The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

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To save her grandfather’s beloved home, Vita and her band of good thieves must face off against the sinister swindler, Sorrotore. Set in Prohibition-era New York, this roller-coaster read has all the ingredients for an exhilarating adventure: jewels, pickpockets, circus performers, horses, an elephant, and an elaborate heist.

With brilliant bad guys and a handful of lovable heroes, The Good Thieves is thrilling and full of heart – a fantastic choice for all kids 8+

- Rhiannon

Circe by Madeline Miller

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In this divine return to the world of Greek myth, Miller gifts an unforgettable voice to an overlooked character. Circe — a villain, a memory, a footnote — is granted space to tell her story.

An immortal with the heart of a human, Circe proves a perfect guide for the tangled paths of tales long told. Legends are unpicked and resewn. Beloved heroes emerge fresh and flawed as Circe takes your hand, digs in her nails, draws a little blood, and plummets from the brutal brilliance of the sun god’s court to the earthly reality of her island prison.

Hope, love, revenge, monsters, motherhood… Magic and mythology pressed so deeply into the dirt you’ll wonder if it really happened. I loved it!

— Rhiannon

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Based on the true story of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Florida, The Nickel Boys follows Elwood Curtis, a Black teenager galvanised by the civil rights movement and wrongly convicted of car theft, during his time at the Nickel Academy for Boys. At just over two hundred pages, this slight but compelling book speaks to racism, whiteness, masculinity, trauma, remembrance and forgetting while interrogating Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for African Americans to love their oppressors. Highly recommended.

- Jacob

The Collaborator by Diane Armstrong

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It’s March 1944 and Adolf Eichmann is intent on deporting to Auschwitz the last remaining major group of Jews in Europe – the Hungarian Jews. Eichmann is considering an audacious proposal to save over 1600 of these people in exchange for 10,000 trucks to be supplied by the Allies and for use by the Nazis on the Eastern Front. The intermediary in this negotiation is Miklos Nagy, a fictionalised Reszo Kasztner - a figure who, to this day, evokes polarising views about his purpose, methodology and morality.

The book takes us to three different times zones and places – Sydney and Israel 2005, Tel Aviv 1954 and Budapest 1944. Using well-developed fictional characters, Diane unravels the story of the train and its passengers, the impact on Hungarian Jewry and, later, on the fledgling Israeli government. Using her imaginative skills, Diane is able to realistically evoke scenes and conversations involving the real-life personalities and with finely tuned antennae, she explores the moral ambiguity of the choices people make ‘in extremis’ and the misconceptions that arise.

The Collaborator invites the reader to ponder the dilemmas that war brings to the people affected while simultaneously taking the reader on a thrilling emotional journey leading to a spectacular dénouement.

- Rita

It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

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It Sounded Better in My Head is the heartwarming debut novel by Melbourne author Nina Kenwood.

Three friends, Natalie, Lucy and Zach, navigate their final year of high school and all the tricky, awkward and often cringeworthy things that accompany adolescence.

This excellent coming-of-age story illustrates some difficult teen issues — body image, family and friendship breakdowns, jealousy, virginity, first loves — but all with humour, grace and maturity.

Perfect for 16 to 18 year olds, It Sounded Better in My Head is Australia’s answer to Jenny Han’s novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before — but better!

Bella

The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

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This book thoroughly deserved the Stella Prize 2019.
Vicki has been disowned and disinherited but is summoned home to Alberta Canada to look after her elderly father who seems to be in a neglected state.
This memoir reveals a psychologically disturbed but powerful mother whose influence has wreaked havoc in the life of Vicki and the rest of the family. Vicki perseveres but finds little reward for her efforts.
This is a powerful and emotional biography and hard to put down.

- Barb

The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith

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Martin Embry, a uni student has persevered in requesting Claude Ballard for an interview about his famous movie “The Electric Hotel” of which there are no known copies. Claude agrees finally.
In 1985 the Lumiere brothers are demonstrating their forty six second moving film, the first ever to be projected so that groups could watch, a ground breaking improvement on Edison’s Kinetoscope. Claude is transfixed, smitten with the impact of this revelation, his life changed forever.
Dominic Smith’s new novel is an historical and fascinating story of the birth of the movie industry told through the life and love of Claude. It takes us through the tortuous pain of love, creation, business and the war.
I found this book fascinating from both an historical perspective and loved it through its characters. A great story.

- Barb

My Country: Stories Essays & Speeches by David Marr

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What a wonderful book, one that is very hard to stop reading and put down.
Marr shines a bright light on many of the intriguing stories from the recent history of our nation. Often he does it from the vantage point of actually being on the spot as that history unfolded. His stories, essays and speeches are carefully researched and delivered with compassion, insightfulness and frequently with much refreshing and hilarious good humour. Some stories involve Marr’s own personal history played out on the wider Australian story. He tells those stories with great honesty, thoughtfulness and tenderness for those around him. He is an extremely gifted journalist and writer and his book deserves to be widely read.

- John

Dan's Philosophy Picks - Stop Being Reasonable by Eleanor Gordon-Smith

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Since our last few philosophy picks have showcased the views of long-dead, beardy white guys (not exactly an under-represented demographic within philosophy), let's reverse this trend by looking at a much more recent publication, 'Stop Being Reasonable', by the very un-dead, and un-beardy (though still white) philosopher Eleanor Gordon-Smith.
The first thing to note about the book is that it ticks several boxes for a contemporary pop-philosophy/self-help hit straight out of the gate: 1) Intriguingly counter-intuitive title? Check. 2) Garishly-coloured cover? Check. Really, all that's missing is a prominently placed swear word in the title and we would have been dealing with a sure-fire hit. As it stands, we have something far more interesting; namely, a critical reflection on the role of rational argument in our lives. As a former debating champion, Gordon-Smith found herself compelled to reflect on these matters when it became clear that the techniques of rational persuasion that proved so successful in the structured world of debating were far less so when put into use in real world situations. Why, Gordon-Smith asks, is it so hard to convince men who cat-call in public that what they are doing is wrong? How would you respond (in middle age) to the revelation that you were adopted? When the facts change must our feelings change accordingly? What possible evidence could bring us to question our most deeply held views? Gordon-Smith examines these and other questions with her insightful (and thoroughly entertaining) treatments of real life examples, interspersed with moments of sober philosophical reflections about the role played by emotions in our practices of decision-making and opinion-forming. Her conclusions, though perhaps not entirely surprising, amount to a timely criticism of the level to which public debate has lately sunk. More and more it seems, people on different sides of the political and moral divide are unable or unwilling to engage each other. To make things worse, the pervasive nature of social media means that we are exposed only to views that serve to confirm our own.What is required, according to Gordon-Smith, is not so much that we stop being reasonable, but that we enlarge (and thereby complicate) our conception of what reasonbleness is, and what it requires.  

The Force by Don Winslow

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Sergeant Denny Malone can't remember when he crossed the line, but he knows there's no going back. It's a familiar moral conundrum; still the manner in which it is lived (and suffered) through by Malone over the course of this brisk and rivetingly visceral book makes Don Winslow's 'The Force' essential reading for crime fans - or indeed, anyone curious about the genre. Even in a crime fiction landscape already packed with grizzled, taciturn dudes, Malone carves a lonely path. Lacking the cunning of a Bosch or Rebus, Malone aproaches obstacles with the subtlety of a human battering ram. And yet, in contrast to the superhuman capacity for violence and emotional detachment exhibited by a Jack Reacher-type hero, Malone is capable of genuine human relationships. Indeed, it's these relationships (particularly those between Malone and his fellow cops - his second family) that give rise to the moral questions that drive the action. Many reviewers have drawn comparisons between this book and Mario Puzo's classic mafia-themed novels. The comparison is apt, if only because it raises the question of how the members of a particular moral tribe (whether this applies to the crooks or the cops) attempt to justify their actions as a necessary means of 'protecting their own'. As Winslow's book shows, such justifications can only go so far; at some point, the things we do to protect others from the consequences of our mistakes risk alienating us from those same people entirely. Will Denny Malone heed this lesson before it's too late? Pick up a copy and find out!

- Dan

This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

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Delve deep into the fascinating world of the overworked, underpaid, struggling doctors that are the backbone of the UK's NHS.
From the totally grotesque to the outright funny and the emotionally touching, engross yourself in Adam's diary entries and be transported to a world much different than we realise.
Adam's way with words, and his explanations of medical terms in the footnotes, provide those with no medical knowledge a chance to transport themselves into the hospital room with the doctor himself.
A book that will make you thankful for all that our wonderful doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals accomplish daily. You wont want to put this down!

- Nik

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

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Ulf Varg is a detective. Smart, revered by his peers, and owner of a lip reading dog and a light grey Saab.
In the Department of Sensitive Crimes, McCall Smith, considers, through Ulf, the idea of bringing ‘…to the surface the things that are below the surface’.
For those unfamiliar with Scandinavian literature, and culture, McCall Smith paints a picture of a way of life that, while existing within the same system about which we whinge, is characterised by values of equality, horizontal social fabrics, and community. Its a place that seems like that of a by-gone era. Against this backdrop, and many philosophical musings, Ulf finds simple pleasures to content him in his post-divorce life. He listens carefully. He respects the values and concerns of others, even when it pains him. And finally, he carefully dissects the uncertainties and perplexities of the world around him, one sensitive crime at a time.

- Ben

Dan's Philosophy Picks - Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry Thoreau

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Because we like to keep things fresh here at O&F, our second pick in the philosophy recommendations series falls somewhat outside the confines of the traditional philosophical canon. It might even be asked whether, properly speaking, Thoreau's book should be considered philosophy at all. Let me try to quell these concerns - and thereby say something about what I take this book to be about - by firstly saying what I think it is not about. Walden is not about 'getting back to nature', nor should it be read as some kind of spiritually-infused ode to the purity of the natural world. Most importantly however, it is emphatically not a 'self-help' book. That is, it should not be read as some kind of guide to achieveing happiness, or even wisdom. Instead, Walden - as I understand it - is one person's passionate and almost pathalogically clear-eyed attempt at self-actualization. (Fancy word, Dan, but do you actually know what it means?) By this I just mean that this book constitutes one writer's attempt to understand himself and his relation to the world by looking closer at what was in front of him. Furthermore, since he was drawn to the simplicity and clarity of nature (woods, animals and - duh - ponds), that is where he found his philosophical inspiration and primary subject matter. (Not that the book doesn't also feature numerous insights about the social nature of human-kind.) As my O&F colleague Bella once helped me to see, 'self-help' books tell you how to find happiness through being 'normal'. That is, they function against the backdrop of standards and expectations that we are not often invited to question. Philosophy, on the other hand, begins with a spirit of refusal: refusal to accept the half-truths that satisfy a debased popular imagination. Thoreau felt - and lived - this refusal more deeply than most, and this perplexing, illuminating and frustrating book is the result.

Favourite quote:

There have been many stories told about the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond, which certainly had no foundation for themselves. It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it.”

- Dan

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

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This powerful memoir looks unflinchingly at how the Australian court system handles cases of sexual assault, laying bare its prejudices, limitations and failings.

What makes this book so compelling is the professional and personal insight brought to the subject by author Bri Lee: first as a law student and judge’s associate, and later as a complainant, pursuing legal action against the man who abused her as a child. We follow Lee's journey on both sides of the legal process, oscillating between disillusionment and empowerment, gripped by her eloquent and perceptive prose.

At once intensely personal and heartbreakingly universal, Eggshell Skull is a remarkable achievement. I couldn’t recommend it more.


- Bec

Down the Hume by Peter Polites

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Mesmerised by his abusive boyfriend and addicted to the drugs he steals from the aged care home where he works, Bux is stuck in a rut.  

This gritty, queer, drug-addled noir isn't what you'd call a pleasant read, but it is a deeply satisfying exploration of Sydney's darker recesses. Down the Hume will appeal to fans of Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard, and pairs well with a knowledge of Sydney and its inhabitants.

This is an excellent debut from a promising young Western Sydney-based author.

- Jacob

Dan's Philosophy Picks - The Republic by Plato

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A popular saying has it that the entire history of western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato. As is often the case with a sweeping statement of this kind, scratch the obvious hyperbole on its surface and you will find more than a little truth beneath. Case in point: The Republic, in which Plato - via the musings of his teacher Socrates - offers not only a canonical text in political philosphy, but also some of the first sustained attempts at coming to grips with concepts as fundamental as, for example, the nature of human goodness (Ethics), the basis of our knowledge (Epistemology), and the fundamental nature of reality (Metaphysics). At this stage, however, rather than focusing on its content (which, let's face it, would be a bit boring, since so many have already said so much about it), we can instead focus on its method. For as much as the questions he asks, it is the manner in which Plato (via Socrates) seeks to answer them that make the Republic such an indespensible text even today. In the several thousand years since Plato wrote this book, philosophy as a disciplne has come under a great deal of pressure from outside forces - so much so that at times it has threatened to become merely a branch of either logic or the natural sciences. This outcome must be resisted. What Plato shows us - through the voice of Socrates - is that, at its most fruitful, the kind of conceptual analysis practiced by the philosopher need not be viewed as uncovering metaphysical definitions or 'conditions of warranted assertion', but instead as providing a particularly valuable form of self-knowledge. It is by coaxing these kinds of insights from us (insights about what counts as 'knowledge' or 'goodness' or 'justice') that the philosopher is able to bring home to us the fact that if there is to be a basis for such knowledge, we must find it in ourselves.
As the great 20th century American philosopher Stanley Cavell notes: "That this also renews and deepens and articulates our understanding tells us something about the mind, and provides the consolation of philosophers." 

- Dan (resident bookseller AND philosopher)

What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume

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What I Like About Me is an utterly charming YA novel from debut author Jenna Guillaume.

It follows the exploits of lovably awkward Maisie Martin as she holidays with her family on an Australian beach for the summer. Maisie is funny, smart, fat and beautiful. That's right. Fat AND beautiful. Her whole life, Maisie thought that the two terms were mutually exclusive, but over the course of this particular summer, she discovers that beauty comes in more shapes and sizes than she realised.

This book is heartwarming, body-affirming and uplifting. It reclaims the word 'fat' from body-shamers, and encourages readers to view their bodies with joy and self-love. It's also jam-packed with humour, romance and diversity. It's the ultimate holiday read, perfect for fans of Dumplin'‘ and Mean Girls alike.

- Bec

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

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Black Leopard, Red Wolf is nothing like Game of Thrones. You might say that Black Leopard, Red Wolf is to Game of Thrones what Game of Thrones is to Harry Potter - but the truth is that it's operating in a different sphere. 

The first book in Marlon James' Dark Star trilogy does not allow for lazy reading. It is dense, delirious, expansive, and compelling, spinning African mythology into dark, violent, embodied writing.
If you've found popular fantasy lacking, in its writing or in its conventions, this may be the book you've been waiting for: assured, capacious, adult fantasy. I still don't quite know what to make of this book, and that, I think, is exciting.

Like Neil Gaiman said: 'Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the kind of novel I never realised I was missing until I read it.'

- Jacob

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper

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Chloe Hooper is a brilliant author. Her ability to transport you to a precise place and space in time, is unparalleled. In 'The Arsonist', she paints an incredibly terrifying image. You are immediately surrounded by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, which left 173 people dead.

The stories from surviving residents and emergency service men and women are haunting. As she weaves a timeline of catastrophic events you are left feeling horrified, wounded and furious at the unimaginable loss endured by all those who were effected. However, Hooper has a true gift for objective writing. Through uncovering more about ‘the arson’ himself, it is easy to also find yourself feeling hurt and angered by his painful story.

A book I had to pause from to collect myself many times – as it can be terribly overwhelming, yet remains so important and such a fine piece of non-fiction work.

- Bella

Calypso by David Sedaris

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Calypso is raw, humorous and sometimes heartbreaking all at once. Sedaris invites us to observe his family - their idiosyncrasies, tragedies, and ever shifting connections with one another.
Like all families Sedaris’ family is not without drama and disagreement. His honesty is refreshing, as he allows a view into some deeply personal experiences (his sister’s suicide, his mother’s alcoholism, parent/sibling/partner conflicts, unbreakable family bonds).

However, the book is not all doom and gloom, in fact quite the contrary. His wit will have you laughing at things that will make you question your own sanity, and no tragedy will be outweighed by his ability to make you smile.

It is a wonderful read, and there is a truly hilarious chapter in which he becomes addicted to his FitBit - that alone, made the entire book worth reading.

- Bella