Staff Reviews 2019

Woo's Wonderful World of Maths
by Eddie Woo

Prior to becoming a teacher and all round, maths education, youtube superstar, Eddie Woo was a Humanities major.  Reading “Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths” this is immediately apparent; Woo is a skilled writer.  His curiosity, passion for mathematics, and sense of wonder is infectious.  This book will have you thinking about things you may not have ever pondered before, such as knot crossings and how you might use maths to ensure all your friends know at least someone at your party.  More than anything, it is a fun read and the illustrations are clear and engaging. Highly recommended. 

Reviewed by Ms L. Silkoff


Bridge of Clay
by Markus Zusak
A fragmented and not at all linear narrative,  Bridge of Clay follows the story of a group of brothers who have gone through their own fair share of trauma. There’s a clear Australian voice to it and the descriptions of the small town and red dirt were almost a modern take on Winton.

It was a wide ranging and kind of rambling narrative which perhaps could have used a decent edit, but I still enjoyed it. A summer read for when you have the time!

Reviewed by Ms K. Cameron


The Biographer's Lover
by Ruby Murray

This is a novel about the life of fictional Geelong painter Edna Cranmer, and how a young writer is commissioned to write Edna’s biography after the artist’s death. The writer has to deal with Cranmer’s family, which turns out to be a tedious affair full of contradictions, silences, illegitimate children, rape and denial. Further complications arise when the curators of Canberra’s War Memorial suddenly become interested in Cranmer’s work. The book gives a great sense of place if you know Geelong (and, for that matter, like the Cats), and is rather well written. However, I found the narrative a bit too contrived, the language a little too polished…. something I keep discovering is an issue with numerous new Australian novels. I really wonder why that is. Unless the problem is just me, of course.

Reviewed by Dr G. Reifarth


by Hans Rosling

This is my absolute favourite and eye opening read. I usually read crime and biographies so when I found this title under the Christmas tree my initial reaction was not positive. When I ran out of books I reluctantly turned to Hans Rosling’s Factfulness. In a time of fake news this is even more relevant.

Reviewed by Ms K. Taeubner


by Tim Winton

Tim Winton, Breath. He gets the vernacular voice right and surfing experiences of fear and thrill right - appealing Aussie stuff, but the lady in the shack stuff is not for mainstream adolescent reading and it might read like a more twisted variant on his ‘hurt male psyche’ routine. The film is well shot, quite faithful to the novel.

Reviewed by Dr M. Collins


Prize Fighter
by Future D. Fidel
Although billed as fiction, the story of Isa, a boy soldier in the Congo who eventually makes it to Australia as a refugee, reads like autobiography, and I am sure the author draws on the experiences of his childhood and that of other boy soldiers. The descriptions of the murder of Isa’s family, his capture and violent training to become a boy soldier and his subsequent actions are horrific and difficult to read. Once accepted as a refugee in Brisbane he struggles to find his way until a talent for boxing proves his salvation. This is a heart rending book which highlights the unimaginable brutality of war in the Congo and the dire circumstances that refugees are sometimes escaping. It is disturbing, but Isa’s resilience and quest for redemption also make it an inspiring and thought-provoking read. I would recommend it for years 8 and up, but ‘handle with care’ for the younger boys.

Reviewed by Ms M. Sweeney


The Pearl Thief
by Fiona McIntosh

If you love your World War II history with a shot of Mills and Boon, then “The Pearl Thief” is for you. I could have done with less of romance and contrived plot twists, and more of the history of the Kindertransports of Prague. McIntosh’s dialogue is sometimes strained and her characters veer towards caricature. With her Nazi villain , it is almost like the book is paired to an ominous soundtrack that thuds every time he enters a scene. But the power in this book is in the description. You feel the string of pearls, you can smell the soup in apartment, you can feel the light on the trees as you stroll through a park in Paris. This novel is far from great, but a guilty pleasure nonetheless.

Reviewed by Ms L. Silkoff


One Summer
by David Baldacci

One Summer is a book about the summer of 1927. Bryson writes in a crisp, clear and engaging manner about all manner of topics. If you have any interest in sport, transport, movies, finance, the USA or adventure then this may just ‘float your boat’. I laughed and learnt and hope you do too!

Reviewed by Mr D. Wightman


Early Riser
by Jasper Fforde

I have read all of Fforde’s novels from his brilliant 2001 first, The Eyre Affair, which I found witty beyond belief. However, with this new one I felt Fforde’s wit has become tired, tedious even, and the elaborate constriction of a fictional universe is marred by an overly gimmicky style of narrative. It is as if the writer felt he needs a certain amount of jokes and throw-away lines per chapter. A shame, because the novel’s premise is fascinating enough. We are in Wales at an unspecified time (Mammoths roam, though) and humankind spends four Winter months in hibernation, with only a small number remaining awake.

All sorts of villains threaten this society, and now some of the sleepers start having dreams that may topple the whole arrangement – or maybe be a liberation from it… If presented maybe as a proper, serious dystopia, these ideas could certainly have become a gripping read. As things are, this simply is not the case.

Reviewed by Dr G. Reifarth


Washington Black
by Esi Edugyan

When first we meet Washington he is an 11 year old slave on a sugar plantation in Barbados. The plantation is run by a tyrannical Englishman and conditions are harsh until Washington is selected as a personal slave/research assistant to the brother of the tyrant. Titch is an eccentric but gentle scientist who is obsessed with building and launching a hot air balloon. The balloon leads to a terrible accident and horrific injuries for Washington, but ironically it also results in his escape from the plantation. The strange life that follows takes the boy to Alaska and America, sees him turn in unexpected directions and grow into a man. The writing is dramatic but controlled, the characters unusual but endearing, and the story fascinating. This was my favourite read of the summer.

Reviewed by Ms M. Sweeney


Goodness Not Grief
by Professor Yean Leng Lim

Goodness Not Grief is an autobiography by Professor Yean Leng Lim, one of the leading cardiologists in Melbourne and Singapore. During the Christmas holidays my son and I had the privilege to meet with the author and his wife through an introduction by a mutual friend at his church. I found Professor Lim is a profoundly warm, caring, multi-talented, highly intelligent, yet surprisingly interesting and witty human being. I was deeply touched by his strong belief in being a good doctor and a good Christian. This autobiography illustrated Professor Lim’s life long journey in becoming a good doctor, a great mentor and a tireless contributor to developing countries. The book was published in both languages, originally written in simple English and translated into Chinese. I really enjoyed reading the book in three days.

Reviewed by Ms J. Zhou


The Lost Man
by Jane Harper

“The Lost Man” is the third novel written by Jane Harper and represents a return to form for the author whose critically acclaimed first novel, “The Dry” was set in drought ridden New South Wales. The story centres around a murder which stirs up the issues of suicide, fraternal jealousy and community bonds within a small town. In a similar way to how Harper used the brutal drought to forecast the sense of desperation and desolation in “The Dry”, “The Lost Man’s” most frightening character is the Australian outback. The cruelty, unrelenting and lethal nature of the Australian outback is painted with incredible skill by the author. Harper’s characters feel like real people, I found myself sympathetic and appalled by them in turn. Harper is a talented author and has written another fantastic novel. I highly recommend this book.

Reviewed by Ms L. Silkoff


Shanti Bloody Shanti: An Indian Odyssey
by Aaron Smith

An Aussie bloke decamps from his crumbling life in Sydney to spontaneously explore India. Zig-zagging the enormity of India over a period of long months, along with an ever changing band of quirky travelling friends, exploring and evading love, death, drugs, yoga and in the process uncovering parts of himself he might or might not have been ready to learn about. Funny, touching, terrifying, exciting, visual, raw and very real; Aaron tells a story that is amusing, captivating and, dare I say it, even inspiring!

Reviewed by Ms M. Watterson


An Orchestra of Minorities
by Chigozie Obioma

In Nigeria, young poultry farmer Chinonso stops a woman from killing herself, falls in love with her and intends to marry her. When her family does not approve of such an uneducated spouse, he sells his farm to pay for a university course in Cyprus, which a friend has organised for him to complete. When he gets to Cyprus, things start to go horribly wrong; first Chinonso realises his friend took off with the money supposedly paying for his course, and then he is (wrongly) accused of and imprisoned for rape. While this may sound rather bleak, this novel whose narrative is presented by the protagonist’s guardian spirit (!) is filled with warmth, wisdom, humour and Igbo mythology. I really enjoyed this rich narrative!

Reviewed by Dr G. Reifarth


The Girl on the Page
by John Purcell

What an intriguing book this is! I can’t decide whether it’s gilded gossip or witty, literary satire. And that’s where the cleverness lies, because the debate that runs through the book is about the place and worth of commercial fiction versus literary fiction. There are also plenty of asides about the Booker Prize, actual previous recipients and contemporary contenders. Who wins and why? Are their books relevant? Is literary fiction pompous and boring or beautiful, strong and brilliant? When a stunning, rich and promiscuous young woman who ‘fixes’ commercial drafts to turn them into commercial blockbusters is asked to work with one of the foremost literary writers in England (who is one of the few writers in the book who is fictional herself), moral, ethical and practical quandaries abound. I found myself enjoying the book and feeling guilty for doing so. I’d be glad to hear what you think about this book – is it trash or treasure?

Reviewed by Ms M. Sweeney