All posts by Annie

About Annie

Annie has never felt more at home than surrounded by hundreds of books. She has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember, starting at age four with George's Marvellous Medicine. Now all grown up, she loves to read the weird and wonderful stories of the likes of Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Scarlett Thomas and Dave Eggers. Really, she's just a sucker for any well-crafted story. A self-confessed Francophile, she has a degree in French as well as one in English and would love to talk to you about your next trip abroad. Currently, she is completing a post-grad in Professional Communications and publishing an online magazine that celebrates literature and art in her spare time.

Book Club Recommemdations for 2019

For those lucky enough to be in a book club, we’ve got twelve recommendations that might have gone under the radar for your next year’s worth of reads.

FICTION
Happiness – Aminatta Forna
A novel of coincidental meetings and the unseen side of London
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
Charming historical fiction that paints a picture of Russia after the fall of the Czar
The Death of Noah Glass – Gail Jones
A beautiful and lyrical novel about grief and love, with a compelling mystery at its heart
Circe – Madeline Miller
This feminist retelling of The Odyssey pays homage to the original while breathing new life into the ancient myth
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
A sprawling family story over several generations of a Korean Japanese migrant family
Normal People – Sally Rooney
Two young people orbit each other in this intimate and beautiful novel about class and power
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
A young married couple is ripped apart by injustice – will they find their way back together?

NON-FICTION
Eggshell Skull – Bri Lee
A gripping look at the justice system for victims of sexual abuse, from both sides of the courtroom
The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein
The biography of an incredible woman, working with society’s most vulnerable
Amateur – Thomas Page McBee
Page McBee analyses the complicated relationship between men and violence as he trains to fight in an amateur boxing match
Built – Roma Agrawal
Humans have sought to build higher and higher throughout history, but what advances have we had to make along the way to satiate our need for height?
The Feather Thief – Kirk Wallace Johnson
The invaluable theft of bird specimens from the British Natural History Museum is examined in compelling detail

What We’re Reading: December

Annie
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and Still Lives by Maria Hummel.

I’ve just read a couple of smart, edgy crime thrillers that don’t quite fit the mould but succeed nonetheless.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is a dark, inventive and blackly funny take on what it means to have a mass murderer in the family. Korede, a Nigerian nurse, is forever cleaning up her sister’s mess, but lately, that has extended to an unfortunate spate of dead boyfriends. When Ayoola’s attentions turn to the attractive doctor at Korede’s workplace, her loyalties will be split and her morals challenged. This is a novel take on the serial killer and explores deep-set family tensions with all the punchiness and zest of a Shane Black film.

Still Lives, by Maria Hummel, uncovers the seedy underside of the art world when an artist fails to arrive at her own opening. The new show happens to be about famous murder victims, as the artist paints herself into each scenario. But is this just another stunt, or something more sinister? A young gallery worker begins to dig deeper, at once entranced and repelled by the artist’s subjects and life. Hummel has previously written historical fiction and this is her first foray into crime, so it may displease some fans of the genre, but I loved the complex and gendered picture she painted (pun not intended, I promise) of the art market and women’s fascination with violent crime.

Robin
Just Add Glitter by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Samantha Cotterill and Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo.


This month I’d like to recommend two lovely new picture books. Just Add Glitter has exploded onto the shelves, bursting with energy and guaranteed to delight any child (or adult) with a penchant for all things spangled and sparkly. Angela DiTerlizzi’s exuberant rhyming text follows a little girl who receives a mysterious package of glitter in the mail, and proceeds to joyfully bedazzle everything in sight. But can there ever be such a thing as TOO MUCH GLITTER? We shall see! Samantha Cotterill’s unique illustrations combine line drawing, 3D collage, photography – and LOTS of glitter – to create a playful wonderland of shimmering splendour. This is a perfect book to read aloud and enjoy together.

Much more down-to-earth, but no less charming, is Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo. Her understated text and detailed, animated illustrations combine to catalogue the frustrations and joys of sibling life. This is a warm and well-observed picture book to snuggle up and share.

Charmaine
Becoming by Michelle Obama

I devoured Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, in a week. I am an admirer of hers and this book confirmed my thoughts that here is a woman who is passionate about using her influence to improve the lives of children globally. The book is an easy and insightful read into her life — from very ordinary beginnings through to an extraordinary life as First Lady. Throughout the book she remains grounded, with a few reminders from her mother without whom she could not have done her job. This is a great holiday read and the perfect present for your loved ones.

Kate
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I have heard all about Malala Yousafzai in the media and watched videos of her speaking, but reading her biography offers intimate insight into her incredible, and terrible, experiences. Reading about her picturesque childhood in the Swat Valley in Pakistan gives a new perspective on the sudden terror imposed by the Taliban. Her bravery is unbelievable as she stands up for girls right to go to school, writing of her experiences at such a young age for the BBC and having her life threatened when she was shot by the Taliban when she was just 15. While many expected she would die, it is astounding to hear about how she instead became a Messenger of Peace for the UN and the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. She writes with clarity and with a charged but humble voice, sharing personal stories that are a pleasure, and privilege, to read. I am in awe of Malala’s strength and integrity and her book is a reminder of the potential people have to create change in the world.

Jess
The Mystery of Three Quarters: The new Hercule Poirot mystery by Sophie Hannah

From the outset of this story you are hooked simply because the within the opening few pages such odd things happen. You follow Hercule’s trail through the eyes of his friend and fellow detective Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard as Catchpool and Poirot try to work out what is actually happening. Hercule has been falsely accused of accusing three other people that they committed a murder – a murder which nobody seems to be sure ever actually took place! As the detectives dive deeper into the lives of Poirot’s accusers it becomes clear that every one of them have secrets to hide, but do those secrets include something so dark as murder? I thoroughly enjoyed following this story through its twists and turns. Engaging, intriguing and easy to read, choose this book if you love a good mystery and love the at times laugh out loud eccentricities of the one and only Hercule Poirot.

What We’re Reading: November

Annie
Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend and The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius.

In Wundersmith, we return to the world of Nevermoor with our intrepid hero, Morrigan Crow, as she begins her first year at the magical academy, WunSoc. But everything is not as it seems and Mog’s loyalty and bravery will be tested. I think this second instalment in the instant classic series is even better than the first – without the need to introduce the world, Townsend has more time to develop her characters and plot. I giggled with delight at her magical inventions, shivered with fear at the action sequences and am so excited to urge this upon readers young and old. 

The Murderer’s Ape was released before Christmas last year in hardback, but I’ve just gotten around to reading the new paperback edition. Full of gorgeous illustrations, this is a noir crime thriller set in early 20th century Portugal and India. Sally Jones is a sensitive and intelligent ship’s mechanic, who also happens to be a gorilla. When her captain is wrongly arrested for murder, she sets out to try to clear his name. A fun romp for anyone aged 10 and up.

Robyn
The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett

The Afterwards is a compelling, thoughtful and dark new illustrated novel, for confident young readers. Dealing with loss and grief, with an inventive vision for the afterlife, A.F. Harrold’s story is ambitious and imaginative. Emily Gravett’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment: very gloomy, but in a friendly way. Fair warning: this book is deeply sad, and sometimes genuinely scary. But it’s also exciting and original, and has an immense amount of heart. Those eager readers from 8 to 12 years of age who can handle heavier themes will find plenty to enjoy, and to think about.

Charmaine
Not reading by e-reader

This is a comment about how I am reading, not what I have read. I downloaded Anna Burn’s Milkman (this years Man Booker winner) while I was travelling on my bicycle recently. But I didn’t read it – I found I did less reading on this holiday because I didn’t have actual books with me. So I started reading it last week and whilst I am loving the style of writing and the content, I have now decided to get a hard copy and read it. I wonder what your experiences are with e-reading because I really don’t like it. For me when I read, I am looking for an experience of relaxed luxury and immersion and I just can’t get this on an e-reader. When I hold a book, smell the book, turn the pages, see the words on paper, admire the cover – all in my comfy chair or in bed in the evening – I am having a special experience. One that I relish daily and look forward to. I would be very interested to hear your experiences of reading. Next month I will tell you what I thought of Milkman.

Kate
Milkman by Anna Burns

I’m luxuriating in Anna Burns incredible experimental form in Milkman. Set in the Troubles in Ireland in the 1970s, Milkman unfolds in an unnamed town where the narrator is strategically fighting off creepy advancements from a much older man. I’m learning a lot about Irish history and the social climate of this period of time. The narrator is a smart, witty eighteen year old who offers nuanced insight into insidious social control and surveillance. This is a book about a particular time but the pervasive control of women is something still so relevant. I’m loving the writing and empathise so deeply with the narrator. I am yet to finish it and am waiting on the edge of my seat to find out what happens to such a memorable character.

Mostly Books turns 41!

On Thursday, November 8, we threw ourselves a birthday party to commemorate 41 years of business. We were joined by more than 70 loyal customers, trade representatives and past and present staff to share a toast to independent bookselling. Surviving for over 40 years in any industry is an achievement and we are proud to remain Adelaide’s oldest independent bookshop. Thank you to all those who attended, as well as the maker of our beautiful cake Mim Gollan of Four Seeds – it was the star of the show!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local author and long-time customer, Carol Lefevre, was kind enough to say a few words to mark the occasion and we have included the full text of her speech below.

Carol Lefevre’s birthday speech

In a time when things can change in a flash, it is wonderful to think that Mostly Books has endured in our midst for forty-one years, and this through one of the most volatile periods in the history of publishing and book selling.

The business was founded in 1977 by Jacqueline Cookes, and bought by the current owner, Charmaine Power, in 2008, the same year I moved to Unley.

But that year, as well as Mostly Books, there was a book shop in Unley Shopping Centre. And later there was a second hand bookshop on the corner of Arthur Street and Unley Road. Going further back, when I returned to live in Adelaide at the start of 2005 there were many more books shops in the city – Borders, Angus and Robertson, Mary Martin’s in Rundle Street. You probably know of others.

Slowly but surely, with the rise of the internet, eBooks, and massive online stores like Amazon, these lovely stores closed their doors. Technology can do this, promise to lead us towards the light, and we are swept along. But at some point we look back, and that’s when we see that familiar lights have gone out, that the places we knew have gone dark. For a while it seemed inevitable that we would lose all our book shops, and I remember feeling very gloomy for the future of paper books around that time.

There is a quote I often return to by the English writer and critic G.K. Chesterton.

The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost.

While I have never needed to be reminded to love books, that quote does make me think about the things that gradually slip away – because we’re busy, we’re tired, we’re stressed – and a little while ago I started to make a list of the things that have vanished in my own life time, everything from milk bottles and milkmen, to dip pens, blotters, cursive handwriting, typewriters, vinyl records, steam trains, outside bathrooms and dunnys (no real loss, you might say). But the suburban delis that were once on so many street corners – I really miss those. Then, one and two cent coins, dollar notes, petrol stations where someone pumps the petrol and checks under the bonnet, reel to reel tape recorders, cassette tapes, sixpences, bonfire night, with skyrockets and sparklers, slide evenings, department stores with lift attendants who recite the contents of each floor, and so much more.

And then there is the endangered list – public telephone boxes, suburban letterboxes, handwritten letters, possibly even the entire postal system, including stationery and beautiful stamps, postmen, and the joy of finding a personal letter in the letterbox.

I read recently a list of endangered, or at least fast-declining professions, and these included things like photographic processors, and travel agents. Libraries, too have been struggling in many places.

Buddhist philosophy teaches that the way to face change and impermanence is by developing non-attachment. But while I have successfully achieved detachment towards milk bottles and vinyl records, and even to the extraordinary sight of an ice-man sprinting up the drive to deliver a block of ice for our old wooden cooling chest (and that was a very long time ago) I will struggle long to relinquish the joy of receiving a handwritten letter, or of being able to browse in a real bookshop.

For like letters, books put us into an intimate conversation with the writer, and this conversation can extend across time and space, so that I can pick up the diaries of Virginia Woolf and hear her speak to me, as sharp, as engaging, as fully alive, as the morning or evening  she sat down to write.

Just as the whole of a letter is greater than the words on paper, a book is more than the sum of its materials, and carries a meaning that springs from the heart of the writer. Once you accept that books are a special way of speaking, the next thing to consider is what will be lost if they should ever entirely disappear.

I remember a night when there was a great storm here in Adelaide and the trees in the street thrashed wildly until, inevitably, the electricity went off. With all the usual distractions suddenly unavailable, we lit candles and gathered together in one room, and we read aloud to pass the time. The children still remember what a great night it was, and for a long time afterwards I considered organising simulated blackouts, so that we could do it all over again.

Bookshops have always been a particular source of hope and inspiration for writers. Sometimes I pop in to Mostly Books to see what’s fresh off the press, to check on what other writers have been beavering away at while I have been busy with my own work. Sometimes I come to order a book, at other times I am hoping to stumble across something I haven’t heard of yet but that I will read and absolutely love. If I am struggling with my own writing I sometimes need to come in and visualise where my own book will be shelved when it’s finished, and this sends me back to my work with greater determination and purpose.

A long time ago now, I moved to an island that only one book shop, and I didn’t discover this until I had arrived. It was small, not very well stocked, and situated at the opposite end of the island to where I lived, so each visit required an expedition.

The island’s libraries weren’t well stocked either, and for a long time I suffered for a lack of books. Eventually, a branch of the book chain Ottakers opened: two floors of books and a coffee shop! I wept for joy the first time I went in!  I was a beginning writer then, and in my lunch hours I would walk to Ottakers to work my way along a shelf reading all the first lines, all the first paragraphs, or all the first pages. I bought many books there, but I also used the shop a bit like a library, and the staff never complained. Because that’s another thing about book shops – the people who are drawn to work in them are usually extra special human beings.

And so it is with Mostly Books, and I’m incredibly happy to be still sourcing my books here ten years after first crossing the threshold. My own books have been on the shelves. My latest book The Happiness Glass is on the New Releases table now, which is a special joy.  I hope Mostly Books continues to flourish, and I know that it will, as long as we readers continue to choose and read real paper books sold to us by really lovely, knowledgeable book sellers.

So Happy Birthday Mostly Books! And thank you.

What We’re Reading: October

Annie
The World Was Whole by Fiona Wright and In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

I’ve been reading a couple of books that examine the idea of home and the role that the spaces that we inhabit play in our lives.

Fiona Wright’s The World Was Whole is a series of essays that continues on, loosely, from her 2015 collection Small Acts of Disappearance. She has been struggling with mental ill health and disordered eating for many years, but this book posits that struggle more structurally. Issues of housing, inconsistent or unreliable work, racism and other tensions of contemporary Australia contribute to her feelings of dissociation and dislocation. Wright is a poet and academic, and these voices shine through, but the book as a whole is a triumph of cultural commentary and vulnerable memoir.

Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance is a Pulitzer-nominated historical novel set in mid-1800s America. The main character, Håkan, emigrates from Sweden with his brother but they almost immediately become separated. He decides to walk across America to find his lost sibling in New York, meeting many strange characters along the way. The book is atmospheric and unnerving, with the unfamiliar landscape and language dominating all of Håkan’s observances.

Charmaine
Unsheltered
 by Barbara Kingsolver

 I have just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s new book Unsheltered, due for release this week – I read it in 3 days – fabulous writing, a wonderful cast of characters and a range of relevant issues. Basically the chapters alternate between a house and those it shelters in the 19th century, and a house and its occupants on the same land in the 21st century. In both cases the house is crumbling and unlikely to continue to provide shelter for its inhabitants. Of course this a metaphor for events in the lives of those who dwell within. Thatcher Greenwood, his young wife, her sister and his mother-in-law all live in the house during Charles Darwin’s time. Thatcher is a teacher of science, a believer in the theory of evolution but finds it difficult to hold his position in a school where the Christian principal insists on interfering with his teaching.

Here Kingsolver bases her story around a real person – Mary Treat who was a Naturalist and who had correspondence with Charles Darwin. Thatcher finds a friend in this passionate nature studier and as his house and relationship is collapsing, he and Mary find strength in their friendship. The concerns of those living in the house in current times include broader political issues of the American economy – loss of jobs, the rise of Trump (although his name is not mentioned), impacts on mental health (there has been a suicide in the family), caring for older parents and maintaining a roof over the family’s head. At the centre of this story are Willa and Iano Tavoularis, their 2 adult children, a baby without a mother and Iano’s sick and dependent father. This all makes for such a wonderful read, the dual narrative works well and the resolution for each and every character is realistic and satisfying.
Kate
Outline by Rachel Cusk and The Lady and the Little Fox Fur by Violette Leduc

I’ve recently read the first book in Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy. The first book offers musings on human nature through ten chapters, each one a different conversation. The narrator is a writer from London who is running a workshop in Athens. We don’t learn much about her except from her observations of other people. Through their conversations people divulge concerns about their partners, careers, children and thoughts on art. This is a quiet book and there is something curiously satisfying about these beautifully observed little snippets of people’s lives. Heidi Julavits in The New York Times wrote reading ‘Outline’ mimics the sensation of being underwater, of being separated from other people by a substance denser than air. 

I’m also part way through another quiet book by a French author I’ve never heard of before, Violette Leduc. Written in 1965, The Lady and the Little Fox Fur is a portrait of a lonely woman in Paris. The character is in her 60’s and lives in a little attic in Paris. She counts her coffee beans every morning and wanders the city, alone and hungry, observing the people around her with a curious playfulness. One day she wakes with the desire to taste an orange but when she goes searching in rubbish bins for one, it is not an orange she finds but a discarded fox fur scarf. This discovery is a salvation and propels her further into her imaginative life. This book is only ninety or so pages but I’ve been reading it for almost a week, marvelling at the characters observations and moments of joy in an otherwise bleak existence.

What We’re Reading: September

Annie
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott and Unthinkable by Helen Thomson

This month I’ve read two books about science and the brain’s influence on our actions and perception of the world.

Give Me Your Hand is a taut, atmospheric thriller set in a lab which is studying PMDD (an extreme form of PMS). Kit, the only female grad student in the lab, is set reeling after a dark stranger from her past joins the team. This is an intelligent, well-written book that examines politics in science while keeping you on the edge of your seat.

In Unthinkable, Helen Thomson travels the world to meet some of the people behind the unusual brains she has read about for so long in scientific journals. She talks to them about what it’s like to live with their different perceptions and experiences – which to them are the only normal they’ve ever known. A great mix of scientific research and compassionate journalism, Thomson takes us inside the heads of nine fascinating people.

Robin
Blue Horses; A Thousand Mornings; and Felicity
 by Mary Oliver

I had never heard of the American poet Mary Oliver until Blue Horses, a slim volume of her work, arrived at our shop. The very first poem that I read took my breath away. Oliver’s poems are direct and vulnerable, casually profound, like chatting with an old friend who just “gets it”. One moment, you’re lazily shooting the breeze, trading gossip and jokes. The next, your friend says something that hits you in the chest with its warmth and insight, and the spinning cogs of your mind pause to let the precious words land. Perhaps you feel tender and exposed, with an ache that is both pain and joy at once. Two more volumes of Oliver’s poetry – A Thousand Mornings and Felicity – have since arrived in the shop and similarly bowled me over. I imagine I’ll be evangelically quoting and recommending her work for years to come.

Jess
The Animal Kingdom by Randal Ford

This is a book to pore over selfishly and unapologetically, with no regard for time whatsoever! I know it’s said that you should never judge a book by its cover… but for this book I make an exception. Schika the beautiful tigress whose portrait features on the front cover is only the beginning of the wondrous and breathtakingly beautiful photographs to be found within its pages. Each image is so exquisite in its detail that you could lose yourself in it happily for days (definitely not an exaggeration). The care and love that has been taken to put together this collection is evident on every page. There is also a fantastic section at the end of the book where you can read more about each animal themselves and get to know a little of their story, as well as the artist Randal Ford’s recollections of the sitting. If you are at all an animal lover, a nature lover or simply someone who enjoys the art of photography itself, then do your eyes a favour and ask us for this book.

What We’re Reading: August

Annie
What We Owe by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde and Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

While I was in the Blue Mountains recently I read two very different books: What We Owe by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde and Clock Dance by Anne Tyler.

What We Owe is a short book that reads like a punch in the face, but I found it compulsive and engaging nonetheless. Nahid is an Iranian refugee who has wound up in Sweden and wears the effects of the many traumas she has faced in her life. A final indignity: she has been diagnosed with cancer and is furious at her lot in life. This novel shook me up while reading and has resonated long after, not least because Australia recently passed five years of keeping asylum seekers in detention. It gives harrowing insight into the trauma that refugees face, and the echoing effects of that even once they reach safety.

A very different book, but equally enjoyable is Anne Tyler’s 22nd novel, Clock Dance. I have never read anything by Tyler (for shame!) but I love similar writers like Ann Patchett, so this was a real treat. I found her style effortless and the story to be slightly meandering but it was a masterful character study. Willa is an incredibly passive woman who has let life roll over her – she is now in her 60s and makes a decision that goes against the grain by moving cities to look after the child of a woman she’s never met. I’ll definitely track down more of Tyler’s work after this one!

Charmaine
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This month I have continued with my reading of contemporary rewriting of the Greek Myths. Despite the extraordinary violence and misogyny, I find myself devouring these books. Maybe it takes me back to my high school days as a student of Ancient History as it was then known – I was fascinated with Herodutos, The Histories. Here were characters and events that totally shocked and fascinated this 16 yo country girl. So I have read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles that won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012. In her version of the epic Trojan War, Achilles joins the almighty battle between kings and gods. By his side is Patroclus who is not a warrior – the two share a special friendship that develops into a tender love. The story is a marvelously rich account of love, tragedy, violence and glory.

Robin
Puddle Hunters by Kirsty Murray and Karen Blair

Puddle Hunters is a joyful, poetic and satisfying celebration of a winter day spent well: a young family out in the open together, romping and exploring and making the most of the fleeting natural playground of puddles after rain. From the bright, masterful watercolor, to the pure, simple fun of the story, Kirsty Murray and Karen Blair have made something very special. For me, the illustrations are close to perfect, hitting that ‘sweet spot’ of picture book art: cute but not cutesy; masterfully-rendered, but not overworked; lines that are loose but descriptive; and child and adult figures who look truly happy and ‘alive’. It conveys both the joy and potential of wandering in the outside world, and the safety and comfort of returning home again. The text bounces along, begging to be read aloud. Puddle Hunters is one of the most delightful new picture books I have had the pleasure of reading. I hope it becomes an Australian classic.

Kate
After Kathy Acker by Chris Kraus

After reading Crudo by Olivia Laing, a work of fiction based on the life of experimental writer Kathy Acker, I’ve moved onto the biography of her life by Chris Kraus, author of cult classic I Love Dick. It traces her career from her early days writing cut-up short fiction, working as a stripper, her complicated love affairs and the struggles of living in New York. I love Acker’s writing, so hearing about her process from someone that can critically analyse her work is satisfying, while learning more relationships has been interesting. This is a biography of Acker’s life, her struggle for recognition as an experimental writer, her compulsive lying and search for love but it is also a biography of New York and the emergence of a new experimental writing scene that gave birth to the autofiction that is becoming so popular now. Kraus is a peer of Acker’s and knows and has researched the people that knew her thoroughly, including finding her extensive correspondence through letters. An amazing writer and a fantastic biography!

What We’re Reading: July

Annie
A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg

I seem to have been reading lots of middle grade books lately, and by far the best has been Barry Jonsberg’s A Song Only I Can Hear. It’s the story of Rob, who has fallen in love for the first time and is trying to find out what he can do about it – short of actually talking to her or asking her out, of course. When he starts receiving anonymous text messages, he has to decide whether to take up the challenges within. I laughed all the way through this book, and was openly weeping (on a plane, no less!) by the end. This is the perfect book for anyone who enjoyed Wonder, whether you’re young or not.

Charmaine
Less by Sean Greer

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year was Less by Andrew Sean Greer. The central character, Arthur Less, is an author of some success and when he gets the news that a past love is to be married he decides he can’t possibly attend and leaves town. He accepts every invite, mostly to obscure literary events. And so he embarks on a mid-life coming of age trip. This book is laugh out loud funny, Arthur Less is a hapless but ultimately likeable person. But this is actually a beautiful love story – thoroughly enjoyable, great writing.

Kate
Nochita by Dia Felix

This is one of those books that I’ve had on my shelf for a few years and came upon it at exactly the right time. Nochita is the intelligent and free-thinking child of a successful new-age guru with a cult following. Nochita observes this adult world with witty skepticism but her outlook on life draws on her mother’s teachings. Nochita’s life takes a tragic turn and she has no other choice but to live with her father and his partner where she is unwanted and forced to sleep in a shed. More tragedy follows, which Nochita takes in her stride. She then tackles life on her own in the best way she can with a fierce independence and endearing strength and kindness. This is a coming-of-age story as Nochita drifts through life, looking after her self and others as she lives in squats, experiments with drugs, makes connections with unlikely people and discovers her sexuality. Written in very short chapters, this is a joy to read. Nochita is a unique and charming character and I’ve loved learning from her musings and resilience.

Robin
Sweet Adversity by Sheryl Gwyther

Sweet Adversity is a rollicking middle-grade historical adventure, hot off the presses from Brisbane author Sheryl Gwyther. The daughter of travelling actors, Adversity herself (known as Addie) is a sparklingly likable character: gutsy and generous,sensitive yet determined, with the voice of an angel and a mischievous cockatiel for her best friend. Gwyther weaves a rich tale of daring escape through country Australia in the Great Depression, and is not afraid to give middle-grade readers snatches of Shakespeare, and other evocative and well-chosen vocabulary-boosters. I loved this book and will be recommending it for eager young readers from 7 – 11 years old.

What We’re Reading: June

Annie
Built by Roma Agrawal and Happiness by Aminatta Forna

I have read two books this month that have made me think about big cities and specifically London.

Roma Agrawal, one of the engineers behind The Shard, has written a book called Built. Engineering-lite for the complete novice, Agrawal takes complex concepts and reduces them to simple analogies (often involving rubber bands). Her love of built structures shines through, showing human history in a different light. The tone is humorous and includes just enough personal anecdotes to give a sense of the author. I learnt a lot and am examining buildings around me now for their structural qualities.

The other book, by Aminatta Forna, gave me an insight into the social and natural environment of contemporary Britain. Happiness is a sprawling, humbling tale of people who find themselves in London over the same two week period, each of whom manages to heal the others in ways they may never know. These people form the best kind of community even though (or perhaps because) none of them are what Leave voters might consider ‘Brits’. They show resilience, fortitude, grace and, above all else, love towards their fellow creatures. It was a pure joy to read, like a contemporary, multicultural Mrs Dalloway.

Jess
The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

I’ve recently been taking a look through The Miracle Morning: The 6 Habits That Will Transform Your Life Before 8AM by Hal Elrod in which he outlines six habits which, when completed daily (preferably in the morning) can help you to achieve more productivity and motivation during the rest of your day, resulting in a greater capacity to achieve goals in all areas of your life. Although I’m definitely not a morning person, on the days where I’ve managed to take time out for myself and follow his program I did notice an improvement in mental clarity.

This book is a good instruction manual for helping yourself to find a way to take back that vital time, which so many of us are missing out on these days, where we can simply be alone with ourselves in our own head. Hal reminds us that looking inwards instead of outwards at times can be more effective at helping us to see where we need to go.

Charmaine
Kudos by Rachel Cusk

I have just finished reading Kudos, the final book in Rachel Cusk’s fictional trilogy. Beginning with Outline and then Transit I have found Cusk’s writing a very different way to write fiction and I urge you all to read her. Basically, the central character Faye is an author who is travelling to book festivals or to teach in Europe. As she travels, she has extraordinary conversations with those she meets — on the plane, at the cafe, at events. Each conversation reveals deeply provocative insights into family, culture, politics from philosophical and moral/ethical perspectives. Keep post-it notes nearby because you will want to note the many incredible insights that you will want to think about and discuss with others. I wanted to re-read each book as soon as I finished.

Kate
Afterglow by Eileen Myles

Eileen Myles is a genius! They (Myles’ preferred pronoun) started as a poet and performance artist in New York City and is now a professor in San Diego and is referred to as a “queer feminist literary icon”. I first started reading Myles’ poetry, then fiction and more recently, their essays. Their work gets to the core of feeling through an almost crude honesty that captures experience in a way that I haven’t come across in such a unique way before. This is a memoir about their relationship with their dog, Rosie, who is experimentally referred to as god. This might be a memoir about an owner/dog relationship, but is also a work of auto-fiction that creates a category of its own. It begins as an elegy for a lost pet but moves into a restless philosophical investigation into love, life, death, the Buddhist concept of the bardo. From foam to plaid to alcoholism, Rosie links Myles’ subjects together.

What We’re Reading: May

Annie
A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

Funny, inventive and reflective, A Line Made by Walking is the story of a young artist’s gradual return to the world following a period of mental ill-health. Managing to combine a book about art, fragility and hope with the changing of the seasons, Baume uses language like a finely tuned instrument.

I’ve also been at Sydney Writers’ Festival this week, and have seen fascinating conversations with people such as Eliza Robertson (Demi-Gods), Min Jin Lee (Pachinko) and Jennifer Egan (Manhattan Beach). It is always incredible to me how articulate, intelligent and considered writers at the height of their powers can be. And of course I’ve come home with several additions to my to read pile!

Robin
All’s Faire in Middle School – Victoria Jamieson

I was a huge fan of Victoria Jamieson’s debut graphic novel Roller Girl, so when my friend told me that Jamieson’s second book was even better, I was skeptical to say the least. How could any book that wasn’t about roller skating possibly measure up!? But All’s Faire in Middle School delivers even more comedy, complexity and warmth than its predecessor – not to mention substantially more medieval insults. Imogene, a funny and spirited girl raised in the tight-knit, eccentric Renaissance Faire community, decides to leave home-schooling behind and attend public school for the first time… but gets more than she’s bargained for, with schoolyard dramas as fierce and forbidding as any dragon. An excellent read for older kids, light-hearted teens, or anyone who enjoys great graphic novels, All’s Faire is a sort of tween-aged Mean Girls … with sword-fighting.

Charmaine
Circe by Madeline Miller

This week I have been utterly captivated by Madeline Miller’s new book, Circe. This is a contemporary re-telling of the Odyssey with Circe as the central character. And if, like me you have not read the Odyssey, Circe was the first witch in Western literature. She is an extraordinary woman; banished from her family to a remote and hostile island, Circe uses her powers with plants to turn visiting, predatory sailors into pigs and to protect herself and eventually her son from other Gods and mortals. Miller’s writing is sumptuous, dangerous and sometimes terrifying. She creates a world that is visceral, powerful, captivating and compelling. I have cherished every minute I have spent there.

So now I must read the Odyssey! In 2017 Emily Wilson completed the first translation by a woman – yesterday I ordered myself a copy.

Kate
The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy

Deborah Levy (Hot Milk and Swimming Home) is one of my favourite authors, so when her new book came out, I dropped everything else to read it. The Cost of Living is the second book in a three-part autobiographical series, following on from Things I Don’t Want to Know. Levy recalls the part of her life where everything seems to fall apart. As she tries to find a new way to live, she faces the pressures of social convention, the complexity of mother daughter relationships and the expectations of women. She thinks beautifully about her compulsion to write and tackles her experiences with compassionate honesty and humour. It was such a joy to read this little book that I know it won’t be long before I pick it up again.