Reading Rewards - reviews

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully-constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society's expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Renee - passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives.

Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renee lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is a thought provoking book on many levels and, rightfully so, a popular Book Club title.  The characters are endearing in their efforts to hide their high intelligence and I must admit that some of the words used were lost on my knowledge of grammar and vocabulary!  Listening to this title on audio book whilst driving made the words hard to look up, but for a wordsmith like our Deb (the Editor of this blog, CCLC's Pages and Audiobook Next Reads newsletter), it would have her revelling in its complexity.  Despite the book's sesquipedalian nature (that one did require looking up!), I found the exploration of concepts and the light humor that is woven through the book a joy to read. The narration by Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris brilliant.  A definite recommendation.

ED: The Elegance of the Hedgehog  is a novel by the French novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery (translated from the French by Alison Anderson).  First released in August 2006 by Gallimard, the novel became a publishing success in France the following year, selling over a million copies. It has been translated into several languages, and published in a number of countries outside France, including the United Kingdom and the United States, attracting critical praise for both the work and its author.
- Thanks Monique, ha ha, and I thought sesquipedalian meant having 70 legs or something!  :o) It's now definitely on my To Read/Listen list! 

This Green Hell

This Green Hell by Greig Beck is book 3 of the Alex Hunter Series.  From the cover:  Deep in the steaming jungles of Paraguay, Aimee Weir is in trouble. The petro-biologist has found what she was looking for - a unique micro-organism in a natural gas deposit - but it proves to be more destructive than anyone could have imagined. A contagion is striking down all in its wake. The camp is quarantined, but workers start to vanish in the night. Alex Hunter and his Hotzone All-Forces Warfare Commandos must be dropped in to the disaster area to stem the outbreak.  Is it fear of contamination – or has something far more lethal come to the surface? Something that has been trapped beneath the miles of stone, waiting... for us.

I downloaded This Green Hell from our Bolinda Audio site, but it's also available in CD format and print copy.  Recently nominated for the 2012 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Paperback Novel, Beck once again provides an action/suspense/supernatural/horror/thriller with all the elements that keep you listening (and of course, the “will they/won’t they” aspect between Aimee and Alex).  I missed book 2 but did a bit of a rave over book 1 – Beneath the Dark Ice (see review here).  This one has more stomach-clenching supernatural horror, but it’s still an intelligent, gripping, ‘page-turning’ story, one that has been very well researched but presented in easy-to-digest form.   
Considering the setting in This Green Hell - a jungle in Paraguay, the very American covert HAWCS action/weaponry, the politics and listening to narrator Sean Mangan’s broad American accent, it’s hard to believe these books are written by an Aussie.  There’s a massive international appeal here – this series has mega movie potential! 

Bones are forever

Bones are forever is the latest from Kathy Reichs and the latest in the series on Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist.  Temperance is also the basis for the character in the hit television show Bones, but there are many differences between the books and the drama.

"A newborn baby is found wedged in a vanity cabinet in a rundown apartment near Montreal. Dr Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist to the province of Quebec, is brought in to investigate. While there, she discovers the mummified remains of two more babies within the same room. Shocked and distressed, Tempe must use all her skills and inner strength to focus on the facts. But when the autopsies reveal that the children died of unnatural causes, the hunt for the mother - a young woman with a seedy past and at least three aliases - is on."

This is really only the start of the story, as the case blows out to include organised crime, drug dealing and a trip to the wilds of Northern Canada, where everything comes to a head. Temperance also has to deal with  the complications of having to work with two past lovers and trying to find the perceived 'murdering mother' - who may not be as guilty as first thought and who is in incredible danger herself.

As usual, Temperance is her strong-willed self, managing all the conflicts she has to deal with well, considering the difficult circumstances. And it doesn't turn out as you expect, although I appreciated that it was Temperance herself who thought through it all and took action to figure out exactly what had been going on.

It was a difficult read to begin with, not because it was badly written, but because nobody likes to have to deal with dead babies - especially when they have been murdered. However, Reichs is a engaging writer and she had me truly engaged to the point where I just had to finish the book.  As you would expect, her procedural writing is first rate and her story was intricately woven, but not to the point of confusion.

If you enjoy Bones the TV show, I encourage you to read Reichs and discover the other Temperance Brennan. If you enjoy a good procedural mystery or even just forensics, then you will love this one. 

- Michelle

Secrets of the Tides

Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell  

I saw a review of this book on a blog that I follow and it sparked my interest.  I am always prepared to give debut novels a try, and this one is by an English-born author who now lives in Sydney.

The book tells the story of the Tide family, once close, who are now estranged.  Shifting between the past and the present, Secrets of the Tides is told from the point of view of two sisters and their mother, all reflecting on events of 10 years ago and struggling to deal with the fallout.

The characters are well portrayed and complex. We meet them in two time zones - back at the time of the tragedy, two young teenage girls, Dora and Cassie,  a dissatisfied mother and a mostly absent father working in London.   When we meet them 10 years later, we understand implicitly the adults they have become and the issues with which they deal.  Dora is in a relationship that is becoming serious when she discovers she is pregnant, which brings up all sorts of complicated feelings from the past. The estranged Cassie, meanwhile, is dealing with her secret in a much different way. This is the heart of the book - a detailed and honest illustration of a tragedy's reverberations through the years, and how adult lives are directly affected by trans-formative childhood events.

Secrets of the Tides is ultimately a sad book and it speaks to the truth that bad things happen to good people for no good reason; but it keeps you turning those pages to ultimately learn what really happened to this family.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to readers who enjoy Family Sagas. It has just been nominated in the "Get Reading" 2012 Campaign, and those recommendations don't come easily.   Reserve your copy at the library today!


Ned Kelly Awards

The 2012 Ned Kelly Awards - presented for Australian crime fiction and non-fiction - were announced at a ceremony last night (August 29).

The winners were: 
Best First Crime Fiction - The Cartographer by Peter Twohig
Best True Crime - Sins of the Father by Eamonn Duff
Best Crime Fiction - Pig Boy by J.C. Burke
SD Harvey Short Story Award - Summer of the Seventeenth Poll by A.J. Clifford
Lifetime Achievement Award - Gabrielle Lord


The Marmalade Files

The Marmalade Files, by Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann
I am a self-confessed political junkie and of course followed the ongoing Peter Slipper sexual harassment saga with glee. So, when the journalist from The Australian who was the primary source of the sordid details produced a "novel", I instantly pounced upon it. The authors certainly did not disappoint. Take the political rumour-mongering, corrupt and/or power hungry politicians that reside in Canberra, swap the  sexes of the main players, and throw in some totally outrageous scenarios and you come up with a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the nation's capital which leaves you speculating just how much is fact and how much is fiction. There is the minority government hanging by a thread and led by a massively unpopular leader, a ruthless and ambitious foreign minister, the "faceless men" in the Senate pulling the strings in the Labor Party... need I go on? But it's all a good romp, bringing a smile to your lips as well as a nod of recognition to your head. By the final denouement, you are quite willing to let yourself succumb to the total ludicrousness of it all - or is it so ludicrous after all? Spoil yourself with this great frolic.

Creative Writing Workshop

Want to write a story but don’t know where to begin?
Join author Vicki Thornton in a hands-on workshop to generate ideas and learn tips to get started.

WHERE & WHEN?  Tuesday 18 September, 2.00-4.00pm @ Pakenham Library, cnr. John & Henry Streets.  Melway: 317 E8.
COST?  No cost, but bookings are essential.  Book online at or phone Pakenham Library on 5941 2036.

On Tuesday 16 October 2-4pm, come and join in the fun of the Storytelling Café where you can read your finished work!

Vicki is a writer, poet and spoken word performer.  She holds a Diploma of Professional Children’s Writing, a Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing, and won first prize in the 2010 Yarram Community Learning Centre Annual Literary Competition.  Together with her work appearing in a variety of publications, her poem PJ was in the Australian Poetry Centre’s Dear Dad anthology, she has a poem and short story on the website site Verity La and has a story published in the anthology 100 Stories for Queensland.
Vicki is a member of the Victorian Writer’s Centre, the Melbourne Poet’s Union and is one of the founding members of the Lazy River Writers.
Would you like us to publicise more events here on our blog?  Drop us a comment and let us know. Deb.  

Davitt Awards Shortlist

The 12th Davitt Awards for the best crime books written by Australian women will be presented next month. This year 49 books, published in 2011, compete for five Davitt Awards:
Best Adult Crime Fiction, Best YA Crime Fiction, Best True Crime, Readers' Vote and the new (to 2012) Best Debut Crime.

This year marks the first time Sisters in Crime Australia has announced a shortlist for the awards. In the adult category, they are:

Jaye Ford, Beyond Fear   
Sulari Gentill, A Decline in Prophets
Carolyn Morwood, Death and the Spanish Lady
Jennifer Rowe, Love Honour & O'Brien
Kim Westwood, The Courier’s New Bicycle
Helene Young, Shattered Sky

True Crime:
Wendy Lewis, The Australian Book of Family Murders
Liz Porter, Cold Case Files: Past crimes solved by new forensic science

The Davitts are named in honour of Ellen Davitt (1812-1879) who wrote Australia’s first mystery novel, Force and Fraud, in 1865.

Vic Premier's Awards

The Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2012 are the richest in the country.  Five categories each offer a winner's cheque for $25,000 with those titles in the running for the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature. This year the program also includes two biennial awards - $15,000 for an unpublished manuscript and $20,000 for Indigenous writing.
Here are the shortlisted titles for each category:

Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction: Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears
A History of Books by Gerald Murnane
The Cook by Wayne Macauley
Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany
All That I Am by Anna Funder
Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse

Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction: •The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage
The Hall of Uselessness by Simon Leys
Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung
Adelaide by Kerryn Goldsworthy
1835: The Founding of Melbourne and The Conquest of Australia
  by James Boyce
True North: The Story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack by Brenda Niall

Prize for Writing for Young Adults: •All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield
The Shadow Girl by John Larkin
The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod

CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry: Southern Barbarians by John Mateer
Vishvarupa by Michelle Cahill
Armour by John Kinsella

Louis Esson Prize for Drama: •National Interest by Aiden Fennessy
•A Golem Story by Lally Katz
•Boxman by Daniel Keene


The prize will be announced on 16 October.  Click on the highlighted titles to reserve your copy and indulge in some award-nominated reading!


Age BoY Shortlist

The Age Book of the Year Awards shortlist has been released.  The $2500 prizes are for Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, with $10,000 for the Book of the Year.  In the running are:

Fiction: What the Family Needed - Steven Amsterdam; Spirit House - Mark Dapin; The Meaning of Grace - Deborah Forster; Forecast: Turbulence - Janette Turner Hospital; Foal's Bread - Gillian Mears. Non-fiction:  1835: The Founding of Melbourne & the Conquest of Australia - James Boyce; Hiroshima Nagasaki - Paul Ham; Kinglake-350 - Adrian Hyland; Fishing the River of Time - Tony Taylor; Double Entry - Jane Gleeson-White. Poetry: First Light - Kate Fagan; The Welfare of My Enemy - Anthony Lawrence; The Brokenness Sonnets 1-111 and Other Poems - Mal McKimmie; Late Night Shopping - Rhyll McMaster; Surface to Air - Jaya Savage. The Awards will be presented at the opening of the Melbourne Writers Festival on 23 August.  Deb.

Ransom River

Meg Gardiner is best known for her novels featuring her characters Evan Delaney - attorney, and forensic psychiatrist - Jo Beckett, but Ransom River, her latest title, introduces us to a new character, Rory Mackenzie.

And what an introduction! But first - about the story....

Rory Mackenzie is juror number seven on a high-profile murder case in her hometown of Ransom River, California. It’s a place she vowed never to visit again, after leaving behind its surfeit of regret and misfortune and the spectre of a troubled past that threatened to disturb the town’s peaceful façade.

While most of the town is focused on the tense and shocking circumstances of the trial, Rory’s return to Ransom River dredges up troubling memories from her childhood that she can no longer ignore. But in the wake of a desperate attack on the courthouse, Rory realises that exposing these dark skeletons has connected her to an old case that was never solved, and bringing the truth to light just might destroy her. 

That desperate attack on the courthouse starts within the first twenty pages, after a brief Rory flashback which builds background in this mystery/thriller. The action and intrigue drags you in and before long you are committed to both the story and Rory's family and history.  Without giving too much away, the courthouse attack consumes only the first part of the story, but the action doesn't end there, as family connections and long buried secrets are revealed to put not only Rory, but those she loves, in danger.

I loved this story. It was action packed, intriguing and quick moving. Plans to take my time reading it were soon forgotten as I was captured by Rory and all the things that were happening to her. Although she was the focus of the action, she never stood for being a victim  - using her smarts and her experience to her advantage.

But is it enough?  You'll have to read it to find out. And then keep an eye out, as we may well see more of this story in the future.....


Vale Marvellous Maeve

Irish writer Maeve Binchy, who has sold more than 40 million books worldwide, died yesterday (30 July 2012) aged 72 after a short illness. 
  Maeve Binchy was born on 28 May 1940 in Dalkey, County Dublin, Ireland, the eldest child of four. She is sister of William Binchy, Regius Professor of Laws at Trinity College, Dublin; and is cousin of the also writer Dan Binchy. Her uncle was the historian D. A. Binchy (1899–1989).

Starting out in life as a teacher, Maeve moved into journalism at the Irish Times and published short story collections before releasing her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, in 1982.

Binchy was know for her humorous take on Irish life, her descriptive characters and interest in human nature. Announcing her death on Irish television, she was hailed as Ireland's most recognisable writer.

Her last novel, Minding Frankie, was published in 2010, the same year she received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Book Awards.  She is survived by her husband, writer Gordon Snell.

Inspector Rebus crime writer, Ian Rankin, said: "Maeve Binchy was a gregarious, larger than life, ebullient recorder of human foibles and wonderment. I'm taking a drink to her." Deb.

Fifty Shades of Grey - E L James

I admit I bought this book as an e-book about 3 months ago before the current hype about this series  ran viral!  I thought I had better read it and find out what all the fuss was about.
So here's the rundown - Literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey as her room mate cannot make the interview.

She is immediately attracted to the mysterious Mr Grey who is also captivated by her innocence.

He then sets out to make her his own. She is shocked, yet thrilled by Grey's almost stalking-like advances towards her. Despite the trappings of his success, his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family, Christian Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey's secrets and explores her own dark desires.

The Fifty Shades Trilogy will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

Thats the abridged review!!

Personally, I found the writing to be boring and repetitive.  The storyline is also fairly weak and predictable, and I was glad to finish the first book of the series. Sure, there is a lot of sex in this book, but that's nothing new, there are plenty of other books out there in the library that have that content if that is what rocks your boat!

Despite that, it is the most requested book in the library at the moment and judging by the holds we have, it will continue to be for some time!


**Note from Editor:  We have just released a handy bookmark entitled "Other Shades of Grey" which lists Erotic Fiction authors and Anthologies.  Pick one up next time you pop in!

Prime Minister's Literary Awards

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Arts Minister Simon Crean have just announced the winners of the 2012 Prime Minister's Literary Awards. Now in its fifth year, the awards recognise and reward excellence in Australian literature and history. The winner of each category receives $80,000.

Fiction:  Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears.  Non-Fiction: An Eye for Eternity: the life of Manning Clark by Mark McKenna. Australian History: The Biggest Estate on Earth how Aborigines made Australia by Bill Gammage. Poetry: Interferon Psalms by Luke Davies. Deb.

Murder in the Dark

Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood. eAudiobook narrated by Stephanie Daniel.

It’s Christmas, and Phryne has an invitation to the Last Best party of 1928, a four-day extravaganza being held at Werribee Manor house and grounds by the Golden Twins, Isabella and Gerald Templar. She knew them in Paris, where they caused a sensation.

Phryne is in two minds about going.  But when threats begin arriving in the mail, she promptly decides to accept the invitation.  At the party, three of the guests are kidnapped and she must puzzle her way through the scavenger hunt clues to retrieve the hostages.

I LOVE the Phryne Fisher series, but this one was abysmal.  The story seemed to be some kind of testament to Kerry Greenwood’s “look how much I know”.  So many quotes.  So many poems, some even in French.  So much name dropping.  It was all very annoying - particularly as I have met Kerry and admire her intelligence and quick wit.  But I digress.   The ego-maniacal twins were intensely irritating.  Couple their vanity with a tribe of feet-kissing acolytes, a hash-filled tantric sex soiree, an old man who is both bored and boring and a child you are longing to slap, and well, it was dreadful.  Oh, and someone should tell narrators not to sing.  Listening to Stephanie Daniel trying to sing St. Louis Blues was agonising, to say nothing of the Olde English madrigals in the story.  What were they thinking? Deb.
PS - Like most of the Phryne Fisher series, this title is also available in both print and large print copies, MP3 disc, CD and in Playaway formats.


Indulge in all things gastronomic when the State Library opens a free exhibition - Gusto! A Culinary History of Victoria.     Running from 3 August until the end of April 2013, Gusto! explores Victoria's historic and contemporary culinary landscape, covering subjects such as the history of viticulture, indigenous foods, sustainable food practices, fine dining, food rationing and also features the fascinating stories of significant Victorian culinary figures such as Jacques Reymond, Mietta O'Donnell, Guy Grossi and Stephanie Alexander.  There will be hundreds of books, archival items - including an actual World War 1 army biscuit bearing the inscription "A soldier has to have good teeth", handwritten documents, objects d'art, photos, art and advertising ephemera and the 1880 scrapbook of menus and recipes compiled by Sir Redmond Barry, the State library's founder who has a bronze statue outside the iconic building.  The exhibition is complemented by a full program of events and activities, including tours, Look-Stop-Taste, The Curator and The Critic guided tour (Tracey Judd Iva and food writer Rita Erlich) and more. Have we whet your appetite?  Log on to for further information. Deb.