Our Stella Sparks!

Two more Stella Sparks from our wonderful staff members, both of whom are sharing novels that fueled their love of reading at university.

Leaning Towards Infinity, Sue Woolfe


I was assigned Sue Woolfe’s Leaning Towards Infinity as a university student, and remember being less than enthused at the prospect of reading a book about mathematicians. Numbers have never been my friends. It was, then, a wonderful surprise to discover Wolfe’s ability to weave the language of mathematics into a thing beauty and mystery. I may never be able to solve an equation, but Sue Woolfe altered my view of mathematics from one of abject dread to one of awe. The fact that the book – which won a slew of awards when it was first released twenty years ago – is so difficult to come across now speaks volumes for the importance of programs like the Stella Sparks.


The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard

great fire

Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire was introduced to me via an Australian Literature course at University. At first, I lamented – another book about the Second World War. The power of Hazzard’s prose, however, gripped me from the very start. It wasn’t the plot that hooked me, but the depth and creation of the characters. They move through a world rife with violence and despair, and yet find their humanity within each other, indulging in a love within which age has no bearing. Although the relationship between the thirty-two-year-old Aldred Leith and the teenage Helen Driscoll is a primary focus, The Great Fire is also a novel about civility, humanity, the world that we create for ourselves and the prisons within it that have no bars.




Our Stella Sparks!

Over the next few weeks our staff members will be posting their Stella Sparks, a fantastic initiative of the Stella Prize where readers recommend their favourite book by a female Australian author (our store owner Suzy Wilson is on the judging panel for this year’s award.) Here are a few of the very wonderful books that have been formative in our reading experience.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, May Gibbs


As a small child growing up in North Wales my first contact with anything Australian was Snugglepot and CuddlepieWhile I found the book delightful it was not until I came here to live twenty years later that the images resonated and I realised I had a lot of Australian reading to catch up on.  Selecting one “Sparkling”  title out of over forty years of reading is surely an impossible task with such Stellar authors as Kate Grenville, Ruth Park, Joan London, Helen Garner, Mem Fox, Sonya Hartnett, Geraldine Brooks, Chloe Hooper and Madeleine St John to name a mere handful…and of course not forgetting Germaine…and Anne Summers.  So many wonderful authors over so many genres, heavens I cannot even choose a favourite genre!  Too many books, not enough time. My favourite book is usually the one I am currently reading and at the moment that is R A Spratt’s Friday Barnes – Oh it is such fun!


The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

man who

When I was eighteen I came across a discounted copy of The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead. I was intrigued by the foreword, a rapturous and lengthy essay by Jonathan Franzen, and that despite the eagerness of Australians to claim any remotely successful creative export as ‘Ours,’ I’d never heard of Stead. The monstrous novel is a confronting, uneasy read, with the outsized characters at its centre dancing a fine line between tragic and farcical. But it’s Stead’s ability to extract pathos from these loathsome individuals that prove her to be a writer in the league of Austen and Dickens: a powerfully imaginative masterclass in making the personal political.


The Forests of Silence, Emily Rodda


I read Emily Rodda’s The Forests of Silence from the Deltora Quest series for the first time when I was ten years old. I was required to read it for an English assignment at the time, and while I was initially reluctant – I’ve never been a fan of fantasy – I was instantly enthralled in the elaborate and spectacular world that Rodda had created. Nine years later, while tutoring a boy who was also tasked with writing an assignment on the novel, I discovered the universal love for the world of Deltora. Lief’s heroic race against the Shadow Lord to retrieve the gems from the belt of Deltora is enough to spark the imagination of any young child. While there are countless incredible books that have shaped my literary palate, the Deltora Quest books are the first I can recall that truly sparked my sense of wonder and my passion for reading.


Staff Shelf-Talker: Anchor Point, Alice Robinson

anchor pnt10 year old Laura lives in the Australian bush with her sister, father and mother. However, after her mother vanishes on a trip to retrieve clay for her pottery, Laura makes a snap decision that will ensure she is never found. This decision haunts Laura for the next four decades as she desperately tries to hold her family together, help her father tame the harsh land and find her place in the world. Robinson beautifully and eloquently portrays the intricacy of familial relationships, and it isn’t hard at all to understand Laura’s determination to keep the peace.

Robinson also paints a painfully honest picture of rural Australia. The terrain is beautiful but untameable and fire and flood both shape the landscape to the extent that it is almost a character in itself. This is the harsh reality for many Australians living in rural areas that are dependent on the unpredictable and unforgiving environment, especially farmers such as Laura’s father.

I was first made aware of Alice Robinson through her cousin, a family friend, who was unable to find a copy of the novel in Hobart. However, while I may not have expected much at first, I was pleasantly surprised by the fresh Australian voice. Robinson is an excellent example of the promising work stemming from debut female Australian authors. Her writing style lyrical and poetic and her protagonist’s quest – for her place in the world, her ‘anchor point’ – is universally shared.


Top 10: Fiction

  1. Swimming Home, Mary-Rose MacColl
  2. Thirteen Ways of Looking, Colum McCann
  3. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  4. Sweet Caress, William Boyd
  5. Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
  6. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
  7. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
  8. Hope Farm, Peggy Frew
  9. A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
  10. Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

Staff Shelf-Talker: The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel


Yann Martel’s latest offering is a humorous, surreal and devastating exploration of love, grief and our own struggle to understand death. The High Mountains of Portugal is made up of three individual novellas, subtly interwoven. In Homeless, Martel introduces us to Tomas, who after losing his lover, son and father, sets off on a quest for vengeance against God in pursuit of a “quite extraordinary” artefact. 35 years later in Homeward, a similarly grieving Eusebio comes to terms with his loss and his faith while performing a bizarre and absurd autopsy. Fifty years later, following the death of his wife, Canadian senator Peter retires to his ancestral village in Portugal with his chimpanzee companion in Home.

Each story builds on the last as all three protagonists try to make meaning of their loss. However while each story is somehow linked to the others, the tone shifts dramatically between them. While Homeless is youthful and fast-paced – Tomas has 10 days to complete his quest and hurtles through Portugal in one of the first automobiles – the following sections seem to progressively decelerate. One could argue Martel has done so to convey how age (or more aptly, maturity) provides us with the tools to understand, or at least accept death.

Much like Life of Pi, Martel’s use of animal symbols adds another layer of allegory to this philosophy-driven novel. Here, the chimpanzee appears in all three sections, and sparks thought on religion, evolution and our own humanity.

The High Mountains of Portugal is an interesting read to say the least. While the plot itself is not incredibly compelling, and the jumps between possible and impossible require the suspension of disbelief, it is a novel that will spark deep thought and discussion regardless of the reader’s overall stance. In that way, it is the perfect book for a bookclub, and well worth the read.


Samantha Wheeler’s Shelf-Talkers

sam wheeler

An avid Tim Winton fan, I began my holiday reading with his passionate memoir, Island Home. His evocative prose, describing the beauty and power of Australian place, was a luxurious holiday treat. What stayed with me the most was Winton’s sadness over the exploitation of our land, his despair over its degradation. As a fellow lover of Australian landscape and wildlife, I admired his call to arms, encouraging us all to care for our country, as our country defines us. An unexpected gem was discovering Winton’s journey to publication, and the pitfalls his unique writing style created. Island Home is a must, and I will certainly be reading it again.

island home

The next book on my list also, in a strange way, involved nature. Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things was both thrilling and terrifying. Whereas I had difficulty picturing the women in The Handmaid’s Tale, I had no such trouble with Wood’s unflinching prose. Every breath, every drop of sweat is horribly plausible. Set in outback Australia, somewhere, a bunch of women with a thread of similarity are held captive for no clear reason. The interaction between them is fascinating, the plot compelling and the ending perfect. I would definitely recommend it.


Kate Morton is up high on my list of favourites, and I’m always thrilled when a new book of hers comes out. Each time, I tell myself I will savour it, but then I can’t stop reading, and I’m sad when I’m done.

The Lake House is no exception. Morton knows just how to set the mood, location, and characters surrounding grand English homes, and she takes you right to the heart of Cornwall with this one. There are lots of plot threads and several time jumps, but that didn’t spoil what was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

lake house

Sam Wheeler is the author of several children’s books, including Smooch and Rose, Spud and Charlie and Mister Cassowary. She lives in Brisbane with her husband, daughters and pets.

Staff Shelf-Talker: “My Name is Lucy Barton,” Elizabeth Strout

lucy bartonThe much anticipated latest novel by Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge has finally arrived.

Having left behind a damaged and poverty stricken childhood in the Midwest Lucy Barton is living a comfortable and stable life with her family in New York.  During a prolonged hospital stay her estranged mother visits prompting Lucy to confront her past, reassess her future and take the first tentative steps to becoming a writer.  With clarity, honesty and compassion Lucy recalls the isolation, shame and fear of her childhood and the relationships and simple acts of kindness that have sustained her. Touching on the complexities of parental love, the indestructibility of family bonds and the ruthless and selfish nature of the creative drive, this concise and beautifully written book should be in every home library.