Staff Picks for Winter
Part mystery, part coming of age story, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is set in a distant suburb on the encroaching bushland, over the long hot summer of 1992. It’s the summer of the school’s Showstopper concert. The summer Tikka never forgot. The summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Blackly comic, sharply observed and wonderfully endearing. ‘We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’ Tikka Molloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long hot summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth vanished during the night of the school’s Showstopper concert at the amphitheatre by the river, surrounded by encroaching bushland. Now, years later, Tikka has returned home to try and make sense of the summer that shaped her, and the girls that she never forgot. Blackly comic, sharply observed and wonderfully endearing, this is Picnic at Hanging Rock for a new generation, a haunting coming-of-age story with a shimmering, unexplained mystery at its heart.
Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain. Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word. Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought. And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth? The Silent Patient is a heart-stopping debut thriller about a woman’s brutal and random act of violence against her husband – and the man obsessed with discovering why.
Peter Grant was just a probationary constable in the Metropolitan Police Service when one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, he tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluble, thus bringing him to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England.
Now Peter is a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years and his world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, digging up graves in Covent Garden and there’s something festering at the heart of London, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city and it falls to Peter to bring order out of chaos – or die trying.
The news is dominated by accounts of the terrible tragedies that have befallen people. We are obsessed with every detail of these events until the news cycle moves on to the next big story. At the start of 2014, journalist Leigh Sales had her own brush with death, and at the end of the year, she found herself reporting on an unusually tragic string of events. She would lie awake at night thinking: Why them? Why not me or a loved one? When will it be my turn?
In her research for Any Ordinary Day, Sales set out to find out what happens in the days and years after the worst day of one’s life. She interviews Stuart Diver, who survived the Thredbo landslide but lost his wife in the disaster, a survivor of the Lindt Café siege, an author who lost her husband in a surfing accident, and more. Combining years of journalism experience with compassion and personal anecdotes, Sales brings us a surprisingly uplifting book about how resilient people are after the worst case scenario becomes the new normal.
Stephanie Land was 28 years old, in a dead-end relationship, and about to begin a university degree when she discovered she was pregnant. She spent the next six years struggling to support her daughter as a single mother, doing everything within her power to climb out of poverty. Working as a domestic cleaner for as many hours as possible and for very little pay, Land desperately tried to avoid unexpected bills due to sickness or car repairs, which are inconvenient for most people but could lead to homelessness for some-one living below the poverty line. By day, Land spent long, physically exhausting hours scrubbing the toilets of the rich, while after work, she navigated the tangled and frustrating web of low-income housing, government assistance, and child support.
Land’s honest prose provides great insight into the widening gap between the upper-middle class and the overworked but underpaid poor in America. If you enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy and Educated, Maid could be your next favourite read.
Fed up with the Sydney rat race, Todd and his partner Jeff decide to sell their Annandale terrace and buy 100 acres in the Hunter Valley. They have grand plans of an idyllic life-style, growing their own food and running a vineyard and bed & breakfast. How hard can it possibly be? In a word: very.
What they lack in experience, however, they make up for with humour, enthusiasm, and resourcefulness. Along the way, as they learn how to grow grapes and olives and physical-ly build the guest accommodation, they acquire a menagerie of animals, including goats, chickens, ducks, and, of course, a mischievous pig called Helga. Alexander’s book is a feel -good memoir that made me stop and reflect on the important things in life … and plan a future trip to visit Helga at Block Eight in the Hunter.