Reading Rewards - reviews

The Marriage of Opposites

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

This forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas is about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro; the Father of Impressionism.

Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel's mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel's salvation is their maid Adelle's belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle's daughter. But Rachel's life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father's business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Fréderick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.

Why we love it:  Alice Hoffman’s strong female characters lead the way in a magical novel about love, destiny and breaking the rules. Rachel does as she pleases, befriending her African cook’s daughter, talking to ghosts and watching the turtles lay their eggs on the beach in the middle of the night.  The Marriage of Opposites is a mesmerising story that immerses you in another time and place, so that you won’t want this novel to end.

from the Team at Better Reading

The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, translated by Simon Pare

On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather, a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence in search of the past and his beloved.  

This book is very reminiscent of Chocolat by Joanne Harris in that, aside from the "European feeling” of writing style, it evokes that strong feeling of time and place, the languor of a day’s passing, and the soulful heartache of love.  To my mind it was overly long and that perhaps is what created that slothful, dozy feeling; although meandering down a river on a barge, remarking on the gentle passing of the landscape and petting the two languid on-board cats adds more than a soupçon of tranquility.  This slightly sad, a little wistful but ultimately heart-warming book is very much character-driven, so if you’re looking for action or thrills, best to choose something else. 

Between the main half dozen characters, there is a lot of internalising, a lot of ‘what if’ and plenty of debate on the state of love, of being in love, gaining and losing love.  And of course, being a bookshop, many titles are mentioned to soothe the ills of the customers, so that’s a bit of a fun which proffers some much-needed humour to balance the story.  

There is a delightful addendum, an A-Z list of literary pharmacopeia “To be taken in easily digestible doses (between five and fifty pages) unless otherwise indicated and if possible, with warm feet and/or with a cat on your lap.”  It kicks off with Adams, Douglas, e.g.  ‘Effective in large doses for treating pathological optimism or a sense of humour failure. Ideal for sauna-goers with exhibitionist tendencies.  Side Effects? … a potentially chronic tendency to wear a dressing gown all day.” Or “Melville Herman. Moby-Dick. For Vegetarians.  Side Effects?  A fear of water.”  I think you get the idea. And, if one bonus is not enough, there is another!  Recipes, a la Provence!  From how to make a vegetable terrine, to lamb cutlets and pistou, Lavender ice-cream, and more. 


Dinner is Served

Dinner is Served: an English butler's guide to the art of the table by Arthur Inch and Arlene Hirst

Elegant entertaining is always in style, and who better to explain the finer points of the art of the table than Arthur Inch, a veteran English butler who served as technical advisor for the film Gosford Park? With a historian's appreciation for the traditions of fine English homes, he discusses the elements of the table, including flatware and silver, china and glassware, serving vessels, and table decorations, as well as table and serving etiquette. 

Dinner is served is a useful little book which answers some of life's most vexing questions. At a formal dinner party, what is the correct way to eat asparagus? If one is served snails how does one get them out of the shell? How does one tackle a pomegranate or a cob of corn without wearing said food on your face or on your lap?

Included are lots of diagrams on how to correctly set a table, the various pieces of flatware (cutlery to the rest of us), and serving dishes and glasses. 

But most importantly is the issue of cake - how is it served and how should it be eaten. Layer cake is always served on its side, as it's almost impossible to cut neatly if left standing up. And cake should always be served with the point facing towards the guest.  

PS - Corn is never served on the cob at dinner parties!

Elon Musk

Elon Musk: how the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is shaping up by Ashlee Vance

An authorized portrait of one of the most dynamic entrepreneurs evaluates his role in the successes of such innovations as Tesla and Space X while evaluating America's technological competitiveness.

Elon Musk is acknowledged as one of Silicon Valley’s most dynamic entrepreneurs, trailblazing the industries of the future – electric cars, space travel for non-astronauts, and solar power. Like most business geniuses (think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates), he is also brilliant, impatient, rude and works like a demon. His story is fascinating as not only a “succeeding against all odds” story, but for the way it opens up the reader’s mind to the possibilities of creating a better future for the planet, and showing that it actually may be feasible to do it. 

Also like most business geniuses, he has weathered his share of near death financial crises, times when he was literally days away from economic ruin and failure. This is a truly exciting story which is engrossing and ultimately hopeful. 


The World Without Us

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau

A North Coast hinterland community is in crisis after a commune mysteriously burns down. Bees are dying; the air and water is polluted, and the soil is degraded from overuse and mining. The Müller family is in turmoil too – mother Evangeline is acting strangely after losing her beloved youngest child, Pip. Her beekeeper husband Stefan is losing his colonies to unknown malaises, and adolescent daughters Tess and Meg grieve for their sister, but also for their mother who disappears each day to who knows where.

At the heart of the novel is a mystery that’s not solved until the final pages. What happens in the bee community is a subtle reflection of the Müller family and the whole community – one thing goes awry and everything is affected. The World Without Us touches on infidelity, love, loss and grief but also healing, hope and what it means to be human in the contemporary world.

Why we love it!
After reading The World Without Us you could turn the book over and start again. It’s one of those novels that stays with you long after reading. There's a cast of characters we come to know and love by the novel’s close, drawn with honesty but also subtle humour. Poignant and sad, yet poetic and uplifting, it’s truly a novel of its time.

from the Team at Better Reading

A Time to Run

A Time to Run by J.M. Peace 

The hunt is on.  A GRUESOME GAME - A madman is kidnapping women to hunt them for sport.  A FRANTIC SEARCH - Detective Janine Postlewaite leads the investigation into the disappearance of Samantha Willis, determined not to let another innocent die on her watch.  A SHOCKING TWIST - The killer's newest prey isn't like the others. Sammi is a cop. And she refuses to be his victim.  A RUN FOR YOUR LIFE - A stunning, tautly written thriller from police officer turned writer, J.M. Peace.

I was lucky enough to win this book from the author in her online book launch! I am always very supportive of a new voice in Australian fiction and was not disappointed. The author is a serving Queensland policewoman and I'm sure she weaved some police experience into this book, and it showed.

Sammi has an argument with her boyfriend and decides to have a night out with a girlfriend.  Little does she know the consequences of that night out. Bored with what was going on in the nightclub, she foolishly accepts a lift to her friend's house with the barman whom she has just met, and that's the last we see of her.

What the barman doesn't know is that Sammi is a policewoman who should have known better and has to endure the consequences of her foolish decision. What transpires is a game of cat and mouse with the barman treating Sammi as a pawn in his very twisted game. Meanwhile the police are trying to find her with very little to go on. Will she survive or has she perished already and they are too late? 

I'll let you find out when you read this great novel. It's set in time-lapse chapters and it was VERY hard to stop reading and go to bed. If I'd had the opportunity I could have easily read this in one sitting.  I eagerly look forward to her next book in 2016.


The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man by Kate White

From the cover: Bold and adventurous in her work as owner of a boutique interior design firm in Manhattan, Kit Finn couldn’t be tamer in her personal life. While on vacation in the Florida Keys, Kit resolves to do something risky for once. When she literally bumps into a charming stranger at her hotel, she decides to make good on her promise and act on her attraction.  But back in New York, when Kit arrives at his luxury apartment ready to pick up where they left off, she doesn’t recognize the man standing on the other side of the door. Was this a cruel joke or part of something truly sinister? Kit soon realizes that she’s been thrown into a treacherous plot, which is both deeper and deadlier than she could have ever imagined.  

I chose this book after reading a great review on it. The statement above is not an exaggeration - this is a true page-turner with many twists, many teasers for the reader as to who the villain may be, but the true villain is not revealed until very late in the book. The main character, Kit Finn, is an unassuming protagonist who finds true grit, strength and bravery as the plot unfolds. I love a story with a brave, strong female and this is one of them. I will definitely be looking for more books by this author. I loved the story-line, it was adrenaline-charged and filled with harrowing twists at every turn. 



Orient by Christopher Bollen

At the very tip of Long Island, New York, lies a small town called Orient.  It’s home to loyal year-rounders who protect their little hamlet like it’s the last bastion of community.  But when 19-year-old runaway Mills Chevern is brought in to town, his unwelcome presence coincides with a series of sinister, and possibly linked, murders.  Year-rounders don’t like visitors, and now the town is being overrun by New York City arty types, but who stands to gain and lose the most in Orient?

Why We Love It:

It’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil meets Jonathan Franzen.  While the whodunnit mystery will keep you guessing until the very last pages, it’s the dissection of small town American life that had us truly hooked – for all 600 pages. Christopher Bollen's second novel beautifully captures the angst, desperation, innocence and dark side of small town life. 

from the Team at Better Reading.

Garden of Lies

Garden of Lies by Eileen Goudge

Rachel and Rose grew up worlds apart. Rachel, in the lap of Manhattan luxury, an ice princess determined to be a great doctor. Rose, in the New York slums, yielding to passion too young, and fleeing heartbreak to become a star lawyer. When they both fall in love with the same fascinating man, they are brought face to face with the truth about each other and themselves.

After reading a lot of Eileen's newer books, I have gone back to the beginning, and after reading this book can understand why Eileen was a NYT best selling author. This book had me riveted from the beginning, and I literally could not put it down.

The story of two babies switched at birth and what transpires is an emotionally engaging story. I felt for both of the girls involved and anyone who enjoys reading good family sagas will love this book. I can't wait to read the sequel as I just have to find out what happened to them!  Eileen you continue to be one of my favourite authors.

My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend: Book One - Childhood and Adolescence by Elena Ferrante

"My friendship with Lila began the day we decided to go up the dark stairs that led, step after step, flight after flight, to the door of Don Achille's apartment...I waited to see if Lila would have second thoughts and turn back. I knew what she wanted to do; I had hoped that she would forget about it, but in vain."

My Brilliant Friend is a ravishing, wonderfully written novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime. The story of Elena and Lila begins in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. The two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, sometimes to their own detriment, as each discovers more about who she is and suffers or delights in the throes of their intense friendship. There is a piercing honesty about Ferrante's prose that makes My Brilliant Friend a compulsively readable portrait of two young women, and also the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country.
This novel was highly recommended to me by none other than Mem Fox, who was fascinated by it and couldn’t put it down! Book One in a series 'the Neapolitan novels' is by one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors. The books in order are My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of The Lost Child. The fourth and final volume is to be published in September 2015.

I loved this complex story of friendship and choices as the girls grow up together in a grungy part of Naples, with hints of the Mafia never far away. Lila is capricious, daring her friend to scary new adventures while Elena is the quietly serious narrator, who depends on her education rather than her looks as a way to escape. The competition between them is intense, and while each has their ups and downs and other distractions, the ties between them remain strong.  I’m really looking forward to reading the next installment!


The Hearing-Loss Guide

The Hearing-Loss Guide : Useful Information and Advice for Patients and Families by John M. Burkey

In an unusual new approach, audiologist John M. Burkey offers not only specific and up-to-date information based on his own extensive experience with patients, but also useful, first-hand advice from those patients themselves. 

The Hearing-Loss Guide presents clear, basic facts on hearing impairment and treatments, followed by candid personal recommendations from people who are coping successfully with hearing difficulties. 

I was in my late twenties when I first suspected there was a problem with my hearing.  Now a hearing aid veteran of more than 10 years, I still have trouble in certain situations.  

The Hearing Loss Guide written by John M. Burkley, a qualified audiologist, is full of information, advice and useful tips for those with a hearing loss, and those that live with someone who has a hearing loss. I picked up a few tips that I’ll be trying at home.

Written in a clear, basic language and without a lot of medical jargon; it’s easy to understand and find information relevant to your personal situation. I encourage anyone who has, suspects they have, or knows someone who has a hearing loss to have a look at this book.  


The Liar

The Liar by Nora Roberts

Shelby Foxworth lost her husband. Then she lost her illusions ... The man who took her from Tennessee to an exclusive Philadelphia suburb left her in crippling debt. He was an adulterer and a liar, and when Shelby tracks down his safe-deposit box, she finds multiple IDs. The man she loved wasn't just dead. He never really existed. 

Shelby takes her three-year-old daughter and heads south to seek comfort in her hometown. But her husband had secrets she has yet to discover. Even in this small town, surrounded by loved ones, danger is closer than she knows. And an attempted murder is only the beginning ...

The story has great likeable characters, and life in her small town combines neatly with suspense, deception, and danger from her husband’s past following her. Another beauty from this most popular author. Enjoy!


Vale E. L. Doctorow

The often dubbed 'Literary Time Traveller' E. L. Doctorow [Edgar Lawrence] passed away on Tuesday 21/7 in Manhattan USA, aged 84, from complications with lung cancer.

The author penned a dozen novels including Ragtime, Billy Bathgate and The March, three volumes of short fiction and a stage drama, as well as essays and commentary on literature and politics.  Doctorow was widely lauded for the originality, versatility and audacity of his imagination.

 “I believe nothing of any beauty or truth comes of a piece of writing without the author’s thinking he has sinned against something – propriety, custom, faith, privacy, tradition, political orthodoxy, historical fact, literary convention, or indeed, all the prevailing standards together.”

Doctorow was inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame in 2012, and in 2013 received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, and the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction in 2014.


Down Under

Down Under by Bill Bryson

Forget Crocodile Dundee, Castlemaine XXXX and the 2000 Sydney Olympics - Bill Bryson is the man to put Australia on the map. Bill Bryson, from New Hampshire USA, has traversed the length and breadth of Australia a few times now to bring us his first major new book since the bestselling A Walk in the Woods. What greeted Bill Bryson when he visited Australia was rather different to what he'd imagined. 

It is a country that exists on a vast scale. It is the driest, flattest, hottest, most dessicated, infertile and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents, and still it teems with life, a large proportion of it quite deadly! A country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay one out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting but GO for one! One may be fatally chomped by sharks, or crocodiles, or carried hopelessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. Bill Bryson ignored such dangers, and promptly fell in love with the country! And who can blame him? The people are cheerful, the food excellent, the beer always cold, the sun nearly always shines. Life doesn't get much better than this!

If you need an antidote to being bogged down in your usual genre, then this book is it. It’s a generous, big-hearted, warm look at what ‘we who live here’ don’t really consider, let alone see. 

Aside from being an entertaining travelogue with many snippets of interesting information, there are some parts that are so side-splitting funny it’ll have you reaching for the tissues.  I think it’s more his style of writing than any incident – he’s just a born raconteur with a very dry wit; instead of alienating the Aussie reader with put-downs he twists a negative into a clever “who would’ve thought?” phrase.  It’s very well done.  

His bafflement with the sport of cricket is priceless and I was punching the air with joy to find a fellow who voiced my feelings perfectly; while his bewilderment with politicians, the stolen generation, and the ‘out of sight out of mind’ attitude of most Australians gets an airing, but thankfully not too much to dampen the pleasure and fun in reading this delightful book.  

I downloaded the e-audiobook from our catalogue and it was narrated (almost) perfectly by William Roberts, so much so that you’d swear it was Bryson himself doing the reading   (the Aussie accent still proving tough to master). This book was just what the doctor ordered and I thoroughly enjoyed it!


Kibble Literary Awards

The Kibble Literary Awards for Women Writers comprise two awards which are presented annually. The Kibble (currently valued at $30,000 recognises an established Australian author) has been awarded this year to Joan London for The Golden Age; and The Dobbie Literary Award (currently valued at $5,000 recognising a first published Australian author) went to Ellen van Neerven for Heat and Light.


Nita May Dobbie established the Nita B Kibble Literary Awards for Women Writers (with an emphasis on life writing) in recognition of her aunt, Nita Bernice Kibble, who raised her from birth after her mother died.  She was also the first woman to be appointed a librarian with the State Library of New South Wales and throughout her career (1919-1943) she worked hard to raise the status of the library profession.  She was a founding member of the Australian Institute of Librarians.

Miss Dobbie followed her aunt into the library profession and recognised the need to foster women's writing in the community and so established the Awards through her will.


National Biography Awards

Six powerful personal stories have been shortlisted for the 2015 National Biography Award.  This year Australia’s pre-eminent prize for biographical writing and memoir celebrates 20 years since it began. The shortlisted books for the $25,000 Award are:

An Unsentimental Bloke: The Life and Work of C.J. Dennis by Philip Butterss

Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family by Gabrielle Carey

Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815 by Philip Dwyer

To Begin to Know: Walking in the Shadows of My Father by David Leser

A Singular Vision, Harry Seidler by Helen O'Neill

The Feel-Good Hit of the Year: A Memoir by Liam Pieper

The winner will be announced on Monday 3 August at 11.00am


In the Quiet

In the Quiet by Eliza Henry Jones

Cate Carlton has died, though why or how remains a mystery for most of the novel. She leaves behind three growing children, and a husband, sister, mother, and friends, all struggling to makes sense of life without her. 

Cate narrates the story as she watches those she’s left behind on their rural horse property grapple with their intertwined lives and the heartbreak they continue to suffer. Her children – twin boys who turn 18 and a girl who turns 13 during the course of the novel – face the problems of adolescence without their mother, while their father faces their pain and his own each day. Complicating matters is a secret that only one child shared with his mother and this is teased out throughout the novel, leaving us hungrily turning the pages...

Why we love it!
While gritty and sad, In the Quiet by this wonderful new Australian author is an uplifting and heartwarming story. It’s a beautiful depiction of Australian rural life; a hymn to horses and a raw and compelling take on the challenges and realities of country life.
From the team at Better Reading

Six Degrees

Six Degrees by Honey Brown

From the cover:  Emotion, seduction and passion wind through six intricately connected stories, where strong Australian women embrace their most intimate desires, and men are more than just their suit and tie.
Apparent strangers are bound together by one tragic event, the effect of which is felt from the urban streets of Sydney to the dusty bars of Western Australia. Sexual attraction is discovered, reawakened and surrendered to in Six Degrees, written by critically acclaimed author, Honey Brown. 

As a Honey Brown fan, I was looking forward to reading this new release. What I read was not what I expected.

The usual Honey Brown psychological suspense is missing and replaced with sexual tension, sexual experiences of varying degrees, and short stories that subtly link. It consists of six short stories that link with a single event and many characters. It is not until you get to the last story that all the links between characters becomes clear. It is clever literature but personally I prefer Honey Brown’s other titles to this one.  If you want eroticism in various degrees, then this is a book for you.

~ Narelle

The Other Side of the World

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

English-born Charlotte is struggling with motherhood and trying to find time for her painting. Her Indian-born, poetry-professor husband wants things to be as they were and dreads the thought of another harsh English winter. As the distance between Charlotte and Henry grows, he grasps at the promise offered by a brochure proclaiming ‘Australia brings out the best in you’. Charlotte doesn’t want to leave her familiar home, but is too exhausted to fight, and gives in.

But their new life is not the answer either was hoping for, as Henry is increasingly isolated among his parochial university colleagues and Charlotte finds herself lost and anchorless in the Perth suburbs. What will she sacrifice to regain her feeling of ‘home’?

Why we love it!
Evocative and heartbreaking, The Other Side of the World kept us spellbound. It’s a beautifully told story of motherhood, marriage, creativity, identity, and nostalgia for place. Its vivid and gorgeous descriptions transported us from the wintry fields of Cambridge, to the intense light of a Perth summer and to the mud, dust and chaos of 1960s India.

Stephanie Bishop is a rising literary star, with critics singing her praises. In 2006 she was recognised as one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian novelists, and Helen Garner has described her as ‘a striking new voice, calm and fresh.’

With its deep themes and emotionally charged ending, The Other Side of the World is a book to curl up and spend time with, and book clubs and reading groups will love it.

From the team at Better Reading


Delectable by Adrianne Lee

Series: Big Sky Pie #1:  Montana real estate agent Quint McCoy will tell you that the most important thing is location, location, location. It's a lesson he learns all too well when he goes incommunicado for a four-week fishing trip to Alaska. While he's away, his mother Molly turns his office into the pie shop she has always dreamed of, Big Sky Pie. But that's not the only surprise in store for him.

On her way out of town, Callee McCoy only wants to say a fond farewell to her beloved mother-in-law. But Molly soon persuades Callee to stay and lend a hand at the new shop, even if it means heating up the kitchen with her soon-to-be ex. 
As Callee and Quint rediscover their recipe for love, they realize that some couples are so sinfully good together that one delectable taste is never enough . . .

Quint McCoy’s dad always told him “Quint, my boy, there isn’t a problem so big that a man can’t solve it with a piece of your mama’s sweet cherry pie in one hand and a fishing rod in the other.”  When Quint couldn’t cope with the death of his father, he remembered these words; and decided to run off to Alaska on an extended fishing trip. Four weeks later he returns to find his soon-to-be ex-wife, Callee, working with his mother who has begun her lifelong dream of owning a pie shop - by converting his real estate office!

Delectable is a typical romance novel, meaning you can already guess the ending.  That being said, it’s the journey that’s half the fun.  Adrianne Lee writes a quirky, funny book that has you laughing in places and cringing in others.  It’s far-fetched, unrealistic and outrageous but who doesn’t love a book where everyone lives happily ever after.