SHARING A GREAT READ
Book clubs give us opportunities to connect with books we love, discover new writers and discuss our favourite literary moments with friends.
Brisbane City Council libraries’ Top 40 Book Club Reads is published each year to help book clubs with their reading selections. Ranging from new releases to classics, it includes both fiction and non-fiction titles to ensure there is something for every reader.
For more good reading suggestions, speak to the staff at your local Brisbane City Council library. With a citywide collection of more than 1.3 million items, as well as an extensive range of eBooks and eAudiobooks, our libraries are well-equipped to assist you and your book club with your reading selections.
For regular updates on upcoming author talks, book signings and other library events, subscribe to the Brisbane Libraries eNewsletter.
To subscribe, visit www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/libraries and click on ‘Subscribe to the Brisbane Libraries e-newsletter’ under the ‘Find what you need’ heading.
Fiction reading suggestions
The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart
Set in the 1840s in a Shaker community of Massachusetts, this novel tells the tragic story of Polly, who is forced to flee her abusive father after the family home is set alight. On the run with her mother and brother, her mother is convinced her children’s indenture to the Shaker community will give them the best chance for the future. Polly soon finds herself the focus in the community as a visionist – a seer who is believed to directly communicate with ‘Mother Ann’, the founder of the Shakers. Under intense scrutiny and determined to bring her family together, this is a fascinating novel that documents Polly’s journey while also exploring a little known piece of America’s spiritual history.
Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
Written with full support of the Conan Doyle Estate, Moriarty is Anthony Horowitz’s second outing into the world of Sherlock Holmes. Unlike Horowitz’s previous work, House of Silk, Moriarty doesn’t feature Holmes or Watson. Instead it gives lead roles to minor Sherlock character Inspector Jones, and a New York Pinkerton Agent, Frederick Chase. Chase acts as narrator for the story and the relationship between Chase and Jones, who has studied Holmes’ cases in detail, is reminiscent of Watson and Holmes without being an imitation. The story takes them on a dangerous and intriguing quest to track down the villainous mastermind who has taken over from the now deceased Moriarty.
Once again, Horowitz captures the style, suspense and pace of Conan Doyle’s writing, puts life into Holmes’ world and provides a twist that you will not see coming.
Tapestry by Fiona McIntosh
Jane Granger is the only person who can save the lives of two men – one she doesn’t know, and one she doesn’t know if she truly loves. The story follows two ancestral lines of the Maxwell dynasty – her wealthy American fiancé lying in a London hospital in 1978 and Scottish rebel William, Fifth Earl of Nithsdale locked in the Tower of London in 1715. To prevent the deaths of both men, Jane inhabits the body of 18th Century Mrs Winifred Maxwell and
inadvertently becomes involved with the mysterious Lord Julius Sackville.
A vibrant blend of historical and political facts, fiction and fantasy, Jane discovers “Blood is the golden thread that runs through life’s tapestry”, as she battles destiny with the power of love.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
In David Mitchell’s novels, anything can happen. Recurring themes, characters and images, literary allusions to his own and other’s works, and ordinary life mixing with cosmic interference. Reviewers have identified The Bone Clocks as both recklessly ambitious and fun to read.
Holly Sykes starts the novel as a 15-year-old runaway. Her story is then told by Hugo Lamb, a Cambridge undergraduate, Holly’s partner, an Iraqi war-scarred foreign correspondent and author Crispin Hershey, before flipping into an alternate world where battle ensues between the Horologists and the Anchorites.
Mitchell is known for his interest in the clash between personal and planetary ethics. This book, short-listed for the Man Booker prize, continues this exploration in a unique and disturbing way.
California by Edan Lepucki
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the protagonists Cal and Frida flee their home in Los Angeles to live in the wilderness of Northern California. When they discover Frida is pregnant, they decide they must join a community where they are able to get help with raising their child. However, in this new world it is difficult to know who to trust with so many secrets surrounding them.
This debut novel from Lepucki gives the reader much to think about. The novel has been successful following Colbert’s endorsement on The Colbert Report, which prompted publishers to increase the initial publication of 12,000 copies to 60,000.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Giving a voice to the much reviled Zelda, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, this is a fascinating fictionalised account of the Fitzgeralds’ courtship, the glory days of the Jazz age and their struggles with alcoholism and mental health in the later years of their lives. Interwoven with real events, quotes from Zelda and Scott’s letters and other authors of the time (notably Hemingway), the story offers a unique perspective on this complex and creative woman, and will prompt many a reader to explore more of the writings of the Fitzgeralds’, whose passionate and destructive relationship was the fuel for much of their work.
The Mandarin Code by Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann
Australian party politics, cyber-terrorism, international brinkmanship, the birth pangs of the ‘Asian century’ – this book has it all. Two of Australia’s best known journalists have teamed up to write a thriller set lovingly in our national capital.
We predict a feisty book club discussion, with the opportunity to tease apart the interwoven strands of government and diplomacy. An additional challenge is to identify the real-life politicians and journalists whose antics are blatantly disguised in characters with genders and political persuasions different from their real life counterpart. If you are a Canberra-watcher or a news junky you will love this book.
Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas
This compelling collection of stories looks at love, sex, death, family, friendship, betrayal, tenderness, sacrifice and revelation. Not for the faint-hearted, the urban moral dilemmas in this book may make you uncomfortable, and the language is often raw and confronting. The characters are utterly realistic and the focus throughout each of the stories is relationships, often challenging but also containing love, kindness and beauty.
Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant
Orange Prize winning author, Linda Grant is back with her sixth novel. Upstairs at the Party reflects on the life of Adele during her university years in 1970s Britain. While the voice of Adele is clearly from the present day, the stories she shares of her youth help the reader to understand more about her. While Grant seems to race through this period, she recounts a life of freedom and discovery in the pages of her novel, which evokes a sense of nostalgia in the reader.
Friendship by Emily Gould
Just as the title suggests, this story from debut novelist Emily Gould is about the friendship of two New Yorkers, Bev and Amy. Having been friends for years, Bev and Amy are in their thirties and learning that life is getting serious. While there are ups and downs throughout the novel, things take a turn when Bev discovers that she is pregnant.
Loosely based on Gould’s own experiences, Friendship will have you reflecting on the friendships you have had throughout your life. You will recognise the conversations, the pressures that can sometimes try a friendship and the joys you experience with your best friend. This is a great read for book clubs.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Amien, France 1910. Stephen Wraysford meets and becomes involved in a passionate relationship with Isabelle Azare, the ill-treated wife of his employer. They separate and remain estranged for many years. The novel follows Stephen through his experiences during World War I on the battlefields of the Western Front. Regarded as one of the best novels ever to portray the horrors of this war, Faulks vividly describes trench warfare, poisonous gas attacks, untreatable wounds and the fear and fact of being buried alive.
Stephen triumphs because of his capacity to develop intense friendships under pressure and a determination to survive, unequaled by most of his peers. Relationships interrupted by war are re-kindled and promises to fallen comrades are both understood and kept by Stephen’s granddaughter many years after the war has ended. A powerful read, a great book, a modern classic!
Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven
Heat and Light is the first book from David Unaipon Award winning author, Ellen Van Neerven. A compilation of short stories that take you on a beautiful journey through generations of characters, the book is broken into three parts that explore themes of heritage, indigenous identity and sexuality.
Van Neerven’s technique is engaging and poetic, taking the reader through urban and rural landscapes. Heat and Light is a brilliant piece of literature and Ellen Van Neerven is a name to keep watching.
Time and Time Again by Ben Elton
Hugh Stanton has the chance to change history. He goes back to 1914, just before the First World War, with a mission to prevent the war from happening.
With an abundance of books being published on the topic of the First World War, Ben Elton’s novel takes a different perspective and makes a great read for those looking for something outside the box. With plenty to discuss, Elton looks at how history could be changed and what this would mean for life today, the time that Hugh Stanton has come from. Those who have enjoyed Elton’s other works will not be disappointed.
What Was Promised by Tobias Hill
Starting in post-war London, What Was Promised tells the story of three families over a 40 year period. Likened to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Tobias Hill’s fifth novel follows the lives of immigrant families as they settle in London’s East End.
The novel is broken into three sections – 1948, 1968 and 1988 – which provides an engaging structure for the narrative. The strength of Hill’s writing is his focus on character and relationship which contributes to the three-section structure. What Was Promised is also an interesting read about London’s own journey back from war and how the people needed to find a new identity amongst the bomb ruins, years of rationing and heartache. What Was Promised will be a fantastic read for book clubs.
The Austen Project
The Austen Project is a series of Jane Austen classics rewritten by modern day writers. So far the series has released Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility, Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma and Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, with Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld to come.
An updated Austen for the texting crowd, Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey moves all the classic action to the 21st Century with some clever plot twists thrown in. The heroine of this tale is an imaginative Facebook-posting Twilight fan with a love for Gothic novels, who escapes her dull hamlet life to attend the Edinburgh Festival as a guest of her neighbours, the Allens. Cat’s imagination runs riot when she is invited to stay at Northanger Abbey, the stately home of handsome young lawyer Henry’s father. Cat is quite enchanted by Henry and his sister Eleanor, but are there nefarious secrets in the family’s past? Or has Cat just been reading too many novels?
In classic Sarah Waters style, this novel is both a love story and a crime story set in a society deeply scarred by war and struggling to regenerate. Set in 1922 London in the aftermath of the Great War, it tells the story of Frances, an unmarried woman, who finds herself responsible for caring for her mother and their once grand house. When she is obliged to take in lodgers to make ends meet, the blurring of class and tradition become more pronounced. Unexpected friendships are formed, loyalties shift and boundaries are crossed, culminating in a devastating chain of events.
The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon
The Exile is a retelling of part of the first Outlander novel from the point of view of Jamie and Murtagh Fraser. In The Exile we follow Claire and Jamie on their travels through a richly illustrated landscape, evoking the atmosphere and beauty of the Scottish Highland.
Nguyen’s colouring and background detail is excellent, although some of the male characters look similar and at times the characterisation of Claire is a little too cartoon-like. This graphic novel might not please all of Gabaldon’s fans, but it will attract new readers to her novels who may not have considered reading her works before.
Lost & Found by Brooke Davis
Seven year old Millie Bird keeps a book of dead things. When her dad becomes an entry in her book, life changes significantly for Millie. Crossing paths with octogenarians Karl the Touch Typist and Agatha Pantha opens a world of emotional interactions for all three. During a West Australian road trip which ensues, the trio battered and bruised by life, begin to care again, for each other.
Opposition and assistance in their endeavours has the reader cheering for their success. When you finish Lost & Found, you will find yourself missing fond friends.
Amnesia by Peter Carey
According to his Australian publisher, Peter Carey’s 19th book Amnesia is “timely, thrilling, coruscating, funny, sweeping and fresh, a tonic for our torpor”.
Increasingly, Australians are emerging from the naive acceptance that everything American is good for us. Gaby Ballieux is a young Australian woman accused of declaring cyber war on the U.S., when she hacks the computers that control immigration detention centres. Felix Moore, washed-up and discredited as “Australia’s last surviving left-wing journalist”, takes up her story. With memories of the dismissal of the Whitlam government, the establishment of Pine Gap and other moments in Australia’s past where outcomes were pro-American, Moore weaves these rich threads together, while ultimately telling Gaby’s story.
This is without a doubt a future prize-winner. Not to be missed!
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
Set in Atlanta in 1974, the story follows Kate Murphy on her first day in the force. Having to learn the unwritten rules of being a female policewoman, she quickly becomes involved in the case of the brutal death of a policeman. Slaughter researched and spoke to policewomen who worked during the 1970s and has incorporated their stories in her novel.
While the story is a compelling read, the most incredible part of this novel is the experience Kate Murphy has as a female in the force and the reaction from her colleagues, both male and female. Cop Town is Slaughter’s first stand-alone novel and is a brilliant work of historical fiction detailing a truthful account of life in 1970s Atlanta.
Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud
Set in 1914 just before World War I, the narrator is a lonely boy who befriends a couple he sees walking the riverbank daily. The man is Charles Rennie McKintosh, who is recovering from nervous exhaustion and pneumonia, and his wife.
Mr Mac and Me is a beautiful story of village life, art and friendship, but also of war and sadness.
Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
Life is difficult for Nora Webster, newly widowed and with children to raise and nurture. Enniscorthy, County Wessex is familiar territory for native son Toibin and his loyal readers, having been the setting for many of his previous prize-winning novels. In teasing apart Nora’s widowhood, Toibin applies his expert skills to explore themes including grief, loneliness and a search for identity for Nora, whose life had previously been defined by marriage and motherhood.
Reviewers are warning that this relatively short book is not an easy read, but lovers of literary novels and die-hard Toibin fans will be rewarded by this latest offer with a master of form, language and style.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson
Like Jonasson’s first book, his second novel, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden takes us on a satirical romp involving a woman, a bomb and a plot to overthrow the King of Sweden. There is a flow of eccentric characters to engage and amuse, but when our heroine, Nombeko, meets up with Holger one and Holger two, the dimension of highly unusual family dynamics is added to the mix.
The novel moves from Soweto to Sweden, tackling social issues and humorously critiquing everything from the Swedish special forces to right wing minority political parties and Chinese diplomacy. If your book club is looking for a lighter touch in between more serious reads, this is the novel to include for sheer enjoyment and a discussion about how someone with the humblest of origins can change the course of the world.
After a prominent Scottish MP’s body is found outside his house, it is discovered that he had murdered his entire family before taking his own life. Andrew Weatherly was a popular politician with a successful business and a very bright future – no one can understand what has prompted him to commit this terrible crime. As Inspector McLean investigates, he uncovers a much bigger crime involving the top levels of Scottish politics, the rich elite of Edinburgh and the occult. With plenty of twists and turns, this is a great mystery to keep you reading until the very end.
This is the fourth book in Oswald’s Inspector McLean series.
The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill
This is the eighth title in the series starring Chief Inspector Simon Serraillier. Chief Inspector Serraillier is asked to take part in a covert operation that involves him working undercover to befriend a convicted paedophile and infiltrate a paedophile ring. His family and girlfriend (who has recently moved in with him) have no way of contacting him. While Simon is off the grid working undercover, his father is accused of rape and his sister faces some hard choices regarding her work as a GP. As the covert operation unfolds, it reveals shocking details of how the paedophile ring works and how many men in high powered jobs or pillars of the community are involved.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
The Sinclairs are a prominent New England family who spend the summer on their amazing island off Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Cadence (Cady), the protagonist, has suffered a mysterious accident that has left her with amnesia and regular illness. Her saviours are The Liars, who consist of two of her cousins – Johnny and Mirren – and Gat, a friend who visits the island and whom Cady falls in love with.
The reader is hooked as the details of Cady’s accident are gradually revealed, but the ending will leave you gobsmacked. This is a young adult novel that will engage readers of all ages.
This well-written collection of tales from award winning author Margaret Atwood encompasses murder, mystery, horror, crime and fantasy. The tales are linked by the common theme of anxiety of ageing, and delve deeply into the darkest impulses of each character. Darkly humorous, devious and always surprising, the reader is left not knowing what is real or imagined.
Family Secrets by Liz Byrski
Byrski is back with her eighth novel and her fans will not be disappointed. When patriarch Gerald passes away, leaving wife Connie and children Andrew and Kerry, there is a sense of relief amidst the grief they experience. Gerald had a dominating influence over their lives, and Connie finally feels free after 10 years of nursing her sick husband. However, Gerald’s death reveals family secrets as Connie, Andrew and Kerry are forced to rediscover their own lives without their husband and father.
Liz Byrski’s books have long been praised for their older female protagonists and readers will enjoy reading about Connie and her journey in the second stage of her life.
South of Darkness by John Marsden
John Marsden has long been one of Australia’s most celebrated writers of Young Adult fiction and now he is back with his first adult novel, South of Darkness.
Beginning in the late 1700s in the slums of London, Marsden’s new novel follows the story of Barnaby Fletch, a 13 year old boy who lived on the fringes of society. He hears about the paradise colony of Botany Bay and after spending some time in Newgate Prison, he ends up on a boat for Australia. Barnaby realises that the paradise isn’t quite what he thought and soon finds himself in trouble again.
Marsden has shown a remarkable talent for capturing early Australia and telling an epic story that will engage adult readers.
The Claimant by Janette Turner Hospital
The Claimant follows a court trial involving the Vanderbilt family fortune. The heir to the fortune went missing during the Vietnam war, however he reappears years later having lived his life in Queensland as a cattle farmer. Is the claimant indeed the heir to the fortune as he claims? Or an imposter who strikes a resemblance to the missing heir.
The Lord Mayor's Writers in Residence Series
In March 2012, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk announced funding of a four-year program dedicated to bringing high profile authors to Brisbane. The Lord Mayor’s Writers in Residence program is committed to hosting author events and workshops in libraries to encourage not just reading, but writing within our community.
This popular series allows Brisbane readers and creative writers to hear from and work with high profile national and international authors at libraries across the city. The series engages audiences of all ages, with diverse reading interests in different genres and both fiction and non-fiction books.
So far, the series has hosted authors such as Kathy Reichs, Raymond E. Feist, Matthew Reilly, Alexander McCall-Smith and Geoffrey Robertson QC. In 2015, the program will continue to bring popular authors to libraries across Brisbane.
To find out who’s coming to Brisbane soon, pick up a copy of What’s On in Libraries at your local library and follow Brisbane Libraries on Facebook and Twitter.
Non-fiction reading suggestions
This House of Grief by Helen Garner
Father’s Day, 2005. Three young children dead, drowned in a terrible accident when their father loses control of the car they are travelling in and it leaves the road and plunges into a dam. At first everyone’s sympathy is with Robert Farquharson, the devastated father. Even his estranged wife accepts his innocence. However, the story unravels, one court case follows another.
Helen Garner takes a front row seat in the numerous trials and appeals. This is the type of book that Garner does best. She plunges her experienced writer’s hand into the murky mixture of courtroom drama, raw emotion of bereaved family members and the chatter of ordinary everyday Geelong life, and pulls out a touching story that, like the lost little boys, deserves to be remembered and held in your heart.
She Left Me the Gun by Emma Brockes
“One day I will tell you the story of my life,” promises Emma Brockes’s mother, “and you will be amazed.” Sadly, she never did reveal her story, and it was only after her death that Emma embarked on a journey to South Africa to learn more about her mother’s violent and abusive family history, and the events which led to her mother’s emigration to England in the 1960s.
A moving and fascinating story which offers an insight into a woman who overcame adversity by taking extreme steps to protect her family and reinvent herself.
Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales
Mona Lisa... Who is the woman behind the smile? Leonardo immortalised her, but in the process hid her and her story from the world. This book brings Lisa Gherardini and 16th Century Renaissance Florence to life in a well-researched mixture of fact and speculation. Political turmoil, public scandals and family drama – all the tantalising ingredients you need in a story that places legendary characters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Machiavelli in real Florence. A time and place Hale discovers, where life is not easy for women whose stark choices were either arranged marriage or convent life.
The Silver Moon by Bryce Courtenay
One of Australia’s most beloved writers, Bryce Courtenay sadly passed away before the release of his last book The Silver Moon, however readers will once again be able to read the engaging stories of Courtenay as he shares his insights on life, death and writing. Courtenay’s storytelling narrative continues throughout this book as he details stories from his childhood in South Africa and throughout his life, as well as sharing advice on becoming a best-selling novelist.
rEVOLution by Russell Brand
Russell Brand’s highly anticipated manifesto, that aims to provide ideas to those who may be disengaged from politics and world issues, shares many interesting, revolutionary and hilarious concepts. rEVOLution has been written off the back of Brand’s famous interview with Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman – it’s well worth a view before you delve into reading the book. rEVOLution is destined to spark conversation and discussion whether you agree with the message Brand is preaching or not – it will be a powerful read for book clubs.
Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere by Poe Ballantine
Poe Ballantine’s memoir, Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere is set in Chadron, Nebraska – a small and relatively unknown town. It is here that Poe lives with his beautiful Mexican wife and their autistic son. Poe struggles to fulfil his wife’s expectations of America with money being tight and unable to find the right story for his next book. It is when his neighbour, a maths professor from the local college, disappears and then turns up ninety-five days later tied to a tree and burned to death that Poe knows what his next book will be.
Poe writes with an honest and curious mind to try and find the truth behind what may have happened.
What Days Are For by Robert Dessaix
A memoir and a conversation. For Dessaix, the life worth living is “une belle vie” – a beautiful life. This book includes reflections on death, the beauty in the everyday and, most generously, the gift of his intimate thoughts.
Recovering from a heart attack in 2011, Dessaix, in hospital, discovered and pondered the opening lines of Philip Larkin’s poem, Days. Dessaix gives the reader an insight into the enchantments and annoyances of his days. If you are not already a fan of Dessaix’s exquisite writing, this book will introduce you to a unique talent.
Mistress by Matthew Benns and Terry Smyth
Looking back over Australia’s history and the tradition of ‘taking a mistress’, journalist Matthew Benns along with Terry Smyth recount an entertaining and often shocking version of the past. From an eye-opening tale of Banjo Patterson’s real reason for writing Waltzing Matilda, to the secret women of our Prime Ministers, Mistress will entertain all readers with this fascinating history.
Benns and Smyth have a talent for storytelling and readers will be hooked by story after story – a great read.
Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy by Sophie Cunningham
On the fortieth anniversary of Cyclone Tracy, Sophie Cunningham has released her detailed account of the devastating effects of Darwin’s most horrendous natural disaster. Collecting several eye-witness accounts and interweaving them with research and news articles of the time, Cunningham has crafted a definitive book on Cyclone Tracy. The book also touches on the political and environmental effects of natural disasters and gives thought to what the future may hold. Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy is an excellent read.
The Birth of Korean Cool by Euny Hong
Twelve-year-old Euny Hong accompanied her family when they returned to Korea in 1985 to live in the Gangnam neighbourhood in Seoul, three decades before pop star Psy brought his version of ‘style’ to international attention. If all you know about Korea is Hyundai and Samsung, take another look! Part intimate memoir, part investigative study and completely entertaining, this book reveals everything you need to know about Korea’s fast-track emergence from backwater to innovative economic and pop-culture success.
TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL BOOK CLUB
If you would like to start your own book club, here are some helpful tips.
1 Seek out the devoted readers amongst your friends and invite them along. Encourage them to bring other friends to help get the group going.
2 Talk to your local library to identify available meeting times that will suit your group. Library staff can also help you with choosing books to read, sourcing available copies and provide tips for starting out.
3 Establish some ground rules during your first meeting. Things like who decides what books to read, how discussions are led and what commitments are expected to help your book club run smoothly.
4 Keep inviting new members – the more the merrier! There are always people wanting to join a book club. Talk to your local library staff, as they can help you attract more members.
5 Have fun! The best book clubs are those where there is plenty of discussion, lots of laughter and a nice cup of tea. Book clubs are also a great motivation to keep reading and venture outside of your literary comfort zone!
SOME DISCUSSION QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
Sometimes it can be difficult to get the discussion going. Here are some easy questions you might like to use.
1 Did you find the book engaging?
2 If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?
3 Do you think the characters were convincing?
4 What did you think of the ending?
5 Would you recommend this book to others?
Brisbane City Council libraries host a wide range of book clubs that you are welcome to join. To find out more about a book club near you, contact your local library on (07) 3403 8888.