Reading Rewards - reviews

Beside Myself

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan 

Helen and Ellie are twins living in the suburbs of London. Helen is the confident, domineering twin; younger twin Ellie is timid and a little slow. Helen treats Ellie with disdain and cruelty, until one day Helen invents a game and they swap places. Only problem is, at the end of the day, Ellie won’t swap back. No one, not her mother, friends, teachers, will believe Helen when she wants the game to end. In what should be an implausible outcome – but in Morgan’s capable hands is entirely believable – Ellie becomes Helen.

At this time in their lives, Helen and Ellie’s mother barely gets out of bed, after their father’s ‘Unfortunate Decision’ – the family’s euphemism for his suicide years earlier. That is, until the arrival of scoutmaster Horace, their mother’s lover. While their mother views him as the saviour of the family, the former Helen hates him and only wants her identity back.  Her mother insists that everyone conform to their new ‘happy life’ so she won’t stand for the elder twin’s nonsense when she wants to return to her old self. From this point, Helen’s life starts to spin out of control with casual sex, drugs and mental illness.

In alternate chapters we meet the grown-up former Helen – now known only as Smudge – a broken woman living on welfare. Her life has unraveled since the game but when her now successful and famous twin is hurt in a car accident all memories of the past are dredged up and Smudge finally faces what happened that day and all that has happened in between.

Beside Myself is a compellingly dark novel that examines issues around inherited mental illness and sense of identity. It makes us wonder how much of ourselves is influenced by other people’s perception of us and how much is real. It’s thought-provoking in its depiction of how childhood trauma can affect our lives and Morgan’s depiction of Helen/Smudge’s bipolar episodes – her manic behaviour, voices in her head and her highs and lows – are vivid and fully of sympathy.

Why we love it:
Beside Myself grabs you from the first page and holds you in its vice-like grip until the last. The story of identical twins Helen and Ellie is desperately sad and scary, but thoroughly entertaining and at times darkly humorous.

from The Team at Better Reading

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? a memoir by Roz Chast 

Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-colour cartoons, family photos and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast's memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents. 

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies - an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades - the theme is universal.

This amazing memoir is something really quite special.  Roz Chast walks us through the decline of her parents, something all of us have to go through at some stage.  Her parents are strong-willed, independent and fiercely in love with one another, to the point that Chast sometimes feels neglected, left out of their strong partnership.  As they age and the inevitable looms, the roles somewhat reverse and the struggle to find that new balance presents itself - that one where the child becomes the carer whilst trying to maintain the dignity of the parent.

I laughed and cried when reading this book.  My Aunty also read it and loved it so much she is going to tell her local public library they must buy it!  Both my parents are gone now, and I was lucky - before my Mum went we had talked a lot about what she wanted, but as she became sicker and less able, allowing her to maintain her sense of independence was definitely a struggle.

This book is thought provoking, hopefully easing you into those difficult discussions that all families need to broach sooner rather than later.


The Lake House

The Lake House by Kate Morton

A missing child:  June 1933, and the Edevane family's country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party. Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she's also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn't. By the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever. 

An abandoned house: Seventy years later, after a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police. Sadie retreats to her beloved grandfather's cottage in Cornwall but soon finds herself at a loose end. Until one day, she stumbles upon an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace. 

An unsolved mystery:  Meanwhile, in the attic writing room of her elegant Hampstead home, the formidable Alice Edevane, now an old lady, leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes. Until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family's past, seeking to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape.

I really like Kate Morton's books - The Distant Hours my favourite to date, so I was very much looking forward to her latest, The Lake House.

Kate is an Australia author, not that you would know it.  She comes across as very much English, with her absorbing characters set in old houses deep within the British countryside, usually by the pounding sea, somewhat reminiscent of Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ and a bit gothic a la ‘Wuthering Heights’.

Her writing is a delight, so atmospheric with some beautiful turns of phrase.  Similar to her other stories (2006 - The House at Riverton (also known as The Shifting Fog); 2008 - The Forgotten Garden; 2010 - The Distant Hours; and 2012 - The Secret Keeper), Morton switches time zones effortlessly in this book, swinging between Sadie, the modern day cop with a big problem to deal with, to the early 20th century Edavanes and sundry staff/hangers on, where the major story builds.

My only criticism is it is far too long, labouring and chugging along, pleasantly getting nowhere for quite some time so if you were reading the hard copy, you would be inclined to skip wads of pages.  I did a few fast forwards while listening to the audio version, narrated well by Caroline Lee, but don't let this put you off - it's a good read.


The Broken

The Broken by Tamar Cohen

From the cover:  Best friends tell you everything; about their kitchen renovation; about their girls schooling. Best friends don’t tell lies. They don’t take up residence on your couch for weeks. They don’t call lawyers. They don’t make you choose sides. Best friends don’t keep secrets about their past. They don’t put you in danger. Best friends don’t always stay best friends.

This is a psychological drama that will have you baffled. It is such an easy predicament to be in, to have best friends separating and then divorce. Many of us have experienced it within our own friendship circles. The situation here though became messy and dangerous when Hannah and her husband Josh, get too involved in the messy separation of their close friends, Sasha and Dan. It was not that they meant to, but rather the way that Sasha and Dan demanded and manipulated the friendship for their own benefits. Which poses the question, “Are they really best friends after all?” 

Added to that, both couples have young innocent children swept up into this chaos. There are many accusations, lies, secrets, manipulation and abuse that will have the reader wondering what is in fact true and what is in fact false. And are all characters truly who they say they are? Cohen saves the best to last with an ending that will leave the reader speechless.

~ Narelle


Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Therese is a budding set designer in 1950s New York who takes a boring, casual job as a sales assistant in the toy section of a Manhattan department store during the lead-up to Christmas. With no family and in a relationship with a man she doesn’t love, Therese’s life changes when a beautiful, sophisticated woman arrives at the store to buy a gift for her daughter.

The soon-to-be-divorced Carol and Therese strike up an intense friendship that turns into something deeply romantic. But this is 1950s America and gay relationships among women are not accepted by society. They try to repress their simmering passions but soon their whole worlds are threatened.

Therese, 19, bored and lonely, becomes obsessed by Carol. But the blonde and frosty Carol has much more to lose than Therese – she is older and wealthy, with an estranged husband who is threatening to seek sole custody of Carol’s only daughter. She tries to escape it all by taking Therese on a road-trip through America where they relax enough to reveal their love for each other. But when they find that they’re being followed, Carol knows her husband is on their case and there is way too much at stake.

Patricia Highsmith is a writer best known for her psychological thrillers including The Talented Mr Ripley. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, brought her fame when made into a memorable movie by Alfred Hitchcock.  Her second novel Carol was originally published in 1952 with the title The Price of Salt and under an pseudonym after her own publishers rejected it on account of its subject matter. When it was published in 1989 as Carol under her own name, Highsmith wrote an afterword explaining some of the reasons the book was rejected at the time: “Those were the days when gay bars were a dark door somewhere in Manhattan, where people wanting to go to a certain bar got off the subway a station before or after the convenient one, lest they were suspected of being homosexual.”  

Why we love it:
This latest release of Patricia Highsmith’s once controversial novel coincides with the movie starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Carol is evocative and moving; its tension building slowly but surely until its satisfying conclusion.  A hauntingly atmospheric love story set against the backdrop of fifties’ New York. 

from The Team at Better Reading


Cairo by Chris Womersley

From the cover: Frustrated by country life and eager for adventure and excitement, seventeen-year-old Tom Button moves to the city to study. Once there, and living in a run-down apartment block called Cairo, he is befriended by the eccentric musician Max Cheever, his beautiful wife Sally, and their close-knit circle of painters and poets. As Tom falls under the sway of his charismatic older friends, he enters a bohemian world of parties and gallery openings. Soon, however, he is caught up in more sinister events involving deception and betrayal, not to mention one of the greatest unsolved art heists of the twentieth century: the infamous theft of Picasso's Weeping Woman. Set among the demimonde -- where nothing and nobody is as they seem -- Cairo is a novel about growing up, the perils of first love, and finding one's true place in the world.

Having stepped off a country train at Spencer Street Station to study at university at a similar age to our narrator Tom, I felt an affinity with his memoir, but from there our paths diverged! I was living in Melbourne and had studied Visual Arts with Prof Patrick McCaughey not long before the audacious theft of Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the well-known events described in this novel. But the story weaves you into Tom’s bohemian lifestyle and the characters he meets inhabiting the wonderful art deco complex known as Cairo.  Loved it!


Career of evil

Career of evil by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) is the latest in the Cormoran Strike series of mysteries and it was a gangbuster of a read.

From the book:  When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

Career of evil is full of amazing twists and turns, not only in the mystery, but in the personal lives of the two main characters - Cormoran and Robin.  As they go through many stressful episodes in the course of the case and the torture being perpetuated by the unknown assailant, their personal and working relationships are also severely impacted.

With the emotional rollercoaster they are on and with the uncertainty of their long-term safety, Galbraith takes you on an amazing ride that leaves you unable to put the book down.   Twists and turns take the investigation and their relationship in different directions until you nearly don't know which way is up and you feel like yelling at the pages.

The ending is both satisfactory and not, with the resolving of the mystery catching me completely by surprise.

If you want a good mystery that keeps you on your toes, keeps you guessing and gets you in with the characters, then you won't want to miss Career of evil.

~ Michelle

Is This My Beautiful Life?

Is This My Beautiful Life? by Jessica Rowe

Journalist, celebrity, television presenter, author, ambassador for beyondblue and patron of its work on post-natal depression, Member of the Order of Australia, risk-taker, social commentator, charity worker, public speaker, passionate mother and wife, Jessica Rowe is all of these things, and more. And in this extraordinary memoir, Jessica reveals herself as a woman who thought it would be easy to have it all, to do it all. 

But what was supposed to be her beautiful life derailed in the very public collapse of her television career accompanied by astonishingly hurtful public trolling, her long struggle to conceive, her fears and what she believed to be failings as a mother and in her professional life, and the diagnosis of post-natal depression.

Thankfully, with proper medical help, and that of her beloved husband and family, Jessica ultimately rediscovers her 'sparkle'.

Deeply honest, funny, gut-wrenching and touching this book will be treasured by women who don't feel they fit the mould of the perfect woman; women who understand that in life, 'having it all' may develop a different meaning; and women suffering from post-natal depression, who will be encouraged that it's okay to ask for help.

I actually enjoyed this book. I remember when Jessica was outed from Channel 9 by Eddie McGuire, which I thought was terrible. Jessica tells her story about her marriage to Peter [Overton, Nine Network News reporter], her struggle to become pregnant, and her subsequent post-natal depression. She is quite honest in admitting that just because you are 'famous' doesn't mean you are capable of being perfect, and she is far from that. A very honest memoir.  


Close Your Eyes

Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham

A mother and her teenage daughter are found brutally murdered in a remote farmhouse, one defiled by multiple stab wounds and the other left lying like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her Prince. Reluctantly, clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin is drawn into the investigation when a former student, calling himself the 'Mindhunter', trading on Joe's name, has jeopardised the police inquiry by leaking details to the media and stirring up public anger. With no shortage of suspects and tempers beginning to fray, Joe discover links between these murders to a series of brutal attacks where the men and women are choked unconscious and the letter 'A' is carved into their foreheads. As the case becomes ever more complex, nothing is quite what it seems and soon Joe's fate, and that of those closest to him, become intertwined with a merciless, unpredictable killer.

Why we love it:  As if we didn’t already love Michael Robotham’s signature brand of clever, unputdownable thrillers, he has done it all over again with one that ticks all the boxes but is also tender, moving and insightful. 

The novel is a continuation of the O’Loughlin/Ruiz series that Robotham fans know and love, but for newcomers Close Your Eyes can be read standalone. As usual, the pace is fast and it’s really hard to get to sleep at night with a Robotham thriller unread by your bed. This one keeps you guessing until the very end with a line-up of suspects that all seem plausible.

from The Team at Better Reading


Time for a blast from the past.  Dragonflight by Anne Caffrey is an old favourite of mine, which I re-read on occasion. It was first published in 1968, but I didn't find it until I raided my uncle's personal library in the late 80's.  Loved it then and still love it now.

To the nobles who live in Benden Weyr, Lessa is nothing but a ragged kitchen girl. For most of her life she has survived by serving those who betrayed her father and took over his lands. Now the time has come for Lessa to shed her disguise—and take back her stolen birthright. But everything changes when she meets a queen dragon. The bond they share will be deep and last forever. It will protect them when, for the first time in centuries, Lessa’s world is threatened by Thread, an evil substance that falls like rain and destroys everything it touches. Dragons and their Riders once protected the planet from Thread, but there are very few of them left these days. Now brave Lessa must risk her life, and the life of her beloved dragon, to save her beautiful world. . . .

This was the first in a long line of Dragon series, written initially by Anne McCaffrey and then later with her son Todd and was continued by Todd after her death.  Although I have not read all of the books on Dragons that the McCaffrey's wrote and enjoyed them all, I still come back to the first.

It has dragons - real, big ones and small, who establish symbiont type connections with humans, to protect their planet of Pern.  In this first novel, the last Queen dragon has left one last egg.  The threat of Thread has thought to be long gone, so a planet that used to have thousands of dragons is left with dozens.  But has the threat really gone for good?

The story follows Lessa, who has had first a privileged and then very traumatised life and who is driven by revenge until she is transfixed by the whirling eyes of the baby Queen dragon.  Her rebellious ways are not useless though, as she challenges all traditions, perceptions and more. Working with the head male dragon rider F'lar, she helps change their world for the better, before she goes on an amazing journey to save her planet.

It is fantasy, but it is well written, with a very well done "Save the world" storyline, a girl come good and finding love and purpose - in both her dragon and her partner.

You don't need to read the whole series to enjoy this one and it is a great light read to escape with - very appropriate at this time of year.

~ Michelle

Between the Vines

Between the Vines by Tricia Stringer

She's given up everything for love: it could be the biggest mistake of her life... Taylor Rourke wants to change her impulsive ways when it comes to romance and not fall for any man on a whim, but then on a hen party trip to a Coonawarra vineyard, she meets Edward Starr. Gorgeous and charismatic, Edward is enough to make any girl give up her flat and job in Adelaide and move to the country. So it's something of a shock that when she gets there, Edward is nowhere to be seen. Not wanting to admit she may have made a mistake and return home in disgrace, Taylor accepts the job that Edward's younger brother Pete offers her and throws herself into her work, keen to learn as much as she can about the wine trade. Taylor is thrilled when Ed returns, but she quickly discovers he may not be the man she thought he was. Her growing friendship with Pete causes tension between the brothers who have fallen out over a woman in the past. That's not the only source of conflict: Pete has a dream to save the family vines, Edward's dreams lie elsewhere. As the lies and deceit grow, matters come to a head in the vibrant and demanding vintage season. Will Taylor's dream of a new life and love between the vines come true? Or is there only heartbreak ahead? Set in the beautiful Coonawarra vineyards, a wonderful feel-good rural romance from best-selling Australian author, Tricia Stringer.

Why we love it: 

Between the Vines is a deliciously romantic novel, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and with a compelling storyline that culminates in a nail-biting, but satisfying, conclusion among the vineyards of South Australia.

from the Team at Better Reading

The Dismissal

The Dismissal : in the Queen’s name by Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston

There is no more dramatic event in our political history than the dismissal. This book is the definitive story, filled with fresh documents, revelations and new interviews that change our understanding of this event. It is also a brilliant forensic analysis of the ruthless, proud and stubborn main players - Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam and Sir John Kerr.

As keys to our understanding, Kelly and Bramston examine four central aspects of the dismissal: the real attitude of Buckingham Palace towards Kerr; whether Kerr tipped Fraser off about his plan; Kerr's deception of Whitlam; and Kerr's dealings with former High Court judges Sir Garfield Barwick and Sir Anthony Mason. In the gripping story that follows, the ambitions and flaws of Whitlam, Fraser and Kerr are laid bare as never before.

Drawing on a range of new sources, some of which have never before been made public - including hundreds of pages from Kerr's archives - this remarkable account is dispassionate in its analysis, vivid in its narrative and brutal in its conclusions. It exposes the true motivations, the extent of the deceit and the scale of the collusion.
'It was a premeditated and an elaborate deception.' Paul Keating

This is the best book I have read about the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government by the governor General Sir John Kerr, and believe me, as an Australian history tragic, I have read many. 

Possibly one of the reasons for this is the first-class credentials of the authors: Paul Kelly is one of the top political journalists in Canberra who has been providing commentary and analysis of Australian politics for decades, and Troy Bramston is following in his footsteps. But I think the real reason for it is the quality of the work – Kelly and Bramston have meticulously researched the facts and the personalities involved and produced a magnum opus. 

Their central argument is that the dismissal was the product of the interaction between three ruthless, proud and stubborn players – Fraser the ambitious prime minister-in-waiting, Kerr the insecure constitutionalist determined to break the Senate/House of Representatives deadlock by any means, and Whitlam, the arrogant PM oblivious to the precarious nature of his position. Throw in the roles of Chief Justice of the High Court Sir Garfiled Barwick and the (unknown until 2012) High Court Judge Sir Anthony Mason and the whole story unfolds more thrillingly than the TV dramas House of Cards and The West Wing combined.

I wish I had finished this book in enough time to nominate it as my Best Read for 2015!


Kraken Rising

Kraken Rising by Greig Beck

Series: Alex Hunter - Book 6

The Arcadian returns to the dark ice in a reprisal of one of his first and most deadly missions. But this time the stakes couldn’t be higher.

In 2008, a top secret US submarine went missing on its test voyage off the coast of Antarctica. After years silent, its emergency beacon is suddenly activated, but strangely, the beacon is emanating from a point miles below the ice sheets of the frozen continent.

The race is on. The Chinese government, alerted at the same time as the Americans, is after the submarine’s secrets. And the Americans need to retrieve their technology, quickly and quietly, from a place now marked as an international forbidden zone.

With the reluctant assistance of petro-biologist Aimee Weir, Alex Hunter and his team of HAWCs return to the location of their first mission together.

But only a few members of the team know the truth. A treacherous horror lies in wait for them, deep beneath the Antarctic ice.

Hooray!  Although now internationally published, our very own Aussie Bondi boy Beck is back to his hair-raising best with what is mooted to be the final in the Alex Hunter-Arcadian series.  We welcome back some familiar faces and pick up where a much desired romance left off.  Despite lagging a little when Kate and Alex are stumbling through a monstrous subterranean world; and despite the geo-politics that is always present in these sci-fi/paranormal/techno-biotic/paleantological thrillers (!), it's a full-on ride as Alex takes on demons within and without.  

I love how most of Beck's stories are based on historical legends, and this one, the Kraken, is one of the most famous [picture an old wooden ship in the clutches of HUGE tentacles coming out of the sea!] with many an etching, scrimshaw, drawing or painting terrifying those that go to sea, and those on land who love them.  This was a great read, narrated with what is now a very familiar 'Beck' voice - Sean Mangan.  I'm hoping my feeling is correct that the door has not totally closed on what has been a hugely entertaining series.
Check out the Bolinda audio download here.

Road to Little Dribbling

Road to Little Dribbling is the latest book by Billy Bryson, author of many books, but in particularly well known for his travel commentaries.  Road to Little Dribbling is a follow up to Notes from a Small Island and visits new areas in Britain as well as revisiting places he had been in Notes.

From the book: Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island , was taken to the nationâe(tm)s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed.

Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn't altogether recognize any more. Yet, despite Britain's occasional failings and more or less eternal bewilderments, Bill Bryson is still pleased to call the rainy island home. And not just because of the cream teas, a noble history, and an extra day off at Christmas.

Once again, with his matchless homing instinct for the funniest and quirkiest, his unerring eye for the idiotic, the endearing, the ridiculous and the scandalous, Bryson gives us an acute and perceptive insight into all that is best and worst about Britain today.

I re-read Notes from a Small Island recently to remind myself of the original 'journey' and so came to this one fresh.  However, I didn't need to, this book stands alone well.  I found it interesting on so many levels.

It is not just a travel discovery book, but is filled with observations on what has changed and what hasn't, what should change and what shouldn't, with a fair smattering of social commentary on other countries around the world as well.

Although it is a fairly lengthy read and at times slow, generally it was an amazing exploration of an astonishingly full country (considering its size).  I particularly enjoyed some of the social commentary, which gave me a few 'laugh out loud' moments that were particularly memorable.

If you enjoy reading about the 'old country', like to explore places through the eyes of others and enjoy a bit of humour and/or social commentary, then Road to Little Dribbling is well worth a read.

~ Michelle

The Bones of you

The Bones of YouBy Debbie Howells.

From the back cover: When eighteen-year-old Rosie Anderson disappears, the idyllic village where she lived will never be the same again. Local gardener Kate is struck with guilt. She’d come to know Rosie well, and thought she understood her – perhaps better even than Rosie’s own mother. Rosie was beautiful, kind and gentle. She came from a loving family and she had her whole life ahead of her. Who could possibly want to harm her? And why? Kate is convinced the police are missing something. She’s certain that someone in the village knows more than they’re letting on. As the investigation deepens, so does Kate’s obsession with solving the mystery of what happened to Rosie. 

This is a great debut novel and psychological thriller by UK author, Debbie Howells. The story develops through the narrative of three characters, Kate, Rosie and Delphine. Kate is the local gardener and mother of Rosie’s friend, Rosie is the young victim who died a horrific death in the woods, and Delphine is Rosie’s surviving younger sister.

Kate and Delphine provide details of the present, and Rosie provides flashbacks, which develop through the book to unfold many secrets and dangers and ultimately her murderer. I loved the way that Howells developed her characters through the novel and revealed little pieces of the puzzle a little at a time, teasing the reader, chapter by chapter.

If you can get past the fact that Rosie is speaking from her grave, then you will love this intriguing, gripping and haunting tale. It is a story of secrets, deception, desperation and love. I will definitely be looking out for her next book due for release in 2016.

~ Narelle

Love Your Leftovers

Love Your Leftovers by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

We all occasionally suffer a guilty conscience about those languishing ingredients that stay untouched in the fridge or cupboard for days: the bendy carrots, the wilting salad, the foil-wrapped roast chicken, the rock-like bread and that little nugget of Cheddar...

In this new pocket bible, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall offers nifty and creative ideas to transform leftovers into irresistible meals. Hugh starts by giving practical advice for cooking on a weekly basis with leftovers in mind - helping to save money and avoid waste - and provides tips on how best to store your ingredients to make them last for as long as possible. Hugh then gives handy recipe templates that can be applied to all kinds of leftover ingredients, and provides simple and flexible recipes. He also gives ingenious ideas for Christmas leftovers, shows how to assemble a delicious meal in under ten minutes, and how to make simple store-cupboard suppers. With more than 100 recipes, gorgeous photographs and illustrations, this is the ultimate companion for everyone's kitchen - and you'll never be bored of leftovers again.

Why we love it: 

Love Your Leftovers is for anyone who loves food but abhors waste. And it’s perfect for this festive time of year – with this to hand we don’t need to feel guilty when the fridge is groaning with leftovers. All we need is a little inspiration.

River Cottage chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is already well known for his sustainable philosophy around food. Now he breaks it down step-by-step in what will undoubtedly become a classic of household management.

Though many of us may already have some thrifty tricks to waste less, especially if we took tips from parents or grandparents who grew up through war or hardship, there’s no doubt that we’ve lost our way when it comes to managing food waste. Most of us will have heard the shocking statistics – it’s estimated that the average Australian household wastes more than $1000 worth or 345 kilograms of food a year!

Love Your Leftovers is about exciting recipes to help you make use of all your food, but it’s about general kitchen and household management too – shopping, storing, cooking – that will save precious time and money.

Fearnley-Whittingstall encourages us not to think of each meal as a self contained unit, but as more of a chain – ‘ a daisy chain of deliciousness’ he calls it – with one great meal leading to a series of equally tasty other meals.

Now the Christmas leftovers can be even more exciting than Christmas dinner itself...

From the Team at Better Reading

Reckoning: a memoir

From the cover: "Heartbreaking, joyous, traumatic, intimate and revelatory, Reckoning is the book where Magda Szubanski, one of Australia’s most beloved performers, tells her story.

In this extraordinary memoir, Magda describes her journey of self-discovery from a suburban childhood, haunted by the demons of her father’s espionage activities in wartime Poland and by her secret awareness of her sexuality, to the complex dramas of adulthood and her need to find out the truth about herself and her family. With courage and compassion she addresses her own frailties and fears, and asks the big questions about life, about the shadows we inherit and the gifts we pass on.

Honest, poignant, utterly captivating, Reckoning announces the arrival of a fearless writer and natural storyteller. It will touch the lives of its readers"

My View: I've always been a fan of Magda since her Big Girls Blouse days. In this book Magda describes in detail about her family, her father being a self-confessed assassin in Poland as a child. The stories of her father's family is quite disturbing in parts and reflects what life must have been like in the war years. Magda's father eventually marries her Scottish mother and together with Magda and her brother and sister, they move to Melbourne.

Magda always felt like a fish out of water as she was the youngest by 8 years to her closest sibling. The descriptions of living in Croydon, her schooling and eventually university days, lead into becoming a comedienne. I can now see how she got her material on mid-week ladies tennis in Big Girls Blouse as Magda was a tennis player herself until her early teen years.

She describes how she made her foray into comedy and the creation of some of her characters were based on her life experiences alone. From Big Girls Blouse to Kath & Kim, Babe, Dogwoman and when she was asked to go back to her roots, to discover more about her family in Who do you think you are, will make you laugh and cry.

This is a great memoir of a funny lady we have all come to love. Great reading! We have this title in book and audiobook format which is narrated by Magda herself.

~ Janine

Island Home

Island Home by Tim Winton

'Island Home' - This apparently simple fact is the starting point for Tim Winton's beautiful, evocative and sometimes provocative memoir of how this unique landscape has shaped him and his writing.

For over thirty years, Winton has written novels in which the natural world is as much a living presence as any character. What is true of his work is also true of his life: from boyhood, his relationship with the world around him -- rockpools, seacaves, scrub and swamp -- was as vital as any other connection. Camping in hidden inlets of the south-east, walking in the high rocky desert fringe, diving at Ningaloo Reef, bobbing in the sea between sets, Winton has felt the place seep into him, with its rhythms, its dangers, its strange sustenance, and learned to see landscape as a living process. 

Island Home is the story of how that relationship with the Australian landscape came to be, and how it has determined his ideas, his writing and his life. It is also a passionate exhortation for all of us to feel the ground beneath our feet. Much more powerfully than a political idea, or an economy, Australia is a physical entity. Where we are defines who we are, in ways we too often forget to our detriment, and the country's.

Over the years I've published quite a few reviews on Tim Winton's novels.  The very first one I ever read was Blueback, a junior fiction book Winton wrote many years ago.  It was so lyrical, so beautifully singing the love of landscape AND seascape, that it was this one book that kept me keen to visit the many tomes he's written since.  

What are now considered Australian classics - Cloudstreet and Dirt Music, alas, never grabbed me at all.  I found the characters uniformly humuorless and depressing; the only saving grace to my mind was once again the vivid connection and inherent understanding of landscape and how he puts that on the page.  

Some books, like the above, I couldn't finish because they were so abjectly bleak: one, Eyrie, I didn't even want to pick up because it sounded so miserable, but this, his biography, laying out why Winton is who he is, is wonderful!  This book will be a treat, for his words paint the very picture of Winton-essence, a truly wonderful Australian and narrated expertly by David Tredinnick (sounding very William McInnes!).  A great read.  We have it on shelf in all formats.

Land of the Living

Land of the Living by Nicci French   

From the cover:  Abbie Devereaux wakes in the dark.  She is hooded, bound at her hands and feet.  She doesn’t know where she is or how she got there.  A man she never sees feeds her and talks to her.  He promises to keep her alive, for now, but says he will kill her, just like all the others. 

But Abbie has spirit, strength and bloody-mindedness on her side.  And she dreams of returning to normal everyday life – the land of the living. 

I have a feeling that this audio book may be far superior to the hard copy - the tension and emotion in narrator Anne Flosnik's voice give you the out ‘n out creeps!
The story is well written by this popular duo. There could’ve been some predictable turns or explanations as the tale unfolds but they didn’t travel that path, leaving some parts just like life – occasionally things happen that can never be explained.  It was quite gripping, with a very satisfactory ending! 



The Patchwork Marriage

The Patchwork Marriage by Jane Green

When Andi married Ethan she not only got the man she loves but also a ready-made family in his two daughters, Emily and Sophia. Unable to have a child of her own, Andi saw this as a precious gift - her chance to be a mother. If only it were that simple for this blended family is not a happy family, and the reason lies with Emily. Her vicious anger and fierce resentment towards her stepmother leaves Andi feeling hated in her own home. Her tears, tantrums and expertise in the art of emotional blackmail have Ethan steeped in guilt. With each drama Emily is driving Andi and Ethan further apart. 

Torn between his troubled teenaged daughter and his beloved wife, Ethan's desperate to fix this rift before he loses Andi for ever... He just doesn't know how.

This is a great book!! And another one that I would categorize as "Life Lit". It demonstrates how difficult it can be for a new wife to blend into an existing family. Andi is trying so hard to fit in as a wife and step-mother as well as having a career and desperately wanting a baby of her own. The eldest daughter Emily is a train wreck and does everything in her power to turn her father away from Andi. She drinks, does drugs, flunks at school, goes through the "goth" stage and generally is a right royal pain in the proverbial, whereas the younger daughter Sophia adores Andi. You couldn't meet two more opposite sisters! Meanwhile Ethan is trying to keep everyone happy and fails to see what Emily is doing to her family. 

When the unthinkable happens - Emily is pregnant, a whole series of emotions boil over between Emily and Andi. When baby Cal arrives Andi wants to raise him as their own, and Emily runs away. She eventually returns and wants custody of Cal. Just who is his mother - Andi or Emily? You'll have to read it to find out! I listened to this book on CD, but it is also available in print. The audio version is expertly narrated by the author herself and she does a great job.