Educated by Tara Westover

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Educated:

The account of a girl building herself in spite of the shackles of dogma and abuse. Raised in a doomsday Mormonist household, in the plains of Idaho and its mountains, Tara paints a painful picture of education.

These are haunting images of a girl confronting the sins of a tyrannical, fundamentalist Father, and delusional, pithless Mother. From these memoirs, it seems true that the act of learning – accruing knowledge – can be a form of escapism. But self-education – using knowledge to construct oneself – can be a means of escape: from real tyranny in our family and in ourselves.

Westover’s story is inspiring because it tells of the power to confront uncertainty and emancipate oneself from those that claim certainty, especially when it is our loved ones.
As she puts it, her life was being “narrated for me by others”.

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

- Virginia Woolfe

Adam

Cedar Valley by Holly Throsby

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Holly Throsby’s ‘Cedar Valley’ is fantastic. 
Benny Miller knows very little about her mother. With her recent passing Benny moves to Cedar Valley in an attempt to uncover more of the woman’s mysterious and intriguing life. On the day she arrives in town, an unknown man dies in the Main Street. An investigation begins, and the town work together to find missing pieces to solve the puzzle.  
The mystery of Benny’s mother and the unidentified man run parallel throughout the novel. Through many twists and turns Throsby weaves these two stories together, eventually coming to an excellent and unexpected ending. 

- Bella

Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale

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Alternating between the past and present this novel begins with an older, successful Eustace falling in love with a younger man and beginning cancer treatment. The parallel narrative tells of Eustace’s childhood, the complexities of growing up and new experiences; and his introduction to Carla Gold who is to become his cello teacher.

This beautiful coming of age story is brimming with warmth, humour, music and love, a journey of discovery and self acceptance. Patrick Gale is a genuine and elegant writer. This novel was an absolute pleasure to read.

Kate

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

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Maurice Swift is highly ambitious in his quest to become a successful and great writer, and in doing so manipulates his way into becoming an unforgettable character in John Boyne’s compulsive novel.

This is a dark tale of seduction, literary theft and suspense from a literary gem. With effortless prose shifting across decades and characters, this wonderful story is underpinned with humour making a clever and impressive read.

Kate

First Person by Richard Flanagan

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In these times of Trump's ‘fake news’, this is an eerily relevant and sobering story of how self-deception can so easily lead to the deception of others.
Flanagan weaves his fascinating story against the backdrop of the life of a writer, his family life and struggles, friendships and the powerful and controlling influence of a con man who moves all the goal posts. 

- John


What's Your Type? by Merve Emre

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Merve Emre explores the curious story between mother and daughter duo Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers who became captivated by the work of Carl Jung and created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) in an attempt to make Jung’s type theory accessible to the general public.

Apart from being an intriguing biography of the duo, Emre outlines the history of the indicator and it’s appeal to those in recruitment, education and in the online dating industry. Emre also challenges the nature and validity of the indicator and delves into the broader world and popularity of personailty testing. An absorbing and sharp read, particularly fascinating if you are interested in the growth of the self development industry.

Reviewed by Kate

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

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In searing detail, Heather Morris retells the true story of Lale Sokolov who, not long after he arrived in Auschwitz, was given the job of tattooing numbers on the arms of incoming prisoners. Lale is canny and determined to survive the horrors he has become an intricate part of. One day he is instructed to redo some numbers which have faded and, as he takes the arm of a beautiful young girl from Czechoslovakia, he falls hopelessly in love. From that moment on his only desire is to protect Gita, see as much of her in impossible circumstances, and ensure their survival so that they can spend the rest of their lives together. This is a truly great love story which will give you goosebumps.

Guest Review by Rita

The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater

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Stork’s foot, peacock tails, teardrops are just some of the chapter headings in this rich and atmospheric historical novel. These names refer to the many patterns found in the exquisite hand knitted shawls of Estonia which form the thread that holds this novel together. The knitting circles of Estonia are where women transmit the folk tales, wisdom and history of their troubled land which has often been taken over by Russia and the Soviet Union. Set in 1942 when the Estonians are facing a double threat from Stalin and Hitler, the stories of resistance and courage are told amidst passionate love and loss. Kati, a fierce Estonian patriot, and Lydia, a troubled yet brave Russian, form a difficult relationship which, out of necessity, develops through knitting. The details of this period of little known history has been superbly realised making the farms and forests of Estonia come alive.

Guest Review by Rita

The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

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Transport yourself to the delicious smells and strange noises of Shanghai in the late 1930s and 1940s where, along with many other Jewish refugees, Romy Cohen and her parents have landed after surviving Kristallnacht in Vienna. In 2016, Romy’s grand-daughter Alexandra, living in Melbourne in 2016, is offered a new job in Shanghai and realises that this provides an opportunity for her to unravel some of the mystery surrounding her birth. Extremely accurate historically through many visits and much research Kirsty Manning takes us back and forward between Shanghai and Melbourne, between Romy and Alexandra. She has done a superlative job of re-creating Shanghai and the Jewish Hongkew Ghetto as well as the showing the reader the impact of the Japanese presence in wartime. And along the way, you can learn about Chinese traditional medicine and the herbs and spices used in cooking and medical treatment.

Guest Review by Rita

Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Normal People is Irish author Sally Rooney’s highly anticipated second novel.

A love story of sorts, Rooney beautifully crafts the complex relationship between wealthy, unpopular Marianne and working class, well-liked Connell.
The novel follows the two characters on-again-off-again relationship as lovers and friends, from high school to adulthood. Each character seemingly switching places with the other throughout, between self-confidence and certainty to unsettling detachment from themselves and their life.
Rooney cleverly explores difficult aspects of the human condition - vulnerability, self worth, power, identity and learning how to love and be loved. Each concept is thoughtfully brought to life through these two extremely special characters, and it is with great ease that one becomes invested in their story.
The novel is gently paced but the overwhelming drive to uncover more of both characters’ inner psyche and a compelling desire to discover whether or not their timelines will ever align and allow them to truly be together, makes for a gripping read.

Normal People is by no means a 'normal' love story. What it is, however, is a stunning exploration of what it means to be human, and the power of love to change and heal lives.

- Bella

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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An aristocratic man of tradition and erudition is confined to hotel-arrest in Russia’s etropo. The country’s decades of horror affect the outside world. The man of luxury and freedom must now live out his days in an attic - with a whole world to be discovered and encountered in the hotel: An abandoned girl, a willowy actress, an austere party ‘comrade’.

This story has a ‘coming of age’ feel to it: The gentleman must become a man - if he is to survive his confinement. The gentleman must master his circumstances, or be mastered by them.

In stark contrast to outside Russia’s failing people experiment, the gentleman will learn that one does not need to influence the course of history, but instead rise to the challenges of caring for a child.

The story is read with a constant smile, as one surveys the many lessons and heartaches that frame themselves from life’s intrusions of beauty. The smile glints and spreads with every witty and heartfelt conversation, with the many characters, and at every chapter of this wonderful book.

Guest Review by Adam 

 

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

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This is a fast-moving social commentary on three women from three differing areas of today's society colliding. There is Emily, former assistant to Miranda Priestley (and yes, Miranda does have a great cameo piece) who is now a stylist-turned-image-consultant troubleshooter. She is being pushed out of her job identity by a millenial and her use of social media where the number of followers you have determine your wordly status (think Kardashian). Emily is also going through somewhat of a crisis in her long distance marriage. Then there is Miriam, an old friend of Emily’s, a high-powered New York lawyer who traded it all in for life in the very upmarket suburbs and more time with her family, but can she deal with the suburban hierarchical lifestyle that depends solely on how much money you have and the compulsory daily uniform of LuLulemons which does not correlate well with any intake of carbohydrates?Joining them is Karolina, a former supermodel married to a would-be politician and hands-on step-mother to his son who is abruptly and quite horrifically sidelined by him in favour of a younger more politically-connected partner.

This is a very 2018 story that I read straight through as it grabs you immediately, then horrifies you with how the media can be manipulated - by a power-hungry man to destroy a woman, and then further manipulated by Emily to rehabilitate her image in the media (so many correlations that can be thought of here) whilst Miriam works on the legal angles and worries about her husband’s faithfullness. And then combine this with the strange lives that people live with too much money and not enough accountability both in suburbia and the city. The minutiae of suburban life is nothing new and nothing has really changed over the decades, apart from what was previously hidden from public view now being exposed by technology and the media. The story is nicely resolved at the end and is a very enjoyable read - Highly Recommended.

- Ann
 

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

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In a world full of fictional crimestoppers who are little more than thinly-veiled superheroes, Jackson Lamb (the former MI5 operative at the heart of Mick Herron's dazzling new series of spy thrillers) is a welcome breath of stale air. Where a character like Jack Reacher despatches multiple enemies per page, often with improbably lethal efficiency, Jackson Lamb is content to let the fight come to him - or better yet, to avoid it altogether. In fact, if there's anything improbable about the character of Jackson Lamb it would have to rest with the question of how one man could be so cynical, sarcastic and flatulant, and yet so endearing. Already wildly popular in his native Britain, author Mick Herron is fast becoming a favourite with crime readers all over the world who can appreciate a bit of old-school grit with their crime fiction. Comparisons to the great John Le Carre are not without basis, but where George Smiley's deadly skill-set was often concealed behind a facade of genteel restraint, Jackson Lamb slips under the radar for other (less savoury) reasons. The bottom line: underestimate either one of them at your peril.

A must have for lovers of old-school spy fiction. The good news is, once you finish, you can move straight onto the remaining two books of the trilogy!

- Dan

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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A novel that is at once sweeping and achingly intimate, Pachinko follows several generations of a Korean Japanese family throughout the 20th Century. The glue that holds the narrative together is Sunja, who at age 16 falls pregnant to a married man and ends up marrying a kindly Christian minister who moves their burgeoning family to live in Japan with his brother and sister-in-law. They did not know then that they faced poverty, decades of relentless prejudice from the Japanese and a political climate that would prevent them from ever returning home to Korea.

Sunja's choices, made at such a young age, cast a shadow over her family's future. By the time we leave her in 1989, we are so familiar with the texture of her life – we have felt her shame and regret, her grief, her uncertainty as well as her sureness, her pride and joy, her contentment – that it becomes hard for us too to step out from that shadow.

- Kate

The Hoarder by Jess Kidd

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The Hoarder is a mysterious novel of superb characterisation, excellent wit and deceptive wordplay. Maud Drennan, a psychic carer faces the task of helping the cantakerous Cathal Flood clear out his grand home in West London. Flood has scared off past carers and lives with a menagerie of cats, a fox, endless jumble and a few ghosts of the past. Soon Maud finds herseld trying to uncover the mystery surrounding the house and its inhabitants, aided only by her agoraphobic landlady Renata and a legion on unhelpful ghostly saints.

- Kate Menday

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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I'm jealous of people who get to read this novel for the first time. My first time was one of the most memorable reading experiences I've ever had. 

The novel alternates between two perspectives. Nao, a 16-year-old girl living in Tokyo and contemplating suicide, is writing a diary to demonstrate all the reasons why her life is no longer worth living but also to document the extraordinary life of her beloved great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. Ruth, a writer living on the Pacific coast of Canada, finds a Hello Kitty lunch box washed up on shore and, inside, Nao's diary. It's a few months after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Ruth becomes obsessed with Nao and desperately tries to find out what happened to her. Meanwhile, in the past, Nao carries on with her bitter-sweet everyday life. Ozeki masterfully plays with time, fact and fiction to create a story that is immensely satisfying.

- Kate

Autumn by Ali Smith

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Autumn, the first post-brexit book to emerge, is a poetic exploration of love and loss amidst political disarray. It is a meditative novel that effortlessly drifts between the dreams, memories and present-day realities of its two main characters, Elizabeth and Daniel. A deeply humanist book, Autumn delves into the hopes and fears of its two protagonists as they work their way through a politically divided Britain, (simultaneously adding healthy doses of art-history and philosophy along the way, in typical Smith fashion).

Autumn is the first in Ali Smith’s seasonal four-part series, and can be read as a stand-alone or alongside her latest offering Winter. Deeply relevant, and beautifully composed, Autumn is a must-read for anyone and everyone grappling with the current changing climate.

- Alex

All That Man Is by David Szalay

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Can all that one is - all that one's life amounts to - be captured in a single moment? It seems impossible, and yet, with his most recent novel, David Szalay has accomplished something almost as unlikely. He has managed to build a series of seemingly unrelated stories around those equally rare moments at which it feels as though something deeply significant - something life-altering - is at stake; those moments at which the very idea we have of ourselves and what we are capable of is either confirmed, or irrevocably shaken.

The problematic nature (to put it lightly) of contemporary masculinity has been the subject of much debate in recent times, and rightfully so. What this book helps to remind us of, however, is the absolutely crucial role for challenging and ambitious fiction for such discussions. Clear-eyed and merciless in its depiction of male shortcomings, Szalay's book is nevertheless full of empathy for its flawed - but recognizably human - characters. What sets this apart from the typical 'man-in-crisis' novel is the length Szalay is willing to go to to uncover the hidden corners of its protagonists' inner lives.

Bitterness, pathos and a hint of transcendence combine to make 'All That Man Is' essential reading.

- Dan

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

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Grann is a master of narrative non-fiction; his work is deeply researched and his prose so personal and engaging it reads like fiction. His latest book reveals the untold history of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma who in the early 20th Century were the wealthiest people per capita in the world thanks to the oil deposits beneath their reservation. From at least 1918 on, the members of one particular Osage family began dying in strange circumstances and with increasing frequency. It is this family that Grann centres his story on.

 

Around the same time these deaths were finally starting to look suspicious, the FBI was being formed and stepped in to investigate. Grann's history moves beyond their official records, however, to delve into the hundreds of unsolved murders of Osage during this time period that the FBI never touched and to speak with the descendants who to this day are trying to uncover the truth behind these murders. A riveting, pertinent story of the kind of horrific injustice and racist violence that is still rife across the globe today.

- Kate

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

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Peter is a 12-year-old boy with a pet fox, Pax. Peter found Pax as an orphaned cub shortly after Peter's mother died and the two have been inseperable ever since. But when war breaks out in his country and his father must leave to fight, Peter is forced to abandon Pax in the woods. 

The chapters alternate between Peter and Pax and we follow each of them as they face their fears and try their hardest to find one another again. A tender, enchanting read (and perfectly illustrated by Jon Klassen) for animal-lovers aged 9+.

- Kate