About Penny Cowell

Arts & culture writer

What was your favourite read from 2017?

Despite ‘The Barefoot Investor’ dominating book talk and library requests in 2017, our staff still managed to branch out and discover some other new reads for themselves.

Here’s what some staff rated as their favourite read of 2017:

Victoria the Queen
Ali – My fave from 2017 was Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird

I’m still reading it actually, as it’s a bit of a tome! It’s well-researched and written, interesting, compelling and definitely not a dry historical book. I heard a podcast on ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’ were Julia Baird told how she had access to primary sources in the archives at Windsor Castle.

The book covers all aspects of Victoria’s life – personal, family and political, and shows perhaps a more truthful view of the queen without referring to clichés and preconceptions. I would recommend this book if you like biographies.

 

 

The Diary of a Bookseller

Helen – I read a few books in 2017, but my favourite was The Book Shop by Shaun Bythell

It is a non-fiction diary style account of the day-to-day events in Scotland’s second-largest secondhand bookstore in Wigtown. It is written in a matter-of-fact account of what happens each day in the life of a secondhand book store. The humour is very dry – but laugh out loud funny! Through reading each diary entry, I got to know more about the staff who worked at the store (or who didn’t in some cases) and the challenges of running a business – especially in the digital age – and the owner’s fight with Kindles.

I feel I enjoyed it due to some similarities of the customers encountered by public libraries. The bookshop has its own Facebook page – which is just as amusing as the book itself. Thankfully there is a follow-on book!

 

Hunger by Roxanne Gay

 

Hayley –

I had a heap of stand-outs this year but my top pick would be Hunger by Roxanne Gay

This book is a memoir about the author’s relationship with her body after she is attacked as a young girl. Roxanne Gay’s writing is raw, beautiful and powerful. I couldn’t put it down.

 

 

 

 

 


The Handmaid's Tale

Eleanor –

Last year I had to read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood for an English class at university. After a few pages, I was completely hooked. It’s a beautifully crafted, chilling story that explores gender, freedom, control, and consequences in a dystopian society. The Handmaid’s Tale is a timeless classic that I would thoroughly recommend!

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Asking

Penny – 

I picked up The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer at Dillon’s Bookshop in Norwood early last year, after my curiosity was piqued by the striking book cover. Two things stood out straight away – Amanda’s sharp and honest writing, and the incredible anecdotes she weaves together to share her story from poverty-stricken street artist to world famous cabaret-punk performer. The scenes she writes about asking for money from her husband, writer Neil Gaiman, are hilarious and show how much confidence she lacked, when she felt she couldn’t ask her husband to financially support her during a downtime. It’s a great book for creatives, and navigates the tricky area of exchange in the Digital Age.

Chocolate Christmas Stars – recipe

Contributed by Librarian Adrienne

Christmas tree biscuits portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ingredients

125g butter or salt reduced margarine
¾ cup caster sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
2 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
½ teaspoons baking powder

For decoration

90 gm white melts or royal icing to represent tinsel
Silver or coloured caches
Mini chocolate Smarties
Mini m&ms
Decorations of your choice to represent baubles

Method

Place butter and caster sugar in a bowl and beat until creamy.

Add egg and vanilla essence and beat well.

Stir in sifted flour, cocoa and baking powder and knead to form a firm dough.

Roll dough out to a thickness of 0.5cm between two sheets of baking paper and cut with a 9 x 12cm Christmas tree cutter (you can use other size cutters but you will get more or less biscuits depending on the size of the cutter).

Place trees on oven trays lined with baking paper. Bake at 190°C  for 15 minutes. Allow to stand on trays for three minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool.

Place white melts in the top section of a double saucepan and stir over simmering water until melted. Pour into a piping bag and drizzle over cool shortbreads. Decorate the biscuits using icing, chocolates etc.

Makes 14 biscuits.

Tips on how to choose a book to read – by Jamie

Have you ever wasted time reading a book that leads you nowhere? Hoping it ‘gets better’ somewhere along the way – except – it doesn’t?
Work experience student Jamie has a formula for selecting books and genres to make reading a pleasurable experience every time.

Reading is a pastime enjoyed by people of all ages, but sometimes the novels that look interesting at a glance are only filled with disappointment. In this post, I am going to attempt to help you decipher whether a book is worth reading after only a chapter or two. This is only going to refer to fictional novels because there is an entirely different way of determining the quality of non-fiction, and of course children’s picture books can’t be held to the same standards. Please take what I say with a grain of salt as I am only 16 and obviously have not experienced as many books as some other people.

Before you can even begin to examine whether a book is worth reading, you need to understand what kinds of books suit you the best. If you read a lot then you won’t need any advice finding a genre, because you probably know already. If not, I’ll try to help you choose a genre or two.

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An easy way to start discovering what kinds of books best suit you is to look at the other media you consume (movies, TV shows etc.) and find out what genres they are. Most of the time the kinds of books that you enjoy are the same as the other things you enjoy. Another way to find what is best suited to your tastes is to ask friends and family to recommend books they think you’ll like. People close to you will be good at finding things you like because they spend so much time in your company. If this isn’t helpful, you could try reading short stories online to see what attracts your attention. I found myself suddenly interested in Steven King after reading a short story, called Suffer the Little Children, which he wrote.

Suffer the Little Children by Stephen King

Suffer the Little Children by Stephen King Image credit: http://www.mymbuzz.co

 

Now you have (hopefully) found a genre, you need to decide what you want in a book. Different people are attracted to different books for different reasons. This means that while an author may fall short in one way or another, it might not be an area that interested you anyway. An individual can enjoy a book purely because of the characters. Personally, I like books to be well-rounded and to focus on characters and plot development, so I find myself abandoning many books. If you can determine what aspects of reading you enjoy, it will be easier to decide if it will let you down in the end.

From the first chapters in a book it is usually clear what problems are going to persist. You might be used to continuing a book in the hope it might get good later, but I can confidently say it won’t. There isn’t enough time to read all of the good books in the world, so don’t waste time on the bad ones. I have never read a book that I found extremely boring in the beginning get better later. I’ve also discovered many books start out promising but go downhill. Books that seem promising in the beginning but later get worse are sometimes difficult or nearly impossible to identify. I will attempt to give you some tools to spot books that will disappoint you later.

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You may believe the most important part of a novel is the premise – but you are indisputably wrong. I enjoy it when a book has an exciting and engaging premise but it isn’t the most important thing. I have read books where the premise was interesting and showed amazing potential but was a letdown because of boring characters or lazy writing. I have also found books that had a seemingly boring premise to be written in a way that made the story engaging and interesting. It’s best not to judge a book solely on the potential it has, although it’s a good start. The skill of the author is what makes a novel memorable, not the basic idea behind the novel. Even if the author has the most amazing idea for a story, they can still fall flat if they don’t possess the skill that is needed. Reading reviews of your chosen novel will tell you how other people felt after reading it and can stop you wasting your time.

The dialogue between the characters in a book is a very important part of any novel. If a lot of the conversations between characters in the beginning of a book exists purely for exposition or has statements which no real person would ever say, then this is a sign of lazy writing. You can also tell if the characters are boring after only a few chapters. If a character has one trait or hobby that completely defines them and they don’t have multiple aspects to their personality, then they aren’t thought through very well. Boring characters are not good! The characters are part of what connects the reader to the action, so if they have no personality, then you, the reader, won’t relate to them or understand them. Having an abundance of scenes where the characters are sitting down and talking is also incredibly boring. It is fine occasionally but too many scenes where nothing happens is a bad sign. The author isn’t creative enough if the only time and place where characters interact is seated around a table.

boring conversation is terrible in a book

Boring! How you feel after reading pointless conversations in a book

Plot is another important part of any story. The plot can be simple or complicated as long as it is easy enough to understand and doesn’t leave large unanswered questions. If there is no hint of a plot within the first few chapters, then the novel probably isn’t worth reading. If there is no hint of plot, the entire first part of the book will be pointless. The plot also has to be interesting. I have read books with basic plotlines which take no originality to create and have no unique aspects to them. A good book should be unique so that it isn’t interchangeable with other books of the same genre. Having a predictable or overused plot is a sign of a book poorly made. There is no point in reading something that has nothing unique about it. If you even suspect the novel you are reading is going to be exactly like any number of other things you have read, then it probably won’t be worth your time.

a good book

You know you’ve found a book you like when thinking about the story makes you happy

 

I believe I have given you a sufficient amount of tools to help you decipher the quality of what you’re reading. Now that you know how to pick a genre that suits your personality and keep you engaged it should make choosing a book much simpler. You also know a few indications of a poorly written or poorly thought-out book. You can use this information to improve your enjoyment of the things you read but in the end, it’s your choice to take my advice so feel free to do whatever you like with the information I have provided.

Ebony’s work experience: getting a peek behind the scenes

Ebony got a taste of life on the other side of the library when she spent a week with us on work experience. Here is what she had to say:


I chose to do my work experience at the Tea Tree Gully Library because I wanted to see how things functioned in a library. This gave me the chance to work behind the scenes.

After I was introduced to the guidelines and responsibilities of the work environment, I was given a library tour. I already knew the public area of the library, but I was more inclined to see the systems set in place that keeps everything organised.

I quickly learnt about the different classifications used to catalogue all library items to make shelving simple.  I was most excited to see inside the chute room, since I have always been on the outside dropping off items. This time it was fun to work on the inside!

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Behind the scenes – cataloguing books and other items

Scanning library items was also enjoyable because it was a smooth process: items would go back to other libraries, go on the holds shelf, or return to their normal shelving spot. I used the special library wand to find items on the Pick List, which is the list of customer requests.  This I found very helpful and time efficient. The CSD (Customer service desk) was informative to see the different trolleys which served different purposes.

I had the chance to experience Storytime, which was the cutest thing ever! Stories were read to young children and then they could sing along with different nursery rhymes. Toddler Time was adorable, it was filled with loads of songs and actions the children could follow.

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Enjoying Story Time, reading stories and singing nursery rhymes

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I also attended an information session with the staff members of the library. The information was noted from a conference held earlier in the month. The discussion was about the purpose of having a library and what it can offer. People were questioning the importance of a library and the ways in which they can stay alive due to developing technology. Personally I think libraries will always be necessary in a community, and people shouldn’t be finding ways to undermine what a library can offer. For me a library is a safe and welcoming place I can visit after school, read books that I can actually hold, and take in knowledge, all in a relaxing environment.

Libraries are also where people of the community can meet for different activities. I was involved in the Japanese culture group, which lets young people express their interest and learn about Japanese culture. It was great to see the wide range of people who shared a passion for Japan, just like me!

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Enjoying the Japanese culture group

Spending a week doing work experience at the Tea Tree Gully Library has enabled me to involve myself in a professional work environment. This allowed me to further develop my skills, and broaden my independence. I believe being able to communicate with a wide range of people has helped me become more confident when expressing myself.

Having a fully structured schedule has made me more accountable and increased my alertness. Overall I have really enjoyed working with the lovely staff members at the Tea Tree Gully Library.

Living with six cats

Many book lovers are also cat lovers. Work experience student Tayla was over the moon the day she discovered a litter of kittens joined her family – all of a sudden, they had six cats to look after! Here is Tayla’s story, in her own words: 

You never know the moment your life will change forever. It can happen any minute and you wouldn’t know. For my family, we were just returning home from my sister’s Year 7 Graduation. We didn’t become billionaires or win a trip overseas or anything… instead a small, scrawny kitten approached us from the darkness of night. We knew there were a few other cats that lived in our neighbourhood but we had never seen this one before. Either way, we brought it inside and poured it a small bowl of milk to quench its thirst. I can remember how my sister and I were over the moon with excitement, thinking we were going to have a new pet cat! But of course my parents thought otherwise…

It was after all of our begging and pleading that my parents agreed to take care of the kitten and see where things went from there. Little did we know this decision would change our lives forever! At the time we already ‘owned’ one cat, which would come and stay with us whenever it pleased… even though it technically belonged to our neighbours. Of course, our neighbours were fine with ‘Patch’ living with us as long as she was happy too.

Squizzy

One of my cats, Squizzy

Months passed and after asking around the neighbourhood to see if anyone had lost their cat, we decided it was time to give the kitten a name. Now my family have never been good at naming animals. In fact we usually just stick with the first thing that comes to mind… so we called it ‘Squizzy’. I think it was probably because of the fact its bushy tail resembled a squirrel in some way.

One day we happened to notice something strange about Squizzy. We were petting Squizzy’s stomach and saw it looked bigger than usual. When we felt it there was a small kick that responded. It was from that day onward we concluded that ‘it’ was actually a ‘she’ and Squizzy was going to be a mother! But excitement aside – my parents immediately decided we were to give away the kittens once they were born… but my sister and I didn’t give up hope yet. We had decided that we were going to keep those kittens one way or another!

The day of arrival came at last. My mother came and picked me up from school early that day due to the fact one kitten had already been born! She was tiny, fluffy and was curled up in a small ball in the corner of Squizzy’s basket. Soon after the first kitten, later named ‘Rosie’, was born, a second small ball of fluff popped out and joined her. We called him ‘Badger’. Another hour passed and we were presented with two more beautiful kittens, which we named ‘Panther’ and ‘Navi’. I know, creative names, right? Once we saw them we knew we couldn’t let them go, and thus it was the beginning of how we came to own six beautiful cats!!

My four cats Navi, Badger, Panther and Rosie

Front row: Navi, Badger and Panther and Rosie is the one up the top

Over the years we have been through a lot with our cats. Rosie, our eldest, had to get a bone in her hip removed due to falling out of a tree! It was a tiresome few months for her as she couldn’t walk or move and had to spend her time in a large cage watching cartoons on the TV. She was very quiet throughout the days but after she recovered, she was up and running again like nothing ever happened. We call her ‘our little mechanical girl!’

Another thing that happened the same year the kittens were born had quite an impact on everything. My favourite cat, Badger, had grown quite close to me since he was born. He took an instant liking to me and his younger sister, Navi, and became the happiest cat alive. And the strangest. He would always sleep alongside me at night and before we would go to sleep, he would come up to my face and lick my nose. Badger would also purr so loudly that it was impossible to fall asleep before he did. Whenever the heater was on Badger would go and sit directly in front of it and stare into the flames. He became my best friend in such a short amount of time.

I never knew it would end so soon…

I can remember the day like it was yesterday. Badger had been missing for a few days but seeing as our cats wandered outside, we didn’t think much of it at the time. I was talking to my sister in the living room when my parents told me the bad news. They had found him on the side of the road a few hours earlier and buried him out the back. It felt like my world came crashing down in one night… Of course I was upset but we had a nice funeral for him and buried him with some flowers. His sister Navi seemed to distance herself from the rest of the family over the years, yet she grew closer to me. Badger was only a few months old when he died but I believe he had a great time while he was alive and we made lots of memories. I will forever hold him in my heart and remember all of the good times that we had!

Lady Alice biscuit recipe

Lady Alice biscuits melt in your mouth.

These little golden beauties have no comparison. They are a divine accompaniment to a creamy latte or a hot chocolate, any time of year.

Library cafe Bake and Brew, always have a fresh batch on the go. Here’s their recipe.

Lady Alice biscuits

Fresh at Bake and Brew every day…perfect with coffee or hot chocolate

Sue’s Lady Alice biscuits

This recipe came to Sue from her great-aunt, who lived in Port Pirie.

Ingredients:

340gm butter, softened
115gm icing sugar
340gm plain flour
115gm custard powder
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

(Measurements have been converted to metric from imperial).

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees.
  2. Cream butter, vanilla and icing sugar in a bowl. Add flour and custard powder and mix until smooth.
  3. Roll teaspoons of biscuit mixture into balls and place on a lined baking tray 2cm apart
  4. Gently flatten each ball with a fork. After flattening, place the tray in the fridge and let the balls chill (takes approximately 1 hour).
  5. Place the tray in oven and bake biscuits for 10-15 minutes until just golden around the edges. Leave to cool on the trays for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Amazing cheesecake recipes

Cheesecake is one of the universal desserts, with thousands of versions across global food cultures.

Ancient Greece is believed to be the original home of cheesecake – historians have evidence to suggest cheesecake was served to athletes at the first Olympic Games in Athens 776 BC.

While the original cheesecake was a simple affair of flour, wheat, honey and cheese, those four ingredients are often the same core ingredients of any cheesecake made today.

Around the world, cheesecake recipes vary. Italians use ricotta cheese, while the Greeks use mizithra or feta. Germans prefer cottage cheese, while the Japanese tend to use a combination of cornstarch and egg whites.

Bake and Brew, next door to the library feature a fabulous baked and a set cheesecake on their menus, available for purchase with a tea or coffee for $8.

cheesecake

Baked and set cheesecakes available at Bake and Brew, next door to Tea Tree Gully Library

A quick straw poll of library staff revealed a preference for baked cheesecake – no doubt due to the cold weather this year? These were some of the comments:

 

‘Baked cheesecake is heavy and is a kind of winter food. But nicely presented.’

‘I think it goes perfectly with espresso, or if you’re a tea drinker, Darjeeling or Chai.’

‘Love the meaty base – it’s perfect for the sweet and mellow upper layer.’

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Thoughts on the set (or mousse) style cheesecake:

‘Light and refreshing’

‘The texture swirls around your mouth – a nice light option’

‘It’s like cutting into soft butter, soft and delicate.’

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Baked cheesecake on the left and set cheesecake on the right, plated up at Bake & Brew

No matter how you slice it, cheesecake is truly a dessert that has stood the test of time.

Sue, the head chef from Bake and Brew, has kindly provided the recipes for both her baked and set cheesecake.

Sue’s set cheesecake recipe (makes two cheesecakes)

Ingredients:

Base:
600g crushed sweet biscuits
200g melted butter

Top layer:
500g cream cheese
500g cream
250g caster sugar
100ml lemon juice (this can also be substituted for another fruit eg mango puree)
10g gelatine leaves (5 leaves)
42mL cold water
120mL hot water

Method:

  1. First, make the base. Mix the biscuit crumbs and butter until combined. Press into the base of a 20cm springform pan and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Beat the cream cheese in a bowl until smooth. Add sugar, then the lemon juice.
  3. Soak the gelatine leaves in the cold water. Once soft, gently heat the gel on the stove until fully dissolved.
  4. Whip cream until soft peaks form, then fold into the cream cheese mix and then add the warm gelatine.
  5. Pour mix over the base in the tin and refrigerate overnight for best results.

 

Sue’s baked cheesecake recipe

Ingredients:

Base:
600g crushed sweet biscuits
200g melted butter

Cheese layer:
250g cream cheese
250g ricotta
1 cup of cream
1.5 tbspn of plain flour
1.5 tbspn of cornflour
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs
30g melted butter
vanilla
lemon juice

Method:

  1. First, make the base. Mix the biscuit crumbs and butter until combined. Press into the base of a 20cm springform pan and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Process cream cheese, ricotta and cream in a bowl until smooth. Gently fold through flour, cornflour and sugar.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, processing until just combined. Gently fold in butter, vanilla and lemon juice.
  4. Pour mix over the base in the tin and bake for 1 hour in a 150° oven.