Reading Rewards - reviews

The Hexed

The Hexed by Heather Graham
Book 13 of the Krewe of Hunters series.

Devin Lyle has recently returned to the Salem area, but her timing couldn't be worse. Soon after she moved into the eighteenth-century cabin she inherited from her great-aunt Mina—her "crazy" great-aunt, who spoke to the dead—a woman was murdered nearby. 

Craig Rockwell, known as Rocky, is a new member of the Krewe of Hunters. He never got over finding a friend dead in the woods. Now another body's been found in those same woods, not far from the home of Devin Lyle. And Devin's been led to a third body — by a ghost? 

Her discovery draws them both deeper into the case and Salem's rich and disturbing history. Even as the danger mounts, Devin and Rocky begin to fall for each other, something the ghosts of Mina and past witches seem to approve of. But the two of them need every skill they possess to learn the truth—or Devin's might be the next body in the woods

Another in the Krewe of Hunters series.  The Krewe is a branch of the FBI who specialise in paranormal cases and the setting for this one is Salem and the witch trials.  As well as lots of interesting information about that, there are old friends, new characters, murders, old ghosts and people who can see and talk to the dead.  It’s a good mystery with a unique twist.

Flight MH370

Flight MH370: the mystery by Nigel Cawthorne

Just after midnight on 8 March 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. At 01:19 it literally disappeared. It has never been heard from or sighted since. All 239 people on board are now presumed dead. 

Author Nigel Cawthorne has written a fascinating book about this unsolved mystery. The story still seems fresh in the mind, and the newspaper and television reports are easily remembered so there is strong motivation for the reader to “find out what really happened”. Of course, this book cannot and does not provide the ultimate answer, but it sure does weave an enthralling tale. Was it a terrorist attack? An aircraft malfunction? Pilot suicide? And did the Malaysian government “cover up” the true story? 

While the book is slight, it is a rollicking read that grips the reader from the first to the last page. It also makes you a bit wary of plane flight though!  A good book to finish off in a night’s sitting.

Cooking the Books

Cooking the Books by Kerry Greenwood

From the cover:  Corinna Chapman, talented baker and reluctant investigator, is trying to do nothing at all on her holidays. Her gorgeous Daniel is only intermittently at her side. Jason, her baking offsider, has gone off to learn how to surf. And Kylie and Goss are fulfilling their lives' ambition auditioning for a soapie. It should be a time of quiet reflection for Corinna but she's bored. Scenting a whiff of danger, Corinna accepts an offer to do the baking for the film set of a new soap called 'Kiss the Bride' where Kylie and Goss have parts. Things that could only happen to Corinna ensue involving, bizarrely, nursery rhymes and a tiger called Tabitha. While on the other side of town, a young woman is being unmercifully bullied by her corporate employers, employers who spend a lot of time cooking the books.

Possibly more famous for her Phryne Fisher series, Kerry Greenwood still delights with her Corinna Chapman series [this is book 6].  Modern day baker, amateur sleuth, and a size 20 lovely lady who is adored for her curves by the delicious Daniel, Greenwood's light and entertaining mysteries are filled with recipes for murder, mayhem, smooching and munchies. 

Corinna's bakery, Earthly Delights, is set in Calico alley, a fictitious but totally believable laneway off Flinders Street in Melbourne and local landmarks feature aplenty, something I always enjoy in books – you can so identify with the location which puts you right there in the scene!  Couple this with a cast of colourful characters that share Corinna’s Romanesque apartment building; the bakery customers and laneway neighbours; her beautiful cat Horatio and the not so beautiful but heroic ‘mouse police’ that prowl the bakery at night; oh, and sundry ne’er-do-wells and you’re in for a pleasurable few hours entertainment!  I enjoyed the audio version narrated by the talented Louise Siversen, but we have this series in all formats.  In order, they are:  Earthly Delights, Heavenly Pleasures, Devil’s Food, Trick or Treat, Forbidden Fruit and this one, Cooking the Books.   Indulge!

Jacaranda Blue

Jacaranda Blue by Joy Dettman
From the cover: For 44 years Stella Templeton has been a dutiful daughter and a good citizen living in Maidenville, population 2800, a town where nothing happens. Until one hot summer afternoon... 
An ugly act has lifted the respectable skirts of Maidenville and mystery starts to surround the daughter of the local minister. Then the disappearance of a 16-year-old boy adds to the neighbourhood's confusion. Does something sinister lurk behind the neatly trimmed hedges and white picket fences that divide this sleepy town? 
No one comes close to knowing the horrifying truth - but after 44 years of self denial and duty, Stella Templeton is finally beginning to blossom.
Stella Templeton's quaint small town and suppressed existence is thrown into disarray after an intense and violent act. This is a very engaging story involving a murder mystery and the prying eyes of well-drawn characters. 
The audio book version (read by Deidre Rubenstein) is very good and highly recommended.Ali

Two for the armchair traveller

On the Slow Train Again by Michael Williams
Michael Williams spent a year travelling along the rail byways of Britain and this book is the result.  A pleasant read for those who like to take their armchair on a road less travelled - you will go from the far north of Scotland to the west of Wales.  Good fun!  Fay
The Inn at the Top by Neil Hanson
In the late 1970s, Neil Hanson and his wife decided on a whim to take up innkeeping at the highest pub in Britain, located on a very windswept hill in the Yorkshire Dales where the locals have many words for ‘rain’.  Despite a complete inability to understand the dialect of the sheep farmers who were the local customers; despite the howling wind, their inexperience at innkeeping and that the pub was awful, they fell in love with the Dales on the spot.  Well worth the read!  Fay

Peter Pan Must Die

Peter Pan Must Die is the fourth in the Dave Gurney series by John Verdon

Dave Gurney is a retired NYPD homicide cop with amazing skill to solve the most puzzling of murders. In Peter Pan Must Die, Gurney is encouraged by a former police colleague, Jack Hardwick, to assist finding the truth to a shocking murder that couldn’t have been committed the way the police say it was. He becomes immersed in the mystery and intrigue to determine the guilt or innocence of a woman already convicted of killing her powerful politician husband – who was shot in the head while delivering the eulogy at his mother’s funeral.

Consisting of multiple murders and startling twists and turns, this novel is brilliant in delivering a thrilling plot. I have not read the first three books in the Dave Gurney series, but will be sure to read the others now, and continue to look for further novels by John Verdon in the future! 

I would thoroughly recommend this to fans of thrillers and murder mysteries. It was fine to read as a stand alone title. Readers should note however that there is some harsh language used.  
~ Narelle

Man Book Shortlist 2014

The £50,000  Man Booker Prize for Fiction embraces "the freedom of English in all its vigour, its vitality, its versatility and its glory wherever it may be".  Judges consider authors from anywhere in the world, so long as their work was in English and published in the UK.  Just announced:  

Joshua Ferris (US) - To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Richard Flanagan (Australian) - The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Karen Joy Fowler (US) - We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Howard Jacobson (British) - J

Neel Mukherjee (British) - The Lives of Others

Ali Smith (British) - How to be Both

Chair of the 2014 judges, AC Grayling, commented on behalf of the judges:
‘We are delighted to announce our international shortlist. As the Man Booker Prize expands its borders, these six exceptional books take the reader on journeys around the world, between the UK, New York, Thailand, Italy, Calcutta and times past, present and future.'

We have all these titles on our shelves - why not click on one to borrow and you be the judge - "Booker Prize or not?"

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project: or why I spent a year trying to sing in the morning, clean my closets, fight right, read Aristotle, and generally have more fun by Gretchen Rubin
From the cover: One rainy afternoon, while riding a city bus, Gretchen Rubin asked herself, “What do I want from life, anyway?” She answered, “I want to be happy” — yet she spent no time thinking about her happiness. In a flash, she decided to dedicate a year to a happiness project. The result? One of the most thoughtful and engaging works on happiness to have emerged from the recent explosion of interest in the subject.
The Happiness Project synthesises the wisdom of the ages with current scientific research, as Rubin brings readers along on her year to greater happiness.In fact, Rubin’s “happiness project” no longer describes just a book or a blog; it’s a movement. Happiness Project groups, where people meet to discuss their happiness projects, have sprung up across the US — and across the world.
Lawyer-turned-writer Gretchen Rubin lives in New York City with her husband and two young daughters. She spends one year trying to increase her happiness in all aspects of her life with mixed results. Each month she decides on area that she will target such as "health", "love" or "money" and shares with the reader her trials and tribulations as she test-drives various theories and puts her happiness plan into action.

The Happiness Project is well researched and includes heaps of practical suggestions for increasing your wellbeing and, ultimately, your happiness. I particularly enjoyed Gretchen's daily adventures as she searched for both serenity and excitement amid the mundane routines of parenthood.

While her quest could seem self indulgent, the book is written in a lively way and has plenty of food for thought for anyone who would like to take time out from their busy lives to enjoy what really matters.


The Perfect Scent

The Perfect Scent: a year inside the perfume industry in Paris and New York by Chandler Burr

The Perfect Scent is the thrilling inside story of the global perfume industry, told through two creators working on two very different scents. The first is commissioned by the French luxury brand Hermés, and developed by a perfumer named Jean-Claude Ellena, who begins his search for the scent on the banks of the Nile. The second is a celebrity fragrance, developed in New York by movie star Sarah Jessica Parker and a team of perfumers from a global conglomerate. Chalder Burr's thrilling narrative follows each scent from the initial concept to the worldwide launch. The Perfect Scent is the story of two daring creators, two very different scents, and a billion-dollar industry that runs on the invisible magic of perfume.

This book gives an insight into what goes on in the ultra secretive multi-million dollar perfume industry. Chandler Burr, perfume critic for the New York Times, spent a year behind the scenes watching both creators at work. He has written a colourful and riveting account of the characters from Paris’ exclusive Hermes brand and New York’s Sarah Jessica Parker team vying  for a spot in the “celebrity perfume” market.  This was a great read!

The Accident

The Accident by Chris Pavone

From the cover:  In New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of an anonymous manuscript. In Copenhagen, CIA operative Hayden Gray is suddenly staring down the barrel of a gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life. Over the course of one long, perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, placing everything at risk – and everyone in mortal peril.

This very complicated plot requires attention to detail. The story exposes a fatal accident that could bring down a media mogul, if true.  Through a series of events, multiple people read the manuscript, such as Isabel’s assistant, a rights director, a grandiose film producer, and Isabel’s star editor, which in turn puts them all at risk. This thrilling read includes mystery, mayhem and murder.
I love a good read with twists and turns and this story has plenty of them. Plus the ending of the book was jaw-dropping! The Accident is definitely an intriguing and thrilling tale.
I listened to the audio book version of this story, narrated by Laurence Bouvard [female]. It is also available in Playaway format and in print. 
~ Narelle

Sane New World

Over 2 million Australians are affected by depression and/or anxiety in Australia each year.  For those who endure these conditions and for those who love them, it is difficult.  But help can be found by reading from those who endure the same.  One of those is Sane New World by comedian Ruby Wax.
Ruby Wax comedian, writer and mental health campaigner shows us how our minds can jeopardize our sanity. With her own periods of depression and now a Masters from Oxford in Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy to draw from, she explains how our busy, chattering, self critical thoughts drive us to anxiety and stress. If we are to break the cycle, we need to understand how our brains work, rewire our thinking and find calm in a frenetic world. Helping you become the master, not the slave, of your mind, here is the manual to saner living.
As someone who has family members with depression and anxiety this book was both eye opening, very informative and with Ruby’s dry wit, often amusing.  She manages to make the topic interesting and understandable and gives you hope that there is a way through.
If you are one of the many Australians with mental illness or know someone who does, then Ruby gives you not only a good education on the topic (she studied neuroscience at Oxford to get it), but also hope for the future.
It is a difficult read at times because it is a subject I am close to, but it was funny as well, with laugh out loud moments.  Well worth the read.

~ Michelle

Midnight Bayou

Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts 
From the cover:  Declan Fitzgerald had always been the family maverick, but even he couldn't understand his impulse to buy a dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans. All he knew was that ever since he saw Manet Hall, he'd been enchanted - and obsessed - with it. Determined to restore Manet Hall to its former splendour, Declan begins the daunting renovation room by room, relying on his own labour and skills. But the days spent in total isolation in the empty house take a toll. He is seeing visions of days from a century past, and experiencing sensations of terror and nearly unbearable grief - sensations not his own, but those of a stranger. Local legend has it that the house is haunted, and with every passing day Declan's belief in the ghostly presence grows. Only the companionship of the alluring Angelina Simone can distract him from the mysterious happenings in the house, but Angelina too has her own surprising connection to Manet Hall - a connection that will help Declan uncover a secret that's been buried for a hundred years.

A few years ago I had a binge on Nora Roberts books.  I had been quite taken with her writing style and that little touch of ‘magic' that wound through her stories lifting them out of the routine romance genre.   She is a prolific author, with some 209 novels published to date. Many of these are series  – The Donovans, Dream, the Key trilogy, the Garden trilogy, Chesapeake Bay, the Gallaghers, Three Sisters Island etc. – and some stand alone titles, as this one was.  Once again I fell under the spell of her characters and the setting, and as I love a good haunted house story, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The audio version was expertly narrated by James Daniels and Sandra Burr.

Death at Victoria Dock

Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood

From the cover:  The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, beautifully dressed in loose trousers, a cream silk shirt and a red-fox fur has just had her windscreen shot out inches in front of her divine nose. But worse is the fate of the pale young man lying on the road, his body hit by bullets, who draws his final blood-filled breath with Phryne at his side. Outraged by this brutal slaughter, Phryne promises to find out who is responsible. She doesn't yet know how deeply into the mire she'll have to go - bank robbery, tattoo parlours, pubs, spiritualist halls and the Anarchists. Along this path, Phryne meets Peter, a battle-scarred, sexy Slav, who offers much more to her than just information. But all thoughts of these delights flee from her mind when her beloved maid, Dot, disappears. 

If you've been stranded on a desert isle for quite some time, you wouldn't have met up with this 1920’s St. Kilda-based detective.  The Hon. Phryne Fisher stars in at least 20 novels [and if you're anything like me, you would not have read them in order!] and has been a hit series on ABC TV.  In this, book 4 in the series, anarchists and politics make for boring bedfellows indeed, but luckily the talented Ms Greenwood wields her pen in other directions, bringing yet another light but entertaining  mystery onto our shelves.  We have this series in all formats - Stephanie Daniel narrates all the audio versions with her usual aplomb. 

A Long Way Home

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose

From the cover: When Saroo Brierley used Google Earth to find his long-lost home town half a world away, he made global headlines. Saroo had become lost on a train in India at the age of five. Not knowing the name of his family or where he was from, he survived for weeks on the streets of Kolkata, before being taken into an orphanage and adopted by a couple in Australia. Despite being happy in his new family, Saroo always wondered about his origins. He spent hours staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall. When he was a young man the advent of Google Earth led him to pour over satellite images of the country for landmarks he recognised. And one day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for. Then he set off on a journey to find his mother.

This is a fascinating story about international adoption and how technology is helping adopted children find their birth parents. Saroo’s accidental journey across India on a train and his survival on the streets of Kolkata is an amazing story just on its own. However, it’s his achievement as an adult in Australia – combing through thousands perhaps millions of satellite images of India’s countryside for several years until he finds his neighbourhood – that’s just staggering.

A Long Way Home gives a remarkable glimpse into the culture clash that Saroo experienced when moving from an Indian orphanage to a comfortable middle-class life in Hobart. The book describes how his Australian parents adopted Saroo and another Indian boy, Mantosh, as a way to help children in need from developing countries, not because they were unable to have children themselves. It would have been interesting to hear more about the reactions of his friends and family – his adopted parents in particular – when he finally found his home town and embarked on the trip to India to find his birth family. However, A Long Way Home is certainly a very satisfying memoir. It is an inspirational story about never giving up hope.
Sandra E.

After Darkness

After Darkness by Christine Piper

From the cover: While working at a Japanese hospital in the pearling port of Broome, Dr Ibaraki is arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Loveday internment camp in a remote corner of South Australia. There, he learns to live among a group of men who are divided by culture and allegiance. As tensions at the isolated camp escalate, the doctor's long-held beliefs are thrown into question and he is forced to confront his dark past: the promise he made in Japan and its devastating consequences.

After Darkness is an Australian war story with a difference. It sheds light on the experiences of the Japanese who were sent to internment camps in remote Australia during World War II.
Dr Tomakazu Ibaraki was a medical researcher in Japan and started a new life in Broome after losing his job and his wife. A gentleman with great discretion, honour and loyalty, Ibaraki finds it difficult to open up to his colleague, Sister Bernice, in Broome and damages their friendship as a result. War breaks out and he joins the rest of his countrymen at an internment camp in South Australia.
Piper, who has a Japanese mother and an Australian father, brings the harsh Australian environment to life throughout the story. She deftly describes the highlights and low points of camp life such as the cleaning rosters, cultural performances, baseball competitions and internal politics. It is at Camp Loveday that Ibaraki begins to push aside his reserve and bury his demons so that he can support the angry and depressed young Australian-born men who are struggling with their incarceration. 
A compelling wartime tale from an alternate point of view, After Darkness won The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award 2014.
This was the first eBook I've borrowed through the Library's BorrowBox app and I was impressed with how easy it was to access. The novel is also available in hard copy. Sandra E.

Grace's Table

Grace’s Table by Sally Piper.

From the cover:  Grace has not had twelve people at her table for a long time. Hers isn't the kind of family who share regular Sunday meals. But it isn't every day you turn seventy. As Grace prepares the feast, she reflects on her life, her marriage and her friendships. When the three generations come together, simmering tensions from the past threaten to boil over. The one thing that no one can talk about is the one thing that no one can forget. Grace's Table is a moving and often funny novel about the power of memory and the family rituals that define us.

Ah, mothers and daughters.  Such a strong love/hate connection in a lot of cases, and one that is perfectly illustrated in this debut novel by Australian author, Sally Piper. [Grace's Table was short-listed in the 2011 Queensland Premiers Literary Award's emerging Queensland author category.]

This in-depth character study shows how there is more than one perception of actions and behaviour; what is the best way to handle something is definitely not right for another.  Families are notorious for distorting or twisting things, and years can be lost in bitterness and misplaced grief.  This would be a good choice for book discussion groups as there are many sides to many relationships here. There are some characters that are more than prickly, and others that just make you smile.  I enjoyed the mother/daughter chats while preparing vegetables - Mum likes it this way, daughter likes it that.  Yes - just like it was when I was with my Mum!
No action-packed thriller here, just an astute look at human nature.

Victor Hugo: Les Mis

The State Library of Victoria invites you [FREE] to:

Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage panel discussion: The social conscience and the popular novel – Victor Hugo and his contemporaries.

Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles Dickens were all bestselling authors of their time – Hugo’s Les Misérables sold 6000 copies a day when it was published in 1862. Each of these writers touched on themes of repression, poverty and political unrest in their novels. Did they deliberately tap into the current concerns of the day or were they just producing ripping good yarns?

Join Melbourne writer Jane Sullivan as she chairs a lively and entertaining discussion about the 19th-century novel and the social conscience. Jane's column ‘Turning pages’, about books and writing, runs in the Saturday Age. Her latest novel, Little people, was published by Scribe.

Panellists include historian Anna Welch, who worked as the assistant curator on our exhibition Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage; Brian Nelson, Emeritus Professor of French Studies at Monash University, who is well known for his critical studies and translations of the work of Émile Zola; and world-renowned translator Julie Rose. Julie's 2008 translation of Les Misérables is the first full original unabridged English translation of the book.

Date: Thursday 28 August 2014, 6:00pm - 7:15pm
Cost: Free 
Bookings: Book online or phone 03 8664 7099 or
Venue: The Courtyard, Main entry, Swanston St


The Silence of the Sea

The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdarttir  

From the cover: 'Mummy dead.' The child's pure treble was uncomfortably clear. It was the last thing Brynjar - and doubtless the others - wanted to hear at that moment. 'Daddy dead.' It got worse. 'Adda dead. Bygga dead.' The child sighed and clutched her grandmother's leg. 'All dead.' A luxury yacht arrives in Reykjavik harbour with nobody on board. What has happened to the crew, and to the family who were on board when it left Lisbon? Thora Gudmundsdottir is hired by the young father's parents to investigate, and is soon drawn deeper into the mystery. What should she make of the rumours saying that the vessel was cursed, especially given that when she boards the yacht she thinks she sees one of the missing twins? Where is Karitas, the glamorous young wife of the yacht's former owner? And whose is the body that has washed up further along the shore?

This author is a master at creating a sinister atmosphere with a logical explanation. The characters and family relationships are subtle and believable. A quality follow-up to her I Remember.Dot

The Shadow Tracer

The Shadow Tracer by M.G. Gardiner

From the cover:  Can a person ever really disappear for good by going off the grid? And what happens when vanishing is no longer an option? Sarah Keller is a single mother to five-year-old Zoe, living quietly in Oklahoma. She's also a skip tracer, an expert in tracking people who've gone on the lam to avoid arrest, prosecution, or debt-- pinpointing their location to bring them to justice. When a school bus accident sends Zoe to the ER, their quiet life explodes. Zoe's medical tests reveal what Sarah has been hiding: Zoe is not her daughter. Zoe's biological mother-- Sarah's sister, Beth - was murdered shortly after the child's birth. And Zoe's father is missing and presumed dead. With no way to prove her innocence, Sarah must abandon her carefully constructed life and go on the run. Chased by cops, federal agents, and the group responsible for Beth's murder, Sarah embarks on a desperate journey. 

The publisher’s blurb really doesn’t ramp up much excitement, and it should because this is one pacy, thrilling ride -  it would make a great movie! Even when the action is not full throttle, the characters are very well drawn and realistically portrayed, from the downright evil Worthe cult members Grissom Briggs and two of Eldrick Worthe’s granddaughters, Fell and Reavy; to our main protagonists (do we detect a hint of romance?) Sarah and Marshall Michael Lawless;  to 5-year old Zoe who has been implanted with a microchip bearing some very important cult information. From Oklahoma to Roswell New Mexico, there are some hair-raising chapters including a brutal murder in an isolated farmhouse during a snow storm, a dangerous car chase along a freeway and the extravaganza - a final bloody confrontation in that famous Texan aeroplane graveyard.  This action-packed crime thriller was brilliantly read by the talented female narrator, Laurence Bouvard.  Highly recommended in any format... Borrow now and buckle up! 
PS - Some of this author's titles are under the name Meg Gardiner, others as M.G. Gardiner.  The playaway version I borrowed had the initials.  

Concealed in Death

Concealed in Death.  Being book number 37 in JD Robb's 'In Death' series, one would think there is nothing new to bring to these futuristic mysteries!
But one would be wrong...

When billionaire Roarke takes the ceremonial first swing in the demolition of one of his buildings, he finds hidden behind a false wall the remains of two teenage girls. Luckily he's married to Lieutenant Eve Dallas, New York's top Homicide cop, who quickly uncovers more remains, 12 in total. It will take all of Eve and her team's considerable skills to crack this case; one that has twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end!