was the  location of a brutal execution site. In the most notorious of purges, during just two days in 1941 over 33,000 Jews were killed by the occupying Nazi forces and local collaborators. In nearby towns, the sound of gunfire became a daily soundtrack.
The author of this documentary work was a boy at the time of the executions, one of the impoverished villagers living close by, one who escaped death a number of times - sometimes, as he points out, through sheer luck.
One of the most incredible things about "Babi Yar" that makes it so significant in the genre of historical writing is that Kuznetsov, escaping the Soviet Union in the 60s, indicates which sections of his formerly published text had been previously redacted. The supposedly critical anti-Stalinist, anti-Russian elements that were censored at the time gives a disturbing (and at times incredibly surreal) insight into a political system that denied so much of the agony and trauma that had occurred. The site where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered was later paved over, literally.
There are many remarkable moments in the book, but one in particularly which struck me was one point where Kuznetsov breaks the barrier and speaks to the reader:
A reminder. Well, so you are reading these stories. In some cases, perhaps you have just skimmed through unmoved... I must keep on reminding you... IT ALL HAPPENED.
~Reviewed by Dasha

Readalikes... All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr

If you liked...All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr

"From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall. In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure. Doerr's gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work"--

Why not try...

 The wives of Los Alamos/ TaraShea Nesbit
Their average age was twenty-five. They came from Berkeley, Cambridge, Paris, London, Chicago - and arrived in New Mexico ready for adventure, or at least resigned to it. But hope quickly turned to hardship as they were forced to adapt to a rugged military town where everything was a secret, including what their husbands were doing at the lab. They lived in barely finished houses with P.O. box addresses in a town wreathed with barbed wire, all for the benefit of a project that didn't exist as far as the public knew. Though they were strangers, they joined together - adapting to a landscape as fierce as it was absorbing, full of the banalities of everyday life and the drama of scientific discovery. And while the bomb was being invented, babies were born, friendships were forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos gradually transformed from an abandoned school on a hill into a real community: one that was strained by the words they couldn't say out loud, the letters they couldn't send home, the freedom they didn't have. But the end of the war would bring even bigger challenges to the people of Los Alamos, as the scientists and their families struggled with the burden of their contribution to the most destructive force in the history of mankind.

 The Nightingale/ Kristin Hannah
Viann and Isabelle have always been close despite their differences. Younger, bolder sister Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann lives a quiet and content life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. When World War II strikes and Antoine is sent off to fight, Viann and Isabelle's father sends Isabelle to help her older sister cope. As the war progresses, it's not only the sisters' relationship that is tested, but also their strength and their individual senses of right and wrong. With life as they know it changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

 The undertaking/Audrey Magee
The photograph of the woman is tied to a fencepost; the army chaplain hovers nearby. Peter Faber, a German soldier on the Russian front, is pledging his life to the stranger in the picture, while thousands of miles away in Berlin, the stranger is pledging the same to a photograph of him. Having never met, Peter and Katharina are getting married, a contract of business rather than of love - he earns ten days respite from the war for his 'honeymoon' while she is promised a widow's pension if he dies. Travelling to meet Katharina, Peter is surprised to find that he is attracted to his new wife; in only ten days the two strangers fall in love and commit themselves to a future together living under the bright promises of Nazism. However, when Peter rejoins his unit in Russia, the bitter winter rapidly chills the heat of his politics. As his comrades begin to die - by the cold, by the thump of falling bombs and by Russian knives - he loses sight of why Berlin has sent so many young men to their deaths in the snow drifts outside Stalingrad. Meanwhile, goaded on by her desperate and self-delusional parents, Katherina is ruthlessly working her way up the Nazi Party hierarchy, wedding herself and her young husband to a regime that will bury them if it ever falls...A stunning, riveting portrayal of ordinary people trapped by extraordinary circumstances, and the price they will have to pay for their survival.
In paradise / Peter Matthiessen
In the late autumn of 1996, more than a hundred people gather at the site of a former death camp. Throughout that week, they offer prayer and witness at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform. They eat and sleep in the sparse quarters of the Nazi officers who, half a century before, sent more than a million Jews to their deaths in this single camp. These people are joined by Clements Olin, an American academic of Polish descent, there to complete his research on the strange suicide of a survivor, even as he questions what a non-Jew with no connection to its history can contribute to the understanding of so monstrous a catastrophe. As the days pass, tensions both political and personal surface among the participants, stripping away any easy pretense to resolution or healing. Caught in the grip of emotions and impulses of bewildering intensity, Olin is forced to abandon his observer's role and to bear witness, not only to his family's ambiguous history but to his own as well.

 Mr Mac and me/ Esther Freud
It is 1914, and Thomas Maggs, the son of the local publican, lives with his parents and sister in a village on the Suffolk coast. He is the youngest child, and the only son surviving. Life is quiet - shaped by the seasons, fishing and farming, the summer visitors, and the girls who come down from the Highlands every year to gut and pack the herring...Then one day a mysterious Scotsman arrives. To Thomas he looks for all the world like a detective, in his black cape and hat of felted wool, and the way he puffs on his pipe as if he's Sherlock Holmes. Mac is what the locals call him when they whisper about him in the Inn. And whisper they do, for he sets off on his walks at unlikely hours, and stops to examine the humblest flowers. He is seen on the beach, staring out across the waves as if he's searching for clues. But Mac isn't a detective, he's the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and together with his red haired artist wife, they soon become a source of fascination and wonder to Thomas..Yet just as Thomas and Mac's friendship begins to blossom, war with Germany is declared. The summer guests flee and are replaced by regiments of soldiers on their way to Belgium, and as the brutality of war weighs increasingly heavily on this coastal community, they become more suspicious of Mac and his curious behaviour...In this tender and compelling story of an unlikely friendship, Esther Freud paints a vivid portrait of a home front community during the First World War, and of a man who was one of the most brilliant and misunderstood artists of his generation. It is her most beautiful and masterful work.

Books in the news 21-22 February

The life of elves/ Muriel Barberry
Do two young girls have the power to change the world? Maria, raised by powerful older women, lives in a remote village in Burgundy, where she discovers her gift of clairvoyance, of healing and of communicating with nature. Hundreds of miles away in Italy, Clara discovers her musical genius and is sent from the countryside to Rome to nurture her extraordinary abilities.

Who are the mysterious elves? Will they succeed in training the girls for their higher purpose in the face of an impending war? Barbery's The Life of Elves is the story of two children whose amazing talents will bring them into contact with magical worlds and malevolent forces. If, against all odds, they can be brought together, their meeting may shape the course of history.

A murder without motive : the killing of Rebecca Ryle / Martin McKenzie-Murray
In 2004, the body of a young Perth woman was found on the grounds of a primary school. Her name was Rebecca Ryle. The killing would mystify investigators, lawyers, and psychologists - and profoundly rearrange the life of the victim's family.

It would also involve the author's family, because his brother knew the man charged with the murder. For years, the two had circled each other suspiciously, in a world of violence, drugs, and rotten aspirations.

A Murder Without Motive is a police procedural, a meditation on suffering, and an exploration of how the different parts of the justice system make sense of the senseless. It is also a unique memoir: a mapping of the suburbs that the author grew up in, and a revelation of the dangerous underbelly of adolescent ennui.

Motel : a novella of love, desire and marriage / Craig McGregor
In these stories award-winning author Craig McGregor writes brilliantly about the nature of contemporary relationships and their contradictions: between desire and constancy, love and sexuality, family and solitude. In some, set on the North Coast, we become dramatically aware of the distance between our lives as modern sexual and intellectual travellers and the aboriginal landscape … and of the politics which infuses both. In the shifting, sometimes breathless, intensity of his writing Craig McGregor evokes a vivid sense of what it is like to experience life as a contemporary Australian—as well as a marvellous and exhilarating sense of celebration.

Non fiction
Merchants in the temple : inside Pope Francis's secret battle against corruption in the Vatican / Gianluigi Nuzzi ; translated from the Italian by Michael F. Moore
A veritable war is waging in the Church: on one side, there is Pope Francis’s strong message for one church of the poor and all; on the other, there is the old Curia with its endless enemies, and the old and new lobbies struggling to preserve their not-so-Christian privileges.
The old guard do not back down, they are ready to use all means necessary to stay in control and continue the immoral way they conduct their business. They resist reforms sought by Pope Francis and seek to delegitimize their opponents, to isolate those who want to eliminate corruption. It’s a war that will determine the future of the church. And if he loses the battle against secular interests and blackmail, Pope Francis could resign, much like his predecessor.
Based on confidential information—including top secret documents from inside the Vatican, and actual transcripts of Pope Francis’s admonishments to the papal court about the lack of financial oversight and responsibility—Merchants in the Temple illustrates all the undercover work conducted by the Pope since his election and shows the reader who his real enemies are. It reveals the instruments Francis is using to reform the Vatican and rid it, once and for all, of the overwhelming corruption traditionally encrusted in the Roman Catholic Church.

Taking Flight: Lores Bonney's Extraordinary Flying Career / Alexander, Kristen
From her first taste of the air when she joined Bert Hinkler in the cockpit for a joy ride in 1928, Lores Bonney was hooked. With her aviation licence and the support of her husband, she took to Australian and international skies and braved the challenge of long-distance flying. Taking Flight draws from the National Library of Australia’s rich archives and manuscript collection to present the tale of Lores Bonney, the first woman to circumnavigate the Australian continent by air, the first woman acknowledged to fly from Australia to England, and the first solo pilot to fly from Australia to Cape Town, South Africa. Aviation writer Kristen Alexander intimately illuminates the woman behind the audacious pilot, exploring her highs and lows and struggle to gain and maintain her place as one of Australia’s great aviation pioneers.

Settling the office : the Australian prime ministership from federation to reconstruction / Paul
Strangio, Paul 't Hart & James Walter
The prime ministership is indisputably the most closely observed and keenly contested office in Australia. How did it grow to become the pivot of national political power? Settling the Office chronicles the development of the prime ministership from its rudimentary early days following Federation through to the powerful, institutionalised prime-ministerial leadership of the postwar era.

If you liked...February suggestions

If you like this: 
A brief history of seven killings  by Marlon James
On 3 December 1976, just weeks before the general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions, seven gunmen from West Kingston stormed his house with machine guns blazing. Marley survived and went on to perform at the free concert, but the next day he left the country, and didn't return for two years. Not a lot was recorded about the fate of the seven gunmen, but much has been said, whispered and sung about in the streets of West Kingston, with information surfacing at odd times, only to sink into rumour and misinformation. Inspired by this near-mythic event, A Brief History of Seven Killings takes the form of an imagined oral biography, told by ghosts, witnesses, killers, members of parliament, drug dealers, con-men, beauty queens, FBI and CIA agents, reporters, journalists, and even Keith Richards' drug dealer. Marlon James's bold undertaking traverses strange landscapes and shady characters, as motivations are examined - and questions asked - in this compelling novel of monumental scope and ambition.
 You'll like this: 
The Revenant by Michael Punke
Based on a true story, The Revenant is an epic tale of revenge set in the Rocky Mountains and soon to be a major motion picture, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Rocky Mountains, 1823. The trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Hugh Glass is one of the most respected men in the company, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker. But when a scouting mission puts Glass face-to-face with a grizzly bear, he is viciously mauled and not expected to survive. Two men from the company are ordered to remain with him until his inevitable death. But, fearing an imminent attack, they abandon Glass, stripping him of his prized rifle and hatchet. As Glass watches the men flee, he is driven to survive by one all-consuming desire: revenge. With shocking grit and determination, he sets out on a three-thousand-mile journey across the harsh American frontier, to seek revenge on the men who betrayed him. The Revenant is a remarkable tale of obsession and the lengths that one man will go to for retribution.

If you like this: 
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandell
 One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

You'll like this: 
 The dog stars by Peter Heller
Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and to pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life--something like his old life--exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return--not enough fuel to get him home--following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face--in the people he meets, and in himself--is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.

If you like this: 
A spool of blue thread by Anne Tyler
'It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon.' This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red met that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They've all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself. From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we see played out the hopes and fears, the rivalries and tensions of families everywhere - the essential nature of family life.
You'll like this: 
The stone angel by Katherine Scholes
One summer changed Stella Boyd forever.
It was 1975.  And his name was Zeph.

Fifteen years later, Stella's life is full of excitement and danger as she travels the world writing magazine articles about women.  But then one day she receives an urgent message that changes everything.  Her father is missing at sea.

Stella heads home to Halfmoon Bay, the Tasmanian fishing village where she grew up.  She desperately doesn't want to face the painful memories that await her.  But as she takes part in the search for her father, the life of her old home draws in around her.  She finds herself taken back to that extraordinary summer when she met a young man who was sailing the world alone.  A time of devastating tragedy, but also of first love . . . 

Like the sea itself, the past rises up, refusing to be ignored.  There are dark secrets to be unearthed, lost dreams recovered.  Only then can hearts be healed, and an unexpected reward be claimed.

If you like this: 
Slade house by David Mitchell
Turn down Slade Alley - narrow, dank and easy to miss, even when you're looking for it. Find the small black iron door set into the right-hand wall. No handle, no keyhole, but at your touch it swings open. Enter the sunlit garden of an old house that doesn't quite make sense; too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies.
A stranger greets you by name and invites you inside. At first, you won't want to leave. Later, you'll find that you can't.
This unnerving, taut and intricately woven tale by one of our most original and bewitching writers begins in 1979 and reaches its turbulent conclusion around Hallowe'en, 2015. Because every nine years, on the last Saturday of October, a 'guest' is summoned to Slade House. But why has that person been chosen, by whom and for what purpose? The answers lie waiting in the long attic, at the top of the stairs...
You'll like this: 
 The Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
It is late on a warm city night when Sylvan Threadgill, a young night soiler who cleans out the privies behind the tenement houses, pulls a terrible secret out from the filthy hollows: an abandoned newborn baby. An orphan himself, Sylvan was raised by a kindly Italian family and can't bring himself to leave the baby in the slop. He tucks her into his chest, resolving to find out where she belongs. Odile Church is the girl-on-the-wheel, a second-fiddle act in a show that has long since lost its magic. Odile and her sister Belle were raised in the curtained halls of their mother's spectacular Coney Island sideshow: The Church of Marvels. Belle was always the star-the sword swallower-light, nimble, a true human marvel. But now the sideshow has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in the ashes, and Belle has escaped to the city. Alphie wakes up groggy and confused in Blackwell's Lunatic Asylum. The last thing she remembers is a dark stain on the floor, her mother-in-law screaming. She had once walked the streets as an escort and a penny-Rembrandt, cleaning up men after their drunken brawls. Now she is married; a lady in a reputable home. She is sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband's vile mother. But then a young woman is committed alongside her, and when she coughs up a pair of scissors from the depths of her agile throat, Alphie knows she harbors a dangerous secret that will alter the course of both of their lives...On a single night, these strangers' lives will become irrevocably entwined, as secrets come to light and outsiders struggle for acceptance. 

February Reads...

Rebound/ Aga Lesiewicz
Life is good for Anna Wright. She's a successful media executive working for one of the UK's largest TV corporations. She's got a great boyfriend, some close friends and a lovely home. She adores her dog, Wispa, and she loves to run to help her de-stress. But Anna's perfect life starts to crumble from the moment when, out jogging on the Heath one day, she meets a handsome stranger. She takes a route into unfamiliar territory, and then she has to face the consequences. There's a dark, growing creepiness as the atmosphere becomes unsettled and, as Anna's professional life becomes increasingly pressured and poisonous, her obsession with the intriguing stranger intensifies. A startlingly addictive thriller from author Aga Lesiewicz, Rebound is an unputdownable debut.

Sleeping on Jupiter / Anuradha Roy.
A train stops at a railway station. A young woman jumps off. She has wild hair, sloppy clothes, a distracted air. She looks Indian, yet she is somehow not. The sudden violence of what happens next leaves the other passengers gasping.
The train terminates at Jarmuli, a temple town by the sea. Here, among pilgrims, priests and ashrams, three old women disembark only to encounter the girl once again. What is someone like her doing in this remote corner, which attracts only worshippers?
Over the next five days, the old women live out their long-planned dream of a holiday together; their temple guide finds ecstasy in forbidden love; and the girl is joined by a photographer battling his own demons.
The full force of the evil and violence beneath the serene surface of the town becomes evident when their lives overlap and collide. Unexpected connections are revealed between devotion and violence, friendship and fear, as Jarmuli is revealed as a place with a long, dark past that transforms all who encounter it.

In a land of paper gods / Rebecca Mackenzie.
Jiangxi Province, China, 1941. Atop the fabled mountain of Lushan, celebrated for its temples, capricious mists and plunging ravines, perches a boarding school for the children of British missionaries. As her parents pursue their calling to bring the gospel to China's most remote provinces, ten-year-old Henrietta S. Robertson discovers that she has been singled out for a divine calling of her own. Etta is quick to share the news with her dorm mates, and soon even Big Bum Eileen is enlisted in the Prophetess Club, which busies itself looking for signs of the Lord's intent. (Hark.) As rumours of war grow more insistent, so the girls' quest takes on a new urgency - and in such a mystical landscape, the prophetesses find that lines between make believe and reality, good and bad, become dangerously blurred. So Etta's pilgrimage begins.

Best friends forever / Kimberla Lawson Roby.
Things are falling apart in the Richardson household. Angry arguments between Celine and her husband, Keith, have become routine. She resents that he's working long hours and staying out all night, and he accuses her of not giving him the attention he deserves. Their marriage is at a cross-roads and Celine worries how her 10-year-old daughter, Kassie, will be affected. But the situation turns devastating when Celine is diagnosed with breast cancer. As her relationship with Keith deteriorates, Celine worries that she'll be left to navigate the difficult process of cancer treatment alone. But comfort and support come in the form of Celine's best friend, Lauren. They've been attached at the hip since they were children and it is Lauren who's there for Celine in her darkest moments. Now, Celine will be forced to make tough decisions-about her marriage and otherwise-and for the first time in her life, she wants to give up. Lauren vows to help by any means necessary and makes the kind of sacrifice only a best friend can. But will it be too late?

Shylock is my name / Howard Jacobson.
'Who is this guy, Dad? What is he doing here?' With an absent wife and a daughter going off the rails, wealthy art collector and philanthropist Simon Strulovitch is in need someone to talk to. So when he meets Shylock at a cemetery in Cheshire's Golden Triangle, he invites him back to his house. It's the beginning of a remarkable friendship. Elsewhere in the Golden Triangle, the rich, manipulative Plurabelle (aka Anna Livia Plurabelle Cleopatra A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever Christine) is the face of her own TV series, existing in a bubble of plastic surgery and lavish parties. She shares prejudices and a barbed sense of humour with her loyal friend D'Anton, whose attempts to play Cupid involve Strulovitch's daughter - and put a pound of flesh on the line. Howard Jacobson's version of The Merchant of Venice bends time to its own advantage as it asks what it means to be a father, a Jew and a merciful human being in the modern world.

Comfort zone / Lindsay Tanner.
An astute novel about inner-city Australian racism - and about humanity prevailing over entrenched prejudice. Jack van Duyn is in his comfort zone. A pot-bellied, round-shouldered cabbie in his mid-fifties, Jack lives alone, has few friends, and gets very little out of life. He has a negative opinion of most other people - especially refugees, bankers, politicians, and welfare bludgers. Jack doesn't know it, but his life is about to be turned upside down. A minor altercation in a kids' playground at an inner-city high-rise estate catapults Jack into a whirlpool of drug-dealing, ASIO intrigue, international piracy, and criminal violence. And he can't escape, because he doesn't want to: he's fallen in love with the beautiful Somali single mum who's at the centre of it all. The ensuing turmoil propels Jack out of his comfort zone, forcing him to confront some unpleasant truths about himself. After decades in the doldrums, can he rise to the challenge when the heat's on? Drawing on his many years of experience as a politician at the centre of bitter debates about refugees and multiculturalism, Lindsay Tanner explores the emotional landscape on which these issues are played out. As we follow Jack's hair-raising journey from crisis to crisis, a powerful plea for tolerance and understanding unfolds - directed at both sides of Australia's great cultural divide.

The storyteller's muse / Traci Harding.
A bitter writer, an enthusiastic protege and a story that must be told. Peter is a young nurse and aspiring author whose professional dreams have come true - a patient in his care, Penelope, needs someone to transcribe her final story. Revolving around four friends sharing an apartment where they hone their artistic and musical skills, Peter soon realises there is more to the story - another presence is lurking in the building, an intriguing, creative, temperamental force that goes by the name Em Jewel. When tragedy strikes, Peter and his charming co-worker Gabrielle must finish Penelope's story before it ruins both their lives. With the help of a motley group of authors, Peter and Gabrielle are swept up into a world of art, intrigue and deception. They must choose whether to follow their heads or their hearts - with life-altering consequences.

Welcome to the magnificent Making It Up as I Go Along - aka the World According to Marian Keyes™ - a bold, brilliant book bursting with Marian's hilarious and heartfelt observations on modern life, love and much, much else besides. Such as? you are determined to ask. Well, how about her guide to breaking up with your hairdresser? Or the warning she has for us all after a particularly traumatic fling with fake tan? There's the pure and bounteous joy of the nail varnish museum, not to mention the very best lies to tell if you find yourself on an Antarctic cruise. She has words of advice for those fast approaching fifty. And she's here to tell you the secret, secret truth about writers - well, this one anyway. You'll be wincing in recognition and scratching your head in incredulity, but like Marian herself you won't be able to stop laughing at the sheer delightful absurdity that is modern life - because each and every one of us is clearly making it up as we go along.

What magic is this?

You follow the hidden creek towards a long-forgotten house.
They call it Keepsake, a place full of wonder ... and danger. Locked inside the crumbling elegance of its walls lies the story of the Butterfly Summer, a story you've been waiting all your life to hear.
This house is Nina Parr's birthright. It holds the truth about her family - and a chance to put everything right at last.

The Dress/Kate Kerrigan
Lily Fitzpatrick loves vintage clothes, made all the more precious because they were once worn and cherished by another woman. Thousands follow her fashion blog and her daily Instagram feed. One day she stumbles upon an extraordinary story. Joy Fitzpatrick not only shares Lily's surname. She was a fashion legend, famed for her beauty and style in 1950s New York. For her 30th birthday, she is said to have commissioned a dress so beautiful that nothing in couture would ever be able to match it. She turned to a young Irish seamstress, called Honor Conlon, to create her sublime vision. THE DRESS interweaves the passionate and surprising stories of three women. Joy and Honor, whose destinies are linked not only by a piece of timeless fashion, but by the ruthless love of one man. And Lily, determined to find out if the legendary dress still exists, and if it does, to bring it back to glorious life.

Books in the news... 12-13 February

Grand Slam/ Kathryn Ledson
Erica Jewell can't worry about hunky hired gun, Jack Jones, and his commitment-phobic ways. She's flat out managing Dega Oil's sponsorship of the Australian Open tennis, and doing a pretty good job of it. That is until a devastating oil rig explosion sends Dega's reputation and share price plummeting.

Public outrage over the incident upsets Emilio Méndez – the tournament's biggest drawcard – and he wants to cut ties with Dega. When Erica is sent to calm him, Emilio becomes convinced he can't win without her. He demands she stay close and the media misinterprets their relationship, much to Jack's irritation. Meanwhile, danger lurks, threatening Emilio and Erica, and she must race against time to discover: who's trying to kill them and why?

From the elite inner sanctum of the Australian Open to the packed halls of Chadstone Shopping Centre, can Australia's favourite accidental heroine save Emilio, her job and her so-called relationship with Jack Jones?

The noise of time / Julian Barnes
In May 1937 a man in his early thirties waits by the lift of a Leningrad apartment block. He waits all through the night, expecting to be taken away to the Big House. Any celebrity he has known in the previous decade is no use to him now. And few who are taken to the Big House ever return. So begins Julian Barnes's first novel since his Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending. A story about the collision of Art and Power, about human compromise, human cowardice and human courage, it is the work of a true master.

Summer Skin/ Kirsty Eagar
Jess Gordon is out for revenge. Last year the jocks from Knights College tried to shame her best friend. This year she and a hand-picked college girl gang are going to get even.

The lesson: don't mess with Unity girls.

The target: Blondie, a typical Knights stud, arrogant, cold . . . and smart enough to keep up with Jess.

A neo-riot grrl with a penchant for fanning the flames meets a rugby-playing sexist pig - sworn enemies or two people who happen to find each other when they're at their most vulnerable?

It's all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy's stuff. Just your typical love story.

The magnificent life of Miss May Holman/ Lekki Hopkins
Throughout the 1930s May Holman was a household name and an inspiration to the women of her generation. She made history in 1925 when, at age thirty-one, she became Australia's first female Labor parliamentarian, holding the seat of Forrest until her untimely death on the eve of the 1939 elections.

A woman who fought tirelessly for the rights of those in her electorate, her accidental death received national coverage with thousands of Western Australian mourners lining the streets to pay tribute.

May Holman charted new territory for women, but the barriers she encountered and her methods of overcoming them still resonate today.

Gangster Warlords/ Joan Grillo
In a ranch south of Texas, the man known as The Executioner dumps five hundred body parts in metal barrels. In Brazil's biggest city, a mysterious prisoner orders hit-men to gun down forty-one police officers and prison guards in two days. In southern Mexico, a meth maker is venerated as a saint while enforcing Old Testament justice on his enemies.

A new kind of criminal kingpin has arisen: part CEO, part terrorist, and part rock star, unleashing guerrilla attacks, strong-arming governments, and taking over much of the world's trade in narcotics, guns, and humans. What they do affects you now--from the gas in your car, to the gold in your jewelry, to the tens of thousands of Latin Americans calling for refugee status in the U.S. Gangster Warlords is the first definitive account of the crime wars now wracking Central and South America and the Caribbean, regions largely abandoned by the U.S. after the Cold War. Author of the critically acclaimed El Narco, Ioan Grillo has covered Latin America since 2001 and gained access to every level of the cartel chain of command in what he calls the new battlefields of the Americas. Moving between militia-controlled ghettos and the halls of top policy-makers, Grillo provides a disturbing new understanding of a war that has spiraled out of control--one that people across the political spectrum need to confront now.

The Reith Papers/ Peter Reith
Peter Reith was a senior cabinet minister under John Howard from 1996 to 2001. He was the face of the government's tough waterfront reforms and architect of sweeping industrial laws, a major contributor to the Fightback policy, a potential leader of the Liberal Party, a key player in the introduction of the GST, an influential republican in the 1999 referendum and Minister for Defence during the time that it was wrongly claimed that asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard.

A relentless diary keeper, Peter Reith kept extensive records of those tumultuous years in over a hundred notebooks he filled with recollections of conversations with his colleagues, discussions in cabinet and his private views and predictions.

Irresistible teen fiction..

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. That is, until a twist of fate brings her to before the Silver court. Here, surrounded by the people she hates most, Mare discovers that despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly ability of her own. Fearful of Mare's potential, the king hides her in plain view: betrothed to his youngest son. Trapped, Mare decides to use her new position to bring down the regime - from the inside.

The iron trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him. So he tries his best to do his worst, and fails at failing. Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come...

The Isle of the Lost / Melissa de la Cruz
Evil tree. Bad Apple?Twenty years ago, all the evil villains were banished from the kingdom of Auradon to the Isle of the Lost–a dark and dreary place protected by a force field that makes it impossible for them to leave. Stripped of their magical powers, the villains now live in total isolation, forgotten by the world.
Mal learns from her mother, Maleficent, that the key to true darkness, the Dragon’s Eye, is located inside her scepter in the forbidden fortress on the far side of the island. The eye is cursed, and whoever retrieves it will be knocked into a deep sleep for a thousand years. But Mal has a plan to capture it. She’ll just need a little help from her “friends.” In their quest for the Dragon’s Eye, these four kids begin to realize that just because you come from an evil family tree, being good ain’t so bad.

The darkest part of the forest / Holly Black
In the woods is a glass coffin. It rests on the ground, and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives....

Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, where humans and the Folk exist side by side. Tourists drive in to see the lush wonders of Faerie and, most wonderful of all, the horned boy. But visitors fail to see the danger.

Since they were children, Hazel and Ben have been telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin, that he is a prince and they are valiant knights, pretending their prince would be different from the other faeries, the ones who made cruel bargains, lurked in the shadows of trees, and doomed tourists. But as Hazel grows up, she puts aside those stories. Hazel knows the horned boy will never wake.

Until one day, he does....

As the world turns upside down, Hazel has to become the knight she once pretended to be. But as she's swept up in new love, with shifting loyalties and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Another Day by David Levithan
Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin. She's even established guidelines by which to live: Don't be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

But one morning everything changes. Justin wants to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn't remember the next morning.

Confused, depressed and desperate for another great day, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Until a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with—the one who made her feel like a real person—wasn't Justin at all.

Dumplin' /Julie Murphy
Willowdean Dickson (Dumplin', to her mum) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it. But life as Willlow knows it is about to change, and when this happens she suffers an unaccustomed, and unwelcome, attack of self-doubt. In an effort to take back her confidence, she enters into the local Miss Teen Blue Bonner beauty pageant. With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs and a wildly unforgettable heroine - Dumplin' is guaranteed to steal your heart. And send you out to buy that bikini!

 Through the woods by Emily Carroll
Journey through the woods in this sinister, compellingly spooky collection that features four brand-new stories and one phenomenally popular tale in print for the first time. These are fairy tales gone seriously wrong, where you can travel to “Our Neighbor’s House”—though coming back might be a problem. Or find yourself a young bride in a house that holds a terrible secret in “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold.” You might try to figure out what is haunting “My Friend Janna,” or discover that your brother’s fiancée may not be what she seems in “The Nesting Place.” And of course you must revisit the horror of “His Face All Red,” the breakout webcomic hit that has been gorgeously translated to the printed page...

The truth about Alice/ Jennifer Mathieu
Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody.
Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It's written all over the "slut stall" in the girls' bathroom: "Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers" and "Alice got an abortion last semester." After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they "know" about Alice-and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But in this novel from Jennifer Mathieu, exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there's only one person to ask: Alice herself.

The young elites/ Marie Lu
Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

The geography of me and you/ Jennifer E. Smith
Owen lives in the basement. Lucy lives on the 24th floor. But when the power goes out in the midst of a New York heatwave, they find themselves together for the first time: stuck in a lift between the 10th and 11th floors. As they await help, they start talking...

The brief time they spend together leaves a mark. And as their lives take them to Edinburgh and San Francisco, to Prague and to Portland they can't shake the memory of the time they shared. Postcards cross the globe when they themselves can't, as Owen and Lucy experience the joy - and pain - of first love.

And as they make their separate journeys in search of home, they discover that sometimes it is a person rather than a place that anchors you most in the world.