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Staff Picks  

House of Names by Colm Toibin

Colm Toibin is one of my favourite contemporary authors so I was curious to read his retelling of the bloody story of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon and the House of Atreus. Toibin is renowned for his well-drawn female characters, Nora Webster and Eilis Lacey are testament to this, however Clytemnestra's son Orestes was the most compelling character for me. He is kidnapped, held captive and finally escapes with two other youths. It takes many years for him to return home and his trials and adventures certainly remind the reader of The Odyssey.
Most readers will know the key events of this classical tragedy but this doesn't matter. Like all tragedy, the narrative isn't as important as the way in which it is presented. In this case the narrative unfolds in vivid language and imagery, an intense experience considering how many murders take place!
This is my novel of 2017 so far...


- Emma Paton

RRP $34.99
UBS Price $31.49


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Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min-Jin Kym

Gone by Min-Jin Kym is an in-depth look into the life of a child prodigy, and the captivating retelling of how she lost her Stradivarius violin. Pick up this book and you won't put it down again until you've finished it.
Kym spends time laying the groundwork before revealing the moment her life changed for the worse, and the events that followed. All of the memorable events of her life as a child prodigy are laid bare for the reader to revel in. Reading this book, I felt a strong connection to Kym as she so eloquently relayed the feelings she had during the different parts of her musical career. You hear about her discovery of the violin as a child, about how she felt so connected to it even at such a young age. You hear about her struggling to find a life outside of the violin as she realizes that she could be more than just a soloist. And you hear about the moment she let her guard down - the moment she trusted somebody she shouldn't have, resulting in her 300 year old one-of-a-kind Stradivarius violin (valued at approximately NZD $2.3 million) being stolen from her in a train station sandwich bar.
This story is remarkable in its capability to draw you in. If the simplicity of the crime hasn't hooked you, let the beautiful language Kym uses to describe the music she plays draw you in. I found myself seeking out the pieces she was discussing as the story progressed - the melancholic, the triumphant. I gained a new appreciation for the solo violin repertoire through reading this book, and I also gained a strong desire to keep my own instruments as safe and as close as I can possibly keep them!


- Gemma Henderson

RRP $40.00
UBS Price $36.00


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Youngblood by Matt Gallagher

Matt Gallagher served in the US Army in Iraq in 2007 and his first-hand experience translates into something special that is not your every day war novel. The main character, Jack Porter, is a young lieutenant in charge of about 20 men in the final days before the US Army withdraws from Iraq. Instead of fighting an opposing army or insurgents, Porter is tasked with building relationships with locals and helping to restore the local infrastructure while navigating the complex social & cultural situation in Iraq. On top of that there is the daily misery of life as a junior Army office in Iraq - patrolling the desert in a uniform and body armour, constant sleep deprivation and exhaustion and the pressure of leading 20 other soldiers. Matt Gallagher describes all of this with ease and conveys that sense of frustration and futility that he felt during his tour of duty. This book was not what I was expecting and is a far more thoughtful novel than you'd expect (if you have preconceived notions of was a war novel should be).


- Jacob McTavish

RRP $37.99
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To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

"What is the meaning of life? That was all - a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark".
This deeply personal autobiographical masterpiece is universally moving. We follow the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay who bring their eight children to a summer home in the Hebrides. A large lighthouse stands across the bay from their house, and it is this location around which much of the story unfolds. Anyone who has lived long enough to feel a strong attachment to a place and the people who live - or who once lived - there will be able to recognise and appreciate the heartaches and unexpected joys that these characters experience in plodding on from one day to the next.
There are no easy answers offered here for the difficult questions in life, but there are certainly many questions raised that can show how life carries on in the midst of uncertainty. What is it to reach for a hand only to realise that it is no longer there for you to hold? What is it to have such a desperate yearning for someone to be there that you actually cry out for them even though they are not there to respond? What is the feeling of wanting to hold onto the present moment a while and make something permanent out of it? Perhaps you could make art out of it. Surely the lives of people do not really cease to matter just because at one point they stopped breathing for good? At one point they stood on a shore watching the waves breaking alive as you or me, and that surely is worth holding onto for one precious moment in time.
Each time I read one of Virginia Woolf's books it is as if I dine upon the richest of fare. I feel quite satisfied in my spirit like I have learned even a little bit more about what it is to be human and the significant details that make up a life. She does seem to reach out a hand to us as if to say that she understands. There is nothing that we go through that is alien to her or at least one other person reading her books who may feel the same way that you do. She seems to implore us to express what we must while we can, even when at times we grapple with finding the right words or brush strokes for our creations. If it delights you to solidify this very fluid and changeable moment in time then by all means do it! There will never be anything better to grab than this moment where you are able to see the waves and feel the wind playing with your hair while you stand on a rocky shore.


- Jessie Westerlund

RRP $26.00
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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This book is young adult fiction at its finest – it is real, it is raw, emotional, hilarious at times, and so poignant that when I had finished it, I couldn’t pick up another book for the rest of the day (a big deal for me).
This book was inspired by the #blacklivesmatter movement. In this, her debut novel, Angie Thomas expertly expresses every emotion, every heartache, every heinous injustice felt by the people affected in the movement, all through her main character Starr. Reading Starr and her family as characters is like having a conversation with a real person about the issues presented in the book – Thomas has written them so perfectly that I feel like I know them personally. Starr’s parents are some of the most wonderfully written parents I have ever come across – I’m sick of parents in YA novels being portrayed as clueless, hurtful, uninvolved, etc. Starr’s parents are everything you’d expect the parents of a 16 year old girl to be. It is beyond refreshing.
One of the main themes throughout the book is a notion that Tupac Shakur devised (on another note – I always love it when facts from our world are juxtaposed into the AU of the novel!), and that is the definition of Thug Life. “’Pac said Thug Life stood for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everybody’…Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?” The fact that Thomas named the book after Tupac’s definition should show how important she feels it is, and that is definitely portrayed throughout the book.
Thomas’ closing remark from her acknowledgements is a good note to leave on, and an indication of how you should expect to feel after putting this book down; “And to every kid in Georgetown and in all “the Gardens” (Starr’s neighbourhood) of the world: your voices matter, your dreams matter, your lives matter. Be roses in the concrete."

- Gemma Henderson

RRP $19.99
UBS Price $17.99


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The Green Bell by Paula Keogh

I decided to buy this book after I read a very favourable review of it in The Guardian. It tells the story of how Paula Keogh and poet Michael Dransfield met in a psychiatric unit in Canberra in 1970s Australia. Paula had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and Michael had a drug problem. They become instantly inseparable and their relationship inspired Dransfield's collection The Second Month of Spring. Both manage to recover enough to leave the unit but find it difficult to adjust to 'normal' life.
This is not a grim book although the writing is so good that Keogh's suffering seems palpable. She writes with poetry and precision about her experiences in the hospital (ECT, drug therapy) as well as her love of literature and nature. The Green Bell provides an antidote to the romantic belief that madness and creativity go hand in hand. When well, Keogh and Dransfield possessed sensitivity and receptiveness that feed creativity. It's a tragedy that Dransfield didn't live long enough to fully explore his talent but hats off to Paula Keogh who has written this stunning memoir.


- Emma Paton

RRP $35.00
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Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

Beautiful, intelligent, thought provoking.
This book is a wonder in the way it indulges one's love of film from the get go, beginning with an alleged affair with one of cinema's greats in his final days and then carrying through the book descriptions of the film making process and many references to cinema. Interwoven with this is a story of desire and seduction, questioning what makes human want as well as the lies we tell to survive. The documentary work of the protagonist Meadow poses ethical questions and draws out the way in which artworks can flirt with the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in society. These narratives are framed by a coming of age story about the friendship of two filmmakers Meadow and Carrie who, as they grow up and apart, come to realise their own motivations, values and realities. I feel as though the book is an ode to cinema as well as a meditation on what it means to be human, an artist, a women, a friend, alive. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in film or art and for myself I plan to hunt out and read as quickly as possible any and all of Dana Spiotta's work.


- Miriam Collins

RRP $24.99
UBS Price $22.49


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Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

The story of Nike. For some that may be a good enough sell. It was for me. Buy all the shoes, read the book. For others who may take one look and think business book, yuck, it may be a tougher sell.
You will most likely find this lumped in the business section of a bookshop. In reality it should be in with the thrillers as this is what it reads like. A medium to fast paced, well executed, entertaining and highly readable thriller about the shoe business and what it took to get Nike up and running.
Phil Knight comes across as incredibly humble and it is clear from the start the team effort and sacrifice that was required to get things going. The supporting cast is large, filled with all sorts of characters, some playing the role of good guys, the obligatory villain thrown in for good measure. The years and effort required to get Nike to where it is now is astounding, with all the setbacks, minor and major victories along the way, some tense, serious and at times comical. Many times they were so close to going under, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, scandal and ruin while at the same time expanding at incredible rates it's a wonder they survived. To get a feel for the human face behind the now corporate monolith in this way is quite rare. This is a book with honesty, heart and humour.
I'm not sure if Phil Knight wrote this himself, or had a ghost writer. Either way they nailed it. You will not read a better business/memoirs/thriller crossover this year.


- Dan Mackay

RRP $39.99
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Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

Ragdoll follows detective Nathan Wolfe, a washed up cop looking to regain his reputation after a messy set of events in a serial killer trial where he got a bit too connected and took things a bit too personally. He is launched into a disturbing case, where a body is found with the stitched-together remains of six victims. His whole life gets tied up in the case and we get to follow along as he goes deeper and deeper into the mind of yet another serial killer; a serial killer who, just for fun, has released a list to the media - a list comprising of the next victims and the time and date each of them will be murdered. It's a race against the clock to not only find the future victims on the list and keep them safe, but also figure out the identities of the original six victims, how they're connected, and how that information can help Wolfe find the killer and stop them before it's too late.
The debut novel from Daniel Cole has caught a lot of attention from all the right people, and for good reason. The thrilling sequence of events in this novel keeps you on edge in the best way - as soon as I started reading this book I didn't want to put it down. The success of this novel is made all the sweeter by the knowledge that Cole has tried countless times to get his screenplays and stories picked up by various different crime shows to no avail - this story is definitely a winner.


- Gemma Henderson

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Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

This book is made up entirely of letters written by Laurel after she was asked to write a letter to someone who had died for an English assignment. Laurel's older sister May passed away recently in an accident, and much of what these letters cover seems to be her trying to find out who she is in the world while still holding onto her beloved sister in her heart. Laurel writes letters to many influential people such as Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix and Amelia Earhart. In writing letters to them, Laurel finds the courage that she needs in order to start again at her new high school and to try to make some new friends that help her to be someone other than 'that girl whose sister died'.
May, like many older sisters, was like a sort of guide for Laurel into the world of what adulthood might be. She wore bold clothing and makeup, and was definitely something special. She would listen to bands that she loved and introduce Laurel to them. When they were little, May would make up spells in order to protect Laurel from the pain that happened at times with their parents having disagreements. It was on one of the nights where their mum was crying that May first taught her magic. At times Laurel will wear one of her sister's dresses or try some of her makeup on. When she looks in the mirror after a beautiful night, she sees her sister looking back at her. Her face is flushed how May's must have looked after a night of dancing and talking - hopefully with someone worth her time.
I don't particularly care that this book is a work of fiction. Every time I read these letters I feel like I'm seeing into the heart and mind of a person as real as you and me. Laurel is such a insightful and perceptive young woman. Her letters are filled with so many little details that are so often missed in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but which make a profound difference in how the little things make life more meaningful. A beautiful example of this is what she notices about two girls who seem to be like their own beautiful constellation. One that maybe she could be part of. They looked like the sort of girls that her sister would have been friends with. She saw that Natalie draws pictures on her arms. Not just normal hearts, but meadows with creatures and girls and trees that look like they are alive. The red-head sitting with her had on a black ballerina skirt and a bright red scarf, with lipstick to match. They looked nothing like the popular girls who looked glossy and clean cut like they came out of a fashion magazine.
We learn so much about well-known and some lesser known celebrities from Laurel's letters. Not just the details that are flaunted in the media, but the gritty truths that were perhaps far less glamorous than could be seen on a camera or on a stage. She adores people who are brave in facing their demons and who seem to have found a way to turn them into art that people can love. A kind of magic that can make the bad stuff go away or at least seem far less important. It is a truly beautiful thing that these people who have passed on are still able to speak into our lives though their music or their acting or whichever way they found to express themselves. In spite of all the obvious sadness and heartbreak found in these pages, there is also so much hope that will not seem to ever be lost. The thought that there is something so beautiful about people and about life that death cannot truly take away from anyone. The thought that really all of this matters in spite of how awful and uncertain the road may be up ahead.
I will leave you with one quote that shall stay with me forever. This appears specifically in a letter written to Judy Garland, but it could be written by pretty well anyone who has ever felt the bitter sting of loss of a loved one: "I wish you could tell me where you are now. I mean, I know you're dead, but I think there must be something in a human being that can't just disappear. It's dark out. You're out there. Somewhere, somewhere. I'd like to let you in".


- Jessie Westerlund

RRP $16.99
UBS Price $15.29


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The Waves by Virginia Woolf

"I am made and re-made continually". This stunning quote could best sum up the essence of what this novel is all about. We are taken on a journey with the six characters as they go through the various rituals of their lives from being children through to adulthood. The soliloquies that span the characters' lives are broken up by nine brief third-person interludes detailing a coastal scene at varying stages in a day from sunrise to sunset. Woolf aptly referred to this work not as a novel, but as a 'playpoem' because distinctions between prose and poetry are blurred.
While the six characters each have a distinct voice, it is important to note that together they weave a beautiful and lyrical tapestry for what could be a single consciousness. Bernard is a story-teller, always seeking some elusive and apt phrase. Louis is an outsider who seeks acceptance and success. Neville seeks out a series of men, each of whom becomes the present object of his transcendent love. Jinny is a socialite whose world view corresponds to her physical, corporeal beauty. Susan flees the city, preferring the countryside, where she grapples with the thrills and doubts of motherhood. Rhoda is riddled with self-doubt and anxiety and is always seeking out solitude. The experiences that they go through are really not alien to anyone who has lived long enough to feel out of place at times, or who has wondered why things are the way that they are.
You as a reader are swept along with the waves that the characters at times move with and at other times try to struggle against. There is so much about life that cannot be controlled or stopped to suit what we might prefer. How often, for instance, do we feel the need to keep moving forward when perhaps we would rather just stay where we are a while to enjoy the scenery? Time continues to push the characters forward and the waves are sweeping them on to places that they do not necessarily want to be.
There is so much treasure to be unearthed in all the details of this book that I am certain that something new will strike me with each time that I read it. I seemed to be tossed about so that by the end of this playpoem I seemed quite cleansed and renewed somehow. Let yourself be carried right through to the final wave on the shore and perhaps there will be a kind of comfort in seeing your own struggle against the onward march of time being mirrored in the lives of these characters.


- Jessie Westerlund

RRP $26.00
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Women Looking at Men Looking at Women by Siri Hustvedt

Women Looking at Men Looking at Women is a collection of short essays written by acclaimed novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt, throughout which she presents a thorough and fascinating critique of the way the Cartesian Mind/Body divide shapes the Western world. Drawing from her personal experiences presenting work for both literary and scientific conferences and journals, Hustvedt's critique is centred largely on the separation and dualistic gender-coding between these 'distinct' areas of knowledge; the associative effects of Descarte's dualism codes the humanities as female and the sciences as male, binarising them to implicitly privilege sciences (as 'male'), and so that any 'intermingling' between the two becomes disruptive to the heteronormative matrix.
Hustvedt's powerful first-person voice animates the philosophical, psychological and scientific theories she uses to bolster her arguments, so there's no chance of getting lost in pages upon pages of complex academic rhetoric. Her privileging of ambiguity, dynamism and plurality are woven through examples drawn from the areas of neurobiology, psychology, philosophy, art and literature, and give the book an amazing amount of depth in the utter breadth of resources she's drawn from - a book that keeps on giving, and a complete cross-disciplinary joy!


- Alena Kavka

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Good Good Food by Sarah Raven

If you a light-weight like me and you enjoy leafing through cooking books to see all the beautiful recipes and sumptuous photographs, BUT you want to also feel that glow of self-righteousness that you are doing the right thing, then this is the book for you.
Fantastic delicious recipes which are all good for you, as well as "food-biographies" which explain the science behind healthy foods. Written by a Cook who is also a Doctor - plus gorgeous photography - it just gets better.
The recipes are easy to follow - Even I have made the Mushroom and Aubergine soup and can testify that it is wonderful. Have plans to make a few other dishes.
A great cookery book - would make a wonderful present - after you have read it yourself!


- John Taylor

RRP $53.99
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The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The first American novel to win the Man Booker prize, Paul Beatty's The Sellout is appropriately titled, as the distinction is helping it fly off the shelves. Beatty has been compared to Swift, Twain, and Heller, and I would add Palahniuk to that list, as a contemporary author working in a similar fashion, albeit with different subject matter.
Beatty's novel is a portrait of urban decay and surprising revival from a distinctly African-American perspective, offering insights both hilarious and tragic into time, place, people, and a way of life that is inextricably rooted in a complicated and uncomfortable history. Able to write authentically and authoritatively about serious and meaningful issues in a way that is both engaging and entertaining, his work offers surprising moments of powerful reflection for those not born into the social context of his story.
The bold and far-fetched nature of the endeavour his protagonist embarks upon is provocative on multiple levels, and the sheer audacity of it carries enough impact to shock and challenge preconceptions about race, slavery, segregation, and more besides. The tale of one man's struggle to come to terms with past and present injustices, and the extremes he will take to do so is one best left to the storyteller, but in the light of current events in the United States of America, there has perhaps never been a more timely jolt to the nervous system of contemporary moral sensibilities, and I can thoroughly recommend this one.


- Jamie Higgins

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind is amazing. It is a hero's journey, told in such lovely yet down to earth style that you can't help but become engrossed. Told in the first person as a memoir/biography of Kvothe, a legendary musician and magician, this is the first (arguably) truthful account of Kvothe's life. The Name of the Wind places a lot of importance on names, words, and stories - and how the truth of something is dependant on the viewer. A truly great piece of writing and my favourite book of all time, I strongly recommend this to anyone.


- Jacob McTavish

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Secondhand Time: The Last of The Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

Noble laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s latest work brings together a symphony of voices to express the frustration, alienation and pyrrhic liberation felt by the (formerly) Soviet citizens of Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Alexievich has these people tell their tales in an uninterrupted monologue style; these monologues contain meditations on life, loss, war and much more. Before I continue, it is important to note that any praise of this book coming from the English-speaking world would do shame not to acknowledge the translating work of Bela Shayevich who has managed to enliven the book’s many narrators with distinct voices. I found myself becoming immensely absorbed in each one, an absorption that became increasingly stronger the more I read and got more of a feel for the era that these people lived through and emerged from. There is a pervasive feeling of statelessness surrounding many of these stories and the people who tell them – they lived in a world that no longer exists, they are refugees living in the same city they have inhabited all their lives. However, many of the storytellers are genuine refugees fleeing from ethnic conflicts in Central Asia; their experiences of discrimination and violence in modern Russia are some of the most heartrending tales in this book. I would highly recommend Secondhand Time to anyone seeking to understand the complex social and political dynamics of this region.


- Chris Payne

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Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray returns as one of the best authors of canon Star Wars books. Set in the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, Bloodline follows Princess Leia Organa as she navigates the treacherous and partisan politics of the New Republic. Gray holds her own as a huge Star Wars nerd, showing how well she knows Leia's character; all of her bluntness, determination, and fire that fans loved in the Original Trilogy drive the story, which reveals the origins of both the Resistance and the sinister First Order alike. The book lends a depth and thoughtfulness to all of its characters, new and old, and is an engaging and enjoyable read. If you are a fan hungry to know more about the interlude between the Original Trilogy and the new movies, Bloodline is a perfect read for you!


- Joel McFadyen

RRP $26.00
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A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson is back at it again with another fab book - A God in Ruins, a companion text to the phenomenal Life After Life, is such a splendid read. If you haven't read Life After Life don't let that deter you; you don't miss out on any character development or plot lines. As Atkinson avoids describing this text as a sequel it is clear she has made a considerable effort to let this novel make a name for itself as a stand-alone story.
Following the life of Teddy Todd, a Wing Commander and Captain of a Halifax Bomber during WWII, this novel does all it can to pull you in. As it follows Teddy's life, spanning across the 20th Century, each chapter jumps around Todd's timeline, harking back to a similar format found in Life After Life. Atkinson keeps you on your toes with various cliffhangers in each time period so you have to keep reading in order to fulfil the burning urge you develop to know what's next.
Through the love for his friends and family, the struggle with his troubled daughter, and his plight during the war, you really feel for Teddy - you want him to have a good life.


- Gemma Henderson

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Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game by Karl Ove Knausgaard / Fredrik Ekelund

This is a book pulled together from two men writing to each other over the course of the 2014 Football World Cup.
This was decided from the start. They are both very good writers in their own right.
They are both aware of this. They both enjoy writing and are more than happy to express their inner dialogue on the page and are quite serious about it.
There is a touch of narcissism, and opinions expressed not all will agree with, especially when football is relegated to discussion around politics and the Swedish middle class. Some of it is incredibly apt given the political situation in the United States at the moment, and scarily accurate.
I’ve deliberately tried to put you off this a bit, strange given that I’m about to tell you that this book is riveting. For all the reasons mentioned above.
It is certainly not for everyone. First and foremost if you don’t like Knausgaard stay away, if you don’t like football you may still enjoy it and there is plenty else to sink your teeth into.
If you are a fan of both (guilty) then you have probably found your book of the year.


- Dan Mackay

RRP $55.00
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Everything is Going to Be Alright by Christchurch Art Gallery

This little gem was published on the re-opening of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu. It's a pocket sized book with extensive content including sixteen sections on different aspects of the permanent collection. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on wood engravings and 'Op and Pop'. Other highlights include Max Gimblett's works on paper and Louise Henderson's landscapes.
I still can't believe this excellent little book is $19.99 or $17.97 at UBS. It gave me so much pleasure over a spare hour in the weekend and now I'm planning a trip to Christchurch to see some of these works in the flesh.


- Emma Paton

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Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Given that there is a potentially great autobiography coming out very soon, that this fictional work is centred around Marina Abramovic's The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art seems rather timely. The fact that this work deals with the well trodden path of relationships would normally be enough to put me off, and I'm not sure what enticed me to read this, however it is well worth your time. Arky is a film composer separated from his wife for reasons that aren't initially clear and for good reason. It really boils down to him coming to grips with what true commitment means, as well as the nature of art and relationships. The story is cleverly intertwined with Abramovic's performance which acts as both the driver of the story whilst also acting as the backdrop from which the characters and their relationships revolve and perhaps gives this work another level that keeps it from getting lost in a lot of the standard dross out there.
A book that is deceptively simple, yet on further reflection is quite deep the more I reflect on it. It is perhaps a book that won't get the recognition it deserves which will make it all the more special for those who discover it.


- Dan Mackay

RRP $32.99
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London: A Travel Guide Through Time by Matthew Green

I am a self-proclaimed history nerd and anglophile. I studied history in London, and love social history and anything that guides a reader into an immersive study. When I saw this book I knew immediately I needed to read it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I can now say this has become one of my new favourite books.
Dr Matthew Green has a PhD in the history of London from Oxford University and this book is a testament to his all encompassing knowledge of the beautiful mess that is England's capital city. At times reading historical non-fiction can be stuffy, and to be frank, a bit boring; Dr Green's book is far from the usual repertoire of writing from Oxbridge graduates. London: A Travel Guide Through Time is an enthralling and entertaining social history covering (mostly) central London over 6 different years, 1390, 1603, 1665, 1716, 1884, and 1957; but not in chronological order. From Medieval jousting tournaments and plague pits to Victorian freak-shows and the post Blitz recovery this book spans centuries of history, referencing some areas and landmarks you can still visit today.
If you have visited, lived in, or are planning a visit to London this book is a must read. It helps you fully understand London's long standing history, and the ways in which the city has changed and survived through the centuries. Some of the places mentioned in this book still exist, and visitors are able to witness history's enduring influence on the city. Street/Tube stop names such as Aldgate, Bishopsgate, and Ludgate were parts of the original wall surrounding the City of London dating back to the 2nd-3rd century AD, some of which you can still see near the Museum of London. The George Inn, and its predecessor, are mentioned a few times in the book, and can still be visited today. It's now owned by the National Trust, and you can still have a pint where millions have enjoyed one before you. If you are just starting to learn about London's history, or have been studying it for years, this book will have to be on your must-read list!



- Kristen Banaszak

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Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us". This brilliant quote from Kafka is an apt opening for a book that will reveal all the joys, sorrows and comforts that the characters find in the books that they treasure.
I finished this book in the course of a few days. I had to know how everything would turn out for Rachel Sweetie and Henry Jones. There are alternating chapters so that you can see events unfold from either character's perspective. We find out early on that Rachel's brother drowned near their home where they lived with their mum. Consequently, she has distanced herself from many people including Henry who had been good friends. Much of the story revolves around how Rachel tries to get back into her life when she still misses her brother dearly, but there are certainly many other well-rounded characters with their own hurts who are able to have a significant impact on Rachel and Henry's lives.
One thing that I absolutely adored about this book is the fact that Henry's dad runs a second-hand book store which contains the Letter Library. It is a section of books that are not for sale. The idea is that visitors can write notes in the margins, leave letters and circle loved words on the pages. This concept is one that I think would do well to spread out into the big wide world! It is the perfect setting for Henry and Rachel to become reacquainted, and for records to be kept of all the joys and heartaches that people have experienced while being there.
I won't deny it: there are more than enough references to Great Expectations by Dickens to keep any reader of his work quite smitten! Such gorgeous lines as "You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here" are woven beautifully into this story. Everything about this book screams of how words can build up or tear down. The preservation of them is a tremendously beautiful thing in a world where a nice bookstore can be hard to come by - they are not necessarily lucrative, but they are a treasured and much needed part of society nonetheless.
I would argue that this book is in itself a kind of precious relic. The world that it opens up for us is like submerging yourself into the vast and changing oceans that are brimming with life, light and darkness. It causes you to take pause as you wonder what it is that still remains of so many people even when they are no longer physically here anymore. Nothing about a person ever truly vanishes. The words that they wrote, loved, highlighted and lived will continue to speak volumes about them long after they have passed the mysterious veil of death in order to live in a new way.



- Jessie Westerlund

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Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

I found myself comparing this novel to Blood Meridian a lot while I was reading it. If Cormac McCarthy's tale is the Old West told as a vivid nightmare, then Days Without End is the other side of the coin; something you dream up sleeping in the sun in the afternoon. Written entirely in mid-19th century speech, it takes a few pages to get your head around what the narrator is actually saying sometimes, but once you do you'll appreciate the lovely subtlety of the writing. A lot is said without actually being said, and when you are flat-out told something, it knocks you sideways because you never see it coming.
A large portion of the novel follows the two main characters as they join the US Army, fighting Native Americans on the Great Plains, and then fighting in the Civil War. As such the incredible writing and bittersweet musings on life and love are interspersed with some truly appalling moments of violence, so be warned. This is easily my favourite book of 2016.


- Jacob McTavish

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The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman / Chris Riddell

The Sleeper and the Spindle holds its own in the finest fairytale traditions, weaving together threads of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty with a more sinister feel. Princes remain firmly offstage as a queen takes the lead in this contemporary retelling of courage and determination.
All is not as it seems as the young no-nonsense Queen exchanges her wedding dress for her chainmail and sword, and in the company of her brave dwarf retainers embarks on a quest to stop the enchanted sleeping sickness from overwhelming her kingdom.
Chris Riddell’s trademark style of illustration is a perfect match for the peculiar world Gaiman created. Beautifully produced and enhanced with metallic ink, this captivating story is a delight for readers of any age.


- Joel McFadyen

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Adulthood is a Myth: A Sarah's Scribbles Collection by Sarah Anderson

Have you been productive today? Have you gone to a party and socialised with new people? Have you completed all the things on your to-do list? If so, go away this book’s not for you. If all you want to do is drink coffee, listen to music, and waste your life away looking at random comics on the internet this book has you sorted, you awkward little introvert. Sarah Andersen’s compilation of comics ranging from wasting beautiful days watching Netflix to never actually folding that pile of laundry on the floor is perfect for you if you’re over this whole being an adult thing. Her comics are relatable and hilarious, and if you don’t find them relatable to your life, I guess you should just try a little less and lower your bar.


- Kristen Banaszak

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The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider

The harsh beauty of the landscapes, the gruff say-what-you-mean dialogue and the contemplation of a man or woman's place in the world seem to be the hallmarks of a good Western novel and this title has those in abundance. Both celebrating and lamenting the way of the outlaw in the old west The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones is told as the true recollection of someone who witnessed the last days of Hendry Jones, the Kid (based on the life & story of Billy the Kid). Its is established early on that there is a lot of myth and hearsay around the Kid's life, and you're never quite sure if what you're being told is real or just how the narrator wants the story to be told. This is a quick but powerful read, with some brief moments of shocking violence, so come prepared.


- Jacob McTavish

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The Best Things in Life Are Free: The Ultimate Money-Saving Travel Guide by Lonely Planet

So you’ve saved for months, and spent most of your travel budget on tickets? You want to fully experience your destination and enjoy it; but you don’t want to defer your student loans or remortgage your house? Then this book has you sorted.
Lonely Planet’s The Best Things in Life Are Free: The Ultimate Money-Saving Travel Guide is a travel-addicted cheapskate’s dream book. Just don’t let the slightly cheesy title put you off. Full of nearly 900 things to do and see in over 60 cities worldwide this book is a perfect travel companion. Curious as to which museums in London don’t charge? Which walking tours throughout Europe are best? (I can personally attest for CityWalk in Reykjavik (p. 155).) Or need to know where to catch free live music in Austin? This book has it all and much more! It’s full of great advice and money saving tips, along with some local’s recommendations on food and activities. A definite must have for anyone wanting to travel and not break the bank!
Buy any Lonely Planet and get a free traveller tote bag while supplies last!


- Kristen Banaszak

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Master of Ceremonies: A Memoir by Joel Grey

It’s always interesting reading biographies and autobiographies about theatre people – they seem to have the most interesting stories to tell, or perhaps they’re just the best at telling them. Master of Ceremonies: A Memoir offers an insider’s guide to the life of Joel Grey, most well known for his performance as the Master of Ceremonies, or “MC,” in the musical “Cabaret” on both stage and screen. Grey regales the reader with tales of friendship and hardship. He discusses his iconic roles, his lifelong goals, and his experiences as a closeted gay Jewish man in the mid-20th century. The scandal in one story is countered by the wholesomeness of the next – Joel Grey has lived a very varied and interesting life.
A delicate memoir about his introduction to the theatre, his countless influences, his family life, and his struggle with his sexual identity, Master of Ceremonies: A Memoir is a must-read for everyone who enjoys biographies, thespian and layman alike.


- Gemma Henderson

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Poison City by Paul Crilley

The cover and the promo material around this book throw around comparisons to Harry Potter & Rivers of London. I've never read either of those series so my best comparison would be American Gods meets Constantine and Hellboy. Set in Durban and following the activities of the Delphic Division - the paranormal investigation branch of the South African Police - this was a fast paced and entertaining read. Definitely not for the faint-hearted or family friendly, this is a gritty and sometimes over the top occult detective story. I'm a slow reader and I finished this in a week; this book never lets up the pace and there is never a dull moment. Now, unfortunately, I have another sequel to look forward to.


- Jacob McTavish

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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "no single English novel attains the universality of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace". Tolstoy’s narrative structure is noted for its ‘god-like’ ability to hover over and within events, but also in the way it swiftly and seamlessly portrayed a particular character's point of view. His use of visual detail is often cinematic in scope, using the literary equivalents of panning, wide shots and close-ups. These devices, while not exclusive to Tolstoy, are part of the new style of the novel that arose in the mid-19th century and of which Tolstoy has proven himself to be a master. The pages of this epic novel are filled with so much of life and war and love for so many different people in Russia at the time of the French invasion of Russia from 1805 to 1812. The scale of what is covered by Tolstoy would be far too much for me to attempt to do justice to in this review. I will attempt to show parts that really stood out for me as well as givin g a general idea of what the story involves.
We follow the lives of five Russian families: the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins, and the Drubetskoys. Count Pyotr (Pierre) Bezukhov is the central character who often provides a voice for Tolstoy’s own beliefs or struggles. His unexpected inheritance of a large fortune makes him socially desirable in spite of formerly returning from abroad as a misfit. Any of the characters in this novel are very well-rounded in spite of whether we are with them for a longer or brief amount of time. I have to make particular mention of Princess Maria Bolkonskaya because her kind and generous ways did move me. Especially in the midst of the many struggles that she faced she seemed to always be striving to do her best for people so that her own suffering would not overwhelm her. All the characters seemed to go through some form of suffering whether they were involved in fighting in the war or simply doing what they felt they needed to each day in order to have some sense of normality or peace. I do no t wish to go into a lot of overly specific detail because then there would be nothing for you to discover for yourself about who all these characters are that is revealed in such interesting ways as the story progresses. Suffice it to say that it will be difficult for you to not feel something for the characters whether you love them to pieces or find their behaviour outrageous and appalling.
As well as the story of the families’ lives there is also some commentary involved in terms of Tolstoy’s perspective on the war. He has a beautiful way of breaking events down and analysing them in very clear and insightful ways. He generally tended to disagree with the popular notions that would generally be put forth as being an absolute cause of this or that event. Nothing is shown to be black and white, and he makes sure that you can at least have a basic appreciation of all the numerous possibilities that meant that nothing could easily have been predicted at the time that it was happening. I am thinking of when he made a statement about a general giving out an order with the information that he had, but of course it took some time for a messenger to reach him to give new information that could have made the previous orders impossible or at least difficult to fulfil. In other words, it is a different matter for someone to be calmly poring over some events and declaring various things about them; it i s a different matter entirely to be actually in the midst of a war where time is constantly charging on and there is no time to sit and consider the best option when an answer or response needs to be given almost immediately.
In closing I will say that I am surprised and somewhat amused to find how this great novel was originally received by the ‘literary left’. Apparently they saw it as being devoid of social critique and keen on the idea of national unity. Other critics felt that the novel lacked realism and showed its characters to be "cruel and rough", "mentally stoned", "morally depraved" and promoting "the philosophy of stagnation". It does seem that all works of art, however great, are never free from the stones so easily thrown their way. Given that this novel has remained a well-loved classic that has withstood the test of time I think that it may be safe to say that it has never really stopped saying what it needed to say. That surely is the mark and test of any true classic worthy of the name.


- Jessie Westerlund

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Far As the Eye Can See by Robert Bausch

Robert Bausch has written a beautiful and very honest account of the Old West on the Great Plains. Told through the eyes of Bobby Hale, a character who seems to have no prejudice and is full of empathy for his fellow human beings, be they white or Indian or anything in between. This is a tale of how people meet and interact on the lawless and wild frontier of America in the 1870s; there is no good and no evil, just human nature and all the kindness and cruelty that entails. This is a harsh and uncompromising story but it is incredibly well-told and worth reading.


- Jacob McTavish

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The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks

Seems I have a bit of a thing for memoir type books with slightly off kilter subject matter. I have read a number now with this now being a particular favourite. I am not a farmer, I don’t intend to be, and the last time I wore gumboots was at Glastonbury (and even then I cut them down so they were more shoe-like) so undertaking a book about shepherding in the Lake District in England was slightly outside my interests let alone frame of reference. Nonetheless it came highly recommended having had great reviews in such stellar publications as the Daily Mail (and others if you don’t trust that one).
The author is careful not to romanticise the wilderness as can so often happen in these books. So lets make it clear, having read this I am quite certain I am not up to the task. But it is an intriguing read and one that will make you appreciate the sheer grit and hard work that is undertaken daily. You will learn a fair bit about shepherding that will have absolutely no crossover into your life whatsoever, except perhaps a conversation killing dinner party talk about fly rot. Welcome to a world where the Herdwick breed is king, showing them is serious business and lineage matters more than you would have ever thought. A world where if you are a second or even third generation farmer you are still considered a newbie. Rebanks’ family has farmed the area for hundreds and hundreds of years so he escapes that title but it also means this book doubles as a history of farming in the Lake District.
I am not sure if I have done this book the justice it deserves, I guess it’s hard to make a book about shepherding sound good. Yet it is. Very good. And well worth your time. I even had to get a hardback version for the bookshelf.
James Rebanks has a great twitter account by the way, @herdyshepherd1, which is well worth checking out as a visual accompaniment to the book as well as his many other adventures.


- Dan Mackay

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Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film by Edward Ross

In an era where cinema is saturated with comic book adaptations, here is a graphic novel that “flips the script” by basing itself on not just one movie, but hundreds of movies. Presented as a series of essays, our narrator, Edward Ross discusses set design and architecture, technology and technophobia, how the human body is represented in film and other such “Filmish” subjects. The real charm of the book is Edward Ross’ cartoon form casually appearing in famous and not so famous movie scenes alongside famous and not so famous movie idols as he discusses the subject matter at hand. With a full filmography (so you can hunt down and watch the movies you don’t know), I found this book to be an enjoyable, thought provoking and very educational trip.


- Graham Harding

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Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

I am hesitant to call Guy Gavriel Kay a fantasy writer as that might instantly turn some readers away. That would be an absolute shame because Kay’s novels are absolutely beautiful. He takes real events, places and people and then sets them in a fictional world, with always a hint of something more magical or spiritual happening behind the scenes. The best quote I’ve seen that describes it is “history with a quarter turn to the fantastic”.
This particular book is set in the Renaissance period and the backdrop is the ongoing tension between the Jaddite (Christian) West and the Asharite (Ottoman Empire) East. This isn’t a story about larger-than-life heroes, battles and wizardry, but instead it focuses on small people caught up in larger events and the decisions, big & small, that affect our lives and those of others. Kay’s characters and places feel so alive and so real that you get caught up in the time and place and don’t want to leave. I strongly recommend this (or any other work by Guy Gavriel Kay) for any reader.


- Jacob McTavish

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Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace

‘Jason Priestly is…eating soup.’ Jason Priestly’s latest Facebook update is about as boring as his current living situation. He quit his teaching job and now writes articles for a free commuter newspaper no one reads, his long-time ex girlfriend just got engaged, and he’s living with his wildly unambitious friend Dev, above the shop Dev’s father gave him. It’s easy to say his life is going nowhere fast. That is until a chance encounter with a very attractive girl on Charlotte Street, in London’s Soho. After helping her with her bags, he’s accidentally left with her disposable camera, and like any well adjusted twenty-something he prints the photos to track down the girl, return them to her, and maybe grab a coffee, have a chat, and I don’t know see where things go from there… Judging on her whereabouts solely on what’s in the photos Jason, Dev and a former troublesome student of his travel far and wide to track down Jason’s seemingly perfect girl. All the while finding more about themselves and coming to the realization their lives won’t be completely sorted compared to everyone else’s, especially to other’s social media lives.
I’ll be honest, the first thing that grabbed me about this book was the little Union Flag on the spine, I’m a sucker for books set in the UK. After reading the first chapter I was hooked. Danny Wallace’s writing is so casual you feel as though you’re reading something a friend you’ve known for years wrote specifically for you. His hilarious approach to the slightly neurotic, mostly endearing Jason grabs you from the very start. There were many times when I was reading this book that I had to stop and crack up on the wittiness and relatability of it. It’s a story of a person who seemingly has nothing going for him finding his way, and can’t we all relate to that sometime, especially in our twenties?


- Kristen Banaszak

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The Revenant by Michael Punke

The Revenant is set on the American Frontier and tells the tale of Hugh Glass. Glass is a scout & trapper for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and in the autumn he is mauled by a Grizzly while hunting for food. He is left with two other men, whose duty is to wait with him until he dies and then give him a proper burial. Both men abandon him and steal all of his gear, leaving him alone and defenceless. He slowly recovers from his wounds and so begins his journey for revenge against the men who stole his only means of survival in the harsh world of the American Great Plains in the 1820s.
I will admit to watching the movie first; I thought it was incredibly well filmed and produced (no comment on the Oscar). Don't disregard this book thinking you know the story already if you've seen the film, because apart from the setting and the beginning of the story, it is quite different. The extra perspective and detail a novel offers make this a very human and down to earth story. All the characters are sympathetic in their own way and time and place is captured incredibly well.


- Jacob McTavish

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Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande

I first discovered Gawande's writing with his 2015 bestseller Being Mortal but long before that, when he was a surgical resident in 2002 he wrote Complications: a Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science. It's described as an exploration of power and limits of medical with gripping accounts of true cases. Like Being Mortal, Gawande talks about humanity, the human side of medicine while layering that with his perspective as someone who cuts into people for a living. The case studies he uses as examples each chapter are fascinating and you are desperate to know how the patients get on, and Gawande follows up with them very well. He is inquisitive and philosophical and portrays that well in his writing. Complications talks about the meetings hospitals have weekly where doctors discuss the cases they screwed up, we are taken inside surgical conventions and look at doctors who make giant mistakes in the operating room. It is a fascinating look at what happens in hospitals from a doctor's perspective while being taken on a philosophical journey. Despite being written in 2002, I think the book holds up very well and is still relevant to the current medical climate.


- Tara Pond

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The Signalman by Charles Dickens

It is an absolute delight to be able to review yet another review by one of my favourite authors of all time. Do not be fooled by the small size of the book because (as always!) Dickens is able to draw us right into the lives of his characters in a very short space of time. The general gist of the first story is that a man meets the signalman of a train station. The signalman is extremely vigilant of all that goes on around the railway lines and takes very precise care over all that his job involves. The man who meets the signalman is very curious as to what his existence is like in his lonely and dark looking work area. He takes a lot of time to listen to what the signalman tells him about his anxiety – he is convinced that there is danger imminent because of a ghostly figure who gives the danger bell a distinct ring that only he can hear and because this figure appears in the darkness of the tunnel with a mournful stance.
Dickens himself felt the impact of a train crash at Stapleton when he got out of his carriage in order to assist the injured and dying in any way that he could. This experience affected him terribly which may have inspired him to write this story. In the introduction of this book, we are informed that Dickens and a friend would sometimes observe what went on around the train tracks at night. It is quite possible that he himself did get to see what a signalman’s job involved in great detail, and therefore he could write this story with accuracy and sensitivity.
The final story of this book reads like a monologue with a broad-accented character speaking about their time working at a café. This will be appreciated by anyone with any sort of experience in customer service, or even anyone who enjoys seeing how well Dickens can make a well thought-out character speak.
I cannot possibly divulge a lot of detail in terms of plot of The Signalman lest there be nothing for you to discover for yourselves. There is a great twist near the end which is very moving in spite of knowing the characters only for a short while. I will only say that I dearly appreciate the writing of Dickens for its ability to give us an insight into the lives of others. He spent a good many hours walking around his local towns and must have seen and heard of many dreadful happenings that he sought to improve or at least bring awareness to. His writing gives us a great insight into the kind of compassionate and observant person he must have been to know. If you are yet unacquainted with any of his works, I would encourage you dear reader to start with this or one of his other more well-known works.


- Jessie Westerlund

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is an action packed romp through 80s pop and classic gaming trivia, all based in a VR puzzle quest designed by a dead billionaire. This novel has great characters and a compelling plot - a must read, if you are interested in the VR revolution happening right now!


- Allan Sheblom

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A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

A Booker Prize winner, told from multiple character’s viewpoints and a challenging length, but this isn’t the Luminaries I’m talking about and the following bears no comparison.
A Brief History of Seven Killings is long, and at times I’ll admit it was a struggle but at no stage did I want to put it down, it is unlike any book I’ve read before.
It is detailed, violent, gruesome, sad, exhilarating, frenetic and funny (with those ingredients at times thrown in a mixer with intense results). Written for the most part in Jamaican patois, it is a bit to get your head around but before you know it you realise you have been completely immersed in a world so vividly described it feels like you are back in Kingston in 1976 and that does not sound like a place you would want to be at all. It does not yearn for nostalgia.
This book spans decades, with the first third taking in the lead up to the assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976, it then deals with the aftermath and then moves to the drug wars in Miami and New York in the 80’s before ending in the early 90’s with one last hurrah. The story is told from the point of view of politicians, gang kingpins and foot soldiers, drug dealers, assassins, CIA operatives and even a ghost. It may sound like a lot to take in and it could’ve got horribly bogged down by the weight of them all yet it all comes together to create an unforgettable work, the kind that will roll over in your mind for some time. The fact parts of it are somewhat loosely based on real events makes it all the more intriguing.
There is talk of a script being written for HBO, now that would be something else.


- Dan Mackay

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On Sondheim: An Opinionated Guide by Ethan Mordden

Stephen Sondheim has become something of a musical theatre legend – his shows have been performed and produced around the world for many decades, and they will continue to be for many more decades to come. In On Sondheim: An Opinionated Guide, author Ethan Mordden takes the reader on a tour of eighteen of Sondheim’s musicals outlining the importance of his compositional style, and how this has helped to propel him to fame. He discusses Sondheim’s ability to compose as intricately as a learned classical musician, simultaneously remaining grounded in the genre but also managing to push the boundaries of musical theatre.
Mordden includes snippets of information about Sondheim’s life along the way to provide context on his compositions. His writing exudes elegance and eloquence, making for one compelling read about one of Broadway’s finest.


- Gemma Henderson

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The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

In 1895 Robert Coombes was 13 years old. He enjoyed reading penny dreadfuls and playing music, and he took a knife and stabbed his mother to death. There is always something kind of intriguing about true crime stories and, even more so, when the antagonist is so unexpected. This book is less about the murder than it is about the murderer. What would drive a child to murder his parent? And what would his life become?
The Wicked Boy is engagingly written and meticulously researched, placing you so vividly into Victorian Plaistow you could almost be there.



- Tammy Harrison

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Field Guide to Native Edible Plants of New Zealand by Andrew Crowe

Ever been stuck out in the bush for ten days, desperately short on supplies and wondering what to use to ward off starvation?
…me neither, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book anyway. Even though it’s a field guide, this is an interesting and useful book anywhere you take it. Since reading it I’ve finally found a use for the Kawakawa growing rampant underneath my house, alleviated parent concerns around the berries dropping off their palm trees, and stopped stressing about the nightshade growing in the patch of dirt I can’t honestly call a garden anymore.
Even when it’s talking about plants you’re not likely to find, the field guide includes anecdotes or bits of history to keep the entries interesting. A great one to pick up, read a few pages, then put down again.


- Jamie Simmonds

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

You should never judge a book by its cover, but that is why I picked this one up. Thankfully the book inside more than matched the great design on the front. Set in London in the 1880s, this book tells the story of a telegraphist caught up in a Fenian bombing investigation, who becomes involved with an old watchmaker who may or may not be able to see the future and a physicist who is trying to prove the existence of an extra dimension. Beautifully written and quite whimsical, this book reminded me of The Prestige. Great if you’re after interesting fiction with a hint of mystery.


- Jacob McTavish

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The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country by Helen Russell

Helen lives a fast paced London life, working as an editor for Marie Claire magazine. She is constantly juggling her job and life, with barely enough time to spend with her friends and husband. That is, until her husband is offered a job working for Lego in rural Jutland for a year. After some debate they decide to uproot themselves from their native UK to Denmark. Helen quits her job and opts to do freelance work, while also discovering the culture of Denmark, finding out why it ranks as the UN’s happiest nation. She discovers that despite the almost 50% tax rate, limited hours of sunshine in winter, and freezing winter climate Danes, for the most part, are truly happy. As she conducts interviews almost all participants rank themselves as 8 or 9 out of 10 for happiness. Her search to find what makes them so happy is also a journey of self discovery, and re-evaluation.
The book is laid out very well, one chapter per month, with a list of Danish things learnt that month. While it is an interesting read, and I did learn a lot about Denmark, a nation which in my opinion does not get much attention on a global scale, it seemed, at times, that she was working for the Danish Board of Tourism. Denmark is portrayed as a socialist utopia with healthcare, childcare, university, and many other things provided by the state/the near 50% tax. But, it is also a place where everyone is paid a living wage, the working week is around 34 hours, and time with family and friends is highly valued. Perhaps then I was just being pessimistic with my board of tourism thought, and Helen just wanted to fill the world in on how great it is to live in Denmark. After reading this book I can undoubtedly say Denmark has been added to my travel list, and that we can all benefit from some of the Nordic/Danish lifestyle.


- Kristen Banaszak

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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

This was the first novel I’ve read by Heinlein, and it has hooked me. Written in 1966, and set in 2075, this is an amazingly enduring piece of sci-fi which doesn’t feel dated at all today. Set on the Moon, which is ostensibly a convict colony, this book tells the story of the planning and execution of a worker’s revolution for independence against the Earth-based Authority, aided by a self-aware supercomputer with a sense of humour called HOLMES. Written almost entirely in a strange Russian/Australian/English dialect, which takes a little getting used to, the novel deals with issues of liberty, freedom, free markets and the role of government. A challenging but very interesting read.


- Jacob McTavish

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All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front has become a classic of Great War literature. The book itself has been banned and revered. Hitler banned the book during his rise in the early 1930’s as he felt the anti-war sentiment would deter his cause, and it has become a starting point of First World War literature recommended by many scholars. Though the novel is fiction it is based upon fact. Erich Maria Remarque was a German soldier in the First World War, he utilised his experiences of the trenches, and his own naivety and disillusionment to pen this iconic anti-war novel.
The novel starts with Paul Baumer, a young German caught up in the fervent patriotism and nationalism of post-unification (1871) Germany. At the start of the war he and his classmates are encouraged by their teacher to join up and fight. At first they are excited about the potential adventure and smart looking uniforms, but after they get to the front they realise their romanticised version of war is not reality. Trenches overrun with hungry rats, rotting bodies, gruesome deaths, and paralysing fear await them. The young men who joined up soon become hardened soldiers, their innocence has been lost. They no longer value the life of their fellow soldiers, material objects, particularly a good pair of boots, become the most valued thing. After a short stay at home Paul realises how separated society is from the war, his mother and sister believing it to be a glamorous adventure, similarly to what Paul believed before shipping out. The war has changed all of them; their former patriotism has been replaced with disillusionment. The Germany they once knew, and the lives they once had are long gone, and something they can never go back to.
This book is a fantastic read for anyone wanting to learn about the First World War. It is from the German perspective, but the message and themes are universal to nearly everyone’s experience of the Great War. It is not a light read; it does make you think of the horrors of war, and gives you a deeper appreciation and understanding of it. In the words of Remarque “It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”


- Kristen Banaszak

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Gods of Metal by Eric Schlosser

Wow. Did you know there is a group of Christian pacifists, called the Ploughshare Movement, who advocate active resistance to nuclear weapons? They do this by breaking into high security, top-secret US military installations and damaging the nosecones on nuclear missiles and pouring their blood around the sites, then waiting patiently to be discovered and arrested by security. I certainly didn’t know any of this before I read Gods of Metal, and with this wee little book, Eric Schlosser continues to prove why he’s the best (in my opinion) investigative journalist out there. Incredibly well written and riveting from beginning to end, check this out if you want a quick but fascinating read.


- Jacob McTavish

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Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

I found this book absolutely impossible to put down. It was a page turner in a very literal sense. I found the main character Orphan X very fascinating because of his humanity alongside his impressive ability with all kinds of fighting techniques and weapons. He wants to help people in need with his abilities by essentially ‘bonking people off’ (my quote not his). Each person who he helps is told to give his phone number to just one other person in need. In this way, any person in a dangerous situation can have his assistance, but as he said, his number isn’t a hotline that people can call as many times as they wish. This book was so easy to read quickly because of how well researched the content was I suppose – it did not read at all like someone attempting to figure things out as they went along, or who had no idea how a person in those situations really would behave. Even the more minor characters in this story are very fascinating to see in relation to Orphan X. He has to attempt to seem as normal as possible in spite of having, for instance a deep cut on him that is oozing blood from a nasty encounter. It was hugely disappointing for me to have this book come to an end. I really wanted to see how his future progressed! All I can say is that anyone planning on reading this will have no shortage of interesting plot twists and turns to keep them guessing, but there will also be more than enough revealed so that you are not endlessly frustrated by all you do not know.


- Jessie Westerlund

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is one of the most beautifully written books out there about a grotesque time in our recent history. Leisel Meminger is 11 when she moves in the house of the Hubermanns in Munich, Germany. She is supposed to be accompanied by her 6 year old brother but he dies suddenly on the way, and it is while they are burying him that Leisel steals her first book. The Book Thief tells a narrative about people- Jewish empathizers and people who have no choice but to comply with Nazism- and about a girl with a passion for learning, reading and who is incredibly loyal to the people she cares about. But this unique book goes a bit further than that; the story is in the perspective of what we call the Grim Reaper. His all knowing view is annoying, as he tends to spoil the deaths in the story pretty early on but he weaves the tale in an extraordinary way. The author, Markus Zusak, can describe things, situations and people in a way I have never seen. His unique way of writing is what makes this book a New York Times Bestseller. A read I would recommend to anyone teenaged and above. It is a book that lingers in your thoughts.


- Tara Pond

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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Beginning in the austerity of the Second World War, Charles Ryder is a hardened, unhappy army officer. One day he and his men are transferred to a grand English estate, named Brideshead. Memories immediately begin to flood back to Charles of the time he spent there with its former occupants, the Flyte family. A story told mostly in flashbacks, starting in the glittering world of 1920’s Oxford. Brideshead Revisited examines the friendship between Charles Ryder, a middle class Londoner, and Sebastian Flyte, a wealthy, emotionally stifled, flamboyant aristocrat clinging to his childhood in the form of his teddy Aloysius. Charles is immediately enamoured with Sebastian’s frivolous ways, devotion to his friends, and the curiosity of his sexuality and Catholic faith. After Sebastian invites Charles to his ancestral home, Brideshead, Charles becomes more involved with the family, causing Sebastian to become jealous, and further sparks his alcoholic tendencies.
Brideshead Revisited is a book which examines the crumbling aristocratic class after the First World War, friendship, sexuality and religion in the context of upper class English society. A great read for those who love history, drama, or psychological studies.


- Kristen Banaszak

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The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault

I was introduced to Mary Renault’s stunning historical novels many years ago when most of her books were out of print. If I was lucky I could get them unearthed from the basement of the public library or find them in secondhand shops. It seemed wrong that such compelling, intricately detailed and psychologically insightful novels could be unavailable. Last year, Virago, in their wisdom started re-issuing all of Mary Renault’s novels with forwards by contemporary authors such as Emma Donoghue and Charlotte Mendelson.
The Last of the Wine is set during the Peloponnesian War at the end of the golden age of Athens and features historical figures such as Xenophon, Socrates and Plato. The central characters are Alexias and Lysis, two young men from aristocratic families. They train as athletes and warriors as well as debating how to live a good life and what is virtue. Some of the most enjoyable parts of the novel for me were the conversations these characters had with Socrates and other philosophers. It’s not all about philosophy though! There is plenty of fighting (especially with the Spartans), love, wrestling, politics and exile.
If you enjoyed Madeleine Miller’s Song of Achilles or Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction, do consider reading this novel.


- Emma Paton

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The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

The Fictional Woman is Tara Moss’s first non-fiction book but she has written nine fiction books and is considered one of Australia’s top crime writers; however, that is not what she is most known for. The Fictional Woman starts as a book exploring Moss’s early life and her career as an international fashion model. She discusses being 15 and modeling women’s lingerie, her mother’s death as a child and her marriages. She then goes on to discuss leaving modeling and becoming a crime writer in an environment where models aren’t seen as anything but pretty faces. Moss fiercely wants to overcome and change the narrative about models – and by extension aesthetically attractive woman – and even undertakes a lie detector test when accused of not writing her own books. The book then transforms into a series of feminist essays. The essays discuss topics such as female bodies, sexual assault and archetypes. They are extremely accessible to the public and help inform us about im portant topics and popular narratives in our society. Moss does well to weave the lessons into anecdotes about her own experiences and makes the topics more approachable. She is based in Australia and so I found the book much more relevant to us in New Zealand than similar books that tend to be US-centric.
Overall, The Fictional Woman draws you in with curiosity about Tara Moss’s life and leaves you having learnt something. What could have been a narcissistic biography was well written, informative and engaging.


- Tara Pond

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is the first in a series that centres around 16 year old Jacob, a Florida teen working in his wealthy family’s shop, with a deep admiration for his grandfather. After he witnesses a terrible accident involving his family, he goes to the orphanage where his grandfather grew up on a tiny island off the coast of Wales, to find some answers. He discovers the orphanage in ruins, but soon finds the former residents, the one his grandfather knew, alive and well, and still adolescents. He also finds the children to be more than just peculiar. But why were the children sent to this remote island in the first place, for their own protection, or society’s? And what does his grandfather have to do with it all? What Jacob discovers about his grandfather and himself will answer his first question, but open up so many more.
This is a great book for people who like young adult fantasy/sci-fi. It’s an easy read, and utilizes strange/creepy vintage photos to illustrate the plotline and characters. It’s a book that keeps you going, and you’ll be looking forward to the next one.


- Kristen Banaszak

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel, a depressed alcoholic, still reeling from her divorce, takes the commuter train into London every morning, passing by the same set of outwardly cosy and happy family homes. To break the monotony of her journey, and indeed her own life, Rachel invents a background for the seemingly perfect couple she passes every day on her way to work. She invents Jason and Jess, the couple she admires for their ‘perfect relationship’, happiness, and, blatant attractiveness, none of which Rachel has. One day on the train she sees something she never would have expected to see, and is sucked into/forces her way into this young couple’s life. How could the real life Scott and Megan ever measure up to the impossibly perfect Jason and Jess? This book was a fascinating read from start to finish. From the honest depiction of its characters, who just like in reality are not always likeable, and sometimes barely tolerable with all their faults and selfish acts, to the interweaving storyline and three person point of view plot, this psychological thriller is an amazing page turner! Once you get sucked in you will not want it to finish until you find out more information on these characters and their motives. This new book is an absolute must read!


- Kristen Banaszak

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Girl in the Woods: A Memoir by Aspen Matis

I have never enjoyed books that involve people finding themselves through some sort of outdoor activity, I just couldn’t identify with it, but when you open your mind to different kinds of books, you might find a little gem like this one. Girl in the Woods sells itself as a book about a woman who gets raped and takes to the woods to find herself but it doesn’t mention how full it is of strange, wonderful and fascinating characters, the author included. I like how this memoir gives you some context to her journey; you follow Aspen Matis through what brought her to the point in her life that she decides to hike from Mexico to Canada. For those who have read the New York Times bestseller Wild, I highly recommend this book. In fact, I read it prior to reading Wild and it helped be understand the struggle of Cheryl Strayed, having felt like I walked the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) already with Matis. Girl in the Woods is one of the most empowering books I have read, it encourages you to stay true to yourself, be your own hero and embrace your fears.


- Tara Pond

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A Ted Hughes Bestiary: Poems Selected by Alice Oswald

This is a wonderful collection of 100 animal poems written by Ted Hughes and selected by fellow poet Alice Oswald. It ranges from his earliest collection ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ to ‘Birthday Letters’ written just before he died. I first came across Hughes’ poetry at school when we studied ‘The Thought Fox’ and have loved his animal poems ever since. Hughes can conjure an animal, real or imaginary, better than any other poet I’ve read. Many of these poems seem bleak and emphasize the violence and ferocity of the animal world. To me they also express vitality and a mythic quality that certain birds and animals have.


- Emma Paton

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The Pot Book by Edmund De Waal / Claudia Clare

Edmund De Waal’s The Pot Book is honestly a treasure. De Waal lifelong passion for pottery is clearly exemplified in this beautifully curated book. Placing together pots from different periods and nations de Waal creates a new narrative in the world of ceramics. His beautifully picked pieces range in genre and are placed together in clever juxtapositions which bring to light new details. This book has brought much enjoyment to my life with my dad trying to do a “pot of the day” opening up the book to a new pot and telling us the description and history of each pot in small pieces. So far not a single pot has disappointed us but all have amazed. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone really. You don’t need to be a fan of pots to appreciate this beautifully put together book.


- Sylvia Burgess

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I would advise anyone thinking of picking up this book to do so at their own risk. Yangihara’s second novel is without a doubt saddest book I have ever read. Without delving into plot details, the only thing that I will say is that A Little Life is the literary equivalent of a beloved pet passing away in terms of how devastated it will make you feel. That being said, it is also an equally rewarding story. Across the book’s 700+ pages you gain a deep understanding of the fears and motivations of the four central characters, each of them proving to be complex and compelling. These characters are woven into a narrative that spans decades but does not suffer for it in its pacing – the character’s growth is more of an indication for the passage of time then a passing mention of a birthday. It is perhaps in this that gives A Little Life the power to make readers feel such a vast array of emotions; the very organic sense of growth that can make one feel tied to a set of characters. I can absolutely understand how this book isn’t for everyone and I’ve been hesitant to suggest it to people without making it very clear that they’re in for a bit of an ordeal, A Little Life will chew you up and spit you out in the best way that a book possibly can – although you certainly won’t feel too cheerful after reading it, it is nice to be reminded that there is someone out there writing fiction that can affect readers in such a profound way.


- Chris Payne

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The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

I think the title of this book is awful but in some ways reflects the sometimes Dad-like sentiments and curmudgeonly (great word) style of the author. An occasional whine about the cost and quality of a meal, or the traffic and parking, or the use of grammar might be OK and even funny, but get over it (were the editors too much in awe of the author?).
But this is still a great read (yes, I am entitled to have it both ways).
This is a travel book about England - but you knew that, right?
Bill Bryson has an infectious sense of enthusiasm and unquenchable interest in history and people that he seemingly effortlessly puts into words. The book is full of interesting details (at any one time there are 600,000 people on the London underground) but this never reads like a list of facts and figures. It is like having a likeable (despite what I said above) and interesting person enthuse about their recent trip.
Bryson introduces the readers to (and inspires you to want to visit) places they have never heard of ( maybe you have, but I hadn’t) like Avebury – a bigger version of Stonehenge, and mysterious Silbury Hill – a prehistoric man-made (for unknown reasons) Pyramid size perfect mound of earth.
I particularly like the way in which the author prevents his book from merely being a travelogue by wandering off into back-stories.
The viewing of the gravestone of Sir George Everest ( that big Mountain has his name) in a small English village then diverts off into a great story about how an obscure survey official in India – who never even saw the Himalayas, came to have Mount Everest named after him. (Because the mountain had so many local names there wasn’t one to fix on. It is almost only mountain in Asia to have an English name). And Everest’s name was pronounced Eve-rest not Ev-er-est). Run-down Grimsby was the biggest fishing port in the world in the early 20th century and that in 1950 landed over 100,000 tonnes of Cod but because of over-fishing, today the figure is under 300! The book is full of such interesting anecdotes.
So forget the title and maybe do a bit of skipping. This is a really interesting, easy read and I would recommend it.



- John Taylor

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Dancing in the Dark: My Struggle Book Four by Karl Ove Knausgaard

After the slight dip in form of book three, book four in Knausgaard’s My Struggle comes back with a bang, albeit a slow moving and detailed one.
For those unaware, My Struggle is a series of six autobiographical novels written by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard, notorious for their depth of detail, bluntness and the author’s willingness to lay his life (and others’) bare, leading to some fairly graphic descriptions of various bodily activities and situations.
Book four, titled Dancing in the Dark yet again finds Knausgaard making the mundane sound majestic. Aged eighteen and having taken a teaching job in a small fishing village in northern Norway with the intention of starting to write in his spare time, it seemed like a lot of this book dealt with the author’s virginity and lack of ability in losing it, for various reasons. Yet it’s not all fun and games as he also describes many a night out of hard drinking during the long arctic nights, which given his father’s life destroying alcoholism lends an ominous tone to proceedings. His description of tiny town Norway, the people in it and his relationships with them gives a striking view of life in a small, dark, cold and isolated part of the world. With his parents now divorced and his father remarried Knausgaard gives us glimpses of his father’s descent into alcoholism and the slow degradation of a human being we know is coming. It’s clichéd but this is warts and all.
For an author who delights in recalling the smallest of details, the writing is very efficient and a pleasure to read and I wish more people would take the plunge and start exploring what is becoming regarded as a modern masterpiece.


- Dan Mackay

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

It truly is a delight to read a book that is so moving and so well written that it continues to echo in your mind long after you finish it. The story takes place around the time of the Second World War. We mainly follow the lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig. Marie-Laure is a young French girl who lives with her father and loses her sight; Werner is a young German boy who is orphaned and lives at a children’s house with his little sister Jutta. There are alternating chapters that follow the lives of these wonderful characters. We are shown the ways in which a loss of sight does not take away Marie-Laure’s curiosity about the world around her. She loves to feel natural things in her hands such as seashells and feathers. She also manages to find her way around the town by counting storm drains with the cane that she elegantly moves along the ground. Werner is very bright and loves to fix and make all kinds of gadgets using even the most rudimentary finds. He does his best to look out for his little sister and will often take her with him as he searches for some usable treasure that has been discarded or broken. Their lives do end up intertwining in ways that are very moving but realistic. Marie-Laure’s Uncle Etienne is another very significant character who lives in a six-storey mansion and transmits sound recordings as far abroad as he possibly can by using a contraption that he and his brother made. The title for this book is perfect as it seems to hearken to the idea of there being so much light and guidance that we are not necessarily aware of happening around us. In this story there are so many characters who want desperately to connect with each other in meaningful ways. The horrors of the war are certainly not glossed over, but nor can it be said that any humanity is lost in this story’s telling. I do assure you that you will not be able to remain as you were before reading this book. It will impact and move you in ways that highlight and stretch the limits of what a novel is truly capable of achieving.


- Jessie Westerlund

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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty

Doughty’s book isn’t simply a witty memoir featuring morbidly fascinating anecdotes from a job in a crematory. That is certainly a part of the book, and you absolutely get what you paid for in that regard, but Smoke Gets in Your Eyes also has a great deal more depth to it. Doughty discusses western perspectives of death, critiquing the way we hide it behind closed doors. She does this in a way that creates a path for further mainstream discourse; discussion of death is no longer just for Goths and weirdos. Additionally, you get a look into other culture’s views of death and practices, like the Wari tribe’s ritualistic eating of their dead. Why? You will have to read it to find out. You will learn about past trends in funerals and a debate on burial vs. cremation.
Word to the squeamish: this book talks about embalming, suicide, and child death in a way you probably don’t want to think to hard about but if I can get through it, you can to; it’s worth it.
The main theme in this book is the way our society talks about death, and it is done in a way that doesn’t tell you what to think but lets you explore and question your own ideas around broad topics of life, death, what comes after (for your body, not in a spiritual way). What I really like about this book is that it comes from the voice of a young woman you can identify with, she isn’t a scientist, hasn’t been in the field for decades, Doughty is just interested in death while stumbling through life like the rest of us and talking honestly about it.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes helps you grow as a person and develop informed opinions you try to avoid thinking about. It also can start some interesting discussions at the dinner table, while giving you some weird facts to keep in your back pocket. I would call it one of the most important books I have read.


- Tara Pond

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Between Enemies by Andrea Molesini

This story centres around seventeen -year-old Paolo Spada and his aristocratic family whose estate is requisitioned by Austrian soldiers. After a group of local girls are abducted and assaulted the family and their retainers decide to take revenge. As the fighting becomes more desperate the relationship between captors and captives deteriorates rapidly with tragic results. Having said this, there are moments of great humour especially when Paolo gets into awkward situations with Guilia the village belle. There are several eccentrics in the family- Grandpa Gugliemo, a passionate atheist who quotes Buddha and owns a typewriter called Beelzebub and Grandma who has had several lovers known as the First, Second and Third Paramours.
This novel is translated from Italian and the original title Non tutti i bastardi sono di Vienna means ‘Not all are bastards in Vienna’. This was certainly the case for me as one of the characters I found most appealing was the Austrian Major overseeing the estate and the worst acts of betrayal are from within the Spada family.


- Emma Paton

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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

It is sad for me to think that this will most likely be the last review I write for a novel by Dickens. Yet it gives me endless delight to think that I can read each one all over again to enjoy anew! I first read this novel many years ago. I do suspect that perhaps I was a bit young to truly appreciate just how vivid and moving Dickens’ descriptions are. Oliver Twist is born into incredibly hard circumstances. He was not surrounded by concerned family members, and did not get to enjoy any comfort of a maternal nature. He was forced to battle it out with nature for his existence and in order to seek out a better life than the one offered at the workhouse. Any little kindness that is shown to Oliver is appreciated and remembered always. It is the very kindness of strangers that ensures that Oliver does indeed survive long enough to find lodgings of a sort in London. There are so many unforgettable characters in this story: the artful Dodger, Fagin, Bill Sikes and his dog Bulls-eye. I think that the character of Nancy shall most remain in my memory for her utmost kindness towards Oliver. She had to endure so much heartbreaking suffering for want of a kind family to care for her, and yet something quite pure remained in her spirit that would never be stamped out. Even if you have read this story before, I would encourage you to read it again. The characters and scenery that Dickens conjures up by his command of the English language are truly amazing. They continue to stay with you, and move you, long after you have finished reading the last sentence.


- Jessie Westerlund

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The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

I have to admit, the first thing that attracted this book to me was its cover. It is bold, unique and eye-catching but this book has certainly more to offer than that. It is told from the perspective of two young women, Verla and Yolanda, who have woken up, trapped and drugged in the middle of nowhere in Australia with a few other equally confused young women.
Wood uses incredibly vivid imagery and authentic characters to tell the heartbreaking story of their survival. This book is a captivating story of what it means to be a woman in our society, in relation to men and other women. It explores friendship, hate, sanity and misogyny in a gripping and unique way. The Natural Way of Things is a one of a kind book that lingers in your thoughts long after completion.


- Tara Pond

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is such a beautiful patchwork of mythologies that you start believing in the possibilities that it presents. It is funny and edgy while still offering us insight into our own sense of mortality. Rebirth seems to be a strong current through the novel, with the main character being an incarnation of the god of regeneration/rebirth. There a few very cinematic scenes that retain strong images of rebirth. One scene in particular is a little too strong in those images! :O. If you’ve read it you’ll know what I’m talking about, if you haven’t then what are you waiting for? Gaiman has remixed the old myths to create something truly dazzling. From Norse Gods to Old Russian legends this book has the quilted narrative of all these myths and offers an interesting alternative timeline.


- Amber Esau

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Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

I’ve previously read The Golden Age & Reamde by Stephenson – one of his earlier titles and his previous book, respectively. I felt this was a nice balance between the grounded, real world setting of Reamde and the impressively ambitious and out-there vision of the future from The Golden Age. To sum up the plot: The Moon is destroyed and broken into millions of asteroids, which will eventually fall to Earth and render the surface uninhabitable (think the dinosaur extinction but much, much worse). Humanity’s only options are to leave Earth or go below the surface and Stephenson tells the story of the outer space option. Most of the story is very grounded sci-fi and while it might not be 100% accurate, it reads as very well-researched and the characters are all very, very human. It’s definitely not as cryptic and full of conspiracies compared to his previous works, but it’s just as interesting and engrossing.


- Jacob McTavish

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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Just when I thought I could not love the writing of Dickens more I found myself absolutely moved by this story. It is an absolute masterpiece and a great example of Dickens’ skill as a novelist. The two cities being referred to in the title are those of Paris and London at the time of the French revolution. We mainly follow the lives of Dr Manette and his daughter who he is reunited with after an extended – not at all justified – imprisonment. Dr Manette found such a great comfort in his daughter’s tender and loving presence that it could be said that she helped to cure him of his melancholy moods. I had to know that things would work out well for both of them, as well as the close friends who help them along the way. I could think of no one better than Dickens to sensitively portray what he described as being the best and worst of times for the cities concerned. The amount of detail that he provides in terms of each character, no matter how minor they may seem, bring them all to life as though they had always lived and breathed like we do. They each have their important role to play in the tale that he weaves together. Also, there are so many scenes of such moving humanity that he presents as an obvious light compared with the many acts of depravity that were becoming disturbingly widespread. Even in the midst of people being hanged one after another without a second thought, it was reassuring to find Dickens’ focus lying on those who made noble sacrifices for the truly greater good. Towards the end of this novel it was increasingly hard for me to put the book down. There are so many twists and turns and anything at all is possible for the beloved characters in the midst of the tumult. Follow their lives right to the end and I do assure you that you won’t be disappointed.


- Jessie Westerlund

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The Siege by Arturo Perez-Reverte

I must say I don’t think I’d ever heard of the Siege of Cadiz and I certainly didn’t know anything about the city of Cadiz before reading this book. Perez-Reverte obviously knows a lot, and loves the time and place, and it really shows in his description of the city and the era. Set during the Peninsular War, he creates an incredible atmosphere from both sides of the siege and he makes the time and place feel real. The story is focused around a series of murders within the besieged city, with various unrelated characters crossing paths due to the war and the murder investigations. A great read if you enjoy historical fiction, crime/mystery or even just a well told story.


- Jacob McTavish

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Animal Farm by George Orwell

Having delighted in Orwell’s “1984” I simply had to sink my teeth into Animal Farm. This story reflects very similar ideology and storytelling as seen in that of “1984”. In the case of Orwell, I would have to say that more of the same is actually a good thing. I would have been sorely disappointed had he differed far too strongly from his usual style. The animals on ‘Manor Farm’ work together under the leadership of the pig Napoleon in order to take over the farm. A series of songs and mottos are regularly recited so that none of the animals ever forgets that humans are bad and must never be trusted. Anyone with even the most remedial knowledge of the first and second world wars (or indeed any system that seeks to control and manipulate its populace) are sure to be able to recognise famous historical figures – represented here by the pigs who become the leaders. I am hesitant to say too much because the twists and turns of the plot are far too brilliant for me to wish to give even a hint of how the tale comes to an end. Suffice it to say that Orwell’s elegant prose and stout-hearted animals are sure to move and perhaps even surprise you at what such a relatively small book is able to accomplish. He is able to accomplish in one sentence what many writers could struggle to do in a paragraph or even a whole book.


- Jessie Westerlund

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Subway Art by Henry Chalfont / Martha Cooper

This is the 30th Anniversary expanded edition of the 1984 graffiti bible. It features works from Dondi White, Futura and Lee Quinones amongst others. Once the most stolen book in New York.
Now with extra photos and essays from the authors.


- Graham Harding

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The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero / Tom Bissell

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made is the story of Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic star, producer, director and writer of the 2003 film The Room. For the unaware, The Room is Wiseau’s nonsensical and maddening film debut that has been universally panned by critics yet has gone on to amass a dedicated cult following. The film’s uncomfortably long sex scenes, baffling plot tangents and Wiseau’s own passionate-yet-emotionally-stagnant performance has garnered countless fans for the cinematic train wreck.
The book is written by Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s friend and co star and charts the production of the film as well as Sestero’s own friendship with its creator. Readers are given fascinating insight into the creative force that is Tommy Wiseau, the self-described “authentic Cajun” that most likely hails from a former Soviet state (Wiseau is discreet about his past to the point of maniacally making out like it doesn’t exist). Sestero tells two tales throughout the book that run parallel to each other; the first being the his initial introduction to Wiseau and the budding of their close yet volatile friendship made possible by their shared ambition for stardom, the second being the story of The Room from its glorious conception to its doomed premier and the nightmarish production that takes place in between. The weaving of these two narratives enables The Disaster Artist to be both an uplifting story of unlikely friendship and a wonderfully illustrative portrait of the madness of Tommy Wiseau.
The Disaster Artist may well prove to be some of the best publicity that Wiseau’s brainchild has received since its release, if Sestero’s candid yet loving tribute to his friend does not encourage readers to sit through 100 minutes of Wiseau’s self indulgence then there is little that will.


- Chris Payne

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Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

I’m not entirely sure why (maybe something to do with the mischievous Jinn who play such a central role), but this reminded me in many ways of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Perhaps I’m clutching at straws and making a lazy comparison but what the heck, if you enjoyed American Gods then I reckon this one’s worth a shot.
Set in New York in an unspecified time in the not too distant future Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights begins when a storm hits New York and the “strangenesses” begin. A gardener wakes up to find he no longer touches the ground, a graphic novelist wakes to find one of his creations appearing through a vortex in his room, and an abandoned baby whose presence detects corruption causing the corruptors flesh to rot is adopted by the mayor, and this is only the beginning. All of this results from a war that has erupted between the Jinn, having broken through from the spirit world into the human world causing chaos and carnage.
Is this some sort of weird, twisted fairytale? Yes, partly. It is also in parts very funny, in a dry and often cynical way. It ruminates on reason, religion and human nature whilst also serving as an oddball paean to New York. It is also Salman Rushdie’s most accessible book to date (I think) and one which I highly recommend.


- Dan Mackay

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Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

This collection of short stories about the supernatural includes aliens, werewolves, gods, and the dead, as well as illustrations by Shaun Tan.
Pretty Monsters is gorgeously written, ‘Wet confetti ends of grass, cut the day before, stuck to the soles of her bare feet’, and I became so involved in these stories that I didn’t want to leave. I wish that some were full length novels so I could continue to revel in the worlds Link has created.
Link’s writing is evocative of Angela Carter’s fairytales and ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman, it has the same rich, dark, dreamy feeling to it.
I would recommend Pretty Monsters to anyone who likes books with a hint of darkness.


- Tammy Harrison

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Sinatra: A Complete Life by Randy Taraborelli

I have always been partial to many of Sinatra’s tunes however, I must say, I have never called myself a fan. Hence, I never would have imagined reading a biography about him. Since finishing his biography however, I now find myself listening to many of his classics, and writing a list of his movies that I feel I now need to see. Taraborelli’s biography of Frank Sinatra is more or less addictive; many biographies can be dense and overwhelming, and often require reading breaks in order to absorb the content; Taraborelli’s biography of Sinatra requires no such breaks.
You begin with Sinatra as a young boy, in his hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey; you are introduced to his parents, his father Marty, and his formidable mother Dolly. You get to witness Sinatra’s struggle to the top, right from the beginning; see his relationships form (and crumble), be a part of his rise and fall... and rise. From not paying particular attention to Sinatra and his works in the past, I now can’t help myself listening to and seeing Sinatra in a whole new light. The reader is thrown back in time to a completely different world, certainly more of a live young, die fast type of place, and at times quite a dark place, but a very fascinating one nonetheless. Taraborrelli manages to deliver a biography that can be read from front to back, without needing to flip back through the pages to try and recall what you just read. I would recommend this to anyone; to readers who haven’t read many biographies (such as myself), to readers who aren’t even Sinatra fans (and especially the ones that are!). A fantastic read.


- Charlotte Vodanovich

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Manuscript found in Accra by Paulo Coelho

There is an absolutely timeless and universal appeal that I find apparent in Paulo Coelho’s books. This one in particular I find that I could read over and over again. Its pages are overflowing with wisdom and compassion, and I really do want to believe that this is based on a true manuscript! The Copt said that not much would change for the next thousand years. The kinds of problems and fears that we all face as part of our journey through life and as a result of our human condition creep up generation after generation. In this manuscript, we find out that a battle is to be fought the very next day. The townspeople are gathered together to have the Copt answer their questions about life. It was considered vitally important that an account of their everyday lives and struggles were recorded, rather than an historical account of exactly all that had happened generally. While I will certainly not venture to say that reading this book will provide you a formula for living life well, I will say that its words will add to rather than diminish from whatever path you may be travelling. In short, what you gain from reading this book will make the time spent reading it to be very worthwhile indeed.


- Jessie Westerlund

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How To Be Dead In A Year of Snakes by Chris Tse

Based on the murder of Cantonese gold prospector Joe Kum Yung by white supremacist Lionel Terry, this book of poetry resonates with echoes and ghosts. While there are a lot of Death images throughout the book, I think that the idea around ghosts, as person or thing, is one of the driving motifs for the poetry and it adds a lingering effect to Tse’s use of simplified language. The title of the book implies an exhausted rebirth as well as hinting at culture with reference to the Chinese horoscope. When I first heard of the collection I was fixated on the title for so long. It’s probably one of my favourite titles for a book of poetry. The work also deals with race relations and cultural identity and creates an interesting dance with perspective through Lionel and Joe as alternating narrators. The murderer and victim are almost formed into one person to make us believe that not just the living gets haunted. “Even if his name still hooks to yours / there will be voices to say your name / to clear the way.”


- Amber Esau

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Words without Music by Philip Glass

Parts of this book annoyed me. In particular when he describes 1960’s New York, attending Julliard and then spending the nights seeing such jazz greats as Miles Davis and Charlie Parker (to name a few). I mean, how good can it get, right?
I was only vaguely familiar with Glass’ works before reading this, but after having read some fairly trashy music books lately, felt like something with a bit of class.
For someone who didn’t start earning enough from his work until his early forties, Glass led a varied life up until and even beyond that point, working both in a steel factory and as a New York cabbie to supplement what earnings he got from his compositions. He has some great stories and the sheer amount of work he did on his way to the top made me feel tired but full of admiration.
The amount of incredibly well-known names Glass drops throughout the book is just ridiculous. He does delve into composition and a bit of lightweight musical theory in parts, but not in a way that neither would nor should scare the layperson off reading it. And even though I have not the foggiest idea how to play any musical instrument, I feel I came away not only with a better understanding of his music, but also a better understanding of how to listen to it.
Great read.


- Dan Mackay

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I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I first came to know of this book after being introduced to the wonderful television series – which I would heartily recommend since it contains such actors as Brian Blessed, Sian Philips and Derek Jacobi! This story consists of Claudius’ retelling of events and correspondence concerning the Roman Imperial family. Claudius’ grandmother Livia is very much the head of this family, and will go to any means to ensure that one of her own descendants will become the future Emperor of Rome. There is a great deal of scandal and needless extravagance that goes on to make for some very interesting reading. Claudius himself is a most interesting character from whom to read the family history. From birth he is generally considered to be a great disappointment because of his twitching, stammering and a limp. The reader will – I sincerely hope! – come to find that Claudius is really no fool at all. He is a dear brother to Germanicus who calls him his truest friend, and he manages to escape some very unfortunate events precisely because of being considered ‘too foolish’ to ever be capable of rising to any great state in life. It is painful to read of his grief at the loss of those dear to him; it is a delight to read of times where he did realise a dream or found himself laughing nonstop because of some perfectly ridiculous occurrence. I was disappointed with this novel only when it came to an end as I had hoped to know more of what happened to Claudius in his later years. I can absolutely understand why this novel is a well-loved classic.


- Jessie Westerlund

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Wind / Pinball: Two Novels by Haruki Murakami

This book has an excellent preface in which Murakami discusses how he became a writer- it has something to do with baseball...
Both novels have features you come to expect from Murakami: an odd young woman with a physical defect, music, books and eventually some cats. The same unnamed protagonist, his friend The Rat and J the bartender are in Wind and Pinball 1973. All three characters become more melancholy as time goes by and mysterious women drift in and out of their lives. You will learn a lot about pinball.
This book is a beautifully designed hardback that would very nice on the shelf next to Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and The Strange Library.


- Emma Paton

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Regeneration Trilogy: Regeneration: The Eye in the Door: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

I am delighted to have become acquainted with the wonderful writing of Pat Barker through this trilogy. We see much of the story unfold through the perspective of William Rivers who is an army psychiatrist at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland. Although I possessed a rudimentary idea of the consequences of the First World War, I was stunned – and quite frankly gained a new appreciation of the sacrifices made by so many – at the fine attention to detail of how soldiers and their loved ones were affected by their experiences. I was made aware of the ways in which a sudden sharp noise could be enough to trigger off a nervous response because of it reminding someone of a grenade going off. We are also able to appreciate how difficult, but understandable, it would have been at this time to object to the war being prolonged unnecessarily. There are many occasions during which one of the soldiers would hear civilians casually speaking about the war while reading their newspapers or drinking their coffee. Needless to say, the soldiers tended to view this with disgust since such civilians could hardly be expected to really appreciate in their comfortable existence what it meant to really give your life for your country. The final novel of the trilogy came to the expected, heart-wrenching end. This trilogy is well worth reading as a whole from start to finish since the ending is meaningless without an appreciation of the journey that leads to it.


- Jessie Westerlund

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Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

The world has had a hundred years to reflect on last century’s “war to end all wars”, and to consider how different things might have been, what was gained, and what was lost. Ben Elton has delved into the trenches of the time before with Blackadder Goes Forth and The First Casualty. This time it’s a trip back in time with a Bear Grylls-esque hero from the 21st century attempting to prevent the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, and the First World War with it. Elton’s tale balances action and suspense with humour and contemplation, presenting a number of what-if scenarios that provoke the question is the devil you know better than the one you don’t? There is similarly a balance of fiction and history at play with the more fantastical elements of the former given counterpoint by the verisimilitude of the latter. There are twists and turns and the material is engaging enough to entertain those who otherwise may not have a passion for history as well as students of the subject. All in all it serves as a timely philosophical reminder of the inhumanity of humanity and at the same time a celebration of the spirit of determination in the face of adversity, with some weighty themes smuggled inside the package of an adventure story.


- Jamie Higgins

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The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeepers is set in a world where most land has disappeared and ‘Landlockers’ guard their birthright jealously.
Callanish was born a Landlocker but, running from a troubling past and concealing a life threatening secret, she now serves at the Graceyards, a burial site for ‘Damplings’.
North is a Dampling, born and raised at sea, she performs with her bear in a travelling circus and is hiding her own dangerous secret.
Their stories become inexorably entwined when tragedy strikes the circus.
Logan has been favourably compared to Angela Carter, and Margaret Atwood, and, as a fan of both, I must agree.
The Gracekeepers is amazingly imaginative, and the world created by Logan is both beautiful and terrible. This a great story about belonging and the pull of destiny.


- Tammy Harrison

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Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble by Anthony Beevor

Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble is another excellent work of popular history by Anthony Beevor. As with his other books Ardennes takes one of the great battles of the Second World War and reexamines it, focusing on both the macro of strategic planning and the micro of the experiences of the soldier in the lines. It is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in the Second World War as it reexamines one of the most brutal battles of the Western Front in a way that is both comprehensive but still enormously readable.


- Joseph Schlaadt

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The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

At first glance at the title of this book I had no idea what to expect; I was however very pleasantly surprised. Bivald introduces you to Sara, a bookworm who has just left the safety of her job in a bookshop in her homeland of Sweden, to move to a small, out of the way town in Iowa, USA. What brings her here to this small town is her pen pal Amy. Their mutual love of books begins a correspondence involving book recommendations, and insights into Amy’s life in Broken Wheel. However once Sara reaches Amy’s home town, all of Sara’s expectations fly out the window. The reader is drawn completely into Amy’s town and its residents, while at the same time, feeling like an outsider along with Sara. As you sink further into this book, you begin to want and feel the same things as Sara, and as these feelings intensify, you find it harder and harder to put the book down. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is definitely a book I would recommend to readers, especially those with a deep love of books and the written word.


- Charlotte Vodanovich

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Bleak House by Charles Dickens

I can honestly say that watching the BBC television series of this book did not ruin reading the story for me one bit. As always, the amount of detail that Dickens puts into revealing the setting and the characters brought the tale to life for me in ways that only his words on a page can – I did still thoroughly enjoy the BBC series though and would heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good quality costume drama. We watch the story unfold mostly through the perspective of Esther Summerson. She is undoubtedly an absolute sweetheart, and there is no real blemish that can be said to lie on her character at all. Her genuine care and devotion for her loved ones is apparent in her treatment of her friends Ada and Richard who all come to live in John Jarndyce’s ‘Bleak House’. Her kind heart is apparent beyond her immediate inner circle as she cannot help but be loved by so many who cross paths with her such as Caddy Jellyby. There is much mystery surrounding the circumstances of her parentage. This does come to be unravelled in ways that lead to a shocking, but nonetheless appropriate, climax. Overshadowing the whole narrative is of course the infamous ‘Jarndyce and Jarndyce’ court case that has continued on for many years with no resolution as to the true will of the deceased who was of very considerable means. Dickens would have been absolutely no stranger to the ways in which court cases could tend to drag on to such an extent that suffering resulted for those who needed resolution for their own peace of mind. I have no desire to reveal the twists and turns of the narrative that will make you feel as though you too are a part of this frustrating and wearying court case. I will only say that it well worth seeing this story through to the very end because the characters are sure to become as dear to your heart as they have become to mine.


- Jessie Westerlund

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Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye

I picked up this book without really knowing what to expect. Being a fan of stories set in 1930s US, I was immediately drawn to this one. Lafaye’s book is set in Florida 1935, with the return of the war veterans and the onset of the infamous Labor Day hurricane that killed hundreds of people and uprooted Florida Keys. Lafaye has created a setting with multiples themes tying together black and white relations in the 1930s, horrendous treatment of the returning war veterans, and the ferocious, unrelenting power of Mother Nature. The book is not a light read however Lafaye manages to get across the immense significance of every one of these issues/events. What is even more amazing is how every issue is suddenly compounded when the huge Hurricane hits; any friendly relations that had existed between black and white people suddenly taking a turn when the hurricane hits; the confusion and desperation of the war veterans, not knowing where they belong; and the individual struggles of people suddenly taking a different road when the hurricane changes their fate. Despite the heavy themes, heavier so much so due to the truth of their existence, I highly recommend this book. I could not put it down.


- Charlotte Vodanovich

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

This novel has an unusual, but nonetheless brilliant, structure which involves Ursula Todd having alternate possible lives. The end of one of these lives involves the expression ‘darkness falls’. There is a particularly touching moment when Ursula holds her hand out for her dear younger brother Teddy before this happens because she has fallen dreadfully ill. The meaning of Ursula is ‘she bear’. This is very fitting for this central character since she has heroic resilience allowing her to push through some very trying events. I got to know her so well that I formed a great attachment to her and desperately wanted to know that she would be alright. It felt as though I had followed her through her whole life since her birth – especially so since the story would at times involve her seeming to be born again so that she might survive. Later on in the novel we see Ursula finding her way through the events of the Second World War. Although she mostly lives in England, she also experiences a sense of what the events could have been like for the Germans when she spends some time there and makes many new friends. The world that Kate Atkinson has drawn up here is so vividly and poetically drawn that I felt quite swept up in it. Even characters that we do not spend so much time getting to know through Ursula are important for the humanity they bring to a novel that could so easily have been overshadowed by the war itself. I now look forward to reading A God in Ruins to see how Teddy fares throughout the future of his life that he did not expect to have.


- Jessie Westerlund

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, the quintessential anti-censorship novel, was written at the onset of McCarthyism and the red scare and was virtually un-publishable (you’d be surprised at who played a huge role in bringing it to the public).
Set in a future where books have been banned, firemen set fires, and the public are slaves to the television, Fahrenheit 451 packs a definite punch and is possibly even more relevant today then when it was first written. It stands beside 1984 and Brave New World as a classic of dystopian literature.


- Tammy Harrison

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Toby’s Room by Pat Barker

Toby’s Room is a companion novel to Pat Barker’s Life Class but it is not necessary to have read Life Class first.
Barker is best known for her WW1 novels especially the Regeneration trilogy. She returns to WW1 in Toby’s Room. The novel focuses on Elinor Brooke and other ex-Slade students some of whom volunteer to fight or assist in a medical capacity. The story centers around Elinor’s brother Toby who is missing presumed dead and her friend and fellow painter Kit Neville who has been wounded beyond recognition. Through an act of fate Elinor discovers that Toby disappeared under mysterious circumstances and that Kit may know what befell him.
This novel is absolutely convincing especially in its description of the Queen Mary Hospital for facial wounds where Kit is recovering. As in Regeneration Barker describes the physical and psychological impacts of the war with unflinching honesty. Pat Barker fans will be pleased to know that a third novel about these characters is due out later this year.


- Emma Paton

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz has a whole lot of “dopetude” (not a real word but very relevant to the book.) The search for homeland and ideally belonging drives this novel through its own migration and gives us a sense of hope in spite of all the obstacles that this family face. By using the bastardized slanguage of low socio-economic North American-Hispanic groups Diaz makes this novel particularly entertaining and reinforces an authenticity when relaying these characters’ experiences as written in their voice of home. Diaz also uses the contrast of voice between the narrator and the protagonist to draw out the subjectivity in the idea of home. The story interweaves the present with the past and incorporates Dominican folklore-ish elements that creates an almost mythic contemporary landscape. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will make you buzz out.


- Amber Esau

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Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carillo Arronte

Being a huge fan of Mexican food, I could not help but grab this off the shelf. Many examples of Mexican food in the western world are misrepresented as greasy and covered in cheese! This is not the case, and Carrillo Arronte has countless examples of incredibly fresh, spicy, not so spicy, and healthy dishes in her cookbook. There are many gorgeous meals to choose from, and one is tempted to pick a dish for every day of the week. Carrillo Arronte’s cookbook is beautifully presented with a bright, stencilled, eye catching cover. Mexico : The Cookbook is perfect as a gift for someone who loves fresh, creative and inspiring food, or to add to the collection at home!


- Charlotte Vodanovich

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A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I was dubious beginning this. A Death in the Family is volume one of a six part work about Knausgaard’s life. Recalled with an exceptional clarity and attention to the smallest detail, book one deals with his teenage years growing up in Norway and then jumps ahead to the death of his father from alcoholism. This is all described with the most brutal honesty, not only of his own feelings but of the situations he finds himself in.
This is a book that truly lives up to the hype and I say it is essential reading. At no stage does it get bogged down in the detail it is renowned for. Knausgaard is very gifted at keeping everything flowing as it lurches (slowly) from one recollection to the next. In describing his father’s death from alcoholism, and what could only be described as the horrifically disgusting state of the house he leaves behind, I never thought how satisfying it would be to read about someone’s detailed account of cleaning or even thought I would utter such a thing and this is what makes this book so special.
This is a truly gripping read; I’m already halfway through volume two and hanging out for the rest.


- Dan Mackay

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Girl in a Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon

A story about a band, about a girl in a band, about music in the 80's and 90's underground (and mainstream), about New York, about marriage and about the sad and ultimately unavoidable dissolution of a marriage.
Well written, knowledgeable and opinionated in the best of ways, Girl in a Band is a compelling and highly readable autobiography that should appeal to those who even have the slightest knowledge on Sonic Youth and even to those who don’t and just want a good rock and roll (ish) story.


- Dan Mackay

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Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Crooked Heart tells the story of Noel Bostock a boy with ears like the handles of an Etruscan vase and a vocabulary far too advanced for his age. He is an orphan and is orphaned again when his beloved godmother Mattie, an eccentric ex-suffragette, dies and leaves him completely alone. As the London blitz rages, Noel is evacuated and billeted with Vee, her mute mother and lazy son Donald. Vee has her eye on the main chance and soon recruits Noel as one half of a charity collecting act. They survive by scamming and scrounging meanwhile Vee’s mother writes copious letters to Winston Churchill and Donald tries to summon the will to do a day’s work.
This book made me laugh but I was misty eyed by the end of it. Noel’s dead pan humour and cutting assessments of the adults around him are a treat. Some readers have compared this book to Cold Comfort Farm and I Capture The Castle and I would agree.


- Emma Paton

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Undisputed Truth: My Autobiography by Mike Tyson & Larry Sloman

Undisputed Truth is described as a “no-holds-barred autobiography of a sporting legend driven to the brink of self-destruction”.
It is every bit this, and more. This book kept me riveted from the first page to the last. From his childhood in gangs to his early boxing career, the death of his mentor and how he dealt with his fame post winning his first Heavyweight title (let me give you a clue, it involves A LOT of money, women, booze, drugs and occasional violence).
It is not only a fascinating insight to a man who is very much still dealing with his demons but an insight into how our environment shapes us and how quickly things built on shaky foundations can fall apart.
Highly recommended reading even if you can’t stand the guy, boxing or sport in general.


- Dan Mackay

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The First Bad Man by Miranda July

The first novel from filmmaker and artist Miranda July, The First Bad Man is the entertaining and often heartbreaking story of Cheryl Glickman, a single, forty-something woman whose life has descended into a comfortable ritual having spent numerous years working from home for a women’s self defence company.
However, Cheryl’s idyllic routine is shattered when Clee, the twenty-year-old daughter of her co-workers moves in with her. While this may sound like the tried and true narrative of any number of stories in which a young woman abruptly changes the life of middle aged woman, initially for worse and then for better, I can assure you that it is anything but. The relationship between Cheryl and Clee is complex, fluid and primal yet it has a natural progression that veers it away from feeling unrealistic.
While this relationship is the central narrative force of the novel, what kept me picking it up again and again are the bizarre observations of Cheryl. Her hygiene policy in which she uses only single bowl and often eats straight from the pan in an effort to prevent a messy kitchen, something that Cheryl views as a catalyst for depressive squalor, her sidelong gazes at children to see if she shares a stronger bond with them then their mother. These things are undoubtedly insane yet in them we can identify the odd little internal quirks that we all have. Cheryl’s appeal as a protagonist is her utter truthfulness, a truthfulness that leaves no stone of her psyche unturned. Every little notion is laid bare as Cheryl’s contemplations compel readers to laugh on one page and then reflect on the brutal sincerity of the next. It is this quality, along with some brilliant characters that make The First Bad Man a uniquely memorable read.


- Chris Payne

RRP $35.00
UBS Price $31.50


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The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

‘The Buried Giant’ is one of those frustratingly brilliant books that leaves you wanting to finish it in one sitting and at the same time read it slowly so as to make it last forever. I’m taking the slow approach but fear I will soon succumb and finish the final few chapters in one sitting. Set in Britain during the dark ages, it’s a fable-like telling of Beatrice and Axl’s journey to visit their son in a neighbouring village as their own is engulfed by a ‘forgetting’ mist that is creeping through the countryside.
This is the best book I’ve (almost) read this year.


- Silia van de Graaf

RRP $36.99
UBS Price $33.29


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Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Learned by Lena Dunham

In all honesty, the first element that drew me to this book was its wonderful white and pink cover. I had never heard of the author, and I certainly have not watched her show “Girls” on HBO. Upon opening the book I found wonderful illustrations on the endpapers: difficult to describe, but a lot like a mosaic of various details that girls are sure to love (in the broadest sense of the stereotype) such as unicorns and teddy bears. There are also cute illustrations between paragraphs that are like the kinds of doodles you could imagine someone putting in their teen diary. Some pages have larger illustrations that add to the story being revealed in the section, or that seem to show in cartoon form how Lena was feeling at that point in her life – often to humorous and sympathetic effect. I promise you that I did in fact read what she wrote as well, but the illustrations do add a certain something to what she has to say!
At first I felt that I did not understand the book at all. Right from the get go I was absolutely thrown right into the life of this incredible woman with far more interesting stories to tell than any I could dream up! It was impossible at times for me to put this book down. This is especially so with her wonderful sense of humour and her opinions that gave me such an insight into how it might be to meet her in person. At times it is really as if you are with her while she is growing up, but with the addition of her reflecting on what it all might have meant in hindsight. We follow her through as she embarks on the journey of figuring out who she is and what she should be doing with her life – or rather what she thinks she should be doing with her life instead of what she is actually doing. We learn about her various fears and insecurities, and what the experience of being a woman has been like for her on her journey towards finding her voice as an actress and film director.
There are passages of this book that I found particularly poignant which still linger. For instance where she speaks about the nature of photographs as fixing in time something that will never be quite the same ever again, or that often reveal things which were not necessarily apparent to the people having their photo taken at the time. She also ponders how it is that people keep on going in spite of knowing that they will die one day. She thinks very deeply about things and yearns to express all of this somehow.
As a final note, I feel it necessary to say that this book need not only appeal to women just because I was attracted to its delightful pinkness. Anyone who can appreciate a story where someone is being so vulnerable and honest will surely be able to enjoy it.


- Jessie Westerlund

RRP $34.99
UBS Price $31.49


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Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie writes Sci-Fi in my favourite way. She builds a vast and incredibly detailed world, with everything figured out and ready to be explained, and then she launches into the story without explaining any of it to begin with. Only by going along with the story do you slowly figure out how things work and fit together and learn details about the setting.
This is very reminiscent of Iain M. Banks, who is my absolute favourite scifi author, so needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed Ancillary Justice. The main character is an AI (artificial intelligence) called Breq that was once in control of a gigantic spaceship and thousands of bodies (Ancillaries), but has now been reduced to just one human body and is out for revenge against those responsible. Awesome world-building, a unique main character and a fast-paced story all combine to make Ancillary Justice my favourite sci-fi novel for the last few years. The sequel, Ancillary Sword, is out now and third book is on the way.


- Jacob McTavish

RRP $27.99
UBS Price $25.19


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1984 by George Orwell

Winston Smith is the one through whom the world of Oceania is revealed to us. We follow him through each of his days as he goes about his work where he edits various documents in order to suit the needs of the Party. You will come to realise very quickly I am sure the ways in which this world is absolutely driven towards all kinds of efficiency – insofar as nothing is more important than keeping alive how ‘amazing’ and ‘wonderful’ Big Brother is. The impact of this story was not lost on me with a second reading. If anything, the more I read it the more I feel awful for Winston and those he encounters who want so desperately to be individuals in spite of the Party who are only concerned with their own needs.
This book reveals such beautiful and vulnerable humanity that the characters show in their own simple ways. All of this in spite of the Party who would happily have people going senile at around 30 if it meant that they could perpetuate their lies throughout the generations. The image of a precious object that Winston finds in an antique store might reveal my point best. This object is that of a tiny piece of coral that is encased inside a crystalline world of its own. It serves absolutely no purpose as far as being useful is concerned. It is, however, beautiful, and could be seen as quite a metaphor of the world that Winston can only dream of being lost in: a world where one can simply be as they are without any kind of telescreen, device or person spying on them for the sake of discerning and controlling their thoughts.
The constant and unchanging presence of Big Brother over Oceania is a stark contrast to the ways in which humans are ever growing, feeling and changing over time. The changes that people go through are seen to be entirely negative and meaningless. Everything that takes place must involve the Party maintaining absolute control over each person from their innermost being. The language of Newspeak has been adopted in order to limit the kinds of words and sentences that people are capable of expressing.
While I am sure that much of what I have written is very depressing indeed, I would also like to point out the way in which this book can make us very grateful for any freedom that we might have in order to think, feel, love and find meaning in our lives as individuals.


- Jessie Westerlund

RRP $26.00
UBS Price $23.40


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Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy by Ben Wilson

I usually avoid historical non-fiction titles because they always look boring to me. Ben Wilson has proved me wrong though, and he is able to turn what could be a very boring and dry subject into a fascinating one. In Empire of the Deep Ben Wilson charts the rise and fall of naval power in the British Isles from the time of the Anglo-Saxons to the modern day. He writes with a very descriptive style that makes the book really interesting and hard to put down. Also, the colour naval paintings throughout the book are amazing. I’d recommended this book if you’ve ever been interested in the Age of Sail, or if you need a present for someone who likes history.


- Jacob McTavish

RRP $29.99
UBS Price $26.99


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The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

This stunning little book is a must for Murakami fans. It contains a novella interspersed with images from the London Library’s archives, that enhance aspects of the story. The book is 88 pages long and the text takes up about half of this so it is a conversation between image and text. A boy goes to the library to research tax collection in the Ottoman Empire and is imprisoned by the librarian told he must memorize three specific books overnight. A mysterious sheepman with a tray of doughnuts appears as does a beautiful and helpful young woman. The story is simple and dreamy and the images perfectly chosen. Enjoy the hot pink cover complete with a library check-out card holder.


- Emma Paton

RRP $34.99
UBS Price $31.49


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Waterloo: The History of Four Days Three Armies and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell

Written to coincide with the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo this is a beautiful book with full colour maps and paintings that is sure to delight anyone with an interest in the defining battle of the 19th century. Written by Bernard Cornwell, this is accessible yet comprehensive pop history read drawing from numerous sources to chart the battle.


- Joseph Schlaadt

RRP $44.99
UBS Price $40.49


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H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

As the title so shrewdly suggests, this book is about a Hawk, more specifically the training (or manning) of a goshawk, Mabel.
It is also a book about grief, following the death of the author’s father whilst also serving as a fascinating insight/mini biography of noted author TH White, told in a parallel story of his attempted training of his own goshawk.
The writing is at times mesmerising (the author is a poet) as passages strike you and at times hit you square in the head (as the hawk does to the author at one stage). If you aren’t a fan of marking books then buy yourself a second copy as soon enough you’ll find yourself furiously underscoring passages.
Grief, as mentioned, plays a significant part in the book and much like Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life provides a poignant reminder of how tough it is and how people suffer in many different ways, it is genuinely touching and even when not specifically mentioned, lingers in the background.
You’ll probably learn more about falconry than you ever thought you’d know but it is so well written you’ll be fascinated by every bit of it, google imaging every piece of gear used and urging the author and hawk along through all the frustrations, failures and success. The tough bits tempered by the genuinely funny bits. You’ll learn a lot about hawks, in particular goshawks and come out in awe of a creature you may never have seen in the wild.


- Dan Mackay

RRP $39.99
UBS Price $35.99


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This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein

It’s an attention-grabbing book with an attention-grabbing title. And cover. And grabbing attention is what it’s all about. Because the contents of this book need and deserve attention.
Having already established herself with No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein is back and this time her sights are set on the global issue of climate change.
Filled with anecdotal accounts and quotes, facts and figures, footnotes, and a significant endnotes section, this book serves as an introduction to anything you might have missed in the last fifty years on the developing awareness that our actions as a species are significantly impacting the ecosystems of the planet that supports us – what has been, is being, and has yet to be done that damages it (and ourselves), and what people the world over are discovering they can do about it.
At times grim and depressing, it can make it hard to resist the urge to either laugh or weep at the folly of humankind, and a sense of fatalism can start to sink in in parts. But persist and you will find so much to inspire and uplift you, and to rekindle any faith in the human spirit you might have.
If you have never heard of Blockadia or the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, and / or you have a stake in the future of life on Earth, then this should serve as a good wakeup call to rouse you from any apathy that may discourage you from seeing a way out of the morass our kind has made for ourselves and our fellow living things.
It may surprise you and change your attitude towards certain things, as I know it did for me. It may even change your life, and the lives of us all, if enough of the right people notice and take heed of its messages. If I can offer one piece of advice to my species it is this – give this your attention!


- Jamie Higgins

RRP $37.00
UBS Price $33.30


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Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch

An old school cyberpunk crime novel. Fantastic in its execution and very gruesome with some interestingly realistic ideas about how technology will progress in the future and how it will affect our lives and crimes. Highly recommended for both fans of sci-fi and crime novels in general.


- Joseph Schlaadt

RRP $37.99
UBS Price $34.19


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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Dickens sets the scene for this story by showing Pip at the tombstones of his parents. There are five much smaller markers to show where his five younger brothers lie who "gave up trying to get a living exceedingly early in that universal struggle". It is here that Abel Magwitch first appears to Pip in a frightening and shackled form. He asks - or rather demands - Pip to bring him a file and some food to help him flee from his captors. Although terrified and shaken, Pip agrees to this and follows through. It is incredible to think what this simple act of kindness leads to later on.
We discover that Pip has been raised by his sister Mrs Joe Gargery 'by hand'. She is very demanding and tends to scold Pip frequently. Her husband Joe is the most loyal and endearing person you could ever hope to find. He is the source of great comfort and understanding for Pip through all his times of struggle. However, nothing here is black and white: Mrs Joe Gargery does care for Pip as best as she can, and Joe has his reasons for allowing his wife to be firm with him.
Pip yearns for a different life to the one that has been offered to him by being Joe's apprentice at the forge. This is especially so after he meets the wealthy Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella who makes fun of Pip's simple and common ways. The working out of opportunities and Pip's growing understanding and development along the way makes for interesting reading.
There is great care and consideration that Dickens takes to allow us to understand the characters. For example, Miss Havisham who looks and behaves as one for whom time has stopped, and Estella who has been molded into a kind of weapon to wound men's hearts. There is no detail in how a person speaks or moves that has not been carefully chosen to achieve a certain effect. Also, in spite of how bleak situations seem at times, there is a reassuring hand over the narrative that ensures no character has cause to seem entirely hopeless.
Pip's journey comes full circle in many ways, and he certainly ends up with a great understanding of what is most important in life. It is frustrating to have to finish the last sentence of this story. I wanted to know for certain how everything else would pan out. However, it is a mark of a great storyteller to leave the characters living in the minds of readers long after the book has been closed shut.


- Jessie Westerlund

RRP $12.99
UBS Price $11.69


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The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

After having read the blurb I must admit I wasn’t that fazed initially about reading this book so left it on shelf, it was chunky and seemed a bit overambitious in scope at the time. Somehow I decided I did actually want to read it, whether it was the glowing patterned cover (cover of the year) or the mass of reviews unanimously declaring its brilliance, I’m not sure, whatever the reason I’m mighty glad I did.
Set in what could easily be the not too distant future, it tells the story of Peter Leigh, an English Pastor, selected to travel to a distant planet, Oasis. His mission is to improve relations with and convert the alien inhabitants. Having to leave his wife, Bea, behind Peter must adjust not only to life on this new planet and the excitement of his mission, but also life away from his wife back on Earth where the economy is collapsing and the weather is causing massive disasters.
This book is a fascinating insight into, and I’d imagine nails, the missionary mindset. Religious belief is a central theme in this book and it is almost disconcerting to read such a desperate need to justify a God’s hand in the wake of such devastating happenings on Earth.
I don’t want to write too much more at the risk of giving too much away, all I can say is that this is a wonderful book. It is thought provoking and fascinating and in some respects does a far better job at stating the case for atheism than any book by Christopher Hitchens and his ilk.
I felt myself getting irrationally angry at the arrogance and ignorance of the main characters which I guess is all the more reason it is weird that I also felt it somewhat heartbreaking as they deal with what is thrown at them.
This book stayed with me for days and I guess you can’t ask for much more than that.


- Dan Mackay

RRP $35.00
UBS Price $31.50


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The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

This has got to be one of the most beautifully produced books of 2014. Every page is loaded with exquisite illustrations by Chris Riddell, even the page numbers are decorated. The dust jacket has fine line drawings with metallic ink but is transparent so you can see through to the image of the sleeping princess below. The content is just as wonderful as the form! In true Neil Gaiman style, the story is both dark and tender and peopled with some delightfully strange characters. This book really is a treat.


- Emma Paton

RRP $24.99
UBS Price $22.49


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Maze Runner: Book 1 by James Dashner

While I do absolutely adore the classics, this newish book absolutely sucked me in. I fell in love with the characters, and it was interesting to actually read a teenage book that had a whole bunch of guys in it and a girl who didn’t come in to it until halfway through – and the emphasis of the book isn’t on a romance between her and the other characters. I constantly wanted to know what would happen next and how and if they would solve the mystery of the maze. By the end of it I absolutely HATED the people who put them in there, and ended up feeling very upset when a beloved character got killed. I look forward to reading the next book shortly and I really hope the baddies get what’s coming for them! I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys those ‘coming of age’ stories with young people trying to find their way in a world that’s incredibly cruel and heartless. However, if you’re looking for a book focusing on teen romance this won’t be the one for you.


- Jessie Westerlund

RRP $19.00
UBS Price $17.10


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Lila by Marilynne Robinson

This is the third novel set in Marilynne Robinson’s fictional town of Gilead. It tells the story of Lila, John Ames’ wife, who is a mysterious figure in the earlier novels. Lila tells the story of her precarious pre-Gilead life. She suffers homelessness and poverty but experiences tenderness and protection from her adopted mother Doll. While squatting in a deserted shack in Gilead she meets Reverend Ames and slowly she begins to feel secure and soften. I would suggest that Lila is best read after Gilead and Home although it would certainly still be enjoyed on its own. Marilynne Robinson’s writing is quiet, measured and utterly beautiful. These books contain a kind of moral wisdom revealed in unexpected moments of kindness and forgiveness. One of my favourite Marilynne Robinson quotes is about community and imagination: "I would say, for the moment, that community, at least community larger than the immediate family, consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know or whom we know very slightly. This thesis may be influenced by the fact that I have spent literal years of my life lovingly absorbed in the thoughts and perceptions of—who knows it better than I?—people who do not exist. And, just as writers are engrossed in the making of them, readers are profoundly moved and also influenced by the nonexistent, that great clan whose numbers increase prodigiously with every publishing season. I think fiction may be, whatever else, an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification."


- Emma Paton

RRP $37.99
UBS Price $34.19


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Personal: Jack Reacher Book 19 by Lee Child

As a university student I try to limit my reading to times when I am free from assignments and other university related work, however when I saw Lee Child's latest instalment of the Jack Reacher series on the shelves of UBS my priorities quickly shifted. The Jack Reacher series never disappoints and an earlier book in the series was even made into movie staring Tom Cruise in 2012, bringing Jack Reacher to those who had previously not read the books.
Personal is another action packed novel in the series which follows Jack, as he attempts to track down a long-distance sniper taking aim at world leaders. Like all other books by Lee Child, this one was hard to put down. I enjoyed reading more of the inner thoughts of Jack, which we have not really seen in the previous books in the series. I recommend this book to anyone after an exciting crime novel worth procrastinating for.


- George Young

RRP $37.99
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To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

Despite the supposed comical nature of this book (and it is acerbically funny, don’t get me wrong) it deals with some pretty weighty thoughts and ideas. So much so that whilst initially sceptical about its Man Booker Prize listing I now find myself questioning its ‘black sheep’ of the shortlist status and whether or not it should actually be a favourite.
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour follows the story of one Paul C. O’Rourke, a dentist practising in New York and also a fairly staunch atheist.
What initially seems like a fairly run of the mill, cuttingly witty, middle aged white male life crisis type story, soon turns into an utterly absorbing rumination on faith, what it means to be Jewish and if we really need a god/the concept of god anymore. Oh, and add to this a few meanderings on the importance of flossing and caring for your teeth, what it must be like being a dentist, the Boston Red Sox and what it is about Baseball that some people find so enthralling.
In a case of stolen identity (or perhaps in this case borrowed) someone sets up a website for his dental practice and also creates both a Facebook page and Twitter feed in his name, starting a series of posts and tweets questioning god and the Jewish faith. Through this and his tracking down of the person impersonating him, O’Rourke is forced to question his beliefs, existence and relationships both past and present with those around him. I’m not sure if the author is even Jewish or an Atheist or what inspired him to write from the point of view of a dentist (which he does incredibly well), and I suppose I could just look at the author bio at the back of the book but for some reason I don’t want too as it’s just so damn good.
This book is riveting for many of the reasons it shouldn’t be (he’s a dentist! and middle aged white man undergoing a life crisis, it’s all been done before!)
I could not put this book down and at times was totally transfixed in reading it. What seems like a fairly run of the mill subject matter, that as I said has been well covered before, is written so very well and despite its wit really does make you think about faith a bit, about what it is to be Atheist, Jewish or both(!).
This really does deserve to be getting a much more elevated status on the Man Booker shortlist (and by the time this is up on the website the result may already be known), and I suspect many people are writing it off before having read it. I have not read a book this good in a long time and it is my pick for 2014. Hands down.


- Dan Mackay

RRP $30.00
UBS Price $27.00


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Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

The much awaited follow-up to Plenty arrived in store Monday, and Plenty More certainly delivers just that.
As with his previous book, the recipes in Plenty More are easy, innovative and superbly tasty. This time the book is divided by cooking styles – Tossed, Simmered, Blanched, Fried, Mashed etc. and Sweetened (for dessert).
Last night I made the ‘Celery Salad with Feta and Soft-Boiled Egg’ and it was amazing. Perfect for dinner in springtime.
Veges rule the world!


- Silia van de Graaf

RRP $69.99
UBS Price $62.99


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In Search of Lost Time Books 1-6 by Marcel Proust

I’m not even sure where to start with this mini review. How do you put pen to a work spread over seven volumes, 3500 pages and one million words, taking me ten months to read.
I don’t mean to brag but it is a fair achievement. You may have heard about Proust’s love of long, drifting sentences that detour, take a few figure eights, a couple of forward rolls and then back up the bus. Chapters that don’t end (there may be four or five in the whole book) and a plot that moves at a glacial pace at best. Actually, I’m not sure if there is even a plot to be honest.
So what’s in it for you, the reader, with a book that can take upwards of 200 pages to describe a simple dinner party? I’ve tried to describe it, and in turn put a lot of people off.
Quite simply if you are a fan of the slow reading revolution then this is the work for you. It is so long that it becomes like an old friend or your favourite pair of shoes and I took great pleasure and comfort in returning to it day after day.
You meet the narrator as a young child who stresses over a goodnight kiss from his mother and are taken on a journey through his life. It is quite fascinating looking back to the innocence of Volume One and comparing it to the world weary man narrating in Volume Seven. Throughout the book incredibly detailed glimpses of aristocratic life in the late 1800’s France, and in particular Paris, are intermingled with Proust’s quasi philosophical meanderings on love, art and memory.
Proust is a master at sketching out characters in an ever evolving and fairly large cast. The characters are complex, flawed and some downright ridiculous. Some you get to know incredibly (and almost too) well and others mere wallflowers. The interaction between the characters is so well written and often very humorous and is a particular highlight of the book.
I loved this, but realise it may not be for everyone. My recommendation is to read the first book and if you like it then just keep going!


- Dan Mackay

RRP $29.00
UBS Price $26.10


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House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

It takes a lot to make one haunted house story stand out from the rest, but the one at the heart of House of Leaves stands out from those that otherwise stand out. The further you delve into the labyrinthine pages of this book, the more the words take on a life of their own and leap off the page at you in unfamiliar ways.
And that is only one of the narratives nested within others. There are also the stories of a deceased academic and the young man who discovers him and his manuscript, a young man who has his own tragic tale to be revealed.
As a first novel, the work is breathtaking in its audacity and yet Danielewski pulls it off with aplomb, applying the techniques of film learned from his filmmaker father to the medium of prose - with results that really have to be seen to be believed.
This is a book I keep out on the shelf so that I can show people just what is possible to achieve visually in the printed format of a novel. But while that always surprises people, the whole story needs to be read to feel the full impact of this maze of words.


- Jamie Higgins

RRP $40.99
UBS Price $36.89


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How To Be Both by Ali Smith

I have always been a bit intimidated by Ali Smith’s novels and hadn’t read any until How To Be Both. More fool me for depriving myself of some undoubtedly wonderful books.
Her writing may be fiercely intelligent and experimental but this novel is warm and very funny.
There are two versions of this novel available. One starts with the contemporary story of George a teenage girl who is grieving for her mother and the other with Francesco del Cossa, a Renaissance fresco painter.
The stories intertwine at various points and this would probably become more apparent after a second reading. Both narratives are about the power of art and ambiguities of gender and sexuality. These ideas are explored with relish and great humour and several surprises are in store for the reader...


- Emma Paton

RRP $37.00
UBS Price $33.30


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Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

The island of Mancreu is dying. Decades of lax environmental protection has resulted in the island being almost uninhabitable, and the international community has simply decided that it is easier for them to re-home the people and cleanse the island then it is to fix the problem. Amidst all this an aging sergeant, sent to the island to end his army career in peace, befriends a young boy and attempts to navigate the significant changes brought about by living on an island that has been condemned.
Tigerman is one of those fantastic books that grabs you about halfway through and compels you to finish it as quickly as you can. The book is worth it for the world building alone, but Harkaway has also created a work that is genuinely moving and very entertaining without it crossing the line into the melodramatic. All in all this is a great read that embraces its entertaining and outlandish ideas and combines them with a dramatic plot, to make a book that is both fun and worthwhile.


- Joseph Schlaadt

RRP $36.99
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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

I was lucky enough to read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves without knowing the ‘twist’, and it was not what I expected at all – it was so much better.
Rosemary hasn’t seen her brother for 10 years, or her sister for 17. They both disappeared from her life when she was a child.
When her brother shows up out of the blue Rosemary decides to confront her family’s unusual past and tell her story for the first time.
Rosemary is immediately relatable, if not entirely likable, and though her story is heart-breaking it is told with humour and great honesty.
The narrative begins in the middle and goes back to the beginning (twice) and plays with the unreliability of the narrator’s memory as anecdotes and snippets of the past are revealed. The last third of the book had me staying up through the night as I hurtled toward the end which is equal parts devastating and hopeful.
Without giving too much way this is a novel that will make you think, and leave you wondering what it is to be human and how we define family.


- Tammy Harrison

RRP $28.99
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The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) by Henri Alain-Fournier

It takes something very special for me to be roped in to writing up a staff pick so hopefully I can do this justice!
This is, quite simply, an incredible piece of writing. Le Grand Meaulnes is at once dreamlike and evocative of a bygone world.
Set sometime in 18th century France and narrated by Francois Seurel, the son of the local headmaster. The story begins when Seurel’s father takes in a new boy, Augustin Meaulnes. Meaulnes is fearless, brash and looked up to by the other boys, who bestow on him the title ‘le grand’. He and Francois quickly become close friends, sharing many an adventure together. After one wayward adventure alone Meaulnes becomes lost and after wandering around the forest in search of his lost horse, stumbles upon a rundown chateau where a bizarre wedding party has assembled, its guests, children and adults alike, dressed in lavish historical costume. It is here he meets a mysterious girl and falls in love. After the festivities end somewhat abruptly, Meaulnes is given a lift back to his village and once back can’t piece together what he has seen or where he has been. Finding the house and the girl becomes his obsession and it is this obsession and its consequences that last into adulthood.
Le Grand Meaulnes is a tale on lost childhood, an adventure story, treasure hunt and an elegy to lost love and a fairytale like fantasy. It is quite easily one of the best books I have had the pleasure of reading and will be kept close by to be read and re-read.


- Dan MacKay

RRP $13.99
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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

I enjoyed Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage immensely. Not only is the book beautifully designed – under the dust jacket is a stunning clothbound cover – it contains a set of story-related stickers!
There are train station stickers, piano, music and food stickers and others that fans might come to expect from a Murakami novel.
The story is melancholy and gently humorous and I would agree with others who have compared it to Norweigian Wood and Kafka on the Shore. Tsukuru’s trip to Finland was one of my favourite episodes.
Read it, dig out some Lizst records, grind some coffee and enjoy the stickers!


- Emma Paton

RRP $45.00
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Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Piketty

If you’re only going to read one 600 page economic treatise this year, make it Capital in the 21st Century. Thomas Piketty has assembled a vast hoard of data sets to conquer a battalion of myths, chief among them being that capitalism tends towards equality. He has achieved this conquest with in a manner and style that welcomes readers of all background. Not only is it an excellent introduction to the whole field of modern economic history, but this book will alert you to and give you an understanding of the major issues that will likely come to define our generation. A must read for anyone interested in the world.


- Oliver Patterson

RRP $69.95
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Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers

An Astronaut wakes up in an abandoned army barracks having been brought there by a deranged young man with some questions he wants answered about society, the space program, and police brutality. What follows is one of the most engaging works about the end of the American dream, and how it has affected those who truly believed. Eggers starts the book off as a somewhat quirky and slightly funny read, but soon starts asking difficult and disturbing questions. While many authors would make this book feel preachy Eggers successfully manages to avoid this by undercutting his characters points, and not offering any solutions. While this lack of direction could be frustrating, in this case it helps to add to the sense of alienation and hopelessness clearly felt by the main character, and gives the characters a sense of realism by making them seem more rounded. Finally this book is written in an all speech format meaning that the novel feels highly reminiscent of reading an interrogation. This technique works wonderfully, and Eggers must be commended for trying something that few other authors would dare to attempt.


- Joseph Schlaadt

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David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

This is a story of much heartache, wondrous joys and fancies that David comes to experience as he journeys through the chapters of his life. We follow David right through from just before his birth and into the time when he has grown to something of man’s estate.
Dickens’ cinematic and intimate storytelling draws you right in alongside David. It is as though you could smell the salty sea air at Yarmouth, or making the weary, barefooted journey to Dover through mud and rain. Also, his descriptions of poignant events are able to do in one sentence what would take a film several minutes or more to achieve.
His compassion for his characters can be clearly seen in the loving hand with which they are revealed. Yet no character – although Agnes may be an exception – is made out to be perfect. Somehow the quirks and idiosyncrasies just make David’s friends all the more relatable and enjoyable. For example, Traddles’ hair that never lies flat; Betsey Trotwood’s violent loathing of any donkeys passing over her land; and Mr Micawber’s love of letter writing (read it and you’ll see what I mean!).
There is also a beautiful and affecting honesty with which the impact and weight of grief is examined. There is no censoring of emotion, or call for a ‘quick fix’, but an acceptance of the many and varied ways in which people deal with all manner of loss: loved ones, hopes, dreams and the wonder of what might have been ‘if only’.
It is plain to see why it is that this story was described by Dickens as a ‘favourite child’ given the seasons of life that fill its pages. It loses none of its interest right to the very last sentence, for just as in life, there can be surprising consequences resulting from a single letter or conversation.


- Jessie Westerlund

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Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The best recommendation that I can give this book is that I have read it twice – it is that good. Set mostly on the Western Front of World War I, Birdsong has it all – edge of the seat suspense as soldiers tunnel under enemy trenches, a passionate love affair, tremendous writing. OK – the device of having the modern day woman recalling her grandfather was a distraction, but this is one of those rare reads that you rue having to stop reading – and look forward to getting back into.


- John Taylor

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Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1 by George RR Martin

If you are one of the very few people that has not read A Song of Ice and Fire, or seen Game of Thrones, I strongly recommend that you start reading this book. A Game of Thrones is not your average, generic fantasy. Although there are dragons and magic, they are mentioned in passing and the main focus is on the twisted and toxic politics of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the characters who play ‘the game of thrones’. The story is told from the viewpoint of a different character every chapter, and no-one is completely good or evil. Instead there are a million different shades of grey, and you will be staying up very late to find out what happens next. A Game of Thrones is the beginning of one of the best fantasy series at the moment and you don’t have to be a fantasy buff to get into it. Also, if you have seen the TV series, start reading the books and you will love all the extra the depth and back story that they can’t fit into the show.


- Jacob McTavish

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Essays by George Orwell

If somebody tells you they are interested in politics, literature and history, and they admit, when you ask them, that they haven't read many or any of George Orwell's essays, you have a social duty to give them directions to the nearest bookshop, with instructions to buy this cheap paperback collection of his work. In a world filled with uncertainty, Orwell told the truth. His fearless devotion to exposing false ideas and “facing unpleasant facts” made his writing stand out from the crowd of 20th century intellectuals like a tall man wearing a fluorescent top hat during a funeral service. Great literature is timeless, and Orwell’s work, though fascinating for its place in history, remains strikingly relevant today because of the clarity and power of his ideas. The frankness of his writing, the honesty with which he relays his responses to art and the events of his lifetime, is incredibly enjoyable to read, partly because it gives you the singular feeling that he is speaking directly to you, and partly because it inspires you to apply a higher standard of critical thinking in your own life.


- Oliver Patterson

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The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

This novel is set in an apartment block in Delaware inhabited by immigrants from the Spanish speaking world. At the heart of the novel is a love story between teenagers Maribel Rivera, who has suffered a head injury and has come to the U.S to undergo rehabilitation, and Mayor Toro who lives in the same block. The Rivera’s struggle to get to the US and their first few days there are particularly poignant but there are moments of grim humour as well. Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view and I found some of these vignettes to be the most powerful parts of the book. Cristina Henriquez’s prose is honest and unsentimental which makes the end of the book all the more affecting.


- Emma Paton

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Fobbit by David Abrams

Chance Gooding Jr is a public relations sergeant stationed on FOB Triumph and despite having been in Iraq for over six months he has never set foot outside the base, he is the very definition of a Fobbit. David Abrams has turned his experiences as an army journalist into a book that is both very funny and does a wonderful job of showing what life is like on a FOB. One frequently gets the impression that much of what he writes is merely a fictionalised version of his own experiences, and that many of his characters are simply thinly veiled versions of people that he had to deal with.

This book is well worth reading for anyone who appreciated MASH or Catch 22 and wants to see the same treatment applied to the Iraq War.


- Joseph Schlaadt

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Set in Iceland in 1829 Burial Rites is based on a true story of murder and ‘justice’.

Agnes Magnusdottir, condemned to death for her role in the homicide of two men, is sent to stay with the Jonsson family on a remote farm until her execution date arrives. Agnes’ story unravels as the Icelandic winter closes in. From her illegitimate birth, through the hard lonely years of her youth, and finally to the events of the fateful night that left two men dead.

Burial Rites is a vivid, beautifully written, and exquisitely researched debut by Hannah Kent.

Short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

- Tammy Harrison

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Catastrophe : Europe Goes to War 1914 by Max Hastings

A cast of millions, complex alliances, historical animosities going back years, nineteenth century battle tactics pitted against the mass destructive forces of highly industrialised nations, and yet all this is made very understandable readable by Max Hastings. The life of the ordinary civilian and soldiers is also brought to life and not lost in the sweep of history that Hastings traverses. A great read.

- John Taylor

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Girl in the Moon Circle by Sia Figiel

This story takes place in the Samoan village of Malaefou. The narration centres on the perspective of 10 year old Samoana. Songs, a homework assignment, and love letters to a boy called Iona can be found in her story. Different elements are woven to make up the whole of the story, not dissimilarly to the way in which different threads are woven together to form a fine Samoan mat. There is a wonderful universal nature to this story in spite of its specific location in Malaefou. Anyone who is going through or has gone through their adolescence can appreciate the kinds of struggles and simple joys that Samoana and her friends experience as they navigate their lives. As a renowned performance poet, Sia Figiel has formed this story such that it can be enjoyed equally through reading aloud or silently. Also, her great sense of humour shines through in the way that Samoana speaks about events that have happened. I strongly encourage you to find her performances of sections such as “Love letters to Iona” online because they bring her story to life even further. I am careful not to reveal plot details so that surprises are not ruined, but I can assure you that this book would not disappoint you with its threads that reveal the secret joys and thunders of this 10 year old girl’s life.

- Jessie Westerlund

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Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin

This book is cool before you even open its pages. A classic of French New Wave literature in a hot pink cover with an introduction by Patti Smith. Astragal is a semi-autobiographical novel written in prison by Albertine Sarrazin and published just two years before her death aged 29. After shattering her ankle during her prison escape, Anne is picked up at the side of the road by Julien, fellow criminal and fugitive who moves her to series of safe-houses while her ankle heals. Damaged by their pasts, Anne and Julien fall in love, of a sort. Eventually ending up in Paris, Julien is increasingly absent, Anne, feeling trapped and confined, returns to the streets to earn money to survive. Eventually reunited, they plan a final escape with devastating consequences.

Astragal is a fantastic book, rebellious and intense and just a little messed up.

- Silia van de Graaf

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Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

In a world at war, sanity and survival both are at stake.

Set in World War 2, this is the novel that coined the titular expression. So what's the catch? Only a crazy man would want to fly the missions Yossarian and his comrades keep getting given. A sane man would try to get out of doing so. But you could only be grounded if you were crazy. As soon as you asked for such, however, you would prove yourself mentally sound, and therefore fit for duty. A sweeping satire that has maintained its place on lists of greatest novels, Catch 22 questions and reveals the absurdities inherent in bureaucracy, war, capitalism, justice, language, faith, heroism and sanity. Its themes are as relevant and timely in today's world as in the mid 20th century context it emerged from. It is also one of the (if not the most) funniest books I have ever read. Populated with bizarre individuals, the world of this novel juxtaposes the ludicrous and the tragic in an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

- Jamie Higgins

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The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House takes you back to the 18th Century in Virginia into life on plantations. Grissom gives us an insight into the immense struggles that workers on these plantations experienced and the heroism with which they overcame them. Grissom covers themes on black slavery, taking you into a world where you can’t help but be swept into. The reader grows to love the family of workers keeping the plantation together, and caring for the wealthy plantation owners to a level which seems unworthy of them. The Kitchen House is a harrowing read at times, as the abhorrent treatment of the workers hits home, and one can’t ignore the fact that such treatment took place. The book is mainly from the workers’ perspective, and all experiences of happiness, excitement, pain and suffering are shared by the reader. I would highly recommend this book to all readers (being mainly a fantasy book reader myself), as it is definitely hard to put down, and really gives one a deep insight into the world of the 18th Century plantation.

- Charlotte Vodanovich

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O My America by Sara Wheeler

I’m a fan of Isabella Bird’s A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains so was excited to stumble across O My America : Second Acts in a New World by Sara Wheeler. This book retraces the steps of six early women travellers who left England for the American frontier in order to reinvent themselves. The six include Anthony Trollope’s mother Fanny Trollope, actress Fanny Kemble and Jane Austen’s niece Catherine Hubback. Most were deeply troubled by slavery and Fanny Kemble protested it fiercely in spite of marrying one of the wealthiest plantation owners in the South. Rebecca Burlend’s experience of homesteading in Wyoming shows the sheer hard work it took for a family to survive. She and her husband were duped by charlatans and thieves, the kind of characters you would expect in any good Western. I especially enjoyed Isabella Bird’s story. Sara Wheeler writes: At home Isabella was an invalid, often too frail to hold her head up without a steel support. Yet in Colorado, already middle-aged, she talked about the ‘up-to-anything free-legged air’, signed her letters to her sister ‘your frugiferous bat’, and fell in love with Rocky Mountain Jim, a one-eyed desperado with a whiskey habit’. If eccentric lady travellers are your cup of tea, do give O My America a try, it’s a fine read.

- Emma Paton

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Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

I do not read much non-fiction, but Fast Food Nation has converted me. Eric Schlosser tells the story of the American food (and food production) industry in one of the most well-written books I have read in a long time. Combining history, interviews and narrative, Schlosser investigates how the fast food industry has fundamentally changed how Americans eat and purchase food. Fast Food Nation has a lot of research behind it, but Schlosser’s writing style makes it incredibly enjoyable and easy to read. The chapter about the meatpacking industry is particularly interesting (and disgusting). If you have ever eaten fast food and wondered what goes into it, you should give Fast Food Nation a go.

- Jacob McTavish

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One Summer by Bill Bryson

The summer of 1927 represented a golden age for America, innovation was rife and the stock market was yet to crash, as such, much was achieved during these four months. In One Summer Bill Bryson turns his trademark wit to this golden summer as he tells both the major events such as the Limburg flight and the small oddities like flag pole sitting. Where Bryson particularly excels in this book is that while he is very much telling an American story, he never makes it feel overly focused on the United States. Because of this inclusivity this book can be easily read by those without an interest in American history or indeed history in general. Where the book fell apart for me personally was its section devoted to baseball. However, in spite of my disinterest Bryson is a good enough writer and these sections and are interspersed with enough interesting facts about stadiums and hotdogs that they never seem to drag. All in all this is a fascinating read and one that I managed to finish in less then two days due to its entertainment value, and have recommended to countless friends since.

- Joseph Schlaadt

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The Gospel Of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

Joanne Harris, the best-selling author of Chocolat, has taken a change of direction to delve into the fantastical world of the Norse gods. The Gospel of Loki is an adult fairytale told in a witty, cheeky style with Loki as your (not so) humble narrator. How do you tame wild-fire? The answer, of course, is that you don't. This is the story of Loki: his initial recruitment from Chaos; his tricky, twisted dealings with dwarves, elves, and gods; and the final path to Ragnorak and the destruction of everything. Those with more than a passing knowledge of Norse mythology will recognise the tales told within but they are presented with an irreverent, new perspective. However, if your only experience with Loki et al is a super hero movie, or two, you won't be lost and will enjoy this book just as much as Viking fanatics - there is even a helpful cast list which is sure to raise a laugh. The Gospel of Loki is a jauntily paced, roller-coaster of a novel - filled with educational gems such as: 'Basically, never trust anyone' - Lokabrenna. This book is definitely well worth your time. Thoroughly entertaining.

- Tammy Harrison

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Walking Home by Simon Armitage

This is the story of a trek through the Pennines (where I have no desire to go) written by a poet I’ve never read. Yet this is such a droll, interesting and likeable read that I found it captivating.

- John Taylor

In summer 2010 Simon Armitage decided to walk the Pennine Way. The challenging 256-mile route is usually approached from south to north, from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm, the other side of the Scottish border. He resolved to tackle it the other way round: through beautiful and bleak terrain, across lonely fells and into the howling wind, he would be walking home, towards the Yorkshire village where he was born. Travelling as a 'modern troubadour' without a penny in his pocket, he stopped along the way to give poetry readings in village halls, churches, pubs and living rooms. His audiences varied from the passionate to the indifferent, and his readings were accompanied by the clacking of pool balls, the drumming of rain and the bleating of sheep. Walking Home describes this extraordinary, yet ordinary, journey. It's a story about Britain's remote and overlooked interior - the wildness of its landscape and the generosity of the locals who sustained him on his journey. It's about facing emotional and physical challenges, and sometimes overcoming them. It's nature writing, but with people at its heart. Contemplative, moving and droll, it is a unique narrative from one of our most beloved writers.

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God’s Dog by Diego Marani

God’s Dog is the story of Domingo Salazar, an inspector for the Papal police force, whose job it is to enforce the will of the Pope in a future Italy run by the Catholic Church. In a tale of striking plausibility, Salazar goes after an abortionist doctor who is also linked to a terrorist plot against the Vatican. The hunter eventually becomes the hunted, and Salazar discovers he is himself under investigation by his own theocratic employers. This is a very enjoyable plot indeed, but it’s the style of the book that is it’s real source of excellence. Diego Marani is an author with an incredible talent for freshness and clarity. Every scene of God’s Dog feels totally, artfully real, and as a result, the experience of reading the book is immersive, gritty, and yet also pretty sublime. In his latest offering to the world of literature, we get another slim novel with a depth and density to it that demands a slow and lavish reading, and once you’ve read it, you’ll want to take the time to flick back through the book and relish certain passages and phrases again and again.

- Oliver Patterson

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American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Billed as an American tragedy and it certainly lives up to it. A challenging read that will reward those who persist with it. A fiction within a fiction that explores the depths of human nature, be it real or imagined.

- Daniel Mackay

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NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

Joe Hill's third novel starts with young Vic McQueen hopping on her Raleigh Tuff Burner bicycle to travel the "Shorter Way Bridge" where she can locate missing items, whether it's downtown or clear across the country-all within seconds of crossing a bridge that was thought to be destroyed. One other person shares a similar gift in which he uses his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the license plate NOS4R2 to travel on unmapped highways to abduct children and take them to a place where it's always Christmas morning. One day to spite her mother, Vic uses her secret pathway to run away from home. She quickly finds herself in serial killer Charles Talent Manx's Sleigh House where she is taunted by children who reveal rows of sharpened teeth and who are tirelessly devoted to Manx and will do anything he asks, including attack her. She narrowly escapes and after a fiery debacle Manx is imprisoned. Flash forward a decade or so when Vic is a mother and children's book illustrator still coping with the haunted memories of her encounter with Manx. Meanwhile, Manx is rumored to have woken up after years in a coma and has enlisted Binx, a former chemical plant worker convinced that Christmasland is a wondrous place with beautifully wrapped presents, never-ending caroling and glittering ornaments, to supply gingerbread-flavored sevoflurane to abduct children again. One child is at the top of Manx's Christmas list. Vic must re-discover the "Shorter Way Bridge" to locate Christmasland to save her son Wayne from disappearing into Manx's magical winter façade of peppermint candy canes and overfilled stockings. Hill crafts a haunting world with characters driven by fear and regret, telling a chilling tale of misguided imagination and fantasy. Gritty, engaging and peppered with quote-worthy passages, Hill proves to hold his own when it comes to strong characterization and masterful suspense writing. Despite a few sneaky references to Stephen King's fictional town of Derry, Maine and Shawshank Prison, Hill has not simply followed in his father's footsteps, but has undoubtedly developed his own voice as a prominent American horror writer. Keep an eye on him; he's a King after all.

- Jamie Stubblefield

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Some Japanese Flowers by Kazumasa Ogawa

Some Japanese Flowers is a small but beautiful book representing the collection of Kazumasa Ogawa’s photographs in the J. Paul Getty Museum. Ogawa (1868-1912) was an important early Japanese photographer who opened his own photographic studio at seventeen years old. This book features his hand-coloured collotype prints of native Japanese flowers such as the lotus and morning glory. These images show a great delicacy of technique and love of colour. The book is bound in the traditional Japanese style with a stitched spine and is quite irresistible!

- Emma Paton

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Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

A beautifully presented re-print of a classic Terry Pratchett novel! This fantasy spectacular is a rollicking romp through the Discworld. Heir to the throne of Djelibeybi - a fantastical Discworld kingdom based on ancient Egyptian culture - Pteppic travels to the great city of Ankh-Morpork with the dream of becoming an assassin. After his graduation, he must return to his kingdom and take up his rightful position (where his newly acquired skills come in curiously handy) - with consequences which are both exciting and hilarious! It is a must for fantasy fans, Terry Pratchett fanatics and Egyptomaniacs alike (watch out for those Egyptian mythological in-jokes!) This new, special edition cover is highly desirable and collectable and would grace any bookshelf. My copy is on order as we speak…



- Elizabeth Eltze

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The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

Eleanor Catton may have launched into the greater public eye with The Luminaries, but her debut novel, The Rehearsal is equally wonderful, if in completely different ways. It is the story of Isolde, and of Stanley, of teenage sex scandals and of drama school productions touching too close to home. The book proves that Catton’s way with words is not a newly honed skill – The Rehearsal is exquisitely written, constructed in a non-linear (but still forward-moving) fashion, bringing traits of complication and perception to characters of ages that are often left to simple narratives and basic ‘teen’ traits. There is drama, death and a lot of saxophones. To compare this with The Luminaries is a bit of an apples and oranges situation – both are wonderful, but they are entirely different. In my opinion, though, The Rehearsal is one of the best contemporary fiction novels to have been released in recent years, and deserving of the various accolades (Best First Book Montana Book Awards, the Adam Prize for Creative Writing, the Betty Trask Award) that it received. Full of layers to uncover, it’s a book that’s not only thoroughly readable but worth rereading too, which is often a hallmark of an excellent book. Buy it, read it, love it.


- Briar Lawry

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The Lost Carving : A Journey To The Heart of Making by David Esterly

The Lost Carving is my non-fiction pick of 2013. I have bought it as a gift for several friends and recommended it to many others especially those who have enjoyed Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.
This book tells the story of David Esterly’s year spent at Hampton Court Palace restoring a fire damaged Grinling Gibbons carving. As a young man he was struck by the extravagant beauty of Grinling Gibbons’ carvings and gave up an academic career to research and ultimately revive Gibbons’ elaborate technique. Esterly, an American, became one the foremost practitioners of Grinling Gibbons’ craft and was invited to participate in the restoration work much to the horror of many of his English counterparts. His love of wood carving and sense of vocation informs every part of the book. He discusses his careful choice of tools and their maintenance as well as the partnership of hands and brain. Grinling Gibbons is never far from his mind as he seeks to understand and recreate parts of these well-loved carvings. Esterly is humble about his achievements - not only is he a consummate carver, he writes as well as the best memoirists and I suspect this book will become a classic.

One of my favourite quotes from The Lost Carving calls attention to the difference between assiduousness and perfectionism:

‘Because carvers revere the god of unseen effort, of hidden work, of the backs of things. The god of assiduousness, reigning over obsessives and perfectionists…. If you’re looking for glamour, you’ve come to the wrong place, but it’s where you’ll find two old carvers whose serenity seemed to flower out of a lifetime of scrupulous work.’


- Emma Paton

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The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by first time Novelist Gavin Extence, is a clever and thought-provoking take on a coming-of-age story that begins where it ends-with 17-year-old Alex Woods parked at customs with a bag full of marijuana and an urn of Mr. Peterson's ashes beside him in the passenger seat. Written in the first person retrospective narrative similar to the iconic writing style of Kurt Vonnegut, whose works play a prominent role in the novel, the story unravels the makings of unexpected and beautiful collisions. Alex Woods, an introspective, logical and opinionated teenager prone to epileptic seizures-as a result of being hit by a meteorite at age ten - befriends the grumbling widowed Vietnam veteran, Mr. Peterson. We are exposed to Alex's unique perspective by exploring his relationship with the world and people around him, including his mother, a Tarot cards spiritualist and shop owner, thick-skinned schoolmate Ellie who works in the shop, his neurologist Dr. Enderby, a helpful pen-pal and physicist Dr. Weir, a group of unrelenting bullies at school and strangers who recognize him for being the second person ever to be struck by a meteorite. Extence provides a superb illustration of carefully crafted characters that are flawed and forgivable. With a balance of humorous incidents revealing Alex's naivety and sensitivity, and poignant passages delving into neurological terminology, laws of astrophysics and existential observations on free will, morality, death and euthanasia, it's truly an inspiring read.

- Jamie Stubblefield

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Ender's Game : Ender Wiggin Saga Book 1 by Orson Scott Card

When I heard they had decided to adapt Ender's Game into a film, I felt both excited and deeply uneasy. Ever since I'd read the book in my childhood I'd wanted to see the zero-gravity war games, the space-battle simulators and the myriad other science fiction creations of Orson Scott Card brought to the big screen. In my mind they were astounding, and seeing them in movie form would be one step of the imagination closer to actually being at Battle School myself. But what I knew the movie probably wouldn't be able to capture was the beautiful complexity and great depth of the relationships between Ender and the other child characters. For me, that was what made this book stand out, and as much as I can't wait to see how the movie sets and effects match my own impression of Ender's world, there is always the risk that the movie characters will replace in my head the great characters of the book, and that would be a minor tragedy. This book is one of the ones I some times answer the favourite book question with, and I really couldn't recommend it enough to those who have yet to read it. It's also the first in a series! Hooray! As a side note, this book has an extra philosophical dimension to it because the author is famously a bit of a horrid person. How can someone so repulsive create something so beautiful? An interesting question to ponder over the summer break.

- Oliver Patterson

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We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo was one of four female finalists for the Man Booker Prize this year, and her story of Darling is a wonderfully written example of a tale that has been cropping up in literature in recent years – trying to live ‘the American Dream’, or equivalent, the migration from third world to first, and the less than savoury experience when reality sets in, and life isn’t all celebrities and gadgetry. From the shanties of Zimbabwe (consistently referred to as ‘our country’ rather than by name) to Detroit, Michigan (or Destroyedmichygen, as Darling’s contemporaries would have you believe, talking about America while they steal guavas in so-called ‘Paradise’ and play games of their own creation like ‘Find bin Laden’). Bulawayo lets Darling’s language evolve through the novel, as Western influence becomes more and more present in her life – but even through her years in Detroit and later Kalamazoo, we don’t entirely lose the semi-wild child that the book opens with – through to the end, you can be sure that anything bad is going to be ‘kaka’. Definitely worth checking out.

- Briar Lawry

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Story of the Jews : Finding the Words 1000BCE - 1492CE by Simon Schama

I’ve never read a book by Simon Schama before and having come into this with a very rudimentary knowledge of Jewish history and Middle Eastern geography I have to admit I found this very dense to begin with, often finding myself lost and adrift with peoples and places that no longer exist. And whilst I did find the first third of this book at times convoluted and very challenging, it soon settles into a more flowing and focused narrative revealing a culture with a most rich and fascinating history.
Schama describes a culture that, historically viewed through the eyes of many as one apart, has in fact grown more alongside other cultures. Even though many of these cultures have at best put up with their neighbours and have therefore been very quick to shift the blame and turn on them when things aren’t going well. Along the way Schama sorts out some common misconceptions as well as expanding on some lesser known points in Jewish history and whilst myth and faith are perhaps unavoidable on this subject, Schama is able to maintain an objective approach and provide a history based on fact and what seems a mountain of recovered parchment and inscribed pottery pieces.
This is the first of a projected two volumes and covers Jewish history through to 1492 CE; I for one cannot wait for the next volume.

- Daniel Mackay

RRP $39.99
UBS Price $35.99


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Eyrie by Tim Winton

I’ve been looking forward to Tim Winton’s new novel for several months and am happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint. His previous novel Breath (2008) was a powerfully melancholy story of two teenage surfers, their friendship and the lure of the sea. Eyrie is also underpinned by a sense of loss and nostalgia although the central character has a wonderfully mordant sense of humour. Winton’s best characters are usually damaged or in crisis and Tom Keely is no exception. He lives on the tenth floor of a seedy Fremantle apartment block hence the title Eyrie.
Living in determined isolation, Keely drinks too much and self-medicates his insomnia and panic attacks. We know that he is in crisis due to divorce and a humiliating and abrupt end to his career as an environmental journalist but few details are given. One day he ventures outside and discovers that Gemma, an old childhood friend and her unusual grandson Kai also live in the building. Their circumstances are precarious and Kai especially vulnerable so Tom is drawn to help them in spite of his fiercely guarded solitude. What ensues is a gut-wrenching ride through the criminal underbelly of Fremantle as Tom tries to protect Kai and Gemma and rehabilitate himself.
Winton writes these characters with great tenderness and much of the dialogue, although spare and vernacular, is very affecting. The story builds to a thrilling crescendo – I won’t say any more than this….


- Emma Paton

RRP $55.00
UBS Price $49.50


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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

You could almost review The Ocean at the End of the Lane by just saying ‘It’s by Neil Gaiman’, and that would be reason enough to send people out in hordes buying it - he’s been called a literary rockstar for a reason. But if you’ve had less exposure to Gaiman and/or have mixed opinions on his earlier works, The Ocean at the End of the Lane may be enough to convert you. More of a novella than a fully fledged novel, at only 55000-ish words, it is pure old-school Gaiman – whimsical, yet spooky, fantastical yet accessible. It’s not too much of a commitment length-wise, but you’ll be left wanting more, without doubt.
The story is one of disconnect between childhood and adult life, and the mistiness of memories from earlier times. Like most of Gaiman’s tales, here, the fantastical lives just out of reach of the average person, but a world of unexpected magical and oftentimes dark things lurk for the protagonist to find. Like the ‘Other Mother’ and her deliciously creepy world in Coraline, the ghosts dwelling in cemetaries of The Graveyard Book or the land of Faerie just beyond the village of Wall in Stardust, the ordinary and the extraordinary sometimes overlap, and that is where the story lies. Thoroughly recommended for everyone – whether you’re normally a fantasy fan or not, each and every person who reads it seems to agree that this is a wonderful book – and probably the perfect launching pad into the world of Neil Gaiman.

- Briar Lawry

RRP $36.99
UBS Price $33.29


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MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

Whenever I am asked who my favourite author is, after much hedging and umm-ing and ahh-ing, I tend to settle on Margaret Atwood. Casting favourites always seems like an impossible (and sometimes ill-advised) call for a bookseller to make, but it’s hard to go past Atwood, and her formidable back-catalogue. More than half a century after the 1961 release of her first publication, the poetry collection Double Persephone, she continues to uphold her position as one of today’s foremost writers. Not limited by the bounds of genre, she has published books across the board, from poetry and short stories to non-fiction essay collections, children’s books to ‘conventional’ literary novels – and most relevant to the book at hand, speculative fiction. Her latest release, Maddaddam, the concluding book to the eponymous trilogy (following Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood), is the absolute tour de force one has come to expect from Atwood. Despite the fact that it is set after the events of the first two books (which ran in parallel, rather than one after the other), Maddaddam still successfully manages stand by itself.

The things that made Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood so brilliant remain intact in Maddaddam. Atwood has an uncanny knack of combining the theoretical with current issues, making everything seem uncomfortably familiar and worse – all terrifyingly feasible. Part of her differentiating between science fiction and the previously mentioned Atwood-specific brand of speculative fiction is her adherence to technologies that either exist, are in the process of being developed, or are known to be possible to create, should technological evolution continue as it is. There are no aliens, no warp speed drives in her dystopic vision, just genetic engineering taken to an apocalyptic conclusion, and the deterioration of society as a result. We also get the gift of exquisite story telling and character development, something that all too often is abandoned in pursuit of overarching plot in typical fantasy and sci-fi novels.

Overall, it is a fabulous piece of storytelling and a satisfying conclusion to a trilogy that has taken a decade to reach completion. For best results, supplement with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, but if you’re after a one-off technologically up-to-date (a lot has changed in our world since 2003, when Oryx and Crake was released!) dystopic read written by a storyteller of incomparable literary prowess, get your hands on a copy of Maddaddam now.

- Briar Lawry

RRP $39.99
UBS Price $35.99


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Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Mortality is a poignant collection of essays and notes by the late Christopher Hitchens on the subject of terminal cancer, and more generally, on the subject of dying. These are subjects that became central to his life following his diagnosis with terminal cancer in 2010, and continued to command his literary attention until his death the following year. Those who know the author will be unsurprised to read as he reaffirms his moral principles and his passion for literature, justice, and living in general up until the very end - at this point, his writing consists of barely coherent scribbles, jotted down in rare moments of lucidity.
Mortality is much more than just a restatement of old views and arguments, though. In it, the author employs his tremendous intellect to explore and critique the public perception of cancer, while also offering an important perspective on the prospect of death and the treatment of the dying – a perspective that values honesty and offers consolation to those who remain skeptical of life after death, regardless of the unwelcome prospect of non-existence. The book is full of Hitchens’ inclusive wit and wondrous erudition, and for those that miss his intellectual presence, the pleasure in reading this book only makes it all the more devastating for its finality. Mortality is a book that I am glad to have read, and even gladder to have sitting on my bookshelf, ready to be reread when the prospect of people not being around forever starts to seem a bit distressing.

- Oliver Patterson

RRP $32.99
UBS Price $29.69


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Command & Control by Eric Schlosser

Eric Schlosser's first book Fast Food Nation made us re-examine our love-affair with convenience food and the McDonaldisation of the world. In Command and Control Schlosser turns his formidable investigative skills to the unbelievable and often terrifying history of nuclear weapons. Covering events from the hand-assembly of the first atomic bomb, held together with duct-tape; through to today's modern, computer-guided weapons; Schlosser weaves together a brilliantly researched narrative. Historically important events are interspersed with a harrowing account of the missile malfunction at Damascus, Arkansas in 1980, although the most chilling and haunting moments come from the attitudes of the military and government in regard to human collateral.
Cleverly written and engaging, I could not stop reading Command and Control as my disbelief and horrified amazement continued to grow. A bomb falls out of a plane and detonates in the front yard of a family home - and the stories just get worse.
This account of close-calls and mishaps with weapons of mass destruction will leave you marvelling at humankind's inexplicable continuing survival. Fair warning: You may never sleep again!

- Tammy Harrison

RRP $37.00
UBS Price $33.30


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The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

***WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2013***

The word Dickensian has been thrown around with regard to Eleanor Catton’s sophomore release, The Luminaries, and it’s certainly got the Victorian grittiness – and impressive page count – that one would expect from any decent Dickens novel. But it’s so much more than that. Catton may only be in her late twenties, but her ability to enter into the minds of the multitude of key characters – almost all male, from all kinds of ethnic, social and moral backgrounds – is staggering. The descriptions of Hokitika and the surrounding lands are beautifully evocative, the constant presence at the beginning of chapters of an omniscient narrator feels like a reassuring indicator that the mysteries will all unfold. And Catton’s ability to stick to period style writing and editing in a completely believable fashion is ‘d—ned’ impressive.

Despite the book’s length, you are drawn into the various mysteries at hand almost immediately, and between the evocative writing and the constant unraveling of the mysterious strands of stories, it’s thoroughly unputdownable. It’s a historical novel, a mystery, with a touch of the fantastical (the omnipresent references to the zodiac) – all by a young contemporary New Zealand author, whose future works will have the world’s attention. Highly, highly recommended.

- Briar Lawry

RRP $28.00
UBS Price $25.20


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