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Jasper Jones- Craig Silver

Late on a hot summer night in 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan.

Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress. Jasper takes him to his secret glade in the bush, and it's here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper's horrible discovery.

With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu.

And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse.

In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

Boy Swallows Universe                                                                

A novel of love, crime, magic, fate and coming of age, set in Brisbane's violent working class suburban fringe - from one of Australia's most exciting new writers.

Brisbane, 1983: A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crime for a babysitter. It's not as if Eli's life isn't complicated enough already. He's just trying to follow his heart, learning what it takes to be a good man, but life just keeps throwing obstacles in the way - not least of which is Tytus Broz, legendary Brisbane drug dealer.

But if Eli's life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He's about to fall in love. And, oh yeah, he has to break into Boggo Road Gaol on Christmas Day, to save his mum.

A story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.

Molly's Millions by Victoria Connelly

Hard-up florist Molly Bailey has just won £4.2 million pounds in the National Lottery. And she needs to get rid of it – fast!


Tom Mackenzie is on the verge of losing his job. He needs one hell of a story if he hopes to secure his future in journalism.

With Ebenezer Scrooge for a brother, and a strong belief that sharing her good fortune is the only way forward, Molly unwittingly becomes the most sought-after person in the country as, in true Robin Hood style, she distributes her wealth to the masses.

With only her terrier pup, Fizz, for company, Molly embarks on the journey of her life, crossing the country in her trusty – or should that be ‘rusty’? – yellow Beetle. But with Tom Mackenzie hot on her heels and the nation on the look-out for her, Molly must outwit them all if she’s to achieve her grand finale.

Will she succeed before her family and the media catch up with her? And with Tom leading the pack, would that really be such a bad thing…?
 
Recommended by Ann Green 

Looking for an engaging read in this period of lockdown?  Then I highly recommend Where the Crawdads Sing by American author Delia Owens - her debut novel penned in 2018. 

It tells the story of a young girl, Kya, growing up in the marshes of North Carolina in the 1950s. If you are feeling isolated at the moment, then you need to read this to truly feel the ongoing trauma of loneliness and isolation as experienced by Kya, abandoned by her family at the age of six and left to fend for herself as she grows to adulthood. Unkindly nicknamed “The Marsh Girl” by the local townspeople, she is constantly taunted by their prejudices. Despite this, she befriends a young boy who later teaches her to read and write, but who unwittingly abandons her when he leaves for College.

Also intersecting with Kya’s emerging maturity from wild girl to beautiful woman, is the murder of a popular young local man,  for it turns out that the two had formed a hidden romantic relationship. The ongoing murder investigation has implications for Kya when she becomes a suspect. 

Underpinning these storylines is Kya’s passion for studying the behaviour of the marsh wildlife - a recurring motif which helps her to understand the mating rituals of the male species - both animal and human. 

This is a book that stays within your memory for some time after reading, such is the impact of Kya’s story. Owens’ characters are compellingly crafted, and the setting is beautifully portrayed. It is no surprise then, that  Where the Crawdads Sing was No. 1 on Amazon.com’s list of Most Sold Books in fiction in 2019. 

Anne Cleary, Crookwell VIEW Club

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new novel from Jane Harper.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Harper’s masterful narrative places readers right in the middle of a desolate landscape that’s almost as alien as the moon’s surface, where the effects of long-term isolation are always a concern. The mystery of Cam’s death is at the dark heart of an unfolding family drama that will leave readers reeling, and the final reveal is a heartbreaker.

Isabel Allende’s latest novel marks a return to the time and setting of the book that jump-started her literary career, The House of the Spirits, but with far less supernatural elements and a more expansive engagement of revolution, exile and the determination of the human spirit ... Despite the prominence of historical events and that the protagonists are so intricately woven into them the novel manages to develop the complicated bond between Victor and Roser ... A Long Petal of the Sea, a page-turning story rich with history and surprising subplots that keep the novel unpredictable to the end, serves as a counterpoint and companion to Allende’s first novel. This time, though, she focuses on the lives of the downtrodden but no less heroic figures of war.

Full of the magic of storytelling. Sharply drawn, vibrant characters; a long-simmering, unlikely love story; ruthless plot twists, and a long waited, last-minute development.

Against a backdrop of violent political and social upheaval, the lives of Allende’s characters quietly unfold in unexpected ways that prove both riveting and satisfying ... subtle touches of magical realism add richness to the story. Although Allende writes of political events and personalities from distant lands and decades in the past, readers may feel a very real sense that these events have much to say about the world today. Some may find hope in Victor’s and Roser’s abilities not just to survive such dark times but also to eventually heal and thrive ... For those familiar with Allende’s earlier work, this novel will not disappoint. For those new to Allende’s writing, A Long Petal of the Sea will prove a captivating introduction

The Uncommon Reader

Alan Bennett, the deft, virtuosic author of plays like “The History Boys,” “The Madness of George III” and “The Lady in the Van” in “The Uncommon Reader” poses a delicious and very funny what-if: What if Queen Elizabeth at the age of 70-something were suddenly to become a voracious reader? What if she were to become an avid fan of Proust and Balzac, Turgenev and Trollope and Hardy? And what if reading were to lead her, in turn, to becoming a writer? Mr. Bennett’s musings on these matters have produced a delightful little book that unfolds into a witty meditation on the subversive pleasures of reading.

When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked at Buckingham Palace the Queen drifts accidentally into reading. She reads widely and intelligently. Her reading naturally changes her world view and her relationship with people like the oleaginous prime minister and his repellent advisers. She comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with much that she has to do. In short, her reading is subversive. The consequence is, of course, surprising, mildly shocking and very funny.

In recounting this story of a ruler who becomes a reader, a monarch who’d rather write than reign, Mr. Bennett has written a captivating fairy tale — a tale that showcases its author’s customary élan and keen but humane wit.

A Gentleman in Moscow written by Amor Towles tells the story of a Russian aristocrat living under house arrest in a luxury hotel, practically next door to the Kremlin, for more than thirty years.  The language is elegant, lilting and flowing, not in any way flowery.  Early on it appears to be slow moving, but it is taking the time to attend to detail that will prove relevant to the second half of the story.

When the author was asked, “Did the book have a central theme?” he said, “I certainly hope not!”  His challenge, he said, was to craft an engaging story while trapping his hero and his readers in a single building for 32 years!  He called this the challenge of the novel’s geometry – it takes the shape of a diamond on its side – from the moment the hero passes in through the hotel’s revolving doors the narrative begins opening steadily outward for the first half of the of the book and then narrows steadily through the second half until the hero passes out through the revolving doors toward the story’s end.

The hotel keeps revealing for hero and reader alike more and more aspects of life – an accumulation of people, grand rooms, objects, major events and minor ones many of which seem incidental.  Then in the second half the story begins to narrow and all of the disparate elements from the first half converge. Bit characters, passing remarks, incidental objects come swirling together and play essential roles in bringing the story to a sharply pointed conclusion.  This makes the book a most satisfying read. The story contains a richness of images, ideas and personalities.  Highly recommended.