Reading Rewards - reviews

Victorian Premier's shortlist

The 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists have been revealed. The winners will be announced on 28 January 2015.

The titles are:

Only the Animals (Ceridwen Dovey, Penguin)
Golden Boys (Sonya Hartnett, Penguin)
The Snow Kimono (Mark Henshaw, Text)
Demons (Wayne Macauley, Text)
N (John A Scott, Brandl & Schlesinger)
To Name Those Lost (Rohan Wilson, A&U)

Non fiction
The Europeans in Australia: Volume Three: Nation (Alan Atkinson, NewSouth)
Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen (Erik Jensen, Black Inc.)
Darwin (Tess Lea, NewSouth)
Where Song Began (Tim Low, Penguin)
The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama (Julie Szego, Wild Dingo Press)
The Bush (Don Watson, Penguin)

Two of the fiction titles, Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett and Demons by Wayne Macauley, are part of the 2014/15 Summer Read at libraries across Victoria. The winner of each category is awarded $25,000 and goes into the running for the Victorian Prize for Literature, which is worth $100,000. 

For information on the awards and the poetry, young adult and drama category shortlists, visit the Wheeler Centre website.

Our Best Reads - 2014

Our Reading Rewards Blog team has spent some time scratching heads, mulling over past reviews and has, at last, come up with their Best Reads of the Year 2014.  What a broad range it is – from three wildly different non-fiction, to fantasy, suspense, horror, thriller and one that is heading for the big screen next year!  So, without further ado ...

How I Rescued My Brain: a psychologist’s remarkable recovery from stroke and trauma  By David Roland
This book is written in a warm and engaging way.  David Roland is able to explain complex processes in simple terms and doesn’t shy away from his emotions.  I was kept interested and very curious about his incredible journey.  Such a fantastic non-fic!!

Our Houseless Home by Lyle Courtney 
Subtitled A colourful bush childhood during the great depression, Lyle Courtney has written of the years he and his family spent living in a
tent in the bush near Maryborough Victoria. With no job and no income, Lyle's widower father is forced out of their home in town and set up house under canvas with his children and a much loved sister-in -law, who had looked after the younger children when her sister died. It is a story of resilience and resourcefulness with recycling skills that we would never have imagined and of a happy, loving childhood amidst extreme poverty. My parents grew up during the 1930's depression and much of Lyle's story resonated with me it was just like the stories my parents told me.

Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson
How would you feel if you woke up every morning not knowing who you are or where you are? Who can you trust to tell you the truth? What if all is not what it seems.  A great psychological thriller and a real page turner.

My best read of 2014 is Skin Game, book 15 of the fantasy-fiction ‘The Dresden Files’ by Jim Butcher.  Skin Game continues the tale of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. 
I had been eagerly awaiting the release of this book ever since finishing the previous one back in December 2012.  The library’s copies arrived in the same week as the book release and I started reading it on the same day it arrived.  Thankfully that was a Friday afternoon, so I didn’t have to go to work bleary eyed the next day after staying up until 2am to finish it.

With so long to wait between books in a series, you run the risk of forgetting details of previous books.  To overcome this problem I immediately picked up book 1 (Storm Front) and re-read the entire series. Now I just need to wait for book 16 to be released! 

Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner
This book is fast paced and very well done.  The action is thick and fast, but not too overwhelming.  The main characters respective histories and current situations are intricately woven into the story, making you barrack for them as they face adversity and as their own interactions develop in a way that both scares and appeals to them.  Twists, turns, bad guys, good guys who have their own issues – it’s all there and more!

Tree Palace by Craig Sherborne
Shane, Moira and Midge, along with young Zara and Rory are “trants” - itinerants roaming the plains north-west of Melbourne in search of disused houses to sleep in, or to strip of heritage fittings when funds are low.  When they find their Tree Palace outside Barleyville, things are looking up. At last, a place in which to settle down. A warm and moving story of a different sort of family and their very believable rural life.  This is a Summer Read 2014/15 title – try it!

Sandra E
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The outrageous blurb captured my attention - Pirrawee Public's annual school trivia night has ended in a shocking riot. A parent is dead. Was it murder, a tragic accident or something else entirely? Big Little Lies is fabulous study of twisted schoolyard politics and how lies and rumours - big or small - damage reputations and lives.  Based around a fictitious primary school in Sydney's beachside suburbs, Liane Moriarty's latest bestseller was engrossing from beginning to end. A must-read for parents and coming soon to the big screen.

This House of Grief: the story of a murder trial by Helen Garner
Helen Garner’s book of the courtroom trial of Robert Farquharson, the man who drove his sons off the road and into a dam on Father’s Day 2005, drowning all three, is at the top of my list for 2014 reads.  The story is enthralling but it is the quality of Garner’s writing that for me made the book so memorable.  The tale is tragic and awful yet she manages to invoke feelings of pity and at times even sympathy for this wretched man.  Unputdownable. 

Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan

There have been a few stand-out reads for me this year – Poirot and Me by the remarkable David Suchet and Hunter Davies’ authorised biography, The Beatles, but my read of the year comes from the fiction realm.  It’s the Bram Stoker Award-winning supernatural thriller, the creepy, quirky and haunting - Audrey’s Door.  The story has all the hallmarks of a classic gothic thriller, albeit set in the modern day, and the author deploys some very clever writing by using humour to keep us happily tripping through this horror-fest while employing slow-building suspense.  Her use of repetitious onomatopoeia adds a discordant ‘Psycho/Jaws music’ type of edginess, thereby ramping up the fear factor times 10!   A totally surprising book and a memorable read!

Mean Streak

Mean streak by Sandra Brown.

From the cover: "Dr. Emory Charbonneau, a paediatrician and marathon runner, disappears on a mountain road in North Carolina. By the time her husband Jeff, miffed over a recent argument, reports her missing, the trail has grown cold. Literally. Fog and ice encapsulate the mountainous wilderness and paralyse the search for her.

While police suspect Jeff of “instant divorce,” Emory, suffering from an unexplained head injury, regains consciousness and finds herself the captive of a man whose violent past is so dark that he won’t even tell her his name. She’s determined to escape him, and willing to take any risks necessary to survive.

Unexpectedly, however, the two have a dangerous encounter with people who adhere to a code of justice all their own. At the centre of the dispute is a desperate young woman whom Emory can’t turn her back on, even if it means breaking the law.

As her husband’s deception is revealed, and the FBI closes in on her captor, Emory begins to wonder if the man with no name is, in fact, her rescuer."

My View:

This is the first book I have read by Sandra Brown and I must say it will not be the last. The story is gripping and keeps you involved throughout. It's a good thriller with that classic twist towards the end that I didn't see coming. I felt for the victim and for her captor, it put you on edge, and as the story goes along, you don't know what to believe and who was the goodie and the baddie!!

I listened to this on audio book and the narration by Jonathan Davis was excellent. Definitely an author to look up. She writes Crime/Thrillers, Historical & Romantic fiction.

~ Janine

The News: a users manual

The News: a users manual  by Alain de Botton

From the cover: Alain de Botton explores our relationship with 'the news' in this book full of his trademark wit and wisdom. Following on from his bestselling Religion for Atheists, Alain de Botton turns now to look at the manic and peculiar positions that 'the news' occupies in our lives. We invest it with an authority and importance which used to be the preserve of religion - but what does it do for us? Mixing current affairs with philosophical reflections, de Botton offers a brilliant illustrated guide to the precautions we should take before venturing anywhere near the news and the 'noise' it generates. Witty and global in reach, The News will ensure you'll never look at reports of a celebrity story or political scandal in quite the same way again.

De Botton has produced another elegantly written, philosophical examination of modern life. He has turned his attention to our news services, and asks why they select certain stories, the consequences of those choices, and what the benefits to society might be if different stories were presented to us as "news". 

The book examines issues ranging from politics to murders, economics to celebrities, the weather to paparazzi shows - in an effort to work out whether any of our news is doing us any good.

We have several copies available including an audio e-book.

Queensland Literary Awards

Richard Flanagan has won yet another award for The Narrow Road to the Deep North! The novel about an Australian surgeon held in a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway has won the University of Queensland Fiction Book Award at the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards. The Tasmanian author won the Man Booker Prize in October and the Fiction Prize at the Prime Minister's Literary Awards this week.

Other winners at the Queensland Literary Awards include:
University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book AwardWinner: 1914: The Year the World Ended, Paul Ham
State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection - Judith Wright Calanthe AwardWinner: Earth Hour, David Malouf
University of Southern Queensland History Book AwardWinner: Broken Nation, Joan Beaumont
Australian Short Story Collection - Steele Rudd AwardWinner: Only the Animals, Ceridwen Dovey
Griffith University Young Adult Book AwardWinner: The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty
Griffith University Children's Book AwardJoint Winners: Refuge, Jackie French and Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan

The Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the YearWinner: How to do a Liver Transplant: Stories from my Surgical Life, Kellee Slater
Emerging Queensland Author Manuscript AwardWinner: We Come From Saltwater People, Cathy McLennan
Unpublished Indigenous Writer - David Unaipon AwardWinner: It’s Not Just Black and White, Lesley and Tammy Williams

PM's Literary Awards

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Minister for the Arts Senator George Brandis have announced the winners of the 2014 Prime Minister's Literary Awards.The winners are:Fiction — joint winnersA World of Other People, Steven Carroll (Harper Collins)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Vintage Australia)Non-fiction — joint winnersMoving Among Strangers, Gabrielle Carey (University of Queensland Press)
Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John, Helen Trinca (The Text Publishing Company)Prize for Australian history — joint winnersBroken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Joan Beaumont (Allen & Unwin)
Australia's Secret War: How unionists sabotaged our troops in World War II, Hal G.P. Colebatch (Quadrant Books)Young adult fictionThe Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo Publishing Company)Children's fictionSilver Buttons, Bob Graham (Walker Books UK)PoetryDrag Down to Unlock or Place an Emergency Call, Melinda Smith (Pitt Street Poetry)Two of the award winners generously donated their prize money to charity. Richard Flanagan donated $40,000 to the Indigenous Literary Foundation, while Bob Graham donated $10,000 to Melbourne's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.In addition to the copies on our shelves, we have two of these titles available through BorrowBox: 
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North (e-audio read by the author)
  • Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War (e-book)

Heart of the Matter

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
From the cover: Tessa Russo is the mother of two young children and the wife of a renowned paediatric surgeon. Despite her mother’s warnings, Tessa has recently given up her career to focus on her family and the pursuit of domestic happiness. From the outside, she seems destined to live a charmed life.Valerie Anderson is an attorney and single mother to six-year-old Charlie - a boy who has never known his father. After too many disappointments, she has given up on romance - and even, to some degree, friendships - believing that it is always safer not to expect too much.Although both women live in the same Boston suburb, the two have relatively little in common aside from a fierce love for their children. But one night, a tragic accident causes their lives to converge in ways no one could have imagined.Emily Giffin's "The Heart of the Matter" alternates between two points of view: Tessa, the wife of successful paediatric surgeon Nick Russo, and Valerie, the single mother whose son Charlie comes under Nick's care after being badly burned in an accident. Giffin starts the first chapter with Tessa's story, narrating in the first-person. But in the next chapter, she introduces us to a second character, Valerie, delivering Valerie's story in the third-person. The novel continues in this fashion, alternating between Tessa and Valerie.Nick is dedicated and compassionate; Valerie, a lawyer, is lonely and vulnerable. As Nick and Valerie grow closer in their concern over Charlie, Tessa, his wife, who has given up a professorship to stay home with her two small children, begins to feel there's something wrong with her marriage.When Nick's attachment to both women comes under scrutiny, there are no easy answers. Was Nick drawn to Valerie (and her injured son) because of a need to be needed? Did Tessa immerse herself in "perfect Mum" activities instead of being a good wife? Did Valerie want too much by falling for another woman's husband? There are no easy answers here, in a novel that is consistently engrossing right to the surprising finish.

We have copies available in books (standard and large print​ format) and audio (CD, playaway and e-audio).Julie

Is it Just Me?

Is it Just Me? (confessions of an over-sharer) by Chrissie Swan
From the cover: You know what I want? I want to be able to have fun wherever I am. I want to laugh. All. The. Time. I want to have one holiday every year with my family where we have no plans and nowhere else to be. I want to watch less television and read more books. I want to be able to whinge about never being able to be alone any more, then, after someone organises a hotel room voucher for me, I want to spend the evening eating chips (that I don't like) from a cylinder and missing my children to the point of tears.
A deliciously joyous, honest and feisty collection of Chrissie Swan's editorials that reflect upon her experiences of motherhood, sisterhood and working as a woman in the entertainment industry. Chrissie Swan has the delightful ability to turn what could be a stressful and mortifying experience into a humorous and empowering one. Reading her collection has reminded me of a few very valuable lessons. How important is is to always maintain a smile behind a serious comment. To remember that we compare our own personal mental state to everyone else's "show reel". Most importantly however, she has provided me with the come back to all uncalled for criticisms: "How very Dare you!" 
Interestingly structured and pleasingly self referential, you could pick any editorial and quite happily dip in or out. I read from cover to cover relishing the developments in her life, opinions and career as the book progressed. The collection began with a discussion about 'a re-kindling romance challenge' that she and her friend attempted. She describes her failings and successes in a refreshingly coy manner - how you might describe to a friend. Without giving anything away, she expounded that she had learned in her relationship that although good things happen throughout and the big bangs might happen down the track that the beautiful, intimate, humorous getting to know you experiences all happen in chapter one. So if you jump to the end you will miss out. Whilst introducing the collection with a great editorial, Swan also sets up the kind of story that she wishes to tell and the relationship she wants to have with her readers. Let's just say I've fallen in love with Chrissie Swan, and if you're as saddened as I am to hear that she won't be on breakfast radio any more - do yourself a favour and enjoy this book - because she writes like she presents on breakfast radio.

A joyous light read that kept me smiling on my lunch breaks and leaving me relaxed in the morning. I would happily recommend and read again! 5 out of 5.

The Last Precinct

The Last Precinct  by Patricia Cornwell
Book 11 in the Kay Scarpetta series.

From the cover:  Thwarting an attack by a suspected serial killer puts Virginia’s Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta in the harsh glare of the spotlight. As her personal and professional lives come under suspicion, she discovers that the so-called Werewolf murders may have extended to New York City and into the darkest corners of her past. A formidable prosecutor, a female assistant district attorney from New York, is brought into the case, and Scarpetta must struggle to make what she knows to be the truth prevail against mounting and unnerving evidence to the contrary. Tested in every way, she turns inward to ask, where do you go when there is nowhere left?
Sometimes you can be lucky to stumble across a book that you didn’t know was part of a series, and it stands alone as a good read.  This was not one of them.  It is very much a link in the series with frequent and unexplained references to past storylines and characters and if you haven’t read them, you have no idea of what it is all about.  That aside, the Scarpetta series is gritty crime with a twist of intelligence and although at times confronting, the stories are put together well.  We have this title in all formats - hard print, large print, CD, Cassette, MP3 and e-audio – I chose to download the e-audio and once again, narrator Lorelei King delivers an expert job with the many accents, particularly the male New York/Italian Detective, Marino.  Her voice portrait has him pictured as real and large as life right before your very eyes.

IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards

The longlist for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards [a work of fiction published in English] is out and it definitely is a LONG list – 142 nominations!  
The books, which were nominated by libraries around the world, are vying for the $144,000 prize and include both this year’s and last year’s Booker Prize winners, Richard Flanagan for The Long Road to the Deep North, and NZ’s Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries.
Eight other Australian titles made the list:
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  • Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko
  • Coal Creek by Alex Miller
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  • Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
  • Eyrie by Tim Winton
  • Cairo by Chris Womersley
  • The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
Chris Womersley's Cairo is one of the 10 Victorian titles chosen for The Summer Read, a program of the State Library of Victoria and Public Libraries Network Victoria to celebrate the diversity of Victorian writing. The 2015 Summer Read was launched on Monday and runs until 15 February 2015.

We have multiple copies of Cairo on our shelves plus the e-book version is also available.  

Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

From the cover: What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions storm cloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?' Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy's friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn't true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren't his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what did really did happen to Nick's beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war.

If you are looking for a great book to read on the beach or by the pool this summer then grab a copy of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. It is a thrilling, psychological suspense novel focusing on the warped relationship of married couple Nick and Amy Dunne. Each chapter comes from the perspective of either the husband or the wife and as the story unfolds you begin to feel quite conflicted over where your loyalties should lie. 

I can't say too much without giving away the major twist in the novel but this is definitely a page turner exploring themes of love, hate and revenge. There's a media circus, former lovers who show up to shake things up, and plenty of clues to decipher. If you read it quickly (and I promise you will), you may still have time to catch the movie adaptation which is currently showing at the cinemas.

Sandra E

Vale P.D. James

Crime novelist PD James, who penned more than 20 books, has died aged 94.  Her agent said she died "peacefully at her home in Oxford" on Thursday morning.

The author's books, many featuring sleuth Adam Dalgliesh, sold millions of books around the world, with various adaptations for television and film.  Her best known novels include The Children of Men, The Murder Room and Pride and Prejudice spin-off Death Comes to Pemberley.

The Husband's Secret

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

From the cover: The story of a woman who finds a letter from her husband. It says: For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick. To be opened only in the event of my death. Her husband is very much alive. Should she open it? Would YOU open it?

The Husband’s Secret focuses on the anguish of three unrelated women whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways. Cecilia Fitzpatrick is a super-organised mum, P&C president and Tupperware extraordinaire in Sydney. Tess Curtis runs a marketing and design business with her husband Will and cousin Felicity in Melbourne. Rachel Crowley is a widow, a devoted grandmother to Jacob, and mother to Rob and to Janie who was murdered in 1984. She works part-time at St Angela’s, the school which Tess and Felicity attended as children and which Cecilia’s children currently attend.

Cecilia’s comfortable life is thrown into disarray when she discovers the mysterious letter in the attic. A letter such as this from your husband would generate curiosity in even the most unadventurous person. Like most of us would eventually do, Cecilia opens the letter and instantly regrets her decision. The lives of several characters begin to spiral out of control.
The Husband’s Secret is dilemma-based novel which demonstrates how people’s actions can profoundly affect the lives of so many others. And how keeping someone else’s secret can be a huge burden to bear. The author skilfully brings the reader into the minds of the three central characters as they stew over their own particular issues. The characters are believable, the plot is engrossing, and there are many twists and turns along the way.
We have The Husband’s Secret in hard copy, e-book and audio book CD. Sandra E  

Bulwer-Lytton Contest winners

The 2014 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced.

This whimsical literary competition challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the contest since 1982. Professor Scott Rice named the competition after Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton who wrote the iconic line “It was a dark and stormy night”.

The overall winner of the 2014 contest was Elizabeth (Betsy) Dorfman of Bainbridge Island, Washington, who penned this pearler: "When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered – this had to mean land! – but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose."
Gavin Dobson won the Adventure award with this cliff-hanger: “Listen, Control!” snarled Captain Dan McMurdo across the ether, “I’ve got one engine shut down, the other running on fumes, a seriously wounded co-pilot who won’t last the hour, fifty-three refugee orphans down the back, and a nun for a radio operator, so turn the goddam landing lights on goddam pronto – sorry, Sister.”
Winner of the Crime award was Australian Carl Turney from Bayswater, Victoria, with this tacky contribution: "Hard-boiled private dick Harrison Bogart couldn’t tell if it was the third big glass of cheap whiskey he’d just finished, or the way the rain-moistened blouse clung so tightly to the perfect figure of the dame who just appeared panting in his office doorway, but he was certain of one thing … he had the hottest mother-in-law in the world."  Oh dear!

The Art of Baking Blind

The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

From the cover: There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to be perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookery writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes.

Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the new Mrs Eaden. There's Jenny, facing an empty nest now her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife's death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it's like to have nothing and is determined her façade shouldn't slip.

As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest choux bun seems the least of the contestants' problems. For they will learn - as Mrs Eaden did before them - that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it's very much harder in life.

This is really like reading "The Great British Bake-off" in book form and tells the story of the search for the next face of a popular chain of stores seeing that the original "Mrs Eaden" has passed away. The five amateur bakers are competing for this title. They are a very different and diverse group who are there for very different reasons and you learn the story behind each of them and why they entered.

I suggest that you do not read this book with an empty stomach as the descriptions of the food they are cooking really does make you feel like you need to go and eat some "right now"!

It is an easy but very enjoyable read!

When the Devil Drives

When the Devil Drives by Chris Brookmyre

From the cover: Private Investigator Jasmine Sharp has been hired to find Tessa Garrion, a young woman who vanished without trace.  What begins as a simple search awakens a malevolence that has lain dormant for three decades.  As Jasmine uncovers a hidden history of sex, drugs, ritualism and murder, she realises she may need a little help from the dark side herself if she’s going to get to the truth.  

This novel is the second featuring PI Jasmine Sharp and Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod, the first being Where the Bodies are Buried.  And from various Brookmyre fans comes the general consensus of opinion that he’s on a bit of a downhill slide.  Not having read the first one, I can only put forward my opinion that this book is OK, a relatively pedestrian read and a bit of a letdown when compared to the blurb above which sounds like there’s going to be some paranormal goings on.  There isn’t.  Set in Scotland, and with myriad accents, narrator Sarah Barron does well bringing colour to the somewhat one dimensional story.  Our 21 years old protagonist, Jasmine, has potential but just doesn’t ramp up any feelings of “go girl!!”  It's not that this book is bad, it’s just a bit boring. 

Let Her Go

Let Her Go by Dawn Barker

From the cover:  How far would you go to have a family?  What would you hide for someone you love?  Confused and desperate, Zoe McAllister boards a ferry to Rottnest Island in the middle of winter holding a tiny baby close to her chest, terrified that her husband will find her or that her sister will call the police.

Years later, a teenage girl, Louise, is found on the island, unconscious and alone. Flown out for urgent medical treatment, when she recovers she returns home and overhears her parents discussing her past and the choices that they've made. Their secrets, slowly revealed, will shatter more than one family and, for Louise, nothing will ever be the same again. Let Her Go is a gripping, emotionally charged story of family, secrets and the complications of love. Part thriller, part mystery, it will stay with you long after you close the pages wondering ... What would you have done?

My view: This book had me hooked from the very beginning. Dawn's previous book "Fractured" was one of my top picks for last year, and this new one is up there as well.  The subject of surrogacy is a painful and controversial one but Dawn Barker handles this issue so well, as she is also a Psychologist. You see things from all perspectives, the surrogate mother, the adopted mother (who are step sisters), the two husbands and of course the child.  As things progress in this book you can't help but feel for all parties involved and you can sympathise with each one of them.

Another wonderful thing is that the Author comes from Western Australia and locations from this area are highlighted in the book which gives an insight into this part of Australia. I am a huge fan of this Australian author and I think authors like Jodi Picoult should start to get worried ... Dawn Barker has well and truly arrived!

Burial Rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
From the cover: A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Toti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard. Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?
This story about the last woman to be executed in Iceland has intrigued me since I saw an Australian Story episode (ABC TV) that charted South Australian author Hannah Kent’s rapid rise in the literary world. (When her draft novel won the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award, she received a mentorship with Pulitzer Prize-winning Australian novelist Geraldine Brooks. Since publication, Burial Rites has won multiple awards.) 
However, it took a long while before I picked up a copy of Burial Rites because the subject matter seemed so dismal and depressing. It took a recommendation from a friend and the novel being assigned as my book club’s latest title before I finally bit the bullet so to speak.
Burial Rites is superbly written, quickly drawing the reader into the story of Agnes Magnusdottir who was convicted of murdering her former master and another man on an isolated farm. Hannah Kent spent time in Iceland researching her work of historical fiction and read widely about life in the country during that era. As a result, she paints a vivid picture of farm life in 19thcentury Iceland – the basic and freezing living conditions, the exhausting manual labour that women undertook, as well as superstitions, religious beliefs and the morals of the time.
As the story progresses, I found myself – along with the family on the farm – getting attached to Agnes and feeling empathy for her predicament. I kept hoping someone would find a way to save her at the last hour but then remembered that unfortunately the book tells the story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland – not imprisoned or set free. 
A dark and captivating novel set in a desolate environment.
Sandra E

The Wife Drought

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

'I need a wife' is a common joke among women juggling work and family. But it's not actually a joke. Having a spouse who takes care of things at home is a Godsend on the domestic front. It's a potent economic asset on the work front. And it's an advantage enjoyed - even in our modern society - by vastly more men than women. Working women are in an advanced, sustained, and chronically under-reported state of wife drought, and there is no sign of rain. But why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Why don't men get the same flexibility that women do? In our fixation on the barriers that face women on the way into the workplace, do we forget about the barriers that - for men - still block the exits? 

Writer, political commentator and presenter of ABCs “Kitchen Cabinet” Annabel Crabb explores the great barbeque stopper of work/life balance, but does so in a way that is smart, funny and biting in its satire. While woman with children and a job will empathise with Annabel’s stories of juggling the demands of small children with the demands of tight work deadlines, all women, irrespective of whether they have children or not, will concur with her contention that the same demands are rarely, if ever, placed on men. Her ideas for ways of resolving the “wife drought” may not be all that realistic, but they are certainly thought provoking. If you want a book that makes you laugh but also makes you think, this one is it.

The French House

The French House by Nick Alexander

From the cover:   CC is trapped by a job she no longer loves in an unfriendly city.  So when her new boyfriend decides it’s time to sell up and move to the South of France, she decided in seconds to change her life. After all, who wouldn’t pick an azure sea, aperitifs and sunshine over a dreary commute and a rainy climate? She hadn’t expected a tumbledown farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  Or a motley assortment of surly builders, eccentric farmers and a resentful, terrifying neighbour – who happens to be her boyfriend’s aunt.  Suddenly CC’s dream of a place in the sun is looking more like a nightmare.  Does she have the courage to stick it out and make a home of her French house?

Overall this was a fun read though there were a couple of patches we could have done without.  The banter between Victor and CC is a highlight throughout and, as you can imagine, trying to renovate an old farmhouse brings much laughter and the occasional tears of frustration.  There’s a fair bit of French parlez so dust off your high-school conversation classes and just go with the flow.  It’s a light and breezy read, though be aware of some full-on swearing and drug use.  I borrowed the Playaway version, well narrated by Suzy Aitchison who handles CC’s Irish accent and the dual languages beautifully.