May 2024


Chisholm, EdwardA waiter in Paris
Diviney, HannahI’ll let myself in
Goldsworthy, PeterThe cancer finishing school
Hachiya, MichihikoThe doctor of Hiroshima
Kieza, GrantleeSister Viv
McGettigan, LynLucky to be here
Nguyen, Viet ThanhA man of two faces
Rushdie, SalmanKnife
Turnell, SeanAn unlikely prisoner
Wilson, RuthThe Jane Austen remedy

A Waiter in Paris by Edward Chisholm

A former waiter in Paris shares unsettling memories from behind the scenes. In 2011, following the financial crisis and “a string of petty jobs,” Chisholm moved from London to Paris in search of a satisfying career. Although it wasn’t his original plan, he took a restaurant job while fantasizing about becoming a writer. Despite having little knowledge of the French language or experience as a server, he managed to fake his way into a position as a runner in an upscale restaurant, where he was labeled L’Anglais. In trial-by-fire fashion, Chisholm faced extremely hierarchical and competitive working conditions; after six brutal months, he became an official waiter. In this revealing social commentary, Chisholm shares the appalling working conditions that he and his co-workers faced behind the facade of fine French dining. “As a waiter,” he writes, “you quickly get used to the fact that people believe they can talk to you like a lower species.” Each of his colleagues diligently played their roles in this “vast culinary amphitheatre” even as they endured condescending managers and rude customers. Working long, grueling shifts, Chisholm reveals that the staff often scraped by on stolen cigarette breaks and stale coffee and rolls. On luckier occasions, they secretly consumed half-touched plates and unfinished glasses of wine left by patrons. The author delves into the difficulties and uncertainties that he and his co-workers faced getting paid or taking time off, and he shares his experiences with squalid living conditions and even homelessness. Although the book is set in Paris, Chisholm demonstrates how his stories of struggle have universal appeal. After months of dealing with his uncaring, corrupt employers, Chisholm found himself dreaming of an uprising against them. Following an injury on the job, his path became clear: “I felt almost duty bound to write this book. To give a voice to an invisible workforce.” In that, he succeeds admirably. An enlightening view of the underworld of fine French dining. Kirkus Reviews, June 2022

The Cancer Finishing School by Peter Goldsworthy

Memoir is a self-conscious, reflexive mode by definition but, in The Cancer Finishing School, this feels doubly true. As a “doctor-writer”, Goldsworthy is both physician and patient; observer and observed, all at once. The result is a very personal story told with remarkable objectivity. Part of the treatment for his eventual diagnosis of myeloma involves an autologous stem cell transplant, whereby healthy cells are collected from a donor’s blood or bone marrow, stored, and later returned to them after treatment. This feels like an apt metaphor for the project of this book: Goldsworthy harvests the marrow of his own experience, transplanting it to the page so that it might be put to good use and given new life. Alongside this literary sensibility, Goldsworthy’s extensive medical career illuminates his story. His prose is suffused with dark humour, which is “as much a part of the language of our tribe as Latin and Greek. He braids his own journey with the stories of his patients – living and dead – who are presented as part of his consciousness, “coughed up … in vivid present-tense immediacy” as he lies in bed. Ultimately, the “lessons” of his illness are commonplace. He is more “open to the world” and has a renewed sense of gratitude: “The pillowed head that I wake beside each morning has never seemed more dear.” For him, cancer has been a “blessing” and a “gift”. Such realisations might be cliched (he even writes that “battle” may actually be a fitting word to describe the experience of cancer) but Goldsworthy is fully cognisant of this fact. His lessons – about love, family and connection – are “nothing more than a handful of useful, if not particularly original platitudes that I should have known all along”. This is the strength of Goldsworthy’s memoir: he doesn’t insist on his own uniqueness but offers himself as a vessel to examine something more universal. The Guardian, March 2024

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Armitage, RichardGeneva
Bishop, StephanieThe anniversary
Casale, AlexiaThe best way to bury your husband
Chandran, ShankariSafe Haven 
Darling, MirandaThunderhead
Dean, AbigailDay One
Everett, PercivalJames
FitzGerald, HelenHalfway house
Gurnah, AbdulrazakAfterlives
Hawkins, KelliMiller women
Kelly, CathySisterhood
Lee, BriThe work
Lester, Natasha,If I should lose you
Orange, TommyWandering stars
Palmer, BobbySmall hours
Polites, PeterGod forgets about the poor
Tremain, RoseAbsolutely and forever
Unger, LisaThe new couple in 5B
Wakefield, VikkiTo the river
Winslow, DonCity in ruins
Woollett, Laura ElizabethWest girls

The Work by Bri Lee

Irish author Nolan (Acts of Desperation) delivers an insightful if lugubrious tale of a family under suspicion for a neighbor girl’s murder. Carmel Green, a young unwed Irish mother in 1990 England, once believed she was “destined for special things.” Now, feeling painfully ordinary, she mourns her faded promise. Carmel and her 10-year-old daughter, Lucy, live with Carmel’s father and brother, both of whom are alcoholics. Her mother, an affable woman who held the family together, died two years ago. Nolan alternates perspectives between the four Greens and Tom, an ambitious newspaper reporter who becomes interested in the family when their three-year-old neighbor is strangled to death, and suspicion falls on Lucy. After the police take Lucy into custody, Tom sequesters Carmel and the men in a small hotel, where he plies them with alcohol in hopes of getting enough material to write a “major, state-of-the-nation piece” on the family of a child murderess. The Greens’ revelations are by turn ironic and sad. Though the gloomy subject matter makes for rough going, Nolan is a gifted writer, capable of stunningly precise observations. This unflinching tale provokes. Publishers Weekly, October 2023


The Anniversary by Stephanie Bishop

The simmering latest from Bishop (The Other Side of the World) explores an unbalanced marriage and a mysterious death. Fourteen years ago, author J.B. Blackwood married her much older former professor, Patrick Heller, now a film director with a cultlike following; his success has put an increasing strain on their relationship. She talks him into taking a cruise from Alaska to Japan to celebrate their anniversary, but after a few boozy days on the water, an unexpected storm seizes their boat, and Patrick falls overboard and drowns. J.B. returns from the vacation alone, grappling with her husband’s sudden death and forced into the limelight as the widow of a famous man. Though J.B.’s star had finally begun to rise before her spouse’s death, thanks to a New Yorker profile and a big prize nomination, Patrick continues to overshadow her (“even in death he had the power to eclipse my own achievements,” she thinks). Among other instances when Patrick exploited their uneven power dynamic, J.B. recalls their secret professor-student relationship and Patrick’s uncredited use of her work for his most successful films. Bishop sustains a breakneck pace, keeping up the suspense with lingering questions about the circumstances of Patrick’s death. The result is beguiling and incisive in equal measure. Publishers Weekly, September 2023


The Warm Hands of Ghosts by Katherine Arden

Arden (The Bear and the Nightingale) blends a meticulously researched WWI epic, an eloquent family saga, and a touch of the supernatural in this breathtaking historical fantasy. Nurse Laura Iven returns home to Halifax, Nova Scotia, after being wounded on the Western Front and honorably discharged from the medical corps. When she learns in early 1918 that her soldier brother Freddie—her last living family member—is missing and presumed dead, she’s overwhelmed with questions, so she volunteers to return to Belgium, where she’ll work at a private hospital and seek answers in her limited spare time. The narrative shifts between Laura’s perspective and Freddie’s own, a year prior, as he falls in with a mysterious and potentially mystical new friend, adding captivating depth and tension to an already intriguing premise. Arden’s carefully constructed plot makes each unexpected twist feel as inevitable as it is shocking. Through resonant prose, she literalizes the apocalyptic qualities of WWI while dwelling in moral complexity and delivering vibrant, fully fleshed-out characters. The interwoven supernatural elements lend the historical details greater weight. The result is a powerful page-turner. Publishers Weekly, November 2023.


Safe Haven by Shankari Chandran

Set in a detention centre in Port Camden, Safe Haven focuses on the lives of refugees after their perilous journeys. As Shankari Chandran writes, they trade the prison of the home they ran away from, the wars, atrocities and violence, for another kind of prison, one sanctioned by Western policies that brand themselves as charitable. People who’ve survived the worst the world can throw at them are broken by the reality of the ‘asylum’ they’ve been granted, and it’s this reality that our main character, Serafina, has to reveal to the public. Sister Serafina Daniels is a Tamil nun who escaped with others from the civil war in Sri Lanka through multiple ships and eventually a frail boat, losing tens of lives along the way. Near drowning, the boat is miraculously rescued by a nearby passenger vessel that hears their emergency call. Afforded asylum on the ‘Safe Haven’ visa, she works as a pastoral care worker for others in the centre, however, she’s arrested when she’s unable to keep her silence about the reality of their conditions. The arrest kickstarts her involvement in a greater conspiracy surrounding the detention centre, one that threatens her life and the comfortable reality the government and many Australians have chosen to live in. Safe Haven is ultimately about the ugliness in our society that makes the human desire for love, safety and belonging a privilege afforded only to a few. Chandran has finetuned her skill of creating visceral characters rooted in reality; her writing style is atmospheric and immersive, incredibly plot-driven and has a strong message. Her experiences in law and social justice are evident in the skill of her research. Despite it all, the human core of the novel shines through: the kindness of the characters, the lengths they go to save each other and the futures they believe in. Readings, April 2024

The End of the Morning by Charmian Clift

There is both a joy and a sadness in reading Charmian Clift’s unfinished novel, The End of the Morning, as it is published now, 55 years after her death. Nadia Wheatley, Clift’s long-time advocate, biographer, and champion of the work and the woman that was Charmain Clift, has produced this wonderful volume. It comprises a novella-length opening to an unfinished book, an insightful essay by Wheatley on the background of said novel, and a further selection of Clift’s wonderful essays from her groundbreaking, wildly popular newspaper weekly columns of the 1960s. She just wrote so bloody well. Heartfelt, direct, empathetic, unapologetic, challenging us – she pulled no punches and was not afraid to be heard. Clift first started The End of the Morning in 1962. Her most important autobiographic work, just 47 pages, is simply a delight. A beautifully evoked memory of a young girl’s relationship with her own country and people in coastal Kiama, Clift’s writing is evocatively rendered with love and fondness and honesty. It begins as a panoramic picture of place and people, of the day-to-day happenings of the family and the community. There are portraits of struggles and trials and joys of the everyday that are just beautifully written, and I smiled and grimaced and laughed and cried – often within the same page. This is a wonderful book and Nadia Wheatley has done a superb job in keeping Clift’s work alive. Charmian Clift painted with words: read and listen to her passionate voice, her fine, detailed descriptions of place and time and people, of the love she felt and the troubles she struggled with. That she took them all on board and then challenged us all to be better – bless her. Readings, March 2024

Thunderhead by Miranda Darling

Winona Dalloway wakes up at 5am to steal a sense of freedom. From the outside, she seems an ordinary suburban mother/wife/person, but inside the thunder is growing louder and louder. Chaos stirs and swells into the corners of her mind, revealing intimate truths that one hopes would never surface. It felt a privilege to be let inside Winona’s world on this significant day – a day that could change the entire course of her life. Thunderhead is one of those books that had me receiving curious looks on the tram for I couldn’t contain my snorts of laughter and sighs of solidarity. Completely immersed and becoming closely tied with Winona’s reality, I had to remind myself to ease my grip on the pages. Hints of Sylvia Plath and Shirley Jackson seep off the page as Winona’s escapist narratives and inside jokes guide us – willingly – into the eye of a storm. As Winona says, ‘We feel elation in the vicarious freedom of the runaways even if we are too frightened to run ourselves – perhaps because we are too frightened to run ourselves.’ I found myself sprinting alongside Winona, urging her to run faster and not look back, no matter what might be at risk. Miranda Darling writes from the absolute edge and leads us atop a tightrope strung high between submission and freedom. This book is the loss of balance, the breathlessness before the fall. Sharp, complex, and painfully relatable, Thunderhead is a firecracker of a story that lives up to its title. Darling’s dry wit and stark prose swallowed me whole, and I know I’ll be ruminating over it for a while to come. Readings, March 2024

God Forgets About the Poor by Peter Polites

The premise of Western Sydney author Peter Polites’ third novel feels simple: a son tells his mother’s story. The narrator’s family is from Greece. His mother, named Honoured, was born in a craggy mountain village on the island of Lefkada where twisting paths score the limestone face of the island and the haze of rain carries the scent of pine. Honoured is savvy. In a raucous first chapter composed in her voice, she lectures the son that he should write about her for his next book because Australians love stories of migrant suffering. To say God Forgets About the Poor is about suffering, however, is to undersell it. The rest of the book’s chapters settle back into the third person, spanning different eras in Honoured’s life, from a 1940s childhood beset by illness to a 1970s Athens full of ‘shouty floral patterns that not even the Mediterranean sun could fade’, to 1980s migrant domesticity in Sydney, and finally the more recent past. Honoured is a fascinating figure: the third child in a family of five girls, raised by a father who wanted an education for each of his daughters. This is also a book about diaspora and the intricate work of making and remaking lasting links to your history and culture, told with a pungent melancholy but not sentimentalism. Polites scatters echoes of ritual and imagery throughout the book, creating a dense topography of memory and connection: ‘Half a world away the Greeks of the diaspora still gave each other their bountiful harvests of golden lemons in plastic Coles bags and homemade pressed olive oil in two-litre Coke bottles.’ I was thoroughly absorbed in Polites’ crafting of such a tough, paradoxical, generous soul and, contrary to Honoured’s initial assessment, would recommend this book to anyone who loves stories about migrant life, legacy and tough family love. Readings, July 2023

Black Duck: A Year at Yumburra by Bruce Pascoe

In 2014’s Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe shared the untold story of Indigenous agriculture, suggesting a history very different to the orthodox colonial narrative and starting a political firestorm in the process. A decade later and he is back with Black Duck, a work that lies in the shadow of Dark Emu but is nonetheless determined to strike its own path. On one hand, it’s a deeply pragmatic book asking important questions about Indigenous disempowerment and food sovereignty. On the other it’s a beautifully meandering reflection on a year of work and living. In both cases, Country is the beating heart of Pascoe’s writing. If Dark Emu was the theory, Pascoe’s organisation Black Duck Foods is the practice, striving for Indigenous food sovereignty and a sea change in white Australia’s perspective on native food. However, despite the name, that work is just one of the many recurring threads in Black Duck, a book following Pascoe’s reflections through past and present, reminiscence blending with reportage. While on the surface the book seems to lack a driving thesis, that absence feels intentional – it is the story of a year of long days, some tough, others triumphant, but all of them slow and contemplative. The meandering is the point: there should always be time in the day to watch the birds and care for the land. Indeed, Pascoe’s writing pays as much care and respect to the wildlife he encounters as he does the humans in his life, acknowledging their agency and importance for the land. Furthering that sense of connection, Pascoe refuses to treat the book like a solitary project, perpetually celebrating the hard work and friendship of the people he meets, as if the entire book was an acknowledgements section. It’s a refreshing approach that, coupled with the irrepressible warmth of Pascoe’s writing voice, makes Black Duck a true pleasure to read. I found myself longing for the same slowness and connection in my own life – this is the sort of book that bristles at the indoors and begs to be read in fits and starts as you leave time for the living world around you. Readings, March 2024

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Foster, KateThe maiden
Holland, JamieA pair of silver wings
Janson, JulieCompassion
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Abell, StigDeath in a lonely place
Anderson, LinThe wild coast
Bishop, D. V.Ritual of fire
Carroll, StevenDeath of a foreign gentleman
Childs, LauraLemon curd killer
Chowdhury, AjayThe detective
Clifford, AoifeIt takes a town
Disher, GarrySanctuary
Fioretti, PipBone lands
Horowitz, AnthonyClose to death
Horst, Jorn LierSmoke screen
Huber, Anna LeeAs death draws near
Mottram, NikkiKillarney
Oswald, JamesFor our sins
Perrin, KristenHow to solve your own murder
Ragnar JonassonReykjavik
Rose, KarenCheater
Schneider, HansjorgSilver pebbles
Sweren-Becker, DanielKill show
Turton, StuartThe last murder at the end of the world
White, S. R.White Ash Ridge

Death of a Foreign Gentleman by Steven Carroll

One of Steven Carroll’s superpowers as a novelist is to look back at history and make very astute observations about how society works. We have seen this skill in his other works, and now with this quiet detective novel, we are transported back to Cambridge, England in 1947 where racism permeates every move made. Assumptions belie behaviour. Tropes are measured. There is a murder to be solved. Detective Sergeant Stephen Minter, an Austrian-born Jewish Cockney, is investigating the death of Martin Friedrich, a world-famous German philosopher. Friedrich was an arrogant academic, a man whose work led him to examine how we are all interlinked, but whose behaviour was nevertheless deeply problematic. As Minter, a likeable and humble man, investigates the crime, he establishes a network of connections that show how the past can catch the present (oh, the irony!). Alongside the investigations, there are love stories that sweeten the plot. The story elegantly unfolds, with each musing by Minter offered with kindness and a smart moral code to guide us through the history books and the popular philosophies of the time. Carroll’s ability to ensure we consider the landscape of the times before jumping to conclusions is a testament to his poise as a writer. Step by step, without fanfare, we are given clues and context. This novel is the first book in a series that will feature Minter. Those that have enjoyed Kerry Greenwood’s works or a good old Agatha Christie will rejoice here. There is talk that Minter may move continents. I mean, many were on the move after the Second World War and surely a Jewish Cockney detective would be welcome in Australia. We will have to wait to find out. Readings, March 2024

Lemon Curd Killer by Laura Childs

A Charleston tea shop owner’s life continues to be steeped in murder. Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop, doesn’t seek out trouble, but it seems to find her. She and her colleagues are doing a lemon-themed tea at a local B&B featuring a rollout for Lemon Squeeze Couture, a project of Theodosia’s friend Delaine Dish’s sister, Nadine; both sisters are high-strung divas in the fashion world. When Theodosia finds Nadine dead in a bowl of lemon curd, she adds another investigation to a long list. Nadine, who was unpopular with the entire film and fashion crew, hadn’t been getting on with her partners lately, either, and she’d had a big fight that very day with film director Eddie Fox. Theodosia’s main man, homicide detective Pete Riley, fails once again to get her to ignore the latest murder. Promising Nadine’s daughter that she’ll look into the death, Theodosia sets out to learn more about the key players in the clothing business and figure out who might want Nadine dead. A trace of cocaine found near Nadine’s body, which certainly raises the stakes, may have something to do with a case Pete’s working. As Theodosia runs her popular shop while continuing her round of specialty tea parties, she tries to identify the motive for Nadine’s murder: bad luck or bad relationships? The genteel environment of a high-end tea shop neatly entwines with murder, mayhem, and the obligatory recipes. Kirkus Reviews, January 2023

It Takes a Town by Aoife Clifford

Reading this book, I’m reminded of a quote in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, when Jordan says ‘And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.’ Set in the Australian countryside in the small town of Welcome, all anyone can talk about is how Vanessa Walton, the glamorous celebrity and town’s golden child, was found dead at the bottom of her staircase. Everybody says it was a tragic accident. But when 16-year-old Jasmine Langridge, the step-daughter of Barton Langridge, the town’s local MP, finds a threatening note in Vanessa’s handbag, and claims publicly that Vanessa’s death was a murder, she suddenly disappears. With tensions rising, the community of Welcome has never been more scared, nor more distrusting. When you live in a place where everybody knows everyone, how long can trust for one’s neighbour last when conflict arises? Growing up and living near the Melbourne CBD my whole life, I’ve never felt that fear of isolation or scrutiny from a community because the city life means a life of privacy and anonymity. However, during the covid pandemic, when no one knew what was happening or what our futures would look like, I caught a glimpse of how reliant any community, big or small, is on the unspoken rules and expectations that hold it together for peace, civility, and harmony. But when panic and tragedy, even violence, arises, these structures and shared assumptions can crumble, leaving us to fend for ourselves. The citizens of Welcome must solve Vanessa’s murder and Jasmine’s disappearance together, as a fractured community, even if that means working side-by-side with the killer. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Kerry Greenwood, and Richard Osman, It Takes a Town is among the classics, asking us how much we really know those we thought we could trust the most. Readings, March 2024

Blind Spots by Thomas Mullen

In the high-tech future, murder is murky. Seven years after a cataclysmic global event known as The Blinding, people are able to see only with the aid of vidders, metal discs implanted in their temples. Vidders have helped restore societal order, but organized crime is still a huge challenge for law enforcement. Partners Mark Owens and Safiya Khouri, along with the abrasive man-mountain Peterson, a third cop, find themselves in the run-down River District, where a tense situation and a malfunctioning vidder lead to a questionable shooting by Owens. He’s dressed down by crusty Capt. Carlyle, who runs the Major Crimes unit. On the homefront, Owens’ lover, Amira Quigley, who’s also a fellow cop, wants to move in with him. Stress and the specter of his ex Jeanie, a painter whose artwork still adorns the walls of Owens’ apartment, make him waffle. All the while, a Truth Commission instituted by the new president is laying out complex procedures and investigating recent activities of government employees, including Owens. The opening chapters are heavy with exposition, but Mullen’s crisp character delineation pays off as the plot unfolds. He rights the narrative ship with a complex puzzle: the murder of Dr. Jensen, a researcher at Bio-Lux Technologies, by a blurry figure much like one Owens encountered on the waterfront. More murders follow. Grounded in the set pieces of police procedurals, this is both a whodunit and a cautionary tale about technology and government authoritarianism run amok. A lively, offbeat mystery with a thought-provoking premise. Kirkus Reviews, January 2023

How to Solve Your Own Murder by Kristen Perrin

Perrin’s twisty debut revolves around a challenge issued from the grave. In 1965, Frances Adams develops a lifelong fear of being killed after a fortune teller at an English country fair warns her that “all signs point toward your murder.” Decades later, a now-wealthy Frances summons her great-niece, Annie, to discuss her will in the sleepy village of Castle Knoll, even though the 25-year-old aspiring mystery novelist has never met her eccentric aunt. Minutes after Annie arrives at the estate with Frances’s lawyers, they discover her dead body slumped behind the desk in her library. Frances’s will states that she expected to be murdered, and that the first person to solve the crime within a week will inherit her assets and property; if no one cracks the case, it all goes to an unpleasant real estate developer. Annie leaps into action, quickly discovering that plenty of Castle Knoll locals have long coveted her late aunt’s fortune. Perrin juxtaposes timelines, detailing Frances’s provincial life in the 1960s while Annie’s investigation grows increasingly treacherous in the present. The pace is quick, the red herrings are plentiful, and Annie’s growth from timid wannabe writer to confident sleuth is beautifully rendered. Combining elements of Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz, and Midsomer Murders, this is a richly entertaining whodunit from a promising new talent. Publishers Weekly, January 2024

The Last Murder at the End of the World by Stuart Turton

Turton (The Devil and the Dark Water) continues playing fast and loose with genre boundaries in this dazzling postapocalyptic thriller that blossoms into a race against time whodunit. A small island in the middle of the ocean has become the last refuge against the deadly, insect-filled fog that’s been covering the globe for the past 90 years. The 122 villagers who live and work on the island rarely question their regulated way of life, the elder scientists who keep them safe, or the disembodied voice named Abi beamed into their heads to coax them to sleep each night when the curfew bell rings. When the violent death of a teacher named Niema triggers a 12-hour memory wipe on all of the island’s residents, plus a fail-safe that will shut down the island’s defenses in 38 hours unless her killer is identified, villager Emory, armed with a curiosity nearly all of her peers lack, sets out to investigate. In the process, she unravels distressing secrets about the origins and operations of her supposed paradise. Turton smartly fortifies his themes of freedom and control by utilizing Abi, a manipulative HAL 9000 figure, as a semi-omniscient narrator, and he drops in enough clues for mystery fans to stay half a step ahead of Emory’s sleuthing without undercutting the impact of each reveal. This dystopian detective story fires on all cylinders. Publishers Weekly, February 2024.

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Boseley, MatildaThe year I met my brain
Bradley, JamesDeep water
Dalton, TrentBy sea & stars
Evans, EamonThe lucky country
Grayling, A. C.Who owns the moon?
Hazel, RebeccaThe schoolgirl, her teacher and his wife
Jordan, LucasThe Chipilly six
Millas Garcia, Juan JoseDeath as told by a sapiens to a neanderthal
Pascoe, BruceBlack Duck
Yankovich, GyanJust friends

Deep Water: The World in the Ocean by James Bradley

This expansive report from novelist Bradley (Ghost Species) studies ocean ecosystems as a means of exploring the interconnectedness of life on Earth. Emphasizing the fragility and complexity of ecological communities, Bradley notes that the industrial-scale slaughter of whales in the early 20th century counterintuitively resulted in an 80% drop in the krill population because whale “excrement provides vital nutrients for the phytoplankton upon which the krill depend.” Fish are more sophisticated than they’re given credit for, Bradley contends, citing research that found “rainbowfish learn to associate signals with food… twice as fast as dogs” and that sticklebacks ostracize group members who don’t take their turn in the vulnerable position at the front of the school. Such studies underscore what will be lost if humans don’t rein in climate change, Bradley argues, discussing how rising sea levels are endangering Australian sea turtles by submerging their traditional breeding grounds. Bradley weaves natural history, climate studies, and trivia into an elegant whole that drives home the dire threat global warming poses to the ocean, all delivered in plaintive prose (“The toxic legacies of human industry written into the bodies of ocean creatures are a reminder that the deep is not a place of forgetting, but an ark of memory”). It’s a galvanizing call to action. Publishers Weekly, April 2024

Who Owns the Moon? By A.C. Grayling

Grayling, the eminent British philosopher, worries about the planetary impact of the human pursuit of “profit and advantage.” The author claims that the prospect of valuable minerals on the moon and the planets, the commercial and military possibilities of low and medium Earth orbit, and the territorial longings of nation-states are likely to breed competition and conflict. Grayling particularly fears a repeat of what occurred in the late 19th century when powerful countries colonized Africa for wealth and territory—a problematic comparison on many levels. The 1967 United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty is inadequate regarding both the militarization of space and its exploitation by private enterprise. Any new international treaty must be carefully tailored to how space should be managed, include all nations as signatories, be supported by a central body with monitoring capabilities and enforcement powers, and benefit all humanity. In this way, “although no one owns the moon…we will all be responsible for it.” Space will thereby become “the common possession of humanity.” To this end, Grayling examines current international treaties that govern two similar realms: the oceans and Antarctica. He searches for language that will garner wide consensus and be legally enforceable. Despite his pessimism that the international order “is an anarchy of self-interests only tenuously constrained by expediencies,” Grayling believes that creating an informed public and crafting treaties and conventions through the U.N. can prevent space from turning into “yet another but even larger arena of human conflict.” His appeal to the reasonableness of people and nations, though, is a weak basis for a sustainable agreement. His argument is aspirational, and the book is mainly background for a more in-depth discussion. A primer of legal terminology and a plea for recognizing the potential dangers of space exploration. Kirkus Reviews, January 2024

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Cobby Eckermann, AliShe is the Earth
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Bardugo, LeighThe familiar
Liu, CixinThe three-body problem

by Ken Liu

Fans of hard SF will revel in this intricate and imaginative novel by one of China’s most celebrated genre writers. In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death. Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title. Liu impressively succeeds in integrating complex topics—such as the field of frontier science, which attempts to define the limits of science’s ability to know nature—without slowing down the action or sacrificing characterization. His smooth handling of the disparate plot elements cleverly sets up the second volume of the trilogy. Publishers Weekly, September 2014

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New additions to eBooks at SMSA

eBooks & Audiobooks help


BiographyPeck, JoSuddenly single at sixty
GeneralChandran, ShankariSafe haven
GeneralDe Monchaux, AnnieAudry’s gone awol
GeneralHunter, BeckyMeet me when my heart stops 
GeneralWright, AlexisPraiseworthy
MysteryAdams, ElleryPaper cuts
MysteryCambridge, ColleenMastering the art of French murder
MysteryLin, HarperStory of a murder
MysteryMack, CatherineEvery time I go on vacation someone dies
Non-FictionMackay, HughThe way we are

Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright

This freewheeling and heartbreaking masterpiece from Aboriginal Australian author Wright (Carpenteria) brims with the magic of myth and the painful realities of present-day climate change. An “ochre-coloured haze” has descended on the remote town of Praiseworthy, Australia, “claiming ultimate sovereignty of the flatlands” and portending ecological disaster. A man variously known as Widespread, Planet, and Cause Man Steel comes up with a harebrained and quixotic plan for surviving the future. Meanwhile, Widespread’s elder son, Aboriginal Sovereignty, who’s distraught after having been accused of raping the underage girl he’s in love with, considers suicide. Widespread’s younger son, Tommyhawk, whom his father calls a “born fascist,” hopes his brother follows through on his plan and thereby avoid a public trial that would upset Tommyhawk’s desire to assimilate into white society. Rounding out the cast is Dance Steel, Widespread’s wife, who’s “like a haven for butterflies or moths” because she speaks “the moths’ frequency, a language of millennia which she had learnt in dreams which were only ever about butterflies and moths.” At once lush and relentless, Wright’s looping tale combines magical realism, absurdism, and maximalism in a rich depiction of contemporary Aboriginal life. This is unforgettable. Publisher’s Weekly, November 2023

Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies by Catherine Mack

The pseudonymous Mack’s amusing debut and series launch centers on 35-year-old Eleanor Dash, author of a successful cozy mystery series about a woman who solves crimes in exotic vacation spots with the help of handsome con man Connor Smith. The problem for Eleanor is that, for the past 10 years, the real-life Connor Smith has been threatening to sue her for defamation unless she pays him a healthy chunk of her royalties. Fed up with compensating Connor for her own successes, Eleanor has plans to kill off the fictional character in her next book and finally bring the series to an end. She decides to plot the series’ swan song while on a book tour in Italy with Connor, a handful of other authors, and a group of fans who’ve been tapped to post about the tour on Instagram. Partway through Eleanor’s Italian jaunt, however, a desperate Connor informs her that someone is trying to kill him. But is he telling the truth? And if so, should Eleanor be watching her own back? Mack stacks the whodunit plot with perhaps one too many dead-end twists, but Eleanor’s first-person narration is a delight, chock-full of amusing asides (often in footnotes) that wryly examine the craft of mystery writing and business of publishing. A sequel would be welcome. Publisher’s Weekly, March 2024


Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge

This enchanting series launch from Cambridge (A Trace of Poison) pairs a fictional amateur sleuth with Julia Child for a murder investigation in postwar Paris. The night after Child’s sister, Dort, hosts a party at Child’s apartment, a guest is found dead in the basement—and the murder weapon is one of Child’s knives. Tabitha Knight, a hopeless cook and fellow American expat who’s befriended Child in hopes some of her culinary skills might rub off on her, takes interest in the crime. Tabitha’s investigation leads her to a local English-language theater where Dort worked with the victim, and where most of the suspects are rehearsing an Agatha Christie play. While Tabitha serves as a competent narrator for this spry, sturdy whodunit, Cambridge captures Child’s distinct voice and energy so perfectly—especially as she prepares meals like Madame Poulet and Monsieur Jambon—that readers will wish the chef played a larger role. Still, expect to leave this vacation hoping for a return trip. Publishers Weekly, March 2023



Paper Cuts by Ellery Adams

The sixth entry in the Secret, Book, and Scone Society series features bookstore owner Nora Pennington, whose past catches up with her when the former wife and the child of Nora’s ex-husband, Lawrence, come to town. Kelly is dying of cancer, and Tucker, her neurodiverse son, will be left with his aunt and uncle, new residents of Miracle Springs, North Carolina, since Lawrence wants little to do with the boy. They hope that the valuable books left to Tucker will provide for him. But when Kelly is murdered and the books are stolen, the most likely suspect is Nora. This has all the cozy frame elements–a charming setting, strong friendships, and plenty of scrumptious sweets–but Adams also creates a layered mystery that provides both backstory for Nora as well as a smart whodunit plot that will keep readers guessing. It also doesn’t shy away from examining real emotions. Lawrence left Nora to be with the pregnant Kelly, leaving Nora with still-raw feelings that are examined honestly. Newcomers to the series can dive right in, and fans will gobble up every detail. Booklist, May 2023



Audrey’s Gone AWOL by Annie de Monchaux

Annie de Monchaux’s debut novel, Audrey’s Gone AWOL, is a beautifully crafted and witty coming-of-middle-age tale that explores womanhood, motherhood, life, death, marriage and betrayal. Audrey has devoted her life to her family, her home and her husband’s aspirations, yet on the cusp of turning 60, she has become stagnant and rudderless as her adult children have left home. Her high-flying academic husband, Simon, has sequestered himself away, seemingly to work on his latest book, and Audrey’s sense of marital contentment is shattered when she discovers his co-author is also his bed-mate. When a family tragedy leads her to her aunt’s house in Breton, the French countryside and its eclectic cast of characters reinvigorates Audrey’s sense of self-worth and allows her to embrace her creative ambitions while losing the inhibitions that nearly 40 years of a buttoned-down relationship fostered. She finds joy in the simplicity of village life and pleasure in the company of new and old friends. She embraces herself—her body, age and mortality—and is finally free to be Audrey. Annie de Monchaux has created a wonderful novel brimming with quaint vignettes of village life and keen observations on love, death and living authentically. Her characters are quirky, and they evoked genuine affection from me as their stories unfolded. Perfect for fans of Nina George, Kristin Hannah and Gail Honeyman, Audrey’s Gone AWOL is a delight that will warm your heart. Books Publishing, February 2024

Suddenly Single at Sixty by Jo Peck

Not long after Jo Peck’s 60th birthday, her husband drops a bombshell—he’s leaving her for a (much) younger woman. She is shocked and heartbroken that the life she’d worked towards—full of friends, travel, long bike rides and good food—has gone up in smoke. At the start of this memoir, Peck is hurt, angry and lost, before undergoing a journey of personal growth. The memoir also delves back into Peck’s past as she wonders how she ended up in this situation, and the web of memories of her childhood and the early days of her relationship are enlightening. While she rebuilds her life with therapy, yoga and a strong community of friends, and ventures into online dating, the transitions between these experiences and her reflections on the past can seem abrupt and disjointed. Peck writes about her experiences with extreme candour. She is open about the dynamics of her marriage, her own wilful ignorance, all things sex and dating. She generously reveals her most inner workings, creating a narrative with humanity and depth, and making it clear that life does not end at 60. Suddenly Single at Sixty is strongest when it describes the people Peck loves—her parents, her partners, her chosen family (the network of friends she has cultivated)—and their honesty and empathy with each other. This is a story of exploration and empowerment from someone in an age group society often ignores. Ideal for fans of Kitty Flanagan and Caitlin Moran. Publishers Weekly, March 2024

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GeneralBrooks, GeraldinePeople of the book
GeneralMedlock, NoahA botanical daughter
MysteryDevlin, CaraPenance for the dead
MysteryReida, SarahNeighborhood watch 
MysteryShelton, PaigeThe poison pen
MysteryThompson, VictoriaMurder on Wall Street
Non-fictionAbusalim, JehadLight in Gaza
Non-fictionGibson, Lindsay C.Adult children of emotionally immature parents
Sci-fiKingfisher T.The hollow places
Sci-fiNayer, RayThe tusks of extinction

The Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayer

After exploring octopus intelligence in 2022’s Locus Award–winning The Mountain in the Sea, Nayler peers into the vast brains of the extinct woolly mammoth, brought back to life by futuristic gene-splicing techniques, in this impassioned and impressive sci-fi novella. The story follows the late Dr. Damira Khismatullina as her memories and expertise on elephants, backed up on a hard drive after her death, are implanted into a mammoth, giving its captivity-raised herd a chance to survive in the wild. (“We propose to make you a matriarch,” the scientist in charge tells Khismatullina before her death. “We propose to transfer your mind into one of theirs. You will lead them. You will teach them how to be mammoths. Under your leadership, they will thrive.”) Tracking the herd are a team of hardscrabble ivory poachers and a wealthy philanthropist who harbors dark hopes of bagging a mammoth. The conflict between herd and humans is tensely portrayed, even if the ending is unsurprising. Nayler makes clear which side readers should be on, though he is fair in presenting both the lure of ivory riches to indigent locals and the pressures on scientists to fund conservation through elite indulgence. The result is an uncompromising climate fiction that strikes like a spear to the gut. Publisher’s Weekly, October 2023


A Botanical Daughter by Noah Medlock

Medlock’s stylish debut veers between a heartwarming story of queer love and a creeping gothic. Simon Rievaulx and Gregor Sandys live in a greenhouse far from the Victorian society that would judge them for their romantic relationship and unconventional careers: Simon’s a taxidermist and Gregor trades in exotic plants. Their situation is odd but stable until Gregor discovers a possibly sentient fungal sample. In his fervor to be recognized by the Royal Horticultural Society, he attempts to encourage the mycelium from sentience to true consciousness, even recruiting Simon’s skills to give the fungus a human form. As this plant woman, Chloe, develops, so do her personality and sometimes dark desires. Her burgeoning connection with the men’s housekeeper, Jennifer Finch, makes it apparent that the household’s new “daughter” is not the passive experiment she was imagined to be. Medlock approaches his occasionally sinister plot with heaps of wit and whimsy. This unusual, cottage-core horror novel is sure to find fans. Publisher’s Weekly, January 2024



The Poison Pen by Paige Shelton

An ancient artifact may be the motive for murder. Several weeks after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Delaney Nichols is still feeling sad, but an unexpectedly diverting adventure begins when her boss, Edwin MacAlister–owner of the Cracked Spine bookstore in Edinburgh–asks her to research a rare and valuable object that an old friend recently discovered on her property. When Delaney’s friend Elias drives her to the estate of Jolie Lannister, a large gothic mansion reminiscent of horror films, she’s shocked by the clutter inside. Jolie’s lawyer, Bowie Berry, is there with an auctioneer she hired on her own initiative to inventory the house and possibly sell some of the contents. The object in question, which Jolie has kept hidden in a garden shed, seems to be a medieval Crusader sword covered in grime and rust. Near it they find the body of auction house assistant Alban Dunning, killed with a garden rake. Delaney texts Inspector Winters, the friend she’s worked with on several murder cases, and soon her expertise and desire to help Jolie have her deeply involved. The sword is eventually taken to the Scottish government’s Treasure Trove Unit, whose new director at first accuses Edwin of stealing the sword but eventually allows Delaney to clean and examine it. On top of all this, there’s the possibility that Jolie is the biological daughter of the Duke of Windsor, the abdicated king, and may have a claim to the throne. So many questions without answers have Delaney and her friends working full-out to find the truth. Historical information and an interesting cast of characters make up for the easily solved mystery. Kirkus Review, March 2024

Murder on Wall Street by Victoria Thompson

A married detective duo’s latest inquiry takes them to every stratum of society, from the very top to the very dregs. Sarah Malloy, a midwife from a society family, has married Frank, a former police officer who inherited a great deal of money but works as a private detective to stave off boredom. Sarah has helped arrange a marriage between Jack Robinson and pregnant society lady Jocelyn, whose parents sent her to Sarah’s clinic after she was raped in hopes of hiding the birth. Jack, who dabbles in illegal activities, hires Frank to look into the murder of Jocelyn’s rapist, Hayden Norcross, the worthless scion of a wealthy family of investment bankers, before the police start looking too closely at Jack himself. Since the assault, Hayden had been forced to marry Violet Andriessen, whom he had also raped and treated abominably, creating suspects in her brother and father, although her parents seem more concerned about society’s judgment than the legal system’s. While Frank mingles with the upper class with his well-connected father-in-law, Sarah and her mother pick up gossip that indicates that Hayden was even more depraved than they knew. Hayden’s mother, desperate for a grandchild, takes Violet under her wing while the two families squabble about her dowry, which her bridegroom spent. After Hayden’s father becomes the next victim, Sarah, Frank and their crime-solving helpers must use their every skill to untangle a skein of lies and deceit. The charms and horrors of early-20th-century New York on full display. Kirkus Review, March 2021


Penance for the Dead by Cara Devlin

Allie Rose’s light, genteel performance is just right for the fourth novel in Cara Devlin’s Bow Street Duchess series. Once again, Lady Audrey and Bow Street runner Hugh Marsden must solve a baffling puzzle. When his half-sister, Eloisa, is brutally murdered during a ball, Hugh becomes the prime suspect. Meeting in secret, Hugh and Audrey set out to prove his innocence and to find Eloisa’s killer. Rose deftly handles the simmering relationship between Hugh and Audrey while heightening the tension as multiple layers of complicated sibling animosities emerge. The investigation reveals the well-hidden circumstances surrounding Hugh’s birth, as well as a sinister plot to get rid of him. Rose narrates all the audiobooks in this entertaining series, and she just keeps getting better. AudioFile Magazine, 2024


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