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Staff Book Reviews

The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock

Dr Mercy Bain hasn’t left her Adelaide house in two years. It all got too hard.  It’s understandable. In one week she lost her mum, her marriage and a mother and baby during child birth. A week like that will ruin anyone. 

Mercy’s life is turned upside down yet again when her house burns down. She is then forced to spend the night at her ex-husband’s place but his boyfriend resents her presence. From the window she spies an old campervan for sale. In her desperation to escape, Mercy finds herself the owner of a new home and a promise to have one last adventure in the old van. 

Mercy starts driving in a blind panic, vaguely heading north. The van is full of rattles, dust and strangely, the ashes of a dead woman. Regardless of all this, Mercy plows on driving north as she has nothing else to do. She soon finds herself in the South Australian outback with no food, water or understanding of caravan park etiquette. Mercy slowly unwinds as she travels north. The outback gives her the space and perspective she needs to examine her grief. She is helped along the way by a cast of grey nomads, bush mechanics and a good looking Scotsman.

This is a light story of discovering what is important and learning how to leave everything else behind.

Reviewed by Jo-Anne, Collection Development Librarian

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Untwisted: The Story of My Life

I am one of the millions to have grown up reading Paul Jennings’ stories and watching Round the Twist.

Though his quirky stories and bizarre TV series – who can forget ‘Spaghetti Pig Out’? – feel like tunes from my childhood soundtrack, I knew so little about the man himself.

His autobiography Untwisted: the story of my life is a stream-of-consciousness insight honestly told.

Jennings shares: his battles with loneliness, depression and intrusive thoughts; his failed marriages; his seemingly loveless relationship with his father… he is even candid about “building a shrine to himself” (when the fame went to his head).

And yet this is not a dark, depressing read. It is filled with countless quirky anecdotes from Jennings’ life that are strikingly similar to his fictional stories. He is endearingly eccentric, having lived on the edge of a cliff in a partly underground house, and more recently building an entire coastal forest on his property.

Overall, you are left with the sense that – despite the many twists – he has found peace.

Reviewed by Helen, Librarian.

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Reputation by Lex Croucher

Georgiana Ellers, is bookish and a little bit unconventional. Her parents have decided to move to the seaside without her, and so Georgiana finds herself living with her exceedingly dull Aunt and Uncle. They mean well, but they never seem to quite get it right. Then one night at a party, Georgiana meets Frances Chapman. She is everything Georgiana is not—popular, rich and adventurous.

Though Georgiana cannot understand why, Frances quickly befriends her and brings her into her circle of friends. Soon, she’s drinking, taking drugs and generally going about unchaperoned. But as Georgiana is about to discover, sometimes bad behaviour covers up darker secrets.

Described as Mean Girls crossed with a Jane Austen novel, Reputation is a smart, funny and highly original story for teenagers and adults alike. The book explores a lot of important, modern themes—including consent, sexuality and sexual assault—but utilises a fun, regency setting. There are also hidden references to classic teen movies of the nineties and early 2000s for the eagle-eyed reader to watch out for. 

Reviewed by Emily, Librarian.

Request a copy of Reputation: A Novel by Lex Croucher.

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Florence Adler Swims Forever is so elegantly written, it is hard to believe this is Rachel Beanland’s first novel.

The story is set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and takes place over three months in 1934. It follows a Jewish family confronted with the sudden death of their adult daughter, and explores how far a family will go to protect one of their own.

The story moves at a gradual pace, but captivated me with the elegant prose, and the rich portrayal of the central characters. Written in the third person, each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view, which helps the reader understand their motivations. I highly recommend this book for its fascinating story, made all the more intriguing by the fact that it is based on the true story of the author’s great-great-aunt.

Reviewed by Renée, Customer Experience Officer.

Request a copy of Florence Adler Swims Forever: A Novel by Rachel Beanland.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Alam’s novel Leave the World Behind was written before the COVID-19 crisis hit, this terrifying book seems so timely in its suspense and sense of panic of the unknown.

Amanda and Clay, along with their two teenage children, take a summer holiday to Long Island where they rent an expensive house, and pretend to be living a life of luxury. This illusion is shattered, when late at night, a knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H., an older couple, arrive in a panic, and claim that the house belongs to them. They report that a sudden blackout has swept New York City. But in this rural area--with no Internet service--it's hard to know what to believe.

A cataclysmic, yet mysterious event has obviously occurred, shutting down all communication networks.  With a society so over reliant on technology, an overwhelming sense of dread and chaos is felt. I found this novel terrifying. Disturbing scenes of staring deer arriving in herds (of over a thousand), coupled with flamingos flying into their swimming pool; plus a sickening “noise” that felled the teenage boy, adds to the suspense.
Is there one crisis or there a series of them?

Considering how descriptive this book is, it is no surprise that it has been selected to be a Netflix movie, starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. I can’t wait!

Reviewed by Nicole, Librarian.

Request a copy of Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam.

11.22.63 by Stephen King

In a departure from the usual spine-tingling suspenseful thrillers, Stephen King turns his talents to pondering one of the most famous what if moments of his generation: "What if President John F. Kennedy had lived? He creates an engaging story with many twists, that has readers wondering what happens next and appeals to a wider audience, such as people who liked "The Help" or "People of the book"

He tells the story in a first person point of view, taking the persona of Jake Epping, a disillusioned high school teacher, who is given the chance to be a major player in the history of the world, thanks to his ailing friend Al Templeton, who in 2011 shows him a gateway to the 1950s hidden in the back room of his diner, and wants Jake to pick up his mission where he left off and to stop the assassin shooting the President well before the titular date of 11.22.63. Jake takes on the challenge, but finds himself constantly thwarted by others, including the past which doesn't want to be changed

King actually first had the idea for this novel in the early 1970s, but eventually decided that such a book required too much preparation and also the assassination was still too recent in the minds of many Americans and so came back to the project some forty years later. He does meticulous research on the 1960s time period to make readers feel they are actually there and he creates exciting characters which make people want to revisit the world of 11.22.63 time and time again.  

Reviewed by Ben, Library Customer Experience Officer.

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