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Staff Book Reviews

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

I was rather aptly feeling anxious when I started reading Anxious People – and found it a nurturing distraction from my own angst and these generally anxious times.

The plot summary will tell you the novel – by the brilliant Fredrik Backman, of A man called Ove fame – is about an eclectic mix of strangers being taken hostage during an apartment viewing.

I’ve come to realise Backman’s books are about so much more than the blurb would have you believe.

They are humorous, compassionate and wise. He brings to light the humanity in all his characters. Somehow even the most seemingly unfeeling, unlikeable ones become ultimately endearing and evoke empathy.

Much as I loved this book, I would also want to warn potential readers it does refer to suicide. However, I would like to hope Backman’s books are too tender to be harmful.

Anxious People made me think of the quote: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always”.

Reviewed by Helen, Librarian

Request a copy of Anxious People by Fredrik Backman.

Cutters End by Margaret Hickey

When Detective Sergeant Mark Ariti is seconded to a cold case in the South Australian town of Cutters End, he takes the case partly out of intrigue and partly out of boredom. A few days after New Year’s, 1990, a burnt body was found next to a car on the side of the highway and was ruled an accidental death, but not everything about the nature of the man’s death added up. Now, thirty plus years on, lobbying by a local celebrity has led to the case being reopened. Mark is pulled off of his long service leave to help out, in particular because two of the witnesses were his high school friends - and because the police in charge think there’s something Ingrid and Joanne aren’t telling them.
Soon, Mark and his Cutters End compatriot, Senior Constable Jagdeep Kaur have uncovered more than one secret in the small outback town.
Cutters End is the first novel by author and playwright Margaret Hickey, but it won’t be her last. Mark Ariti is set to return in a follow up book recently announced by Penguin Books Australia, titled Stone Town. Perfectly paced and peopled with complex characters who feel like they live and breathe outside of the covers of a book, Cutters End is a worthy addition to the growing outback noir genre made popular by writers like Jane Harper and Chris Hammer. While at first, it’s hard to like grumpy (and often hungover) Mark, readers will quickly come to appreciate that he is a lead character who follows his own moral compass rather than sticking to the letter of the law. While there are glimpses of the stereotypical hard-boiled detective type in him, rather than being shut off emotionally from the people around him, Mark is not only a good detective, but he’s also trying his best to be a good husband, a good dad and a good friend. Of course, he doesn’t always get things right.
This is one of those crime novels which is perfectly paced to keep you up reading long past your bedtime, breathlessly turning pages in the hopes that you might be able to figure out the truth before the answers are revealed. It also has a rich, satisfying country town setting. You can practically feel the heat slapping you in the face as you read.

Reviewed by Emily, Librarian.

Request a copy of Cutters End by Margaret Hickey.

The Wife and the Widow by Christian White

Rarely do I re-read a novel, however, White’s clever technique used throughout The Wife and the Widow warrants a second reading.

Set in a “summer’” island town in off-peak season, where it is desolate, miserable and bleak, The Wife and the Widow is an unsettling thriller told from the perspective of two women, Kate - the grieving widow, and Abby - an island local whose husband is seemingly holding harrowing secrets. Abby’s world is turned upside down when she’s forced to confront the evidence that her husband is a murderer.

The island is isolated and eerie, and only when these women come together can they discover the whole story about the men in their lives.

There are several subtleties within the plot, and when you come to the final twist, I predict you will stop and think back over the entire story to see how White has successfully structured it.

The Wife and the Widow is a good quick read, so quick that I read right through the twist - I recommend that those who have already read it read it again!
Reviewed by Nicole, Young Peoples Services Librarian

Request a copy of The Wife and the Widow by Christian White.

A Matchbox Full of Pearls by Kamille Roach

While trying to get her life together working as a house-sitter in Melbourne, 20 yr old Lola receives a bad news phone call. Her foster mum Blossom has passed away back home in York and so Lola immediately books a flight to Perth where she is assured Walshy will pick her up from the airport. Time spent on the flight is long enough to wonder what the reunion with Walshy might look like.

What unfolds as Lola returns to the rickety old house she called home and the Lion Inn where she picks up with old friends and her old job, is a well-told unravelling mystery. The clues Blossom leaves her help Lola solve the truth behind a young woman wrongly convicted of a 1971 murder, a series of sexual assaults spread over the past ten years and also the mystery of her own life journey. Having experienced no family but foster care, a yearning to know about her parents slowly builds within Lola.

The local setting only adds to the enjoyment of reading A Matchbox Full of Pearls, which I found to be a great mix of characters you care about, tense plot and pacey language. We were fortunate to have Kamille Roach speak at our libraries recently, but if you missed the opportunity to hear her, I highly recommend you read her novel.

Reviewed by Christy, Collection Development Librarian

Request a copy of A Matchbox Full of Pearls by Kamille Roach.

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

The island nation of Sri Lanka was engulfed in a brutal civil war for the best part of 30 years until 2009. The war was an ethnic conflict between the largely Sinhalese Buddhists based around the south of the island near the capital Colombo and the Hindu Tamils based around Jaffna in the north. A Passage North is set in post war Sri Lanka and follows the life and times of Tamil Krishnan in the capital Colombo. After living in Delhi whilst completing a PHD, Krishnan returns to Colombo to live with his mother and ailing grandmother. Krishnan is notified that his grandmother’s former carer, Rani, has died a violent death whilst living in the north of the country near Jaffna. Krishnan travels to Jaffna to attend the funeral and to discover Rani’s cause of death.

The author details the train travel north and the funeral preparations in great detail. Rani suffered greatly in the civil war and has found it difficult to forget the death of her two sons in the conflict. Whilst travelling to Jaffna, Krishnan reflects on the brutal civil war and toll it has taken on the country over the space of almost 30 years. Even after 30 years of war, a notable divide between these communities still persists.

This novel is not overly long and provides the reader some idea of the toll taken by a lengthy civil war.

A Passage North was shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize.

Reviewed by Chris, Library Officer

Request a copy of A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam.

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

Request a copy of The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock.

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