Reading Rewards - reviews

The Fisherman's Daughter

The Fisherman’s Daughter by Molly Jackson 

From the cover:   When Robbie Fraser receives an anonymous note saying 'Your father has disappeared' he is shocked beyond belief. As far as he knows, he has no father. Robbie travels to a small Scottish fishing village to find the man he never knew, but he is met with hostility and the claustrophobic insularity of a small-town community. Only Heather McBain seems to want to befriend him, and from her he learns of the bitter rivalry between their fathers. As she and Robbie start asking questions, buried secrets come to light which could destroy them all. 

I really enjoyed this book; it was different, with lots of atmosphere and absorbing characters to get into, plus a bit of a twist when you thought you had it all worked out. 

What is amazing is that Molly Jackson is really SAS soldier, Chris Ryan. Ryan was a part of the Bravo Two Zero operation during the first Gulf War. Along with fellow soldier-turned-writer Andy McNab, the eight-man patrol was sent behind Iraqi lines to destroy mobile Scud launchers. 

It may be his first romance but Ryan, 47, insists it will also be his last. "It took me two years to get it right,' he said. I tend to stick to a subject that I'm comfortable with but I wanted to see if I could do a classic family saga. I won't be doing it again. If it taught me something, it was don't go out of your comfort zone, so I think I'll stick to writing about what I know." 

Ryan has written more than two dozen books, including ten in the Alpha Force adventure series which is aimed at teenage readers. The UK-born writer's best-known character is Geordie Sharpe, an SAS sergeant who does battle with the IRA, the Russians, and the Iraqis. 

The Silent Sister

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

From the cover:  Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she's in New Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrary. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now? As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality.

This is the second Diane Chamberlain book I have read - the author really knows how to weave a good plot into a storyline! This is a dysfunctional family with many secrets that quietly unfold as you read on. The main protagonist, Riley, is a school counsellor who has to return home to settle her late father's estate. She reunites with her brother, a recluse with mental issues, and while sorting out her father's belongings, questions begin to appear. She wonders about the family's hidden secrets and the lies that stood between her and the family she longed for. What is the truth behind older sister Lisa's supposed suicide? What lies under the surface of Lisa's privileged life as a music prodigy? How did their father manage to change the course of all of their lives by one series of actions? And who is Jade, living across the country in an alternate life?
This book will appeal to readers of Women's fiction, who enjoy a bit of mystery thrown in. 

Man Booker Prize

The winner of the Man Booker Prize was announced at a ceremony last night, October 14, in London.  Prominent Australian author, Richard Flanagan, is the first Tasmanian to take out the £50,000 ($88,000) prize with his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which tells the story of prisoners of war on the Burma Railway. 

There have been only two other Australian winners in past years - Thomas Keneally in 1982 for Schindler's Ark and Peter Carey for Oscar and Lucinda in 1988 and True History of the Kelly Gang in 2001.

United States authors were included in this year's award for the first time.

Death Mask

Death Mask by Kathryn Fox
Book 5 in the Dr. Anya Crichton series.

Forensic physician Dr Anya Crichton is presented with a patient who has returned from her honeymoon with multiple sexually transmitted infections. Her husband has none of them. She tearfully denies having had any other partners and Anya believes her. Is this a medical phenomenon or has something more sinister taken place? 

Anya's investigation into the case results in a ground-breaking study that attracts international attention. Her expertise leads to an invitation to New York to address over three hundred football players in the US Professional League. The enigmatic private investigator Ethan 'Catcher' Rye is assigned to assist Anya during the summit. When an alleged rape involving five football players takes place, Anya is commissioned to investigate. She is immediately thrust into a subculture of violence, sexual assault and drug abuse. No one is what he or she seems. Anya soon discovers a devastating truth about the players that threatens to shut down the eight billion dollar football industry. Now lives, including her own, are in danger...

I thought I had been reading this series in order, but apparently I missed no. 4, Blood Born.  Never mind, most of these can be read pretty much as stand-alone books which is a good thing. The first three – Malicious Intent, Without Consent, and Skin and Bone, were powerful, but good. In my opinion, this one is not.  It was a disturbing, uncomfortable read - brutal and sleazy.  The subject matter is definitely not entertaining, and the storyline wasn't engaging enough as a 'whodunnit' to bother sticking with it. Some other reviewers have said how good it was to have the many views in this book thrown into the public arena to create discussion, but for me ... I shouldn't have borrowed it and I’m glad to be moving on to something else.  

As an aside, I listened to the audio format and Jennifer Vilutec delivered an excellent narration.  I've heard her before on other titles and have been impressed with her characterisations, particularly male voices which she does very well, so if you see her name on an audio book you're in for a listening treat.

All the Birds Singing

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Jake Whyte is an outsider haunted by her past. She has moved from outback Australia to a remote unnamed island off the West coast of England where she lives with only her dog, Dog. Here she works on a sheep farm but there is someone, or something, killing them off, one by one.

As she tries to unravel the mystery of her present, her past and why she ended up on the other side of the world is slowly revealed.

I really enjoyed this work of fiction which won the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award. The story is compelling and well structured with Jake’s past and present alternating with each chapter. The very different landscapes are evocatively described and the characters are mysterious.
Highly recommended.

Leaving Time

Leaving Time by Jodie Picoult

For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice's old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother's whereabouts. Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons--only to later doubt her gifts. The second is Virgil Stanhope, a jaded private detective who originally investigated Alice's case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they'll have to face even harder answers. As Jenna's memories dovetail with the events in her mother's journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish.

I was very disappointed with this book. After her great book The Storyteller last year I eagerly waited to read this new one. Firstly, the story was dominated by the history of elephants. If I wanted to know about them I would have picked up a non-fiction book! It really took away from the storyline and became quite annoying to me.

I won't give anything away but the usual "twist" at the end was really ridiculous and I thought very unbelievable. I will be reluctant to read any more of her books in the future which is so disappointing.

Almost French

Almost French by Sarah Turnbull    

From the cover:  After backpacking her way around Europe, SBS TV journalist Sarah Turnbull is ready to embark on one last adventure before heading home to Sydney. A chance meeting with a charming Frenchman in Bucharest changes her travel plans forever.  Acting on impulse, she agrees to visit Fredric in Paris for a week. Put a very French Frenchman together with a strong-willed Australian girl and the result is some spectacular - and often hilarious - cultural clashes. Language is a minefield of misunderstanding and the simple act of buying a baguette is fraught with social danger.

But as she navigates the highs and lows of this strange new world, from the sophisticated cafes and haute couture fashion houses to the picture postcard French countryside, little by little Sarah falls under its spell: passionate, mysterious, infuriating, and charged with that French specialty - seduction. And it becomes her home. 

I think the line on the cover: “the story of an Australian woman’s impetuous heart and finding love in a magical city” is quite misleading – this is not a chick lit romance but quite a deep-thinking, probing kind of read.  

I found this book an absolute treat.  Sarah’s journalistic skills not only make it an easy and enjoyable read, but her investigative mind continually probes to understand why the French are so ‘French’ and what makes them that way!  From her arrival - the search for work, lack of language and living in an insular outer suburb, to finally moving into a Paris apartment (six flights of stairs and no lift), while coming to grips with no car, no friends, and always perceived as a dreaded ‘Anglo-Saxon’ - this journey of one beach-going Sydney-sider in a pocket-size city of stone with bleak light has many rewards along the way.  We have this title in various formats and the Bolinda e-Audio download that I borrowed was very well narrated by Caroline Lee. It was très bon!

Fast track

Fast track by Julie Garwood.

Raised by her father after her mother's death when she was two, Cordelia is shattered when her father reveals the truth about her mother. She discovers the answers lie in Sydney, Australia. There she meets up with hotel magnate Aiden Madison, her best friend's older brother. He has troubles of his own - multiple attempts have been made on his life since he angered a Congressman when he refused to buy overvalued land.  It is a wild ride for them both.

Julie always writes good, exciting suspense.

~ Dot


Gorgon by Greig Beck

Book 5 in the Alex Hunter series.
From the cover:  Alex Hunter has been found, sullen, alone, leaving a path of destruction as he travels across America. Only the foolish get in his way of the drifter wandering the streets late at night. Across the world, something has been released by a treasure hunter in a hidden chamber of the Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul. Something hidden there by Emperor Constantine himself, and deemed by him too horrifying and dangerous to ever be set free. It now stalks the land, leaving its victims turned to stone, and is headed on a collision course with a NATO base. The Americans can’t let it get there, but can’t be seen to intervene. There is only one option, send in the HAWCs. But Alex and the HAWCs are not the only ones seeking out the strange being, the Russian brute, Uli Borshov, who has a score to settle with the Arcadian, moves to intercept him, setting up a deadly collision of epic proportions where only one can survive.

I LOVE this series and I’m not sure why; it’s set on a US military base with personnel involved in covert global operations, it’s full of high tech gung-ho and it’s very violent – all of which is a total turnoff for me!  It’s probably the science, history and the characters that captivate me; that part of it is more your Indiana Jones/Six Million Dollar Man meets The Twilight Zone/Outer Limits crossover, and I do enjoy good supernatural/suspense/historical mythology/thrillers! 

This is no. 5 in the Alex Hunter series and it’s better in my opinion than the previous. Despite the content, which is contiguously spell-binding and repulsive, it’s good to welcome back a bit of humanity in our hero – he was becoming too mechanical and brutal there for a while.  I also enjoyed the return of our Paleo-linguistic hero, Professor Matt Kearns, and some other characters from previous books.  It seems like we’re not done yet with Alex Hunter, and I’m really looking forward to the next one - there’s some unresolved romance to happen yet!  If you're borrowing the audio - either CD, MP3 or downloadable e-audio, it is once again brilliantly narrated by Sean Mangan.  We also have this title in hard copy.  Well done to our Bondi author Greig Beck.

The Silkworm

The Silkworm is the second title in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith - the sequel to The Cuckoo's Calling.

I read the Cuckoo's Calling initially when I discovered that Robert Galbraith was the psydoneum for J.K. Rowling.  I read The Silkworm because I enjoyed Cuckoo's Calling.  And here's what The Silkworm was all about:

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days--as he has done before--and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home. But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives--meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced. When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before.

Although the novel is the second of the Cormoran Strike novels, you don't need to read the first to be able to follow the second. Having said that, you do get a better sense of the background behind the main characters if you do read them in order.

As for The Silkworm, there is much that is disturbing about the story.  The poisoning pen portraits are quite sexually graphic and provoking, but you can easily gloss over the sections that describe this if you wish. The Silkworm, as with The Cuckoo's Calling, is engaging, interesting and although I picked up on some of the twists, I was still a little surprised with who the villain ended up being.

Galbraith writes well, has an intriguing and macabre sense which come through well in this story, but despite the disturbing images that the crime makes you envision, I was really taken with the story and had to take time out to finish it all in one sitting, just to find out 'whodunnit' and why.

If you don't mind graphic scenes and like a good whodunnit with fascinating characters, then you really have to read the Silkworm.

~ Michelle

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

From the cover: Pirriwee Public’s annual school Trivia Night has ended in a shocking riot. One parent is dead. The school principal is horrified. As police investigate what appears to have been a tragic accident, signs begin to indicate that this devastating death might have been cold-blooded murder.  This book deftly explores the reality of parenting and playground politics, ex-husbands and ex-wives, and fractured families.  It also shows us the truth about what really goes on behind closed suburban doors.

This suspenseful novel is written with its shocking event revealed at the very beginning. The story is crafted to explain the events leading up to the death at Pirriwee Public’s annual school trivia night.  Big Little Lies takes us back and gives us a feel for the schoolyard politics, friendships, divisions, affairs and budding romances of the peninsula township, with little snippets from witnesses and other parents thrown into the mix.  

I thoroughly enjoyed Big Little Lies. Its short, punchy chapters make it a perfect novel for busy parents and, with children of a similar age, I related to plenty of the conversations and statements - “you get what you get and you don’t get upset!”  While it’s definitely a page turner, this is no lightweight. The book covers bullying, body image, the vulnerability of teens on social media, infidelity, custody battles and domestic violence. An enthralling suspense novel!
Sandra E

Bones Under the Beach Hut

Bones Under the Beach Hut by Simon Brett

From the cover:  Amateur sleuths Carole Seddon and her best friend Jude are drawn in to the mystery of human remains found under a beach hut at the affluent seaside resort of Smalting.  Their suspicions are many and varied, but when the bones are identified, the ghosts of the past are painfully reawakened and long-hidden secrets begin to surface.  It’s clear that there is more than one criminal in idyllic Smalting, and that more than one crime has been committed.

“Enchantingly gifted” says the Sunday Times.  “One of the wittiest crime writers around” says Antonia Fraser. Hmmmm.  I really enjoyed Mrs Pargeter’s Pound of Flesh by Simon Brett (one of the now series of Mrs. Pargeter novels). It was a hoot with its colourful characters such as ‘Ankle-deep Arkwright’ and ’Stan the Stapler’, so I was gleefully looking forward to a good chuckle with this book. I liked the sound of the English seaside setting; a beach hut is certainly an original stage for a murder mystery.

Unfortunately, there’s neither humour nor much detecting joy in this unappealing story. Chief protagonist, Carole Seddon, is teeth-gnashingly annoying.  The storyline is grubby with its undertones of paedophilia and pornography, blackmail and corruption; and is populated with irritating characters who range from the bourgeois and smarmy, to downright pathetic and totally unbelievable. 

Definitely not a book to recommend.  Stick with Mrs. Pargeter for a good dose of English crime-foolery.
PS: I have since found out that this is Book 15 in a series called The Fethering Mysteries. Hopefully the others are better.  

Point of Origin

Point of Origin by Patricia Cornwell

From the cover:  Dr Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner and consulting pathologist for the federal law enforcement agency ATF, is called out to a farmhouse in Virginia which has been destroyed by fire. In the ruins of the house she finds a body which tells a story of a violent and grisly murder. 

The fire has come at the same time as another, even more incendiary horror: Carrie Grethen, a killer who nearly destroyed the lives of Scarpetta and those closest to her, has escaped from a forensic psychiatric hospital. Her whereabouts is unknown, but her ultimate destination is not, for Carrie has begun to communicate with Scarpetta, conveying her deadly – if cryptic – plans for revenge. 

This is Book 9 in the Scarpetta series, and I think I’ve read an earlier one but can’t recall which.  No matter, although there are previous references to past happenings and people, it doesn’t really detract from the story – it’s still scary and unsettling.  If you have a weak stomach it’s probably best to avoid this series.  There’s a lot of blood and guts, she is a medical examiner in the morgue after all, but some of the more gory scenes are outside in the normal day-to-day world.  That’s where the psychopaths are, mingling with the likes of us which is probably the most chilling thing.

After so many books, Cornwell is seemingly at the height of her prowess; this book is very well crafted and surprisingly, emotional - I needed the tissue box at one stage.  But the slow-building suspense that clinches your stomach muscles and does not let go is what makes it so good.   

Heston at Home

Heston Blumenthal at Home by Heston Blumenthal 

Until now, home cooking has remained stubbornly out of touch with technological development but Heston Blumenthal, champion of the scientific kitchen, changes all that with this radical book. 

With meticulous precision, he explains what the most effective techniques are and why they work. Heston's instructions are precise and easy to follow, with lots of helpful tips, and each chapter is introduced with an explanation of Heston's approach to 1) Stocks 2) Soups 3) Starters 4) Salads 5) Meat 6) Fish 7) Sous-vide 8) Pasta and grains 9) Cheese 10) Sides and condiments 11) Ices 12) Desserts and sweets 13) Biscuits, snacks and drinks. Heston Blumenthal at Home will change the way you think about cooking forever - prepare for a culinary revolution!

Don’t be put off by this chef’s reputation - none of these recipes require test tubes, liquid nitrogen, or a science degree. The “master” of culinary theatre has put together a collection of recipes true to the book’s name. You can cook these at home - I’ve done it (well, a few, anyway).

The dishes in this book are definitely not “weekday” dinners. They are special occasion meals - designed to impress. Be prepared to spend the best part of a day in the kitchen, and a lot of washing up. All of the recipes are accompanied by beautiful colour photographs, so you know how the dish is meant to look. No fancy equipment is needed, and the ingredients are not difficult to obtain. However I did need to travel to Knox to obtain “cornichons”, which turned out to be very similar to little gherkins.

These recipes are perfect for someone who loves to cook, and is happy to spend time to make something spectacular.
Kim S.

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Tempting Fate by Jane Green

When Gabby first met Elliott she knew he was the man for her. In twenty years of marriage she has never doubted her love for him - even when he refused to give her the one thing she still wants most of all. But now their two daughters are growing up Gabby feels that time and her youth are slipping away. For the first time in her life she is restless. And then she meets Matt . . .

Intoxicated by the way this young, handsome and successful man makes her feel, Gabby is momentarily blind to what she stands to lose on this dangerous path. And in one reckless moment she destroys all that she holds dear.

Consumed by regret, Gabby does everything she can to repair the home she has broken. But are some betrayals too great to forgive?

Another fantastic, realistic book from Jane Green. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed all her books. This story is about Gabby who is happily married with two daughters, but one night that changes everything, and she tells about the consequences and the impact it has on her once happy family. I listened to this on audio book which was narrated by Jane Green herself - she did a fantastic job.


Toyo by Lily Chan.

Blending the intimacy of memoir with an artist's vision, Toyo is the story of a remarkable woman, a vivid picture of Japan before and after war, and an unpredictable tale of courage and change in today's Australia. 

Born into the traditional world of pre-war Osaka, Toyo must always protect the secret of her parents' true relationship. Her father lives in China with his wife; her unmarried mother runs a café. Toyo and her mother are beautiful and polite, keeping themselves in society's good graces. Then comes the rain of American bombs. Toyo's life is uprooted again and again. With each sharp change and painful loss, she becomes more herself and more aware of where she has come from. She finds family and belief, but still clings to her parents' secret. In Toyo, Lily Chan has pieced together the unconventional shape of her grandmother's story. Vibrant and ultimately heart-rending, Toyo is the chronicle of an extraordinary life, infused with a granddaughter's love. 

This is a beautiful tribute written by a granddaughter about her grandmother’s unusual story from her pre-war relationship.  It reads like a novel but blends the fascinating culture and history of the times. 

Love, Rosie

Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern

Sometimes fate just can't stop meddling... Since childhood, Rosie and Alex have stuck by each other through thick and thin. But they're separated when Alex and his family move from Dublin to America. Their magical connection remains but can their friendship survive the years and miles? Misunderstandings, circumstances and sheer bad luck have kept them apart - until now. But will they gamble everything - including their friendship - on true love? And what twists and surprises does fate have in store for them this time? 

I really enjoyed this book. I read it because the movie version is coming out soon. It was first published as WHERE RAINBOWS END, but has now been filmed as LOVE, ROSIE. The majority of the book is told in either letter/instant message/phone call and is a traditional chick lit book by this popular Irish author. Highly recommended for light feel-good readers.


Shearwater by Andrea Mayes 

From the cover:  Cassie Callinan is a dutiful corporate wife, carefully preserving the safety of the status quo and her husband's camellias. When she learns she has lost her husband to a younger woman, she panics. Who is she, without the familiar props of her marriage? Fleeing her own life, Cassie finds herself amongst the eccentric inhabitants of Shearwater, an isolated coastal village. Against her will, she is gradually drawn into the life of the town with all its dramas, joy and secrets, and begins to discover who she really is. 

This is a depressing story, one that starts as character-driven then unwinding slowly to morph into a mystery but hardly a gripping one. The writing is quite lyrical at times, painting a picture of the sea and sand in all its seasonal forms and the birds...  I loved that.  But the rest is fairly pedestrian and basically it was a mildly interesting time-filler narrated well by Marie-Louise Walker.  This was a Bolinda e-audiobook download, but we also have it in hard copy and audio CD.

Clay Gully

Clay Gully: stories from an Apple Orchard
 by Sally van Gent

Sally van Gent wonders how to utilise the beautiful land of Clay Gully. Goats? A vineyard? Remembering the sweet fruit she ate as a child she decides to establish a heritage apple orchard. She sets to work - and soon enough, rains falter, bugs, birds and feral animals attack the trees, and a snake takes refuge in the leg of her jeans. As the drought takes its toll and animals in the surrounding bush begin to suffer, Sally fights to keep her orchard alive. 

This delightful biography, set in country Victoria would make a perfect gift.  It is beautifully illustrated with line drawings of her dogs, the wildlife and seasonal activities in the orchard with all its challenges - the drought settling in and her struggles to keep the orchard alive.  


The Girl on the Landing

The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday

From the cover:  A ghost story, a psychological thriller and a tale of love rediscovered, The Girl on the Landing is the gripping new novel from the author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

The novel begins as Michael, a middle-aged man of means, is dressing for dinner at a friend's country house in Ireland. As he descends the grand staircase, he spots a small painting of a landing with an old linen press and a white marble statue of an angel. In the background is a woman clad in a dark green dress. During dinner, Michael comments on the painting to his hosts but they say there is no woman in the picture. When Michael goes up to bed later, he sees that they are correct. This is only the first in a series of incidents that lead Michael to question his grip on reality. His wife Elilzabeth is unsettled by the changes she sees in a man she originally married and she is aware that she has never really known him. Michael, in the meantime, is disturbed by events at his family's ancestral home in the wilds of Scotland and by a past that is threatening to destroy everything, and everyone, he has ever loved.   

This is a very conflicting novel.  Is it indeed a ghost story or a psychological thriller?  It is initially so mind-numbingly boring I can’t think why I stuck with it.  It’s so terribly, terribly English, said in my best Mayfair accent, with its Men’s club for dinner and bridge, a spot of golf, whiskey and water in crystal glasses and ‘shall we hunt deer on the weekend, what?’ Further in, it changes and we confront mental illness, schizophrenia and psychotic drugs and become aware of a rather menacing undercurrent.  By the end of it, it is a gripping thriller; and if that's not enough, a rather  haunting and disturbing epilogue winds it all up.  At one stage near the end, I had to Google ‘Lamia’, and now I wish I hadn’t. 

I listened to the playaway format which was cleverly narrated by Clare Wille as Elizabeth and David Monteath as Michael/Mikey but we also have this in other audio and print formats. 

The author, Paul Torday, passed away last year.   After the success of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen in 2006, he wrote The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce, then this one, followed by The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers, More Than You Can Say, The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall, and Light Shining in the Forest. I wonder if all of them are as disturbing as The Girl on the Landing?