Monday, October 28, 2013

November gr Highlights

The November issue of gr is live!  It is free for members of Newcastle Region Library to read. Join gr this month as they chat to writing duo Alan Gold and Mike Jones about their new historical thriller, Bloodline. Read about Sulari Gentill and why she's a story magnet and her new 'Rowland Sinclair' novel.

Take a tour of one of the world's most famous addresses, 221B Baker Street; find the perfect book this Christmas with the gr gift guide; discover the last words of famous authors; read about the charms of Naples; sneak a peek at some of history's most beautiful manuscripts and take the gr quiz on moustachioed writers for Movember

For assistance call library staff on 4974 5340.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The kings and queens of Roam by Daniel Wallace

A review by Jessica Birchall

Anyone remember the movie Big Fish? Tim Burton, Ewan McGregor with a bad Southern accent and Helena Bonham Carter being a freaky witch for a change? Yeah I don’t either. Fantasy with no explanation, legends and folklore with no basis or charm and no real plot. A bit hit or miss. My point? The film was based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and The Kings and Queens of Roam is his latest offering.

It bears the same characteristics, a mysterious small town and the battle between good and evil. This time the battle is between two sisters – one beautiful, innocent and blind (Rachel) and the other ugly enough to buckle railroad tracks (Helen). The homely Helen looks after beautiful blind Rachel in the cruellest way possible. She lies to her about the world around her – she tells her it is a terrible, dangerous place. She also swaps faces with Rachel, telling her that she is the ugly one and that beautiful Helen has sacrificed her happy life to look after Rachel. They both depend on each other to survive. Rachel needs Helen to protect her against Helen’s hideous imagined world and Helen needs Rachel so she can be everything she wants to be – beautiful and needed.

Of course things can never stay the same and Rachel leaves Roam so Helen can have a life on her own. On her own adventure, she discovers that Helen has not been entire truthful to her and she begins to think about revenge.

While the story focuses on the sisters, it also has some great peripheral characters: the lumberjack who has lost his one true love and a very short bartender are some of the kooky residents of Roam that flesh out the book. The author takes us back and forth from the present to the disturbing origins of the town of Roam and another village that is linked to the past. At the end of everyone’s adventures we all discover that we must go back to the beginning – home.

The novel has a nice fairy-tale feel with good, evil, redemption and forgiveness themes throughout. It does end abruptly after the two sisters duke it out which made it a bit anti-climatic but it’s not a bad read. It doesn’t, however, make me want to search for Big Fish or another of Daniel Wallace’s books.

Publisher: Touchstone, 2013

 Visit Newcastle Region Library's Catalogue and Website.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The borrower by Rebecca Makkai

A review by Jessica Birchall 

How many books have you read where the protagonist is a librarian?



 How about a children’s librarian that kidnaps a child? Now, we’re talking!

Ok, so naturally I’m biased towards this one but trust me when I say – it rules. Clever, funny and tragic, ‘The Borrower’ is the debut novel from Rebecca Makkai, a short story writer whose work has featured in several American publications. The novel revolves around the relationship between a children’s librarian and a 10 year old boy whose parents have enrolled him in anti-gay classes favoured by religious fanatics. The boy sees the library as a refuge and the librarian sneaks him books that do not have “the breath of God in them.” When she discovers him sleeping in the library they decide to go on a road trip. Technically it’s kidnapping but Makkai’s characterisation of the relationship between the librarian and the boy ensures us that the child is safe throughout the journey.

The writing is simple, sweet and dotted with clues and literary references to satisfy nostalgic readers. Makkai has a gift for prose and there is a humorous running gag of misheard words throughout the novel: “Had you expected Jesus in a tart?” I found myself relishing the book and did not want it to end. Maybe I enjoyed the fact that the librarian was 26, had a boyfriend and seemed like someone I would be friends with rather than a sour old spinster in a twin set as portrayed in other books.

Long live librarians!

Publisher: Viking Adult, 2011

Visit Newcastle Region Library's Catalogue and Website.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

A review by Jessica Birchall

Now I know the title for this sounds super boring but I urge you to search for one of Alain de Botton’s books if you haven’t read his stuff before. I love him because he is a kind of contemporary philosopher that discusses the idea of modern living through his books. I think his best work is The Consolations of Philosophy because it is a broad view of complex philosophers, their ideas and how we can relate them to our modern ideals of love, happiness, pessimism etc.

In Religion for Atheists de Botton discusses the idea of taking the best parts of a religion and using them for ourselves because what really matters? How you worship or whether or not you were a decent person? De Botton takes us through the idea of community, kindness, education, pessimism, art and architecture and how the better and non-corrupt aspects of religion can help us improve our lives. His chapter on art and architecture, for example, explains how we can still appreciate religious iconography and the beauty of a grand Catholic church and gain solace from these items without attaching the religious dogma normally associated with such items.

De Botton also humorously gives an alternative for our institutions that have lost their way. Fancy a more practical university degree? De Botton discusses John Stuart Mills idea that universities are “...not to make skilful lawyers, physicians or engineers. It is to make capable and cultivated human beings.” Why not teach students how to deal with the emotional impact of love or how to leave the world happier than we found it?

De Botton has the ability to take complex ideas and make them not only simple to read but interesting. There is also a subtle and sweet humour to his work that is endearing and made me search high and low for this book.

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, 2012

Visit Newcastle Region Library's Catalogue and Website.