Reading Rewards - reviews

C.S. Lewis ...

C.S. Lewis and the Body in the Basement by Kel Richards 
From the cover:  A fun, new detective novel by Kel Richards where the sleuth is C.S. Lewis, the beloved author of The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S. Lewis (known to all his friends as Jack), his brother Major Warren Lewis (known as Warnie) and one of Jack's students, Tom Morris, are on holiday in the English countryside. When they go to the bank they unwittingly enter a crime scene where a murder has just been committed in the vault. The victim is in the basement of the bank, alone, cut off by brick and steel from the rest of the world – and yet he has been stabbed from behind and the murder weapon has vanished. The three out of towners become suspects and must conduct their own investigation to clear their names. C. S. Lewis eventually solves the seemingly impossible crime by applying his razor sharp mind to the subtle clues. It is a ‘locked room’ mystery that would have baffled the cleverest sleuths of the Golden Age of detective stories. 
Written by Sydney’s 2CH radio show host, Kel Richards, this is the first in a new series of C.S. Lewis mysteries.  Initially it’s quite entertaining – the era, the setting, the downright ‘Englishness’ of a ‘walking holiday’; and being hooked swiftly into the 'impossibility' of it all – the locked room and the disappearance of the weapon.  But the constant ‘padding’ of what is really quite a short story with ongoing religious philosophising by Jack to Tom becomes tedious, so much so that I ended up skipping numerous pages, thankfully coming to a speedy wrap up. I'm not in any hurry to read the next one in the series.

Inaugural Folio Prize

After the controversy with the Man Booker Prize in 2012 - the judges wanted 'readability' rather than 'literary merit' - The Folio Prize was established.  
It honours the best English-language fiction published in Britain, regardless of the nationality of the author or genre.

The winner of the inaugural $74,000 prize is George Saunders for his short story collection, Tenth of December.

Thornwood House

Thornwood House by Anna Romer
From the cover:  When Audrey Kepler inherits an abandoned homestead in rural Queensland, she jumps at the chance to escape her loveless existence in the city and make a fresh start. In a dusty back room of the old house, she discovers the crumbling photo of a handsome World War Two medic - Samuel Riordan, the homestead's former occupant - and soon finds herself becoming obsessed with him. But as Audrey digs deeper into Samuel's story, she discovers he was accused of bashing to death a young woman on his return from the war in 1946. When she learns about other unexplained deaths in recent years - one of them a young woman with injuries echoing those of the first victim - she begins to suspect that the killer is still very much alive. And now Audrey, thanks to her need to uncover the past, has provided him with good reason to want to kill again.
As you know, I have a penchant for a good Australian novel, and this is one of the better ones which is quite amazing for a debut author.

Anna Romer spent her wayward youth travelling the globe, working as a graphic artist while she soaked up local histories and folklore from the Australian outback, then Asia, Europe, and America. On returning home to Australia, she began weaving stories of her own and was quickly hooked. A visit to her sister in north Queensland inspired this first novel, a story that reflects her fascination with old diaries and letters, dark family secrets, rambling old houses, the persistence of the past, and our unique Australian landscape.

Her writing is rich and evocative, producing that wonderful feeling of ‘being there’ which is so lacking in many others.  The storyline is peppered with four generations of colourful characters and was not difficult to follow as it swings between the different family members’ stories.  Audrey and her daughter Bronnie are both perfectly captured – so real you half expect them to walk through your own back door!   I won’t wax lyrical any further.  This was a really good book – I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version narrated by Eloise Oxer – so why not download it.  In the meantime, here’s an interview with the talented Anna Romer to enjoy. 


IMPAC Prize - vote now

Each year public libraries throughout the world join together to submit titles for consideration in the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, one of the world's richest literary prizes with a €100,000 prize (AUD $154,000).

The State Library of Victoria invites you to help select Victoria’s titles to be submitted in the 2015 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the nineteenth year of the award. To vote, please consider the titles below then visit by close of business  Friday 11 April 2014. The State Library of Victoria will put forward the top three titles. Your choice should be based solely on the literary merit of the work. Please vote only once.

A World of Other People by Steven Carroll
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
Blood Witness by Alex Hammond
Cairo by Chris Womersley
Coal Creek by Alex Miller
Dark Horse by Honey Brown
Gotland by Fiona Capp
Holy Bible by Vanessa Russell
The Memory Trap by Andrea Goldsmith
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright


Diagram Prize shortlist

How I love this time of year - it's Diagram Prize 2014 shortlist time! 
Every year since 1978, the Diagram Prize has singled out the oddest titles of books published in the preceding 12 months. Last year's winner was the surreal-sounding Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop, beating robust contenders How Tea Cosies Changed the World and God's Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis.
In 2014, the odd books up for the prize are:

Working Class Cats: The Bodega Cats of New York City by Chris Balsinger and Erin Canning
Are Trout South African? by Duncan Brown
How to Poo on a Date by Mats & Enzo
Pie-ography: Where Pie Meets Biography by Jo Packham
How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God by Ian Punnett
The Origin of Feces by David Walter-Toews

The annual prize is organised by The Bookseller magazine (UK) and the winner will be announced on Friday 21 March.

Open for Inspection

Open for Inspection by Carmel Bird
Narrated by Caroline Lee 

From the cover:  Sassy freelance journalist Courtney Frome is on assignment counting bathrooms for the property pages. For Courtney the world of expansive bay views and renovator's delights is just another job... until Lizzy Candy is discovered dead in her spa while Courtney is inspecting the Candy mansion. Lizzie's faithless husband is a big player in real estate. But is he the obvious answer to the obvious question? Then a second body is discovered at another prestige address...

I liked Courtney Frome from the get go (this is the second book in the series) – not only is she sassy and a freelance writer; she has meaningful two-way conversations with her cat Vanessa; adores her Grandma despite her interfering ways; and isn’t stupidly in love with crime reporter P.P.  It’s also set in Melbourne, which is a bonus when you’re a local – you just can’t help ‘landmark spotting’, identifying buildings, the Westgate bridge, Fitzroy streets, parks and schools etc.  I also think I like her so much because of the way Caroline Lee brings her to life.  She has the perfect voice that matches the persona in my head!
This was a fun, easy-breezy read, though the amount of bodies piling up towards the too-sudden ending was a tad over-the-top.

Another reviewer wrote:  “Australian sleuth girl, ditzy but streetwise, with men running round her like sniffer dogs and an array of histrionic and sleekly observed characters camping it up on the sidelines, (it’s) just itching for that film or TV destination. All this in prose that oozes like an apple in autumn and with a talking cat."

Angel Baby

Angel Baby by Richard Lange, is the story of a woman who goes on the run. To escape her awful life, Luz plans carefully. She quits drugs and pretends all is normal. All she takes are the clothes on her back, a gun, and the money from her husband’s safe. Her plan is to find her daughter she left behind years earlier on the other side of the US-Mexico border. What she doesn’t count on are two dead corpses left in the hallway before she has even stepped outside. 

Her husband, El Principe, is a key player in a powerful Mexican drug cartel and a violent and dominating man. What follows are thrilling chases, and unpredictable twists and turns. The author, Richard Lange, is a finalist for the 2014 Hammett Prize for Angel Baby. The Hammett Prize is awarded annually by the International Association of Crime Writers, North American Branch. Richard Lange is a strong contender with this powerful story of ruthlessness, revenge and redemption.

Hush little baby

Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn

From the cover: DON'T SAY A WORD. Not if you want to live or you want your children to live.
In a game of ultimate stakes, Jillian Kane struggles to save herself and her two children from her extremely cunning abusive husband.

Gordon Kane, Jillian's husband, is a good guy – at least that's what everyone thinks. Handsome, a recognized hero, an involved father, a respected coach. No one would suspect that beneath the flawless veneer lurks a man capable of unspeakable cruelty. Jillian, on the other hand, has her faults. She works too much, lacks maternal instinct, misses teacher conferences, and doesn't bring cupcakes to the school fair.

Perception is everything in the high stakes game of child custody and Gordon has the upper hand. And when all hope is lost of keeping her kids, Jillian is left with the question of how far she'll go to save them.

A chilling story of abuse and marital warfare, Hush Little Baby is a cautionary tale about how easily a reputation can be destroyed, a mother's children can be taken from her, and the terrifying choices she's left with to get them back.

This novel popped up on a reading blog that I follow, and it's rating on Goodreads is 4.09/5 which is very good, so I thought I would give it a go, in fact we didn't have it on our library system at all, so I put in a request and our Adult Collections Librarian ordered it in!!

This book was a page-turner, and what this woman went through was hard to imagine, and it makes you wonder how many women out there are in a similar position. Jillian is left with only the clothes on her back when she finally flees with her two children to escape her emotionally and physically abusive husband, but where do you run to, when he is a police officer who has all the connections available to him to track her down?

It seems that I have read a lot of books by new authors over the last year, and Suzanne Redfearn is another one. Sometimes stepping outside your comfort zone when you read can open up a whole new world for you. So long as the subject matter doesn't bother you, it's a good read.

~ Janine

The Bed I Made

The Bed I Made by Lucie Whitehouse
From the cover: One night in a bar in Soho, Kate meets the powerful, sensual Richard.  Going home with him that night is reckless and exhilarating, their connection electric.  Now, 18 months later, Kate is fleeing London for an old coastguard’s cottage on the Isle of Wight, determined to forget Richard forever.  In winter, however, the island is locked down, wary of outsiders and there is little to distract her from her memories.  Within days, Alice, a local, goes missing from her boat and there are whispers of suicide.  Kate is quickly drawn into Alice’s world, but all the time Richard – powerful, unstable Richard – looms larger and larger over her own.
Even from the brief publisher blurb above, you can pretty much foretell how this story will play out, however the setting stops it from being too predictable.  Whitehouse writes some wonderful descriptive passages that lure you into the Island setting and it’s this evocative atmosphere that helps to deepen the sense of foreboding.  I enjoyed the book as it was a little different to others in this genre.

Bad Behaviour

Bad Behaviour by Liz Byrski

From the cover: Zoe is living a conventional suburban life in Fremantle. She works, she gardens and she loves her supportive husband Archie and their three children. But the arrival of a new woman into her son Daniel's life unsettles Zoe. Suddenly she is feeling angry and hurt, and is lashing out at those closest to her. In Sussex, England, Julia is feeling nostalgic as she nurses her best friend through the last painful stages of cancer. Her enthusiastic but dithering husband Tom is trying to convince Julia to slow down. Although she knows Tom means well, Julia cannot help but feel frustrated that he is pushing her into old age before she is ready. But she knows she is lucky to have him. She so nearly didn't... These two women's lives have been shaped by the decisions they made back in 1968 - when they were young, idealistic and naive. In a world that was a whirl of politics and protest, consciousness raising and sexual liberation, Zoe and Julia were looking for love, truth and their own happy endings. They soon discover that life is rarely that simple, as their bad behaviour leads them down paths that they can never turn back from.
The blurb above doesn’t really do this book any favours so I’m glad I chose to ignore it.  I read another of Liz Byrski’s books last year – The Last Chance Café – and appreciated a character driven novel as a change from my normal reading pile.  This is in the same style, with Zoe and Julia’s lives and choices driving the storyline.  I enjoyed this on CD – 11 CDs, 11 hours, and it was well narrated by the professionally smooth Marie-Louise Walker.Deb. 

Stella Prize Longlist

The Stella Prize is a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing.  The prize is named after one of Australia’s iconic female authors, Stella Maria ‘Miles’ Franklin, and was awarded for the first time in 2013. Both non-fiction and fiction books by Australian women are eligible for entry.  The $50,000 Stella Prize seeks to:
•    recognise and celebrate Australian women writers’ contribution to literature
•    bring more readers to books by women and thus increase their sales
•    provide role models for schoolgirls and emerging female writers

The 2014 Stella Prize longlist is:

Letter to George Clooney by Debra Adelaide
Moving Among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Night Games by Anna Krien
Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko
The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir by Kristina Olsson
The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers  
Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John by Helen Trinca 
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright 
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

The shortlist will be announced on Thursday 20 March, and the 2014 Stella Prize will be awarded in Sydney on the evening of Tuesday 29 April.

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me? : confessions of an over-sharer by Chrissie Swan
Chrissie Swan is a self-confessed over-sharer. From weight to wee, children to crap dates, nothing is off limits! Chrissie shares lessons in life that many of us would not dream to disclose, drawing from her experiences as a television presenter, breakfast radio host, working mother of three, and loving partner. Is it just me? is a compilation of Sunday Life articles written while Chrissie was a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Is it just Chrissie though? I don’t think so, as many of us can relate to her down-to-earth experiences, just not with as much frivolity and hilarity as only Chrissie can do.  After all, she confesses that “You know what I want. I want to be able to have fun wherever I am. I want to be able to cook with beautiful ingredients always. I want to laugh. All. The. Time.” And indeed she does! It is an easy read with all the ingredients to have you smiling or laughing out loud. If you are looking for a light-hearted and humorous read, give this a go.


The Tale of Halcyon Crane

The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb

From the cover:  When a mysterious letter lands in Hallie James’s mailbox, her life is upended.  Hallie was raised by her loving father, having been told her mother died in a fire decades earlier.  But it turns out her mother, Madlyn, was alive until very recently.  Why would Hallie’s father have taken her away?  What really happened 30 years ago?  In search of answers, Hallie travels to the place her mother lived, a remote island in the middle of the Great Lakes and the grand Victorian house bequeathed to her.  Maybe it’s the eerie atmosphere or maybe it’s the prim, elderly maid who used to work for her mother, but Hallie just can’t shake the feeling that strange things are starting to happen…

I love a good ghost story but some of them can be quite silly or poorly written.  This, however, is one of the better ones – a great location, very atmospheric and a jolly good read!Deb. 

The First Bird

The First Bird trilogy by Greig Beck
From the cover:  Matt Kearns, linguist, archaeologist and reluctant explorer from Beneath the Dark Ice and Black Mountain faces a terrifying new challenge and this time he doesn't have Alex Hunter to save him when the stuff hits the fan. When a fame-hungry scientist brings an impossible, living specimen of a creature long thought extinct back from the wild jungles of South America he unwittingly brings along a passenger. An infestation begins, rapidly overtaking medical resources and resisting all treatment. Carla Nero, chief scientist of the Centre for Disease Control makes Matt an offer he can't refuse and together they join a team heading to the deep jungle in a desperate race to locate the hidden place where the specimen was taken. Only by finding the location of the specimen can the team - and the world - hope to uncover the secret of how to survive the ancient, horror that has been released.
One of my favourite Aussie authors is back with another sci-fi/thriller/anthropological/geo-political/military creep-fest, this time in a trilogy which you can read, or in the case of audio, listen, separately or in one sitting – the omnibus.  If going the audio route, Sean Mangan is reading again and delivers an excellent narration.  Just a word or two of advice up front:  if downloading the audio and listening to the three books, please note the chapter numbers continue throughout  i.e.  Book 2 STARTS at Chapter 22.  No, you are not missing 21 chapters as I originally thought!   The other piece of advice?  If you’re arachnophobic, best give this a wide miss!  Highly recommended for those who love this genre!Deb.

The Better Woman

The Better Woman by Ber Carroll is the story of two women who grow up on opposite sides of the world.

Sarah Ryan grows up in her grandmother's house in a small Irish village. Sarah is clever and ambitious. She fully believes that John Delaney, the boy-next-door and her first love, will be right by her side . . . until he breaks her heart.

Jodi Tyler is raised on Sydney’s northern beaches amidst a close and loving family. But Jodi has a secret, a tragic secret which leaves her determined to make a success of her life. And when Jodi falls head over heels in love, she too ends up with a broken heart.

This is a story of two remarkable women who face all life's challenges head on – and those they love and lose on their journey. Set in Ireland, Australia, London and New York, Sarah and Jodi make their way in the world unaware that their lives are running in parallel. It is only when they both want the same thing that their paths will finally cross.

This is another author who I haven't read before and she was born in Ireland, but has lived in Australia since 1995. I listened to this book on CD and the narrator was also excellent. I loved the way Ber told the stories about the two girls lives individually, bouncing back and forth between them during the book, and when the book ended, I was totally satisfied with the ending - which sometimes is rare when you read a book.

This book is available to borrow either in Audiobook CD, Hardcover or E-book form. Highly recommended to readers who like Irish-Australian novels, family sagas and contemporary women's fiction.

~ Janine

Me Before You

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is a love story and a family story, but above all it’s a story of the bravery and sustained effort needed to redirect the path of a life once it’s been pushed off course.

Louisa Clark, a 26-year-old working-class girl, lands a position as a “care assistant” to an intelligent, wealthy and very angry 35-year-old man named Will Traynor, who has spent the past two years as a quadriplegic after being hit by a motorbike. It is Will’s mother, Camilla who hires Louisa, and she does so out of desperation. She knows her son is miserable. She already employs a nurse to attend to his medical needs, but she hopes that somehow Louisa might boost his morale.

What Louisa discovers is that Will has a desire to not continue to live this way, and she is determined to change his mind. What develops between them is a mutual respect and love. And Louisa discovers a lot about Will and herself in the process. I won't give away the ending, but all I can say is that you can't put it down once you get near the end.

Fans of The Fault in our Stars which is a Young Adult book will really enjoy this read.

~ Janine

Global Best-sellers

To provoke a fascinating discussion all you have to do is provide a list, and this one, discovered this morning, fits the bill admirably.  It's the best-seller list published in 2012 from 10 countries around the globe.  
Discuss ...

Australia:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney was the best seller, but for adults the most popular was Anna Funder’s All That I Am

Brazil:  Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James 

China:  Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

France: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

India:  Didn't really have a set list but apparently the reading highlight was Corporate Chanakya by Radhakrishnan Pillai and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel In Cartoons, by Jeff Kinney.

Indonesia:  The American edition of Andrea Hirata’s The Rainbow Troops

Mexico: 1.  Cincuenta sombras de Grey by E. L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey)

Norway:  It was a “literary” translation of the Bible, published in October 2011, which sold 157,000 copies in 2012, a huge number for a country Norway’s size. Indeed, it was among the top 15 best-sellers for 54 out of 56 weeks.

Russia:  The Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya, as well as Viktor Pelevin’s Pineapple Water for the Fair Lady, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery.

UK: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code


Romance Awards

Voting has now opened for the 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards! Three Australian-based digital-first imprints have nominees this year - Escape Publishing, Momentum and Penguin Australia's Destiny imprint. There are nine 'Favourite' categories, as well as Members’ Choice categories. They are:  
 Paranormal Romance
 Sci Fi, Fantasy or Futuristic Romance
 Short Category Romance
 Historical Romance
 Contemporary Romance
 Erotic Romance
 Romantic Suspense
 Continuing Romance Series
 Australian Romance Author 2013

Members’ Choice categories are …
Favourite Cover from a romance published in 2013, the Sexiest Hero from a romance published in 2013, and Favourite New Romance Author for 2013.

If you’re an ARRA member, you can now vote for your favourite in each category. Voting will close on 5 March and winners will be announced at the Awards Dinner to be held on 22 March 2014 in Sydney.  Click here to see all finalists in each category.

Secrets of the sea house

This review of Secrets of the Sea House by Elizabeth Gifford is from a library member.

Scotland, 1860. Reverend Alexander Ferguson, naive and newly-ordained, takes up his new parish, a poor, isolated patch on the Hebridean island of Harris. His time on the island will irrevocably change the course of his life, but the white house on the edge of the dunes keeps its silence long after Alexander departs. It will be more than a century before the Sea House reluctantly gives up its secrets. Ruth and Michael buy the grand but dilapidated building and begin to turn it into a home for the family they hope to have. Their dreams are marred by a shocking discovery. The tiny bones of a baby are buried beneath the house; the child's fragile legs are fused together - a mermaid child. Who buried the bones? And why? Ruth needs to solve the mystery of her new home - but the answers to her questions may lie in her own past. Secrets of the Sea House is an epic, sweeping tale of loss and love; hope and redemption; and how we heal ourselves with the stories we tell.

What an interesting book this is. It has everything from mystery to geographical and historical facts. Told in a sensitive manner which is a credit to its author, Elizabeth Gifford. If you love a good yarn that is well written and will hold you spellbound for its entire length you must read this.

Thanks Edwina for the review, its much appreciated.

~ Michelle

Bleed for Me

Bleed for Me by Michael Robotham

From the cover: A former detective lies dead in his daughter’s bedroom. A traumatised 14-year old is found covered in her father’s blood. Everything points to Sienna Hegarty’s guilt, but Joe O’Loughlin isn’t convinced. Against the advice of police, he launches his own search for answers; a hunt that will lead them to a conspiracy of silence and a race-hate trial that is captivating the nation. 

I started last year (2013) by reading my first Michael Robotham and I finished the year on a second one! I’m finding that these Robotham books don’t make for easy breezy reading; they are very adult in subject matter, in this instance a paedophile teacher grooming schoolgirls; our main protagonist battling Parkinson’s disease and a divorce he doesn’t want; and a race-hate trial. Joe is a character that captures our empathy, actually all the characters are real and well drawn be they goodies or baddies, and the author paces the story well, which is probably why you can’t NOT finish these books.