Reading Rewards - reviews

Looking for Clancy

Looking for Clancy: ballads by A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson   
Commentary and illustrations by Robert Ingpen.

From the cover:   To mark the 150th birthday of Banjo Paterson, award-winning illustrator Robert Ingpen journeys into the Australian outback through words and inspiring illustrations to find what has made Clancy such an enduring figure in Australian folklore.

“I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just ‘on spec’, addressed as follows, ‘Clancy of the Overflow’.

Ssshhhh ... don’t tell anyone, but this my secret vice.  I LOVE Aussie bush poetry!   I am totally seduced by the cadence and metre which is something you just don’t get these days.  Somehow, somewhere, the intelligentsia – whomever the hell they think they are - decreed that poetry should not rhyme; it should be bleak and miserable, dark and so unfathomable that you could end up with serious brain injury just trying to make sense of it! Ha ha, what a load of egotistical wankerism.  Grab this beautifully illustrated book, read about the places you’ve only ever heard about in history lessons, glory at what is being done to preserve them today – like the High Country refuge huts being restored by the Kosciuszko Huts Association, and get yourself in the groove ... 

“Oh! There once was a swagman camped in the Billabong,
Under the shade of a Coolabah tree;
And he sang as he looked at his old billy boiling,
Who’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?”
(groan ... how many of us ever sing those words correctly?!)
Deb

Foods that Harm Foods that Heal

I borrowed this book over the Christmas break and although still on leave, I couldn’t wait to share it with you!  I know we usually review fiction, but it’s that time of year where people are making resolutions to eat healthier/lose weight/or just generally take more care with their diets and this book is perfect for all those reasons and more! 
It was so interesting that I happily got lost in it for the better part of a day ...

From the cover:  Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal: an A-Z Guide to safe and healthy eating (Reader's Digest  - consultant nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton) was first published in 1997 and became one of the most respected food references in Australia and New Zealand.  This completely revised edition reflects the many changes and advances that have occurred in the food and health industry in the intervening years and is an invaluable resource for avoiding poor nutritional choices and eating and living well. 


Briefly, this book is an A-Z of everything we consume these days and the facts and fallacies. Each type of food is thoroughly analysed - for nutritional value, its benefits or drawbacks, did you know fact boxes, things to avoid, and how best to cook and eat the item for peak nutritional benefit (including in some instances "companion cooking/eating" where one food brings out the best or dumbs down another!)
It also includes valuable information on things like a range of illnesses (what to eat plenty of/what to avoid, and more importantly, why), additives, sorting facts from hype regarding allergies, anti-oxidants, the evolving glycaemic index, canned/fresh/frozen, pesticides and pollutants, what diets work, organic foods, probiotics, supplements, trans fats and much, much more. 
On some sections there is a green recommendation box headed Do One Simple Thing and I’d like to snaffle that idea and use it here.  Do One Simple Thing – borrow this book now.  It packs so much information into an easily digested format; has plenty of “wow-I-didn’t-know-that” factor; and it might be the most important book you'll read this year.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  
Deb.  

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop by Jenny Colgan 

From the cover: Rosie Hopkins is looking forward to Christmas in the little Derbyshire village of Lipton, buried under a thick blanket of snow. Her sweetshop is festooned with candy canes, crinkling selection boxes and happy, sticky children. She’s going to be spending it with her boyfriend, Stephen, and her family who are flying in from Australia. She can’t wait. But when a tragedy strikes at the heart of their little community, all of Rosie’s plans for the future seem to be blown apart. 
I always like to read at least one Christmassy novel at this time of year but try to avoid the over-saccharined ones. Despite the title, thankfully this book wasn’t too sickly sweet. It had an interesting storyline and although the ending was blatantly predictable, the characters kept it from sinking too far into schmaltz. It is, as I was to soon find out, a follow-on from the UK award-winning novel “Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams” and there are a lot of references to what happened in that book, so it was a little annoying. Overall though, a light festive read, but it won’t be appearing on my great titles of the year list.
Deb. 
 

Pawn

Pawn by Aimee Carter is the first book in another dystopian young adult trilogy, but it will appeal to adult readers as well.

In this world everyone is marked by a number, which dictates your ranking in society. For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister's niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There's only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that's not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she's only beginning to understand.

I really enjoyed this book, it kept me hooked from the beginning, I look forward to the next instalment!


~ Janine

The Book Thief movie

Based on the beloved international bestselling book, The Book Thief, the movie starring Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nelisse and Emily Watson will be playing from 9-15 January, 2014 at the Classic Cinema, 9 Gordon Street Elsternwick.  Click here for session times and ticketing  http://www.classiccinemas.com.au/Movie/The-Book-Thief



This is a great chance to chat about the classic ‘book to movie’ scenario and which is better, the book or the movie. If you see the movie, drop us a comment here at RR and we’ll start up a discussion. We are really looking forward to hearing from you!
Deb.

The Tournament

The Tournament is Matthew Reilly's latest title and a bit of a departure from his usual roller-coaster ride reads.

The year is 1546. Suleiman the Magnificent, the powerful and feared Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, issues an invitation to every king in Europe: you are invited to send your finest player to compete in a chess tournament to determine the champion of the known world. The English delegation - led by esteemed scholar Roger Ascham - journeys to the glittering city of Constantinople. Accompanying Ascham is his pupil, Bess, who is about to bear witness to events she never thought possible. For on the first night of the tournament, a powerful guest of the Sultan is murdered, and against the backdrop of the historic event, Ascham is tasked with finding the killer. Barbaric deaths, unimaginable depravity and diplomatic treachery unfold before Bess's eyes, indelibly shaping her character and determining how she will perform her future role...as Queen Elizabeth I. Even a pawn can become a queen.

When I read my first chapter of a Matthew Reilly novel, my breath was taken away. It was fast paced, action at every point and enough twists and turns to satisfy the most ardent roller coaster fan.  This book was very different. It was gently paced in comparison.

But it was still very good.  Matthew developed his characters well and took me on a fanciful excursion on what the young future Queen Elizabeth I might have done to have developed into the woman and queen we know of from history.

The characters are likeable, the mystery although not as intricate as others I have read, was still engaging and caught me up until the end. The relationship between student and teacher was special and the politics very interesting.

There were some disturbing moments, even for a murder mystery, but nothing that was out of line with the story or the period in which it was set.

If you like a murder mystery, or a historical novel with a difference, or just a saga where a good story is told of characters who you can engage with, then you will enjoy the Tournament. And if you are a Matthew Reilly fan, then I am sure you will enjoy this new journey as well.

~ Michelle

FAVE READS of 2013

It’s time to take a retrospective jaunt back through the year to share our favourite books from 2013 with you.  Without further ado …


Ali:  Night Games by Anna Krien
In this important book by award-winning author Anna Krien (author of Into The Woods) the whole kit and caboodle of sport, women, power and rape is explored.  Anna has a fantastic questioning style and is able to see many sides of the whole complicated issue. The book follows a particular incident which happened in 2010 in which a young woman was allegedly raped by multiple AFL players. The entire court case however focused on the one man who is not in the AFL but was a friend of some of them. The accused players were protected through club status, money and lawyers. The non player became a scapegoat. Anna draws a link between the camaraderie of footballers on the field with their misconduct off it, where sex has  become a sport.  Her prose cuts like glass and her legal research is exhaustive. Anna Krien has stamped her name as one of Australia's best young non-fiction writers who isn't afraid to address contemporary and challenging issues.

Teresa:   Breaking News: sex, lies & the Murdoch succession by Paul Barry
Paul Barry has a long history of outstanding biographies of Australian business magnates.  Kerry and James Packer and Alan Bond have all had their suspicious commercial dealings exposed with razor sharp insight backed up by painstaking research and investigation by this outstanding journalist and author. In his latest book he has turned his eye to perhaps the most unscrupulous of them all, Rupert Murdoch. Barry of course describes the outrages of the British phone hacking scandal but also links it with the intricate web of the Murdoch family dynasty and the question of who will succeed the master. I have read rather extensively on Rupert, but this book was the first one to explore Murdoch’s children and their relationship with their father, as well as pose the question of which of them, or if any, will eventually take the reins of his vast empire. A fascinating read, well recommended.

Dot:  Girt: the unauthorized history of Australia by David Hunt
My non-fiction pick is Girt, and I’m sure they didn't tell us any of this stuff at school!  Find out the real truth and the real character of some of Australia's most famous names.  This book is surprising, enlightening and very, very funny!
My favourite Fiction book was Velocity by Steve Worland.  It starts off slowly and builds to a race-against-time finale.  It’s a very clever and 'almost' plausible plot of terrorism and revenge with great characters (Aussie Corey and Spike are a riot) and it’s a non-stop rollercoaster ride. The next adventure is 'Combustion'  also starring Judd, Corey, Spike and Rhonda.  Perfect holiday escape reading! 

Lisa:  I've read a lot of amazing YA Fiction this year and two authors in particular really stood out for me. If you're looking for something to read with emotional depth then read anything by John Green or Karen Foxlee.  That said, my absolute favourite adult fiction for the year would have to be Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project. In my opinion, Don Tillman is the best character to hit the page since Grace Lisa Vandenburg in Toni Jordan's debut novel 'Addition'. I guess I have a soft spot for the quirky, socially inadequate outsider.
 

Michelle:  The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The movie coming soon finally motivated me to read this highly recommended title. Liesel Meminger is caught up in Nazi Germany during the war and finds her life changed by books.  She discovers one left behind in a moment of tragedy and thus begins her book-thieving journey.  Although slow to start, the characters, the setting and the story are woven beautifully and draw you into Liesel’s life, keeping you enthralled to the very end.  I can’t wait to see what the movie, starring Geoffrey Rush, does with the story.

Janine:  the Jeffrey Archer series  "The Clifton Chronicles" which started with Only Time Will Tell, then The Sins of the Father and Best Kept Secret.  I truly devoured all these books, it's been a while since I have read a good family saga, and now can't wait until the fourth book in the five-book series comes out in March 2014. Of course there were others I loved - The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult, and the Aussie debut novel, Fractured, by Dawn Barker.

Pru:   Longing by Candice Bruce
Set in the Western District of Victoria in the 1840s, the lives of two very different women intersect. Ellis MacRorie is shipped  from her Scottish homeland by her bankrupt father. Leerpeen Weelan, her Aboriginal servant known as Louisa, has lost her tribe in a bloody act of violence. Forced to marry a man she does not love, and isolated from all society, Ellis is resigned to a wretched life on the remote homestead of Strathcarron. After the tragic death of two babies, she is ready is give up altogether. Although Louisa has endured unspeakable suffering, she becomes an unprecedented source of guidance, friendship and strength for Ellis. When the American Romantic landscape painter, sketcher and collector Sanford P. Hart comes to stay at Strathcarron, the two women are transformed forever - in both enriching and devastating measures.  More than 150 years later, ambitious curatorial assistant Cornelia, researching an exhibition on S. P. Hart for the National Gallery of Victoria, makes a remarkable discovery that has the potential to rewrite history. However, it is not Hart's paintings that offer a glimpse into the untold events of nineteenth-century rural Australia, but rather something very rare . . . The Longing is a novel about loss, finding home and the significance of history - what is recorded and those events that remain undiscovered.  This book was on the Summer Read 2013 list and I loved how the author used art to explore social and family history, but conveyed emotions with the light touch of a painter.

Deb:  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Sixteen-year-old Hazel, a stage IV thyroid cancer patient, participated in a tumor-shrinking medical miracle that bought her a few years, but Hazel has never been anything but terminal. When a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters, who is recovering from osteosarcoma, suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, it forces Hazel to re-examine her perspective on love, loss, and life.
Forget that the book has YA (Young Adult) on the cover – this is for anyone who enjoys being swept along by a story.  I had my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be a real downer peppered with platitudes, pity and pathos, and that couldn’t have been further from the truth – this book sings with love, laughter and wonder.  Told from Hazel’s point of view, it has an infectious banter that bewitches you; it’s funny, intelligent, irreverent and thoughtful.  It’s one of those books that stays with you long after the covers are closed.   PS - stock up on the tissues.

So that wraps up another year of wonderful reads from the RR Team.  Did you have a stand-out book for the year?  If you did (or perhaps you had one that was a bitter disappointment) let us know and we'll share some more reviews before the year ends.

Deb.



Necessary Lies



Necessary Lies is the first book I have read by Dianne Chamberlain. The year is 1960. The place, rural North Carolina. Jane is a 22 year old newlywed, beginning her first job as a social worker. One of her more intriguing cases is the Hart family. The ailing grandmother, her seventeen-year-old intellectually disabled daughter Mary Ella - mother to two-year-old baby William, and fifteen-year-old Ivy.

Mary Ella was involuntarily sterilized after her son's birth, part of a state-wide eugenics program. Ivy's former social worker wants her sterilized too, which takes Jane on an ethical odyssey. If everyone thinks Ivy should be sterilized, could they all be wrong or could she be right?

What follows makes for a great story which is based on truth, as this practice actually did happen until 1975 in some states in the USA.

I loved this book! I couldn't put it down, and I will be seeking out her other novels in due course.

An interesting aside to this story is that e-only short story - The First Lie, is actually is a preface to Necessary Lies and gives the background story. Personally I think it could have been just another chapter in the book, but didn't discover this until after I had read Necessary Lies.

~ Janine

Bulwer-Lytton Award

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is a tongue-in-cheek contest that takes place annually. Sponsored by the English Department of San Jose State University in California, entrants are invited "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels" – that is, deliberately bad.  It is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the much-quoted first line "It was a dark and stormy night".

Drum roll …  And the winner is:  Chris Wieloch, Wisconsin USA

She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination."
Er, congrats Chris.
Deb

Vic Premier’s Literary Awards

Here's a great ready-made summer reading list, comprising the shortlisted titles across five categories – Fiction, Non-Fiction, Writing for Young Adults, Drama and Poetry - in contention for the big prize, which will be announced on 28 January, 2014. 

The Unpublished Manuscript Award will be announced during the 2014 Emerging Writers’ Festival, while the biennial Award for Indigenous Writing will be awarded in September 2014 to coincide with Indigenous Literacy Day. 

The nominees for the Prize for Fiction are:


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Coal Creek by Alex Miller
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
Eyrie by Tim Winton
Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

Members of the public can also cast a vote for the People’s Choice Award - start reading/start voting! click here.
Deb.

Scarlet Stiletto Awards

In a ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’ inspired evening at the Thornbury Theatre last Friday night, 22 November, The Sisters in Crime 20th Scarlet Stiletto Awards were presented by the star of the TV show, Essie Davis.

Winner of the Harper Collins First Prize ($1500) was Candice Graham for The Bunyip’s Last Wish.  The Folio Society 2nd prize went to Vicky Daddo for Mary’s Colours; while The Sun Bookshop 3rd Prize went to Kylie Fox for A Lovely Face.  

There were many other awards presented on the night – click here for all the details.

Don’t forget the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries costume exhibition closes this Sunday at Ripponlea.
Deb.

Until You're Mine

Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes
Narrated by Clare Corbett

You're alone. You're vulnerable. And you have something that someone else wants. At any cost...
Claudia seems to have the perfect life.  She's heavily pregnant with a much-wanted baby, she has a loving husband, and a beautiful home.  And then Zoe steps into her life. Zoe has come to help Claudia when her baby arrives.  But there's something about Zoe that Claudia doesn't like. Or trust.
And when she finds Zoe in her bedroom, Claudia's anxiety turns to real fear.

Set in the UK, this story has all the hallmarks of the classic psychological suspense novel.  Apart from some gory crime scenes, it seems quite benign on the surface but there’s that swirling tummy-tensing undercurrent where you can feel that something is not quite right and you just can’t put your finger on it.  And when you do, whammo!  It was a good story well narrated by Clare Corbett but definitely not recommended for women who are currently pregnant – choose something else until Junior has at least started walking!  
Deb.

Vale Doris Lessing

Novelist Doris Lessing, who tackled race, ideology, and gender politics throughout her long writing career, died peacefully at home in London at the age of 94.  Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007 as well other notable awards include Somerset Maugham Award - 1954, James Tait Black Memorial Prize - 1995 and the Premio Principe de Asturias - 2001.   

Her 1962 novel The Golden Notebook has been praised as a feminist bible, although she herself rejected the label.  Lessing produced more than 60 works including short stories, poetry and operas.
Deb.

All quiet on the Western Front

We all remember those books that we had to read in high school English classes. A lot of them were terrible, but occasionally one of those books would make an impact and in Year 12, that was me and this was the book.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque was one of our prescribed texts for English, in my then HSC year, whose theme was not surprisingly - war. I had two other fiction titles as part of that theme, but it was this short book (around 180 pages) that left me with the greatest impact.
"Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other--if only he can come out of the war alive."
The first thing that caught me by surprise was reading a story about a front-line war experience, written from the perspective of a soldier from the other side. I had grown up learning about the hardships of war, the losses and the battles, but all from the Allies side. It hadn't crossed my naive 17 year old mind that there are two sides and that the other side might have had it even worse.
The second was the personal nature of the story. This was about a character you can to know and like quickly and you got caught up in his life and dramas. You mourned the loss of his youth as he went to war and you mourned what this loss meant not only in terms of life and injury, but what it would mean to a country and a world whose youth both aged and were lost long before their time.
The book has been translated into film a number of times, with another one due out at the end of 2014, but although I was touched by these visual representations, the book will always be the best telling of this story for me - quite possibly because it was the first, but also because it will always have my interpretation on it, rather than someone else's.
It's not a long book, but it has impact and it will touch you. For all its brevity, its not an easy read, but it is well worth the investment, particularly as we head towards the centenary of the beginning of World War I. 
~ Michelle

Book thief

I had been meaning to read the Book Thief by Marcus Zusak for quite a while, but the news of the forthcoming movie got me motivated.

And I did need motivation to begin with. At nearly 600 pages it is a daunting prospect. As I started reading, I was wondering what all the fuss was about - turned out it took me a little bit of time to adjust to its unusual perspectives and for the story to warm up.

However, when it did... Wow!

So what is the Book Thief?
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel's father was taken away on the breath of a single, unfamiliar word - Kommunist - and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother's eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

It is not just a war story though.  It is about love, the power of words, second chances and missed opportunities and the strength and passion of a young girl in an horrific period of our history.

The story is narrated from the perspective of Death, who finds Liesel and her life intriguing. It is the Second World War in Germany and Death is forever collecting souls in her part of  the world, so is able to be there for all the significant events in a short period of her life.

This story is inspiring, sad, intriguing, eye-opening and a classic - which although fiction, gives an amazing insight into the history of our world. I highly recommend it to anyone!

I am looking forward to see how they manage to translate it into film, as it will be a challenge (the movie, starring Geoffrey Rush as the foster father, will open in Australian on 9 January 2014). But whether they manage to do it successfully or not, this book will remain with me, as will its amazing characters.

~ Michelle





Daughters of Fire


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Narrated by Judith Boyd
Two thousand years ago, as the Romans invade Britannia, the princess Cartimandua who will become the powerful queen of the great tribe of the Brigantes, watches the enemies of her people come ever closer.  Cartimandua's life takes one unexpected turn after another as tragedy changes the course of her future. But the young queen has formidable enemies - among them Venutios, her childhood sparring partner, and Medb, a woman whose jealousy threatens not only her happiness but her life.  In the present day, Edinburgh-based historian, Viv Lloyd Rees, has immersed herself in the legends surrounding the Celtic queen. She has written a book and is working on a dramatisation of the young queen's life with the help of actress, Pat Hebden. Viv's Head of Department, Hugh Graham, hounds her as she struggles to hide her visions of Cartimandua and her conviction that they are real. Her obsession grows ever more persistent and threatening as she takes possession of an ancient brooch that carries a curse. Both Pat and Hugh are drawn into this dual existence of bitter rivalry and overwhelming love as past envelopes present and the trio find themselves facing the greatest danger of their lives.


God this was long.  This novel based on the real Queen was good, but way, way too long.  I Googled Cartimandua and found out that she ruled around the time of the iron age – ca. 45AD.  This period of history I have read about before, and also seen on television documentaries, so I was aware of the large round houses, the forts containing a whole city, Druids, and the bloody battles of the Roman invasion.  The fictionalised parts of the story are handled well, and the narration, involving many accents, was delivered perfectly by Judith Boyd.  It was very absorbing, but, sigh, did I mention how long it was?   Deb

The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
From the cover:  When modest Quaker Honor Bright sails from Bristol with her sister, she is fleeing heartache for a new life in America, far from home. But tragedy leaves her alone and vulnerable, torn between two worlds and dependent on the kindness of strangers. Life in 1850s Ohio is precarious and unsentimental. The sun is too hot, the thunderstorms too violent, the snow too deep. The roads are spattered with mud and spit. The woods are home to skunks and porcupines and raccoons. They also shelter slaves escaping north to freedom. Should Honor hide runaways from the ruthless men who hunt them down? The Quaker community she has joined may oppose slavery in principle, but does it have the courage to help her defy the law? As she struggles to find her place and her voice, Honor must decide what she is willing to risk for her beliefs.

I have not yet read The Girl With a Pearl Earring, but I very much enjoyed Remarkable Creatures and The Virgin Blue, so thought I’d give this a go.  
Slavery and the abolitionist movement in early America is not a subject I know much about.  Ditto the Quakers and quilt-making, so this book dragged a little for me.  However, Chevalier is a deft hand at the writing business and her settings and characters are always a highlight.  An interesting book, some will enjoy it more than others.  
Deb.

Man Booker Prize

New Zealand author Eleanor Catton has won the 2013 Man Booker prize for English fiction for her novel The Luminaries, becoming the youngest winner in the award's 45-year history.

Chair of judges Robert Macfarlane described the 28-year-old Catton's 848-page second novel set in the New Zealand goldfields of 1866 as dazzling and very, very clever.  "The Luminaries is a magnificent novel: awesome in its structural complexity; addictive in its story-telling and magical in its conjuring of a world of greed and gold," he said.

From our catalogue:  It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky. The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction, which more than fulfils the promise of The Rehearsal. Like that novel, it is full of narrative, linguistic and psychological pleasures, and has a fiendishly clever and original structuring device. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery.

The judges considered 151 novels for the $80,000 prize.  Next year American authors will be allowed to compete for the Man Booker Prize for the first time.
Deb.

Three Graves Full

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

From the cover:  More than a year ago, mild-mannered Jason Getty killed a man he wished he’d never met. Then he planted the problem a little too close to home. But just as he’s learning to live with the undeniable reality of what he’s done, police unearth two bodies on his property, neither of which is the one Jason buried. Jason races to stay ahead of the consequences of his crime and while chaos reigns on his lawn, his sanity unravels, snagged on the agendas of a colourful cast of strangers. As the action unfolds, each discovers that knowing more than one side of the story doesn't necessarily rule out a deadly margin of error.
 
I borrowed the audiobook and liked it ... eventually.  It starts off slowly, almost ho hum slowly, hooks you in around the middle, and sets a cracking pace towards the end.   It’s quirky, a little along the lines of Carl Hiaasen but not as funny.  And as the mayhem ramps up, the only thing, the ONLY thing that is top of mind is … what’s happened to Tessa, the dog!  I enjoyed this book but unfortunately one of my literary bugbears reared its ugly head. 

Back in 2011, I wrote a review of The Dead Path, a ghostly thriller by Stephen M Irwin, in which I said:  “…  although the author has crafted a gripping story, it loses some power by sinking into a huge abyss of similes, ahem, like a submarine with hull damage.  There are “ rain dripped like a …. , a smile like a … , wind blew like a, like a, like a” etc.  Then of course there was “as strong as a ….” and “as tall as, as cold as, as dark as, as wet as ” and on and on they came, in great waves.  Hundreds of them.  Sometimes two or three or more in the one sentence. Honestly!   When I eventually heard “with eyes as heavy as manhole covers” (I kid you not) I threw my hands up in the air and got the giggles.  Surely not what a stomach-clenching, all-out-creepy, hair-raising story should engender.” 

Thank heavens Three Graves Full isn’t littered with similes like the above, but, groan, it does contain its own ineffable pearler: “… his eyes rolled like ball bearings on a lazy Susan.”  Oh please!  What is it with authors, eyes, and cringe-worthy similes!!  
Deb

Nobel Prize for Literature

Canada's Alice Munro has won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, making her the 13th woman to win in the history of the coveted award.  The Swedish Academy honoured Ms Munro, 82, as a "master of the contemporary short story".  It hailed her "finely tuned storytelling, which is characterised by clarity and psychological realism. Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov."
 
Her works include Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), The Moons of Jupiter (1982), Runaway (2004), The View from Castle Rock (2006) and Too Much Happiness (2009).
The collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001) became the basis of the film Away from Her from 2006, directed by Sarah Polley. Her most recent collection is Dear Life (2012).
 
Ms Munro will receive the prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor ($1.3 million).
Deb.  

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