On the eve of the New Year, Kingston Libraries' staff have pooled together some of their favourite books of 2019.
Continue reading below for recommendations and reviews covering a variety of interests, hear newfound passions for graphic novels, and discover others' love of audio books and the power of a great narrator to transport you deeper into a story. Who knows? Maybe you'll find the perfect read to kickstart your 2020.
'Our Dogs, Ourselves'
by Alexandra Horowitz
"As a dog lover I simply could not go past this one (particularly since the dog on the cover was just begging me to take notice of it). I found this to be a fascinating and insightful read that has made me look at dogs and our relationship with them in a whole new light."
'A Stray Cat Struts: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel'
by Slim Jim Phantom
"This book is a light-hearted memoir by the drummer of renowned rockabilly trio, Stray Cats, who this year released their first album of new material since the early 1990s. "A Stray Cat Struts" details the band's humble beginnings as a teenage bar band in New York, who after being told that there is a strong rockabilly scene in the UK, save up enough cash for three air tickets and fly to London with no particular plans. Within weeks of arriving, the band attracts interest from media and record companies, as well as plenty of famous fans with their incredible live shows. The rest of Slim Jim's book describes the highs and lows of being in a famous band, with loads of stories about hanging out and working with celebrities including members of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, rock legends like Lemmy, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, and movie stars such as Rod Taylor and Britt Ekland (who Slim Jim was married to for several years). This is a fun, easy read for fans of rock 'n' roll."
'The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers'
by Kerri Turner
"This novel by Australian debut author Kerri Turner is set during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Told from the perspective of two dancers from the Romanov's Imperial Russian Ballet, this book does an incredible job of using the isolation of the ballet world to accurately depict a much broader, life-altering historical event. Made more effective through the juxta positioning of the two main character's positions within society, the novel takes you on a journey as they are forced to choose between the future of their country, their art or their love for one another."
View Book | Read in BorrowBox
'The Boy Who Steals Houses'
by C. G. Drews
"Have you ever wished that you could make a book come to life just to give the characters a hug? This novel is both tear-jerking and heart-warming and tells the story of fifteen-year old Sam as he tries to support himself and his autistic older brother, surviving by breaking into empty houses. Drew's nuanced work is a journey of everything that it takes to break through a tragic cycle, overcoming pain, fear and isolation to discover love, hope and belonging."
by Evelyn Waugh
"Waugh could well have been detestable but he was a very gifted writer. The story of Charles Ryder and his relationship with Sebastian Flyte and his family was fascinating and beautifully told. I don't have much of a grasp of the religious issues it discusses but its representation of the changing nature of England's class structure, which Waugh deplored (the changes, not the structure itself) and the fantastic list of supporting characters such as Bridey, Lord Marchmain, Hooper and Mr Samgrass the sycophant. It manages to be melancholic, hilarious in parts, wistful and delicious."
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'Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell'
by Louise Milligan
"An excellently researched and written investigation into the career of one of Australia's most successful clergymen. Milligan is scrupulously fair in her investigations and had gone into Pell's life from the beginning. The picture it gives of the church's approach to the victims of child abuse is very disturbing."
'Carn: The Game and the Country that Plays It'
by Andrew Mueller
"This book was extremely funny and covered 57 of games since the first bounce of the VFL ball in 1897. Incidents such as St Kilda's first win after 48 consecutive losses (which had to be decided on an appeal!) to the day the elephant ran amuck at Arden Street are covered. It also relates such episodes as "Lethal" Leigh's felling of Neville Bruns and Mark Yates's big hit on Dermie in the 1989 Grand Final. It is extensively footnoted and replete with tales of characters like Jack Dyer and Alan Jeans who have given the game its rich personality."
'Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy'
by Max Hastings
"I was drawn to this book after hearing a fascinating interview with the author on the wireless. The book has been phenomenally well-researched and written. Hastings has a formidable mind and the interest he takes in the subject comes out in this very fair history of what indeed was an epic tragedy. He discusses the moral failings of both sides and refuses to say which of them were the good guys. The truth is rarely pure and never simple is a very apt epigram for the Vietnam War and Hastings does a very sterling job explaining it."
by Christophe Chabouté
"A beautifully illustrated year in the life of: a park bench. It goes through each season and the stories of the people who frequent the bench are funny, sad, and everything in between. Another librarian here introduced me to the joys of the graphic novel."
'Once Upon a Time in France'
by Fabien Nury and Sylvain Vallee
"Joseph Joanovici couldn't read but he knew how to do business. In the 1920s he migrated to France from Romania and became one of the richest people in Europe. As a Jewish person, with the rise of fascism and the Nazis' insatiable need for more and more metal to feed the war machine, Joanovici's life became complicated in between the fascist regime and the resistance. This is an incredible story based on the life of Joseph Joanovici, an epic crime saga that tells the story across several decades. Like Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Martin Scorsese's crime movies, and Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, this is a story with huge scope that works as a crime saga but also as a social and human drama. This graphic novel is an incredible tour de force, from the acclaimed writer of The Death of Stalin."
by Jason Lutes
"It took Jason Lutes just under 25 years to finish this graphic novel but every single page is a triumph of understated but focused story telling. Berlin is set during the Weimar Republic (1928-1933), during the time when the city was in crisis and turmoil politically, at the same time as it was a cultural and artistic centre of Europe, rivalling Paris. The book follows several characters and their lives in the city, with the political conflict and rise of fascism in the background. Every story is so well developed and the overarching story of the city is so well threaded that the book is masterfully crafted all the way through. A riveting and human look at the city of Berlin and its people during a time of convulsion that led to genocide and WWII."
'Gideon Falls Volumes 1 and 2'
by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino
"Father Fred is a washed up Catholic priest who is assigned a parish in a small town where the priest has suddenly died. Norton is a young man living in the city seeing a psychiatrist and who is obsessed with conspiracy theories. Both of their lives will become entwined and entangled with the mysterious Black Barn. Gideon Falls is a three volume horror series where Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino experiment with story telling and visual narrative to create a chilling and inventive page turner of a mystery. A graphic novel series not for the faint hearted but deeply rewarding that is now being adapted for TV by none other than Australian horror director, James Wan, of Saw, The Conjuring, and Aquaman fame."
View Volume 1 | View Volume 2
"Audio books have a wonderful attribute all of their own. Most are read by professional actors, the prose taking on additional delight when you can hear the accent, the vocal expression of tenderness, outrage, or sarcasm. Any of Charles Dickens' books are a great example. The language is of the time, in the dialect of the time, using phrases and words that are no longer in use in our modern day writing. Try listening to Oliver Twist or The Tale of Two Cities. Each character has his own voice and accent adding a dimension to the story, not available in print form."
by Herman Melville
"The story of the sailor Ahab, captain of a whaling ship, the Pequod. Ahab is on a journey of revenge on the great white sperm whale who bit off his leg on a previous voyage. Ahab's obsession determines the fateful journey up to the final encounter. The whale survives, the ship is lost. Ishmael, the only survivor, is the narrator of this tale.
"The life of the whalers, the hardships they face, the tension of the chase, and their awful final fate is masterfully conveyed by Ben Cumberbatch, the reader."
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'Summer at Mount Hope'
by Rosalie Ham
"Caroline Lee is the narrator of this novel by Rosalie Ham, and competently conveys the the tone of the Crupp family: Robert, an accountant who has moved his family to the country to grow grapes in traditional sheep country, his unhappy wife, Maud, and two daughters, Phoebe and Lilith. It's a time of wealthy pastoralists, squatters, itinerants and suffragettes, and of threats and promises to the traditional way of life in the country."
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'The Grapes of Wrath'
by John Steinbeck
"The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel by John Steinbeck and the audio version is narrated by Dylan Baker. This classic brings the Great Depression to life. Thousands of families trek across America, east to west. Poverty, desperation, and hope, drive the Joad family along this journey during the social and economic horrors of this period of time in America. The sensitive reading by Baker brings home the despair, the courage and the endurance, and finally the betrayal of their epic journey."
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"For those interested in the history of the First World War, Peter FitzSimons has written Victory at Villers - Bretonneux, Fromelles and Pozieres, and Gallipoli. These titles in audio book form are well researched and told in FitzSimons' typical novel style. The professional narrators all convey the varying tones of the war, from the initial excitement of the Australians who enlist for their big adventure and the chance to travel, despair at the apparent willingness of British Command to continue sending Australian troops to face murderous machine gun fire, the courage and determination and the unquenchable Aussie spirit."