Reading Rewards - reviews


Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton

From the cover:  Moving to remote Shetland has been unsettling enough for consultant surgeon Tora Hamilton, even before the gruesome discovery she makes on a rain-drenched afternoon.  Deep in the peat soil of her field she uncovers the body of a young woman. The heart has been removed and marks etched into the skin bear an eerie resemblance to carvings Tora has seen in her own cellar. But as Tora begins to ask questions, terrifying threats start rolling in like the cold island mist.

"Sacrifice is a bone-chilling, spell-binding debut" shouted the publicity, and as I love a bone-chilling spell binder with an atmospheric setting and a mystery to solve, this boded well. I had read Bolton's second book, Awakening, quite a while ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  She has since written many more in this genre, some of them now Award winners around the globe! Check out her other titles here.  Early on she wrote as S.J. Bolton but is now Sharon Bolton.  But, I digress.  Let's go back to the beginning with Sacrifice, and what a very complex story it is!  
The plethora of characters and their too many stories, as well as quite a lot of 'facts 'n figures' wallpapering the tale, did nothing to build suspense unfortunately. Those negatives aside, however, I thought it was a good beginning, with a satisfying mix of mystery, history, forensics, and the ancient legends of Scotland’s past making their presence felt.  Nice!


Great Gippsland Mysteries

Great Gippsland Mysteries by Grant Robinson

This book is the culmination of two years extensive research into some of the most intriguing mysteries from the Gippsland region in Victoria. Startling new evidence on the disappearance of Frederick Valentich in Bass Strait in 1978 is revealed through an exclusive interview with an eyewitness from Sale and the author offers up evidence to cast further light on who John Frederich really was. Featuring eight chapters of some of the most facinating accounts from Gippslanders, stretching back to the 1700's.

Tales from the past and recent times of the mysterious sightings and events in Gippsland: Tasmanian tigers, big cats, the disappearance of young pilot Frederick Valentich in Bass Strait, UFO’s, more about mystery man John Frederich, ghosts, odd deaths and maritime tales. Only a small book, it is packed with photos and eyewitness accounts of all these things and more - some that you may have heard about and some more obscure.

If you are intrigued by things that go ‘bump in the night’ or something strange that you catch from the corner of your eye, or just about people and history, then this is one fascinating read!


The Lost Swimmer

The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner 

Rebecca Wilding is an archaeology professor accused of defrauding the university where she works.  Things at home with her husband Stephen are not as smooth as they used to be, either.  Could he be having an affair with Rebecca’s demanding boss and why is Stephen so secretive?  Despite these tensions, a trip away to Italy and Greece might just be what’s needed to put everything into perspective, and rekindle some of the passion that only briefly resurfaces in her marriage.

While travelling, Rebecca investigates the fraud herself but getting to the truth is not as easy as she assumed and when her husband goes missing off the Amalfi Coast everything she understands of her life comes under question.

Why we love it:

The Lost Swimmer is a smartly constructed, tense thriller that will leave you guessing until the very end. It’s a remarkable debut from former filmmaker Ann Turner, who’s destined to become a prominent name in Australian writing. 

Ann Turner’s characters are perfectly formed, her suspenseful plot is masterfully woven and her depiction of a variety of locations – the coast of Victoria, Greece, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast in particular – deftly transport the reader. We almost feel we are present with the characters, as the breathtaking scenery and confounding mysteries reveal themselves.

Having already written her next book, Out of the Ice, Ann Turner is an author we’ll thoroughly enjoy reading for years to come.

A stunning debut about trust from a new Australian voice!

from the team at Better Reading

Double Fudge Brownie Murder

Double Fudge Brownie Murder by Joanne Fluke

Life in tiny Lake Eden, Minnesota, is usually pleasantly uneventful. Lately, though, it seems everyone has more than their fair share of drama - especially the Swensen family. With so much on her plate, Hannah Swensen can hardly find the time to think about her bakery, let alone the town's most recent murder. Hannah is nervous about the upcoming trial for her involvement in a tragic accident. She's eager to clear her name once and for all, but her troubles only double when she finds the judge bludgeoned to death with his own gavel and she is the number one suspect. Now on trial in the court of public opinion, she sets out in search of the culprit and discovers that the judge made more than a few enemies during his career. With time running out, Hannah will have to whip up her most clever recipe yet to find a killer more elusive than the perfect brownie.

The latest in a long series of cosy crime fiction, Double Fudge Brownie Murder sees Hannah, the bakery owner/mystery-solving heroine and her cohort of friends and family awaiting the outcome of her trial for a death-related tragic car accident which occurred in a previous book in the series. 

If you have not read any of the other books, some of the characters and plot lines might seem a bit hard to understand, but it is still quite a good mystery and the recipes at the end of the chapters well worth a try. The double fudge brownie recipe has been given the seal of approval by staff at a number of library branches though I would halve the amount of sugar if you want to try it yourself. Available in regular print and large print formats. 


A Gathering Storm

A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore

From the catalogue: Photographer Lucy Cardwell's father, Tom, has passed away.  While sifting through his papers, she finds he'd been researching an uncle she never knew he'd had. Intrigued, she visits her father's childhood home, the once beautiful Carlyon Manor. She meets an old woman named Beatrice who has an extraordinary story to tell ...Growing up in the 1930s, Beatrice plays with the children of Carlyon Manor - especially pretty, blonde Angelina Wincanton, Lucy's grandmother. Then, one summer at the age of fifteen, she falls in love with a young visitor to the town: Rafe Ashton, whom she rescues from a storm-tossed sea. But the dark clouds of war are gathering, and Beatrice, Rafe, and the Wincantons will all be swept up in the cataclysm of events that follow. Beatrice's story is a powerful tale of courage and betrayal, spanning from Cornwall to London, and occupied France, in which friendship and love are tested, and the ramifications reach down the generations. And, as Lucy listens to the tales of the past, she learns a secret that will change everything she has ever known...

Overall I enjoyed this book. I loved the atmospheric setting of the house above the sea in Cornwall; the war years both at home (UK) and overseas; and was particularly interested to  hear about 'FANY' which I'd never come across in any reading before. Wikipedia says: 'It was formed as the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in 1907 as a first aid link between the field hospitals and the front lines, and was given the yeomanry title as all its members were originally mounted on horseback. Unlike nursing organisations, the FANY saw themselves rescuing the wounded and giving first aid, similar to a modern combat medic. Their founder, Sergeant Major, later Captain, Edward Baker, a veteran of the Sudan Campaign and the Second Boer War, felt that a single rider could get to a wounded soldier faster than a horse-drawn ambulance. Each woman was trained not only in first aid but signalling and drilling in cavalry movements.'

The tale is told by the main character, Beatrice, as a great-grandmother in the modern day, and from her early days growing up in the 1930s.  This works well, but the bulk of the story is to do with the war years - so much so you get the feeling that the modern day part is just a tool to uphold the framework for the real story.  

Rachel Hore, a former editor at Harper Collins is an accomplished author with 7 novels to date under her belt; we have all her titles in all formats - hard copy and audio - for your enjoyment.  The Playaway that I borrowed was expertly narrated by Gerri Halligan, delivering a multitude of accents with savoir faire. 


Unholy Fury

Unholy Fury: Nixon and Whitlam at war by James Curran

In 1972, after a long period in opposition, the Australian Labor Party came to power in Australia, led by Gough Whitlam, a political giant intent on redefining Australia’s relationship with Asia, the world and the USA in particular. Whitlam’s new approach to the ANZUS alliance and his determination to no longer slavishly follow US policy set him at odds with Richard Nixon, the wily US President beset with the internal troubles of the Vietnam War, Watergate and student protests against his policies in Vietnam and Cambodia. Whitlam’s letter of protest against the US mass bombings of Cambodia in December 1972 caused a deep fracture in the alliance, which arguably never quite recovered.

James Curran uses just released top-secret American and Australian records and meticulous research to track this turbulent period when, for the first time since World War II, Australia sought to differentiate itself from the US in the new Asia. If you are interested in history and the Australia-US relationship this is an enthralling read.


Baileys Women's Fiction Prize

The 2015 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction has been announced in London.  Launched in 1996, the Prize is awarded annually and celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in a full-length novel written in English by a woman of any nationality . The winner receives a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze known as a ‘Bessie’.

The Baileys Prize, which has changed names several times, was previously known as the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Ali Smith has been awarded this year's prize for her novel, How to Be Both, a story all about art's versatility.

Borrowing from painting's fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it's a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There's a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There's the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real - and all life's givens get given a second chance.



Cadence by Emma Ayres

Listeners nationwide wake up to her honeyed tones on ABC Classic FM delivering fresh perspectives on timeless classics, introducing listeners to new composers, and telling tales about her BMW motorbike and her love of exotic travel. She is lauded as an entertainer and musical expert, who is keen to break down the barriers surrounding classical music. In 1999 Emma cycled - yes, cycled - from England to Hong Kong, with a only a small violin for company. ln Cadence, Emma tells this story and reveals a life filled with adventure, contrast, unpredictable events and, always, music. From learning violin in small-town England to performing in one of the greatest musical and historical events of the 20th century; from poverty-stricken student days in dank London to studying with maestros in Cold War West Berlin; and whether cycling one of the world's greatest deserts with only Elgar for company to playing in the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Emma Ayres' life has always been about the music. 

The very brave, fit and funny Emma Ayres has written an uplifting and riveting account of a bicycle trip that she embarked upon from London to Hong Kong in 2000. With her she took a violin, called Aurelia, for company. The journey went through Europe, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India and China and into Hong Kong. Not only does the book cover her escapades and interactions with mostly friendly locals but is interspersed with music musings. 

Although some of the information about major keys, minor chords, flats, sharps and en-harmonic was beyond me, Emma Ayres didn’t dwell too long on this and moved on to philosophical questions about music and life, or gears, cogs and cadence. I found this book most enjoyable and unique. The author is both admirable and inspirational and I can highly recommended this title. Available in print and e-book format. 


Northern Heat

Northern Heat by Helene Young

In remote northern Australia, Conor Stein is living under an assumed name and rebuilding his shattered life. Working at Cooktown's youth centre has given him the chance to make a difference again, and a chance to flirt with Kristy Dark. When he finds himself dragged into a murder investigation, with more lives at risk, he fights to the death to protect those he loves. 

After tragedy tore her family apart, Dr Kristy Dark fled home to the steamy north with her feisty teenage daughter, Abby. She hoped being part of the small community would help them both heal. When late one sultry night Conor staggers into the emergency department supporting a local fisherman with a gunshot wound, she has no inkling her world is about to be turned on its head. 

As a cyclone tears through Cooktown, cutting them off from the world, the real killer moves to silence any witnesses. With their lives on the line, Kristy will have to summon her courage and place her trust in Conor, or they'll both lose someone they love.

Why we love it!
Gritty and full of suspense, Helene Young's Northern Heat brings together two people with tragic pasts, against the backdrop of steamy Far North Queensland and a brewing cyclone. While her heartbreaking portrayal of domestic abuse is a major theme, readers will find comfort in the magnetic attraction between a mysterious deckhand and the local doctor.

From the Team at Better Reading

The Last Dance

The Last Dance by Fiona McIntosh

The impoverished Stella Myles is a dance partner in a Piccadilly ballroom where she meets the enigmatic Montgomery who orchestrates a job for her as governess for the wealthy Ainsworth family in Sussex. In entering the mansion of Harp's End, Stella struggles to fit in above or below stairs - although nothing proves so challenging as restraining the illicit love that ignites between herself and the mysterious Douglas Ainsworth. When Douglas announces that they are all to voyage aboard a cruise ship bound for Morocco, tensions reach new heights and Stella finds herself caught up in a family at war and in a world on the edge of another. She is now the keeper of an incendiary document smuggled out of Berlin, one which must reach London at all costs. From the rolling green hills of the Kentish Weald to the colourful alleys and bazaars of Morocco, this is a thrilling story of intrigue and danger - and a passion to risk dying for.

Why we love it!
Fiona McIntosh’s latest spellbinding romance captivated us from its compelling start to its intriguing journey through 1930s London, Berlin and Morocco. With its steady build-up of tension and suspense, The Last Dance had us greedily turning the pages, impatient to know what was coming next.

from The Team at Better Reading

R.I.P. Tanith Lee

The British science fiction, fantasy and horror author, Tanith Lee,  died peacefully in her sleep after a long illness on May 24, 2015.

Lee was the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award, in 1980, with her novel Death’s Master, the second in her Tales from the Flat Earth fantasy series. She was the author of over 90 novels and 300 short stories, a children's picture book (Animal Castle), and many poems. She also wrote two episodes of the BBC science fiction series Blake's 7. 

Tanith Lee won World Fantasy Awards for Best Short Story in 1983 and 1984 and recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards from both the World Fantasy Convention in 2013 and the Horror Writers Association just this year.

Born in 1947 to dancer parents, Lee published her first novel 1971 - a children’s book called The Dragon Hoard. She also wrote under the pseudonym Esther Garber, and her first adult book was The Birthgrave, in 1975.

Lee’s website now displays simply the dates of her birth and death and a quote from her writings:

 “Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.
Pictured above:  Tanith Lee at a fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Research Trust as part of the Match It For Pratchett campaign in the UK, 4 September 2011.


Big Brother

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn't recognize him. In the four years since the grown siblings last saw one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? Worse, Edison's slovenly habits, appalling diet, and know-it-all monologues drive her health-and-fitness freak husband Fletcher insane. 

After the big blowhard of a brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: it's him or me. Putting her marriage and two adoptive children on the line, Pandora chooses her brother -- who, without her support in losing weight, will surely eat himself into an early grave. Big Brother tackles a constellation of issues surrounding obesity: why we overeat, whether extreme diets ever work in the long run, and how we treat overweight people.

I have tried many a time to read the books of Lionel Shriver without success so I decided to try this one on audio book, narrated by Alice Rosengard.  Based on the author’s brother and his real life death from morbid obesity, some reviewers say it is her best yet.  

Basically this is a book about troubled families and how much and when do we stop intervening in peoples lives. The themes are told through Pandora, and at times are emotionally raw and other times very funny. I found the audio book easy to relax into the brilliant poetry of Shriver’s words. Available in audio, print and large print formats. 

Sandra - Emerald Library Team Leader


Open: an autobiography by Andre Agassi

Agassi's incredibly rigorous training begins when he is just a child. By the age of 13, he is banished to a Florida tennis camp that feels like a prison camp. Lonely, scared, a ninth-grade dropout, he rebels in ways that will soon make him a 1980s icon. He dyes his hair, pierces his ears, dresses like a punk rocker. By the time he turns pro at sixteen, his new look promises to change tennis forever, as does his lightning-fast return. And yet, despite his raw talent, he struggles early on. 

After stumbling in three Grand Slam finals, Agassi shocks the world, and himself, by capturing the 1992 Wimbledon. Overnight he becomes a fan favorite and a media target. 

Alongside vivid portraits of rivals from several generations - Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Agassi gives unstinting accounts of his brief time with Barbra Streisand and his doomed marriage to Brooke Shields. He reveals a shattering loss of confidence and recounts his spectacular resurrection, a comeback climaxing with his epic run at the 1999 French Open and his march to become the oldest man ever ranked number one. 

In clear, taut prose, Agassi evokes his loyal brother, his wise coach, his gentle trainer, all the people who help him regain his balance and find love at last with Stefanie Graf. From nonconformist to elder statesman, from dropout to education advocate to delivering one of the most stirring farewells ever heard in a sporting arena, Open is a treat for ardent fans. It will also captivate readers who know nothing about tennis. Like Agassi's game, it sets a new standard for grace, style, speed, and power.

What a fantastic biography of Andre Agassi! This book tells his story from the time he was a child and was definitely a victim of the "ugly parent syndrome" with his father absolutely obsessed with him being a tennis player, even though he wanted to play soccer.

His playing career was so interesting, talking about the behind the scenes confrontations with his fellow players, his ill-fated marriage to Brooke Shields, and eventually his marriage to Steffi Graff whom he is still with today.

It was so interesting to know that although he was a top-ranked player and achieved so much during his playing life, he really didn't enjoy playing tennis, but as he admitted he had no other skills to do anything else as he was not encouraged to pursue schooling because of his father.

I have the utmost respect for Andre who has founded an academy for disadvantaged children in his home town of Las Vegas and the other charity work that he conducts. This is a great read for any tennis fans out there.


The Most Borrowed Books

To kick start celebrating this year's Library and Information Week (25-31 May), the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) asked Libraries across the country to provide their top five most-borrowed books (including both print and eBooks) for the first quarter of 2015. The lists were compiled into four categories : adult fiction, adult non-fiction, young adult, and children's books.

Two British writers topped the adult fiction and non-fiction lists: Lee Child's thriller, Never Go Back, and foodie wunderkind Jamie Oliver for Jamie's 15 Minute Meals; while Americans topped the Children's and Young Adult lists: Jeff Kinney for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Suzanne Collins' blockbuster series for young adults - The Hunger Games.

Interestingly, Australian writers accounted for half of the most popular adult fiction list, which were:

1. Never Go Back by Lee Child (British thriller)
2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion  (Australian humour)
3. The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connolly (American crime)
4. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Australian contemporary literature)
5. Eyrie by Tim Winton (Australian contemporary literature)
6. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Australian contemporary literature)
7. Inferno by Dan Brown (American thriller)
8. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley (Australian science fiction)
9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (American thriller)
10. A Wanted Man by Lee Child (British thriller). 

For a full list in all categories, click HERE to be taken to ALIA's website.

Australian Book Industry Awards

A children’s book has taken home the top prize for the first time in Australia’s national industry book awards’ 15-year history.

Book of the Year went to The 52-Storey Treehouse by author Andy Griffiths and illustrator Terry Denton.

Author Brooke Davis was awarded both the General Fiction Prize and the inaugural Matt Richell Award for new writer for her bestselling novel Lost & Found. The latter was established in the name of the former chief executive of Hachette Australia who passed away last year in a surfing accident.

Tim Low’s Where Song Began: Australia’s Birds and How They Changed the World, won the General Non-fiction prize; the Literary Fiction prize went to Maxine Beneba Clarke for her short story collection, Foreign Soil, while David Walsh, multimillionaire and founder of Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art, won Biography of the Year for his offbeat memoir, A Bone of Fact. 



Weightless by Sarah Bannan

Carolyn Lessing is the new girl school.  All Carolyn's social media could reveal was that she had moved from New Jersey, she had 1075 friends – and she didn't have a relationship status. In beach photos with boys who looked like models she seemed beautiful, but in real life she was so much more. She was perfect. This was all before the camera crews arrived, before it became impossible to see where rumour ended and truth began, and before the Annual Adamsville Balloon Festival, when someone swore they saw the captain of the football team with his arm around Carolyn, and cracks began to appear in the dry earth.

Wow, this book should be compulsory reading for all parents and teenagers!

It tells the story of the typical "new girl" at high school. Carolyn has just moved into the area and doesn't know anyone at the local high school. She is a bright, talented student, who is just keen to fit in and make some friends. Unfortunately she befriends the ex-boyfriend of one of the clique of girls, and from there on she goes from being a normal girl to a victim of unfounded gossip. The clique even stalks her Facebook account and their comments and posts about her grow legs with each entry. It shows just how social media has changed things these days, sometimes not for the better. 

The novel is told from the first person perspective. "We" are not named throughout the novel but that is not important to the story. This book should make teenagers think before they make assumptions about people, and how dangerous these assumptions can be, both to the person they are talking about and what they can lead to for themselves as well.

This is a debut novel by Sarah Bannan and is one author to watch out for. It would make an excellent Book Club read as well.

The Island Hideaway

The Island Hideaway by Louise Candlish

From the cover: Eleanor Blake, distraught after breaking up with her fiancé Will, decides to do what most would scarcely dare: secretly follow him to the island hideaway where he’s on holiday with the woman who took her place.  But on the shimmering sun-drenched Sicilian island of Panarea, distractions come in many forms and her fellow hotel guests Lewis and Frannie may not be all they seem either.  

On a positive note: This ho-hum chick lit fare takes place in a beautiful setting. The idiotic love-lorn Eleanor is made more bearable by a motley cast of hotel guests bringing much needed contrast; and the ‘romance’ with a twist winds up with quite a surprising ending. 

Apparently this book was published back in 2004 under the name of ‘Prickly Heat’ and has, for reasons unknown, been ‘updated’ by the author to reflect today’s technology. Very strange.  At one stage in the story, our protagonist and two hotel guests are stuck on a mountain top during a storm and used an iPhone 6 to make an emergency call.  I can’t help but wonder what they did back in 2004!

One step up from reading your desk calendar, this light-as-a-feather novel was narrated well by Antonia Beamish.  I borrowed the Playaway format, but we have it in audio CD and paperback as well.  

A Place Called Winter

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale 
A privileged elder son, and stammeringly shy, Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. Even the beginnings of an illicit, dangerous affair do little to shake the foundations of his muted existence - until the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest cost him everything. 

Forced to abandon his wife and child, Harry signs up for emigration to the newly colonised Canadian prairies. Remote and unforgiving, his allotted homestead in a place called Winter is a world away from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century Edwardian England. And yet it is here, isolated in a seemingly harsh landscape, under the threat of war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism that the fight for survival will reveal in Harry an inner strength and capacity for love beyond anything he has ever known before. 

In this exquisite journey of self-discovery, loosely based on a real life family mystery, Patrick Gale has created an epic, intimate human drama, both brutal and breathtaking. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love.

Why we love it!
Patrick Gale cements his position as one of the great storytellers with A Place Called Winter.  Deftly weaving tenderness, love, loss, passion and human struggle into an unforgettable and irresistible story, this is one of those books you never want to end - it leaves you calling for more.

from the team at Better Reading

Miles Franklin Award shortlist

Five novelists have been shortlisted for the $60,000 Miles Franklin prize. The author's will states: ‘[the] prize shall be awarded for the Novel for the year which is of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases …’.

And the shortlist reads:  After Darkness - Christine Piper; The Eye of the Sheep - Sofie​ LagunaGolden Boys - Sonya HartnettThe Golden Age - Joan London, and Tree Palace - Craig Sherborne.

The winner will be announced on June 23.


The Ice Queen

The Ice Queen by Nele Neuhaus 

Nele is the author of the brilliant ‘Snow White Must Die’, which is on my personal ‘best books’ list.  The Ice Queen features the same police partners Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein. 

Holocaust survivor and American citizen, Jossi Goldberg, is found shot execution-style in his house near Frankfurt. A five-digit number is scrawled in blood at the murder scene. The autopsy reveals an old tattoo on the corpse’s arm – a blood type marker of the kind used by Hitler’s SS – causing the detectives to question his true identity. Two more murders follow and the connections to the ‘Ice Queen’ become clear. No one is who they claim to be and the trail leads back to World War II. 

A complex, compelling mystery about revenge, power and long hidden secrets from a time in German history that still haunts the present. Note: Nele’s books are being translated into English in mixed up order by the publishers – so this one is a prequel to ‘Snow White’.