Staff Picks – February 2016

February 2016


The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd $29.99rrp 

For fans of Burial Rites and The Anchoress, this historical debut novel set in 1630s Holland re-imagines the involvement of philosopher / mathematician Frenchman Rene Descartes with Dutch maid Helena Jans. Based on real events from official records and letters, Glasfurd’s research shows intimate knowledge of this world and creatively envisions how difficult life was, especially for those in service and women. Told from the unique perspective of Helena, we learn of her family background, her unusual interest in reading and writing, and adapting as a woman to a life in service. Helena’s constrictive life does not affect the action of this novel, as the writing thoroughly engages the reader through the societal pressures, the danger and joy of the attraction to academic Descartes, tragedy, and the bittersweet choices they are all forced to make or endure.


The Widow by Fiona Barton $32.99rrp

Fans of Girl on a Train and Gone Girl will find this one of appeal because its lead characters are similarly damaged and unreliable. Jean Taylor is the widow, a good wife who had always been there for her husband but now as he is recently deceased everyone wants her side of the story about her husband’s possible involvement in a child’s kidnapping.  As her awareness reveals itself to us we first see a naive timid woman who resorts to a fantasy world to cope with the reality of not being able to have children of her own. But slowly our distrust in her consistency and likeability builds as more disturbing pieces of the puzzle come clear. The strength of the novel is that the story is not predictable, the hidden truths are shocking and revealed in a timely fashion making for a compelling read and a gratifying ending.


The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra $32.99rrp

Anthony Marra writes of desolate landscapes and helpless situations. He writes of violence and war, of death and heartbreak. He writes of forests built of metal and plastic, alive with wolves but full of the dead. Yet he writes with such beauty, sprinkling it all with humanity. The Tsar of Love and Techno is a collection of short stories, revisiting Chechnya (the setting of much of his first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena) and other parts of the former USSR, including Siberia and Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) over an extended period of time, from early in the 1930’s to 2013. Each of these stories standalone, but are also connected by objects and people. For example, the first story centres on a propaganda artist and his downfall due to a picture of a ballerina. The next is about that ballerina and her granddaughters. There is the story of Kolya at the end of his life, then a few stories later we meet his brother, Alexi. The connections are clever, linking to more than one other story. In some ways I was reminded of some of Tim Winton’s stories, the way that a side character in one tale, might be a lead in another. Marra’s focus is not on the horrors these people experience but their humanity. The everyday survival, the coming and going of hope. The banter between characters stands out. The conversations are at times funny, at times heartbreaking, but at all times real. These characters stay with you. I keep thinking about them, I can’t stop thinking about them. The environments are so well written that I found myself looking at maps and googling the places and events mentioned. It takes real talent to write in a way that both haunts and humours the reader, engulfing them in the same way the latest and greatest TV series does.

I know many people don’t like short stories, but don’t underestimate their use in this instance. The Tsar of Love and Techno holds together as one solid book. Like reading a series, one story supports the other, and if one story were missed it would not quite be whole. I know its only February, but I am confident The Tsar of Love and Techno will be on my best of 2016 list come the end of the year. Its just that good. I absolutely loved everything about this book and have been raving about it to all who will listen. If you are interested, Anthony Marra has created a playlist on Spotify to accompany The Tsar of Love and Techno. The man thinks of everything. You can find it here;


The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson $29.99RRP 

Brandon Sanderson is most likely THE fastest epic fantasy writer I know. If you’re tired of waiting for The Winds of Winter, Brandon Sanderson has you covered with roughly THREE books every year across his different series. If you’ve been following online commentary, all his books (save for his YA superhero crossover trilogy beginning with Steelheart and the younger The Rithmatist) co-exist and are set in the Cosmere, Sanderson’s fictional universe — from Elantris to Warbreaker, from the mighty tomes of The Stormlight Archive to his breakout Mistborn series. If you’re a beginner there’s lots of epic stories to delve into; if you’ve been following Sanderson’s books, well, welcome to the newest addition to the Mistborn series, The Bands of Mourning.

Now, let’s set something straight: the Mistborn by the end of the next book will contain SEVEN books. That’s TWO TRILOGIES and a somewhat standalone interim novel (book four, The Alloy of Law). The Bands of Mourning is the second book in Sanderson’s newest trilogy, WAX & WAYNE (following Shadows of Self). So if you find that you’re unable to get your hands on the wonderful first trilogy, you can begin Shadows of Self, which is set generations after and not fear of missing out on what’s come before despite a handful of references being made.

When you think Sanderson couldn’t possibly expand a section of his Cosmere any more, he completely takes you surprise with exciting twists, introducing new ideas and stories that expand the magical system found in the Mistborn novels. And even better, the style of the worlds between the Mistborn trilogies are different in scope and style — where the first is more of an assassin tale, Wax & Wayne is a western-fantasy, a bit slower because of the excellent character development and unravelling relationships, but littered with a number of dangerous and action-packed situations.

Brandon Sanderson is a masterful genre storyteller whose books do not disappoint in the slightest, regardless of the pace he works at.


Rhythm and Blues (BK #7 in the Silver Shoes series) by Samantha-Ellen Bound $14.99RRP

Riley loves to dance and spends as much time as she can with her friends Ash, Ellie, and Paige at Silver Shoes dance school. But what will Riley do when she sprains her ankle and is forced to take a break from dancing? With her dance exams and an end-of-year performance just around the corner, Riley soon becomes fed up with sitting at home and becomes increasingly frustrated with her injured ankle. To try and brighten her spirits, Riley takes up Miss Caroline’s offer to become her personal assistant at Silver Shoes. But will Riley cause more harm than good when she takes her new position a little too seriously? This is another great addition to ex-staff member Sam’s Silver Shoes series, a perfect book for young girls who love to dance! Rhythm and Blues combines technical dance theory with common situations that 10-year-old girls face to create an enjoyable and relatable read.


My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier $19.99RRP

Rosa is nothing like a typical little sister, she enjoys bending others to her will, finds pleasure in the destruction of the world around her and thrives off the pain she causes others to feel. But at the same time she lacks t[he basic ability to feel emotion and instead is portrayed as a devious emotionless devil ready to strike whenever no one is looking. Che is the older brother who feels it is his responsibility to deal with and care for his precious sister. But as he sacrifices more and more in order to prevent Rosa from hurting others it becomes obvious that it is only a matter of time before Rosa strikes….. Again. This book captures the stereotypical perfect child and warps it into a haunting psychological thriller. It leaves you in suspense as you try to understand what next Rosa will do; her unpredictable nature creates tension and puts you on edge as you fear the sanity of those within the world you’ve been immersed in. As author of “Liar” and “Razorhurst”, Justine is no stranger to the creepy and frightening; this time her leading figure being a creepy child with murderous intentions unsettles the mind as it contrasts to the idea of an innocent child. It causes you to question those around you, are they really as harmless as they seem?

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