The Secret Commonwealth – The Book of Dust Volume 2

Philip Pullman     Recommended by Anne    

The latest book in Philip Pullman’s epic series which began with the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Secret Commonwealth is set in the same parallel world where we first met Lyra and her dæmon, Pantalaimon. I re-read last year’s La Belle Sauvage, then the new book, and then the original books all over again, just to stay in this fictional universe a little longer. Its a world with many overlaps to our own and some differences, notably that a part of your consciousness is external to you in the form of an animal. It is immensely painful to be separated from your dæmon, and those who have been are viewed with fear and pity. It is one of the ways Pullman explores the idea of character and identity, an an irresistible concept if you’ve ever wondered what your spirit guide, anima or animus might be.  Dæmons are viewed as a possible manifestation of Dust, the mysterious substance flowing through the worlds in Lyra’s story. Although it began as a series for young people, this latest installment is years ahead and a lot more grown up, in much the same way the characters in the Harry Potter books grew with their readers. The Secret Commonwealth is almost bleak in parts, and the themes are dark and complicated. I felt that Lyra went through grueling punishment, especially the second part of the book where I winced through chapters of estrangement, sexual violence and a broken hand. I’ll be eager for volume three though, if only to see anything like a happy ending, or resolution to the story’s multitude of threads.

David Fickling Books / Penguin 2019



Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau     Recommended by Anne    


young adult / graphic novel 

A sweetly satisfying love story set in a small beach-side bakery, Bloom follows Ari, a young man keen to leave his family’s struggling business and make it big in the city with his band. When easygoing Hector joins the staff and brings his love of baking to the job, Ari begins to see it might not be so bad to spend his summer selling the Kyrkos Family Bakery’s Famous Sourdough Rolls. The illustration style is soft and dynamic, with a lot of details like playlists and room layouts included, so you can really settle into the story. There’s some trouble and misunderstanding, but just enough to be tied up neatly by the end, and I really liked the pacing of Ari and Hector’s slowly unfolding love, along with the ebb and flow of teenage friendships and rivalries. If you’ve finished up Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper and crave a similar book, this is just right.

First Second 2019


Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun

Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke     Recommended by Max    


Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a personal favourite of mine.The strange parallels and thematic tessellations which accumulate throughout the film elegantly express the way that folktales haunt the worlds from which they spring. But how to make this rich texture yield to the page? Cornelia Funke, author of the Inkheart series, was apprehensive for this very reason when Del Toro approached her to author the novelisation. While the bulk of the narrative remains unchanged, Funke’s retelling captures both the childlike wonder and wartime terror which the film so skillfully blends. Funke’s writing softens some of the more frightening and gruesome moments, making it a bit more palatable for those who found the violence of the film a little overwhelming. Those familiar with the story will relish the vignettes detailing some of the concealed histories and myths which structure the original—from the opening paragraphs on Falangist Spain to the provenance of the Pale Man.




In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Ofélia and her pregnant mother, Carmen, travel to the countryside where the ruthless Captain Vidal—Ofelia’s new stepfather—is engaged in a guerilla war with Republican rebels. Ofélia is drawn to a labyrinth which lies at the edge of the forest, and which is home to a mischievous faun. There she learns that she is the long-lost Princess Moanna, daughter of the king of the underworld, and that in order to reclaim her birthright (and her memories) she must complete a series of tasks to prove that she has not become changed by her time in the human world. As the conflict intensifies and the tasks become increasingly difficult, the worlds of the fairytale and the war blend together, giving the reader pause to reflect on how the stories we tell about nations, the unknown, the other, and ourselves can have disturbing, beautiful, and bittersweet consequences.

Bloomsbury 2019


The Sheltering Sky

Paul Bowles     Recommended by Anne    


I’m hesitant to tick the ‘recommended’ box since this book is unusually, vividly bleak. it’s also considered a landmark piece of twentieth century literature. First published in 1949, it is set in a decimated postwar North Africa, through which Americans Port Moresby, his wife Kit and their friend Tunner move restlessly. Wealthy and aimless, they consider themselves travellers rather than tourists, with Port seeking some kind of defining philosophical experience in the remote Sahara. The precursor to the Beats, Bowles was apparently beset with hippies visiting his home in Tangiers in the hope of meeting a wise sage. He wrote the book in bed (a habit he adopted when freezing desert nights made it impossible to sit at a desk) dissolving writer’s block with liberal quantities of hashish.

I couldn’t find a single character with kindness or other redeeming qualities; the book is a relentlessly hostile description of the meaningless cruelties humans perpetrate on one another and our innate aloneness. Port and Kit are each punished for their wilfull ignorance and apathy. Some passages are a vertiginous deep dive into the horror of death. The writing shows its age by the startling racism and misogyny, branching off the deeper misanthropy.  Perhaps it is not the portrayal of people in the novel which is so upsetting but the creeping suspicion that Bowles might have seen through the artifice of polite society, and be right about us all.

Ecco Press / Harper Collins 2014 


The Nancys

R.W.R. McDonald     Recommended by Kristy    


The Nancy’s by RWR McDonald  is a heart-warming, thrilling murder mystery.  At once innocent and wicked, this is a truly delightful read.

Tippy Chan is eleven years old when her father dies leaving her and her mother to struggle on in small town New Zealand. When her Mum wins a cruise, Tippy’s Uncle Pike, comes to look after her bringing his new boyfriend Devon, an up and coming fashion designer.

Whilst Tippy is delighted to see her Uncle she is unsettled by a friend’s accident and a murder. Tippy and her uncle, inspired by their mutual love of Nancy Drew decide that they, along with a reluctant Devon,  will solve the crime before her mother’s return.  And they will look fabulous while they do it.

Allen & Unwin 2019

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