Staff Picks – April 2016

April 2016


Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit $19.99rrp 

Teen fans of The Boy in Striped Pajamas and the Once series will really adore this heartfelt holocaust tale that deserves to attain their classic word of mouth status. 7yo Anna is left stranded in Krakow when her professor father is taken by the Nazis. Forced to fend for herself, Anna is smart, savvy and knows several languages – a skill that endears her to the Swallow Man who she turns to for protection and guidance and to which he begrudgingly agrees. It is a beautiful blossoming friendship that necessitates their own language ‘the Road’ and both caring for each other at different perilous times. As the months turn into years, they face many dangers as they walk from town to town across Eastern Europe for safety. They hit many roadblocks and opportunities, the most important being the meeting of Jewish musician Reb Hirschl whose contrasting coping strategies are at odds with the Swallow Man but who he reluctantly allows him to join them at Anna’s insistence. As we follow this trio, you empathetically get drawn into their plight and hope for their success especially as we know the end of war is nigh. But even hindsight or friendship cannot guarantee survival, and the impact of the loss of one of the group is very keenly felt though you can rationalise it as a truthful and fitting component to the story given the perilous circumstances. Thankfully,  the final ending is poignant and somewhat hopeful, though you will still need to reach for the tissues. 
This is such a riveting, gorgeous book and whilst it deals with tragic circumstances, it is full of innocence, love and mystery. I was fortunate to spend 2 weeks in Krawkow (which is quite close to Auschwitz) and the beautiful and haunting descriptions of place really conjured up the town I had stayed. There are so many evocative and wise phrases that really resonated with me and I think it’s an excellent book to really push students to appreciate writing as well as story and character. 
(Warning: please note teachers I recommend for 13+ as there is a scene which involves Anna having to strip for a chemist in but nothing comes of it and apart from this could be read by mature 11-12yo as well).


Book of Lies by Teri Terry $16.99rrp

Piper is a twin but only meets her sister Quinn at their mother’s funeral. Both have lived at opposite extremes and wonder why their mother kept them apart and gave Quinn to her grandmother to suffer a hard life. When Quinn suffers nightmares of dogs killing her, exactly like her mother, they join together to discover a powerful family secret. Both sisters realise they are connected not just through feeling each other’s pain but also with their lies and truths. And both of them are special; Quinn can bring forth the Darkness and Piper is the only one who may hold the key to getting rid of the curse. This is a riveting pageturner, each chapter building really well and keeping you hooked to read the next plot twist which satisfyingly gets revealed with a number of big impact moments. Best part is how evenly handled each girl’s story is and how you engage and empathise with both of them. Fans of paranormal and Terry’s previous Slated series will be gripped by this standalone novel. 13+


The Lovers’ Guide to Rome by Mark Lamprell $29.99rrp

Set in Rome, and told from Rome’s point of view, The Lovers’ Guide to Rome tells many stories, in a very Love, Actually-ish way. Alice has visited Rome for something, voosh! August is away with his friends from college. Meg and Alec are on a crazy search for the maker of a beautiful blue tile, and Constance and Lizzie are in Rome to scatter the ashes of Henry. As they go about their lives over a couple of days, Rome is watching, prodding, moving things into place, putting our characters in the places they need to be.

Mark Lamprell has a knack of telling a story in an affecting, and yet straightforward way. His first novel, The Full Ridiculous is one of the cleverest portrayals of depression that I have read. The Lovers’ Guide to Rome reads like a rom-com, then you get through a few chapters and you realise that you haven’t cringed yet, you’re enjoying yourself, and where the hell is Constance leading Lizzie!
The Lover’s Guide to Rome is a great light read, really enjoyable. The main characters feel real. The connections feel real. I question some of Rome’s methods, but who am I to speak up against the will of an ancient city?


Shtum by Jem Lester $29.99rrp

Shtum is a fantastic, emotion-filled generational tale about the love – spoken and unspoken – between a father and his son; whether that love be between Ben and his ailing father Georg, where a heartbreaking family history is revealed too late, or between Ben and his misunderstood, autistic ten-year-old son Jonah and their struggle with social services to obtain the most suitable educational provision for him.
Jem Lester has written a beautiful novel about relationships – ones that are broken or, in time, mend. It is about honesty and self-loathing and destructible pasts. It is about acceptance. Ben’s wife Emma is not developed as well, despite being the reason why Ben moves in with his father (Emma suggests its best for Jonah if they “separate”), but as this tale is about fathers and sons I’m glad she wasn’t featured to greatly. Their relationship is a strand in and of itself within Shtum to highlight Ben’s depressive past and we get closure on that, yet the light shines more on their struggle to get the best education for Jonah. Shtum is for fans of David Nicholls, with more of a dramatic and emotional story beneath the surface.


Front Lines (Book #1 in the Soldier Girl series) by Michael Grant $19.99rrp 

“It can’t ever have been easy … not any war. But the rituals are different now … Girl and women soldiers are going off to war.”
The year is 1942, and the United States of America has just entered the Second World War. But this time, thanks to a ruling by the Supreme Court, women will fight right alongside the men. Front Linesfollows the storylines of Rio, Frangie, Rainy and their own individual experiences during the course of WWII. Each girl has different reasons for fighting, but every single one of them will be changed forever.
Writer of the Gone series, Michael Grant has created this book as a daring endeavour to rewrite history, and I think that’s why it was so intriguing–  it provides a possible outcome to those “what if?” questions that we all ask in regards to history. Grant does such a spectacular job at making you feel like you’re right there in 1942 with these girls; frustratingly having to adhere to the social standards of the day and overcome the blatant sexism shown by many of the men. Another great thing about this book is that it does not romanticise war or conflict – bad things happen and you will feel like you’ve been the one personally affected – which makes it just feel all the more real.
If I had one criticism of the book, it would be that the grammar and phrasing was sometimes hard to follow. Some sentences were very long and unmarred by any punctuation, making it feel like the words were being pushed into your head with no clear sense of flow. Overall, this was an extremely intriguing read. Grant has written a witty, jarring and revealing book detailing the full extent of war, including the small joys that can flourish in even the darkest of times.


Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices #1) by Cassandra Clare $27.99rrp

As a shadow hunter enthusiast and Malec fangirl this book had lots of expectations to fulfill, and fulfill it did, it was all one could wish for and more.
We were introduced to Emma Carstairs and the Blackthorn family at the end of Clare’s previous series in “City of Heavenly Fire” being minor characters then, the lives of these young shadow hunters now dominate this new series. Set five years after the Dark War and the murder of both Emma’s parents and the Blackthorns’ father, we see how the lives of these children have been impacted. Now in their adult forms (only just) we see them struggle with internal and external forces.
This book is almost impossible to put down. With a return of the murderer that possibly killed Emma’s parents, we are thrown into the world of demons, blood and betrayal. But when a stolen loved one is returned, the law of the Cold Peace is broken leaving the Blackthorns and Los Angeles Institute without help from anyone but themselves.
If dealing with a necromancer murderer and the fair folk isn’t enough, their lives are slowly deteriorating due to hidden secrets that could split them apart as well as a deadly forbidden romance that is beginning to bloom. Not only did we get to experience brief glimpses of our favourite characters from the past, we also got to have new ships to sail and craze over. If the romance aspects weren’t enough, the gruesome plot and was expertly executed. Cassandra Clare fans have nothing to fear, because this book could possibly be her best one yet.


One Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe $16.99rrp

It wasn’t until a recent history unit at university that I learnt of the events that took place in Rwanda during the nineties. Coming across this book only offered me a deeper insight into what happened during those eight weeks in Rwanda. The story starts off in the village of Agabande in April 1994, focusing in on Pascal and his family as they go about their day-today lives- doing chores, going to school and hanging out with friends. Pascal, a young Tutsi boy, is unaware (like many) of the horrible events that are about to take place in his beloved Rwanda.
One Thousand Hills steps back in time to explore the effects of a modern society ravaged by hate and ignorance. I urge you to read this book, whether you know something about the events in Rwanda or absolutely nothing. It is a book that has affected me quite a lot, and one that makes the reader think outside the world of fiction, for it is a story that may have certainly mirrored past events. This is a tragic, yet beautifully written novel that I would recommend to our more mature readers.

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