Reading Rewards - reviews

The Well at the World's End

The Well at the World's End by  A.J. Mackinnon

When A. J. Mackinnon quits his job in Australia, he knows only that he longs to travel to the Well at the World's End, a mysterious pool on a remote Scottish island whose waters, legend has it, hold the secret to eternal youth. Determined not to fly ('It would feel like cheating'), he sets out with a rucksack, some fireworks and a map of the world and trusts chance to take care of the rest. By land and by sea, by train, truck, horse and yacht, he makes his way across the globe - and through a series of hilarious adventures. He survives a bus crash in Australia, marries a princess in Laos, is attacked by Komodo dragons and does time in a Chinese jail. The next lift - or the next near-miss - is always just a happy accident away.

This is the astonishing true story of a remarkable voyage, an old-fashioned quest by a modern-day adventurer.

Alexander (Sandy) Mackinnon first visited Iona off the coast of Scotland as a 19-year-old and fell in love with the magic and mystery of the Scottish islands. The Well at the World's End is the story of his epic journey back to Iona eight years later to revisit the well of eternal youth and get it right the second time. 

Sandy never does things the easy way and decided to get back to Scotland without flying anywhere. He starts from Australia, where he had been teaching English in Adelaide and proceeds to New Zealand. He spent months trying to get away again without flying.  He went on a yacht to New Caledonia without really knowing that this was the wrong direction; then continued his adventures crossing Australia by bus, sailing through the Indonesian archipelago, travelling through Laos and a short and illegal trip into China, then on by various means through to Egypt and Europe. Bizarre adventures, some weird and wonderful characters as well as some sinister ones, and a man with an insatiable appetite for what is around the next corner even if it leads inevitably to trouble, makes for a wonderful travel tale. 

Those who enjoyed Mackinnon's previous book "The Unlikely voyage of Jack de Crow" will understand his capacity for adventure and magnetic attraction for trouble and those who haven't read it be prepared for an adventure with a true travel eccentric. We have this title in both print and audio formats. 

~ Fay

Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

This interesting little book tells the story of two people, Addie Moore and Louis Waters. They have been neighbours for some time now, one block apart. Being neighbours they are fairly aware of each other and both living alone, in houses which are empty of family, they both experience loneliness.  One evening Addie goes to Louis house and makes a suggestion; that Louis visit her sometimes, at her house, and that they be together throughout the night, for company.  Both Addie and Louis are in their 70’s.

"I’m talking about getting through the night, she says. And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?"

"Yes. I think so", he says.

This book is deceiving. It starts off gently and Addie and Louis successfully seem to be able to arrange a life comprising less loneliness.  By the end though there is an undercurrent of vindictive control on behalf of one character which alters the lives of all the others. 

Our Souls at Night is a solemn, tender story which explores age, loneliness and companionship and is beautifully written. Kent Haruf was an award winning American novelist. This was his last book, finishing it shortly before he passed away in 2014. 

We have this title in print, large print, e-book and audio CD formats.

~ Ali

The Trap

The Trap by Melanie Raabe

Twelve years ago, Linda's sister Anna was murdered. Her killer was never caught, but Linda saw him. Now, all these years later, she's just seen him again on TV. He's become a well-known journalist, and Linda - a famous novelist and infamous recluse - knows no one will believe her if she accuses him. She does the only thing she can think of: she sets a trap, writing a thriller called Blood Sisters about the unsolved murder of a young woman. When Blood Sisters is published, Linda agrees to give just one media interview. At home. To the one person who knows more about the case than she does...

Why we love it: 
The Trap is a gripping psychological thriller with a literary difference. Fact and fiction blur as we race towards the dramatic conclusion, never quite sure what to expect next.

~ from The Team at Better Reading

Baileys Prize shortlist

Now in its twenty first year, the £30,000 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in writing by women from throughout the world. The shortlist of six books features one previously shortlisted author and three debut novels:

Cynthia Bond: Ruby

Anne Enright: The Green Road

Lisa McInerney: The Glorious Heresies

Elizabeth McKenzie: The Portable Veblen

Hannah Rothschild: The Improbability of Love

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life

The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, which was formerly known as the Orange prize, will be announced on 8 June.

~ Deb

In Vino Veritas

In Vino Veritas by J.M. Gregson

The new Lambert and Hook mystery - Martin Beaumont is the uncompromising owner of a successful Gloucestershire vineyard. He has built the company steadily over the years, with a small but dedicated team by his side. However, he sees Abbey Vineyards as his company, to do with as he pleases, much to the chagrin of his senior staff members. So when he is found dead in his car, Chief Superintendent Lambert and Detective Sergeant Hook don't have to look very far to find people with strong motives for the murder...

An embittered accountant, a disturbed and ill-treated wife, a former mistress, a glamorous research and development director, a genial shop manager and an ambitious chef - which one of them was driven to commit murder?

Lambert and Hook are your quintessential British coppers and feature in many of Gregson's books, though not as a series but as standalone novels.  They are usually fairly gentile reads dispute at least one violent murder - this one well-deserved with a neatly placed bullet in the temple.  There's a feeling of this story almost being a stage production with its limited number of characters, all bearing a grudge and each with a story to tell. It won't set your heart racing, there is no defining "aha" moment and the denouement is somewhat predictable, but if you have hours to while away with not much else to do, you could do worse.  I borrowed the audio CD version which was very well narrated by Jonathan Keeble. We have this in print, large print and MP3 formats.  
~ Deb
PS:  In vino veritas is a Latin phrase that means "in wine, truth", suggesting a person under the influence of alcohol is more likely to speak their hidden thoughts and desires.

She's Not There

She's Not There: a novel by Joy Fielding

A lifetime ago, every year Caroline Shipley looked forward to her wedding anniversary. But then a celebratory trip to Mexico for the occasion with her husband and friends ended in the unsolved kidnapping of her infant daughter, Samantha. Now, fifteen years after that horrific time, divorced and isolated,Caroline is forced to relive the kidnapping by reporters who call every year on the anniversary of Samantha’s disappearance. However, this year when the phone rings, Caroline hears the sweet voice of a girl claiming to be her long-lost daughter. Plunged back into the world of heartbreak, suspicion and questions that led the case to run cold so many years ago, Caroline doesn’t know what or who to believe. But when she starts to figure it out, she finds the answers dangerously close to home.

One thing you can almost guarantee when you read one of Canadian author Joy Fielding's novels is that you will struggle to put it down. This latest offering of hers is no exception!

Imagine how you would feel if one of your children went missing from a hotel room while you were eating dinner in the courtyard just below the window. Despite both parents taking turns in checking on their two children every half hour, the unthinkable happens. 

Fast forward fifteen years to the present day and Samantha has never been found despite exhaustive searches and interviews with everyone who may have had some information. Caroline's marriage broke up soon after Samantha disappeared and her other daughter Michelle has been a force to deal with all her life. Caroline has struggled to return to work as a maths teacher because of the gossip and speculation that surrounds the event. Did she have something to do with Samantha's disappearance or not, and how could a mother leave her children? 

Life goes on until one day Caroline receives a telephone call from a girl who claims to be Samantha, the question is, is this a scam, a con or could it really be her long lost daughter? I encourage you to read this novel to find the answer to the question.

~ Janine

Flight of Dreams

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

On the evening of 3 May 1937, Emilie Imhoff boards the Hindenburg. As the much-celebrated only female crew member, Emilie has access to the entire airship and hears everything, including rumours of bomb threats. But Emilie is more focused on hiding a secret she can't afford to share with anyone. Her life depends on it. 

What Emilie can't see is that everyone on board seems to be hiding something. From Max the navigator who is madly in love with her to the enigmatic German officer with everything to lose. Gertrud, a feisty journalist blacklisted in her native Germany, has stumbled onto the scoop of her life, and a suspicious American businessman and an inquisitive cabin boy are not the only ones who want to discover what she's found. 

Why we love it: 

Flight of Dreams is an edge-of-your-seat historical whodunit about one of aviation’s most enduring mysteries. Ariel Lawhon takes the bones of this story and turns it into a tense, suspenseful historical thriller.

Each of the characters in this gripping novel, both crew and passengers, are drawn from real people who travelled that day, even down to their names.

We become absorbed in each of the character’s stories and await their fates with foreboding. As well as its rich character portrayal, the narrative oozes interesting historical details – the clothes, the drinks, the food, and of course the zeppelin – are all well-researched and compelling. Anyone who loves historical fiction, will love Flight of Dreams.

~ from The Team at Better Reading

Miles Franklin Award longlist

The Miles Franklin Literary Award is Australia's most prestigious literature prize. Established through the will of My Brilliant Career author, Miles Franklin (Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin), the $60,000 prize is awarded each year to a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases. The 2016 longlist titles are:

Ghost River by Tony Birch
Hope Farm by Peggy Frew
Leap by Myfanwy Jones
The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau
Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley
The Hands: an Australian pastoral by Stephen Orr
Black Rock White City by A.S. Patric
Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

Shortlisted titles will be announced in May, with the winner announcement in June 2016. Watch this space!


The Friday Night Knitting Club

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs.  

Once a week, an eclectic group of women comes together at a New York City yarn shop to work on their latest projects- and share the stories of their lives...

At the center of Walker and Daughter is the shop's owner, Georgia, who is overwhelmed with juggling the store and single-handedly raising her teenage daughter. Happy to escape the demands of her life, she look forwards to her Friday Night Knitting Club, where she and her friends- Anita, Peri, Darwin, Lucie, and K.C.- exchange knitting tips, jokes, and their deepest secrets. But when the man who once broke Georgia's heart suddenly shows up, demanding a role in their daughter's life, her world is shattered.

Luckily, Georgia's friends are there for encouragement, sharing their own tales of intimacy, heartbreak, and miracle making. And when the unthinkable happens, these women will discover that what they've created isn't just a knitting club; its a sisterhood. 

Being a knitter for longer than I can remember, the cover on this audiobook caught my eye so I just had to borrow it.  For once I've actually got BOOK 1 in a series - I usually find out after the fact that I've got book 7 or whatever, so I started out in a mood of serendipity which sadly did not last long. 

I should have known that saccharine/hard-boiled/rich/struggling/women-are-a-girl's-best-friend/sob stories are not my milieu; they make me angry.  Plus the style of writing, short, chopped, clipped, reduced any kind of flow to the storyline making it quite a laborious read.  Somebody once said that "it's hard to focus on a story when the writing gets in the way" and I found that to be very true in this case.  

Like other books that focus on a craft - embroidery, or cooking for example, recipes or tips and hints are embedded in the story and The Friday Night Knitting Club is no exception, except these "hints and tips" belong with all those wimpy inspirational posters: "keep going, just one more row, don't give up" and "one stitch after another stitch and you will have a scarf". Hallalujah sistahs!! 

This book is actually the antithesis of knitting which, in essence, is all about rhythm and flow, a soothing craft that promotes a feeling of well-being and accomplishment.  Hmmm, actually, I DO feel much better now I've returned it.  


Summer Secrets

Summer Secrets by Jane Green

June, 1998: At twenty seven, Catherine Coombs, also known as Cat, is struggling. She lives in London, works as a journalist, and parties hard. Her lunchtimes consist of several glasses of wine at the bar downstairs in the office, her evenings much the same, swigging the free booze and eating the free food at a different launch or party every night. When she discovers the identity of the father she never knew she had, it sends her into a spiral. She makes mistakes that cost her the budding friendship of the only women who have ever welcomed her. And nothing is ever the same after that. June, 2014: Cat has finally come to the end of herself. She no longer drinks. She wants to make amends to those she has hurt. Her quest takes her to Nantucket, to the gorgeous summer community where the women she once called family still live. Despite her sins, will they welcome her again? What Cat doesn't realize is that these women, her real father's daughters, have secrets of their own. As the past collides with the present, Cat must confront the darkest things in her own life and uncover the depths of someone's need for revenge.

Another excellent book by Jane Green. I enjoy all of her books, this one was focused on Cat who was the 'good time girl' and had a relationship with alcohol. She had a difficult childhood, with her mother spending most of her days in her room with depression and a feeling that her father did not care for her. She discovers after her father's death that all it not what it appeared and she has a whole family she did not know about. Of course when she meets them alcohol comes into play again with devastating consequences. This book could be about anyone, that's what I love about Jane's books, they could be fiction or fact. The lovely descriptions of Nantucket in the book make me want to visit!

~ Janine


Room by Emma Donoghue

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough... not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Narrated from five-year-old Jack's perspective, this book is really different, engrossing and original.  It was inspired by the true story of Elisabeth Fritzl, an Austrian woman who had been imprisoned in her father’s basement for twenty-four years, during which time he repeatedly assaulted and raped her. She eventually bore him seven children and had one miscarriage. Three of her children, one daughter and two sons had been imprisoned with their mother for the whole of their lives (until rescue). Room takes its basic plot from the Fritzl case as well as the cases of Jaycee Lee Dugard in California and of Natascha Kampusch and Sabine Dardenne.

Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, Room is a novel like no other. It has polarised many readers who have published reviews - some loved it, others struggled to even give it one star!  Personally, I really enjoyed it.  We have this title in all formats. Reserve yours now and read it before seeing the movie.  Let us know what you think!

~ Dot  

ABIA Awards longlist

The Australian Book Industry Awards Academy has announced the 2016 ABIA Book longlist. Since 2000, the ABIAs has celebrated the connection between Australian readers and the ‘book makers’ ­­— authors, editors, publishing professionals and retailers — who unite to create the must-read books of the year.

A panel of industry experts will deliver the highly anticipated shortlist on Monday 2 May. ABIA winners will be announced on Thursday 19 May at a ceremony in Sydney.

Check out the list here.


Precious Things

Precious Things by Kelly Doust

Aimee is living in a cloistered environment in a late 19th Century French chateau. With her mother dead in mysterious circumstances, and her aristocrat father, cold and strict, she has only a handsome valet and lowly servant for company. Alone, she waits for her coming marriage but barely knows her future husband – it’s a marriage of convenience for her suitor is rich and her father’s estate impoverished. Alone with her needlework, she painstakingly crafts herself an exquisite collar to wear on her wedding dress and in her despair she embroiders a hidden message in the folds of the piece.

Cut to present day London where collector and vintage lover Maggie has a glamorous job she loves at a high end auction house. She is struggling with a young toddler and the arrival of her husband’s teenage daughter from a previous relationship. As she finds herself drawn to a wealthy and handsome man, into her possession comes an exquisite piece – a collar or coronet – that she treasures. But the piece holds hidden secrets and Maggie must unveil its mysterious past.

Why we love it: 
Precious Things tells the compelling story of a modern woman while weaving the fascinating and mysterious stories of many women from the past two centuries. What links each of them is a beautiful, precious thing – a bejewelled and mysterious coronet.

~ from The Team at Better Reading

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester

It’s 1922 in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines – and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so Evelyn Lockhart, forbidden from pursuing her passion: to become one of the first female doctors. Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on the only life she knows: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie. And if Evie does fight Columbia University’s medical school for acceptance, how will she support herself? 

So when there’s a casting call for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, will Evie find the nerve to audition? And if she does, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman, a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous? 

A truly captivating book that I could not put down!! I loved the storyline within this book. It tells the story of Evie who has lived a somewhat privileged life in New York but always felt there was something more than afternoon tea parties, dinners and balls. After coming across a young woman giving birth by a lake, she felt compelled to help her. Unfortunately the woman dies during the process, but the baby survives. This event drives Evie want to become a female Obstetrician, which in the 1920's is unheard of, and very much frowned upon by society. Her drive to succeed and the obstacles she faces make it difficult for a female, however she does persist and supports her studies by becoming a Ziegfeld girl. Of course there is a romance intertwined within this book, but that too is not an easy path for Evie to follow amid the scandal and protocol expected of the times.

I am in awe of the amount of talent here in Australia.  Natasha has done her research well. It was fascinating for me to read what women giving birth had to endure in the 1920's compared to today. A brilliant story by a wonderful Aussie author. Highly recommended!

~ Janine

Abbott & Credlin titles

Battleground: why the Liberal Party shirtfronted Tony Abbott by Wayne Errington
Credlin & Co: how the Abbott government destroyed itself by Aaron Patrick
The Road to Ruin: how Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government by Nikki Savva

Political parties can’t help themselves – both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party have come out with fierce denunciations of leaders they have brutally thrown from office in their first terms once the deed has been done. The atrocious behaviour of Rudd was revealed in intricate detail after he was ousted by his Labor colleagues, and now the same thing has happened in relation to Tony Abbott. Since December 2015 there have been three titles describing the disastrous reign of Tony Abbott. Although they all tell basically the same story, they each do so in a slightly different way, with different emphases and different assignments of blame to the major characters.

Wayne Errington’s book describes the saga as a more general, building catastrophe with Peta Credlin playing an important role in the eventual outcome but with the emphasis on the Prime Minister’s inability to “grow into” the job to which he had aspired for decades. 

Aaron Patrick’s account presents the sorry saga as a joint failing of both Abbott and Credlin to manage government (and importantly the other members of their government) once they gained power. However it is Nikki Savva’s book which is the most savage indictment of Peta Credlin’s influence and personality, embellished with intricate details of her temper tantrums and rudeness, and how important a factor it was in the downfall of the first term Abbott government.

I must admit, although Savva has by far the best knowledge of the subject (maybe due to her being the partner of one of Malcolm Turnbull’s staff), her superior knowledge is somewhat dulled by her continual litany of Credlin’s awfulness; after a while it becomes almost tedious. The other two accounts, in comparison, come off as more appealing as they give a more rounded interpretation of events. That said, Savva’s account does improve towards the end, with her fantastic blow-by-blow description of the coup – how it was planned, who did what and when.

If you are interested in reading about this most extraordinary tale in our recent political history, perhaps the most balanced version is Errington’s, but if you want to cover all the angles and really sink your teeth into this debacle, read the lot. I did, and I loved every minute of them.

~ Teresa  

You Sent Me A Letter

You Sent Me A Letter by Lucy Dawson

At 2am on the morning of her fortieth birthday, Sophie wakes in the darkness of her bedroom to find a stranger watching her from the foot of the bed. The intruder hands Sophie a letter and issues an ultimatum: the message is to be opened at her forthcoming party, in front of family and friends, at exactly 8 pm. Any failure to comply will not end well. 

Sophie can only think of one person who hates her enough to have hired a professional to menace her like this: her fiancé's ex-wife. What can the letter possibly contain? And why must it be read in front of everyone she loves? This will be no ordinary fortieth party. Sophie is not the only person holding a secret about the evening ahead. When the clock strikes eight, the course of several people's lives will be altered forever.

This was an annoying book.  The blurb was enticing, the story started out really well with building suspense but soon became drawn out and boring, and the last few chapters were great! But the whole letter thing just fizzles out and becomes a secondary issue as the husband and his kids suddenly become the prime storyline. It's very confusing. If you've read this book, we'd love to hear your opinion of it!  I downloaded the Bolinda e-audio which was well narrated by Julie Maisie. 

~ Deb.

Indie Awards

In Australia's first awards of the year - The Indies, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood was chosen by staff of independent bookshops as both the best fiction and overall best book of 2015. Best non-fiction award went to Magda Szubanski's Reckoning.



Lovesong by Alex Miller

Strangers did not, as a rule, find their way to Chez Dom, a small Tunisian cafe in Paris. Run by the widow Houria and her young niece, Sabiha, the cafe offers a home away from home for the North African immigrant workers at the great abattoirs of Vaugirard who, as with Houria and Sabiha themselves, have grown used to the smell of blood in the air. When one day a lost Australian tourist, John Patterner, seeks shelter in the cafe from a sudden Parisian rainstorm, a tragic love story begins to unfold. 

Years later, while living a quiet life in suburban Melbourne, John Patterner is haunted by what happened to him and Sabiha at Vaugirard. He confides his story to Ken, an ageing writer, who sees in John's account the possibility for one last simple love story. When Ken tells his daughter this she reminds him, 'Love is never simple, Dad. You should know that.' He does know it. But being the writer he is, he cannot resist the lure of the story. 

Told with all Miller's distinctive clarity, intelligence and compassion, Lovesong is a pitch-perfect novel, a tender and enthralling story about the intimate lives of ordinary people. Like the truly great novelist he is, Miller locates the heart of his story in the moral frailties and secret passions of his all-too-human characters.

This gentle and evocative story unfolds quietly in the warmth of the café with the spices lovingly infused into the women’s cooking. I enjoyed the sense of place conveyed about their neighbourhood and nostalgia for both their families and home countries. Recommended reading from this multi-award winning author. 

~ Pru

Diagram Prize

The Bookseller’s (UK) annual Diagram prize, which has been running since 1978, rewards books not for their content, but for the strangeness of their title. Previous winners included: Managing a Dental Practice: the Genghis Khan way; Cooking with Poo; How to Avoid Large Ships; People Who Don't Know They're Dead: how they attach themselves to unsuspecting bystanders and what to do about it; and Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop. This year, Alan Stafford’s Too Naked for the Nazis triumphed in the public vote.

A biography of the lives of Wilson, Keppel and Betty, an eccentric music hall trio known for a “sand dance” routine performed in Egyptian costume which scandalised Nazi leaders in 1930s Berlin, Too Naked for the Nazis was originally going to be called Walk Like Three Egyptians.

The Bookseller said that Too Naked for the Nazis’ win was the closest it had ever seen: the competition is decided by public vote, with Stafford’s title taking 24.8% and Dr Jonathan Allan’s Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus 24.3%. Transvestite Vampire Biker Nuns from Outer Space: A Consideration of Cult Film was in third place, with Soviet Bus Stops fourth, and Reading the Liver: Papyrological Texts on Ancient Greek Extispicy in fifth place.



Maestra by L.S. Hilton

Judith Rashleigh works as an assistant in a prestigious London auction house, but her dreams of breaking into the art world have been gradually dulled by the blunt forces of snobbery and corruption. To make ends meet she moonlights as a hostess in one of the West End's less salubrious bars - although her work there pales against her activities on nights off. When Judith stumbles across a conspiracy at her auction house, she is fired before she can expose the fraud. In desperation, she accepts an offer from one of the bar's clients to accompany him to the French Riviera. But when an ill-advised attempt to slip him sedatives has momentous consequences, Judith finds herself fleeing for her life. Now alone and in danger, all Judith has to rely on is her consummate ability to fake it amongst the rich and famous - and the inside track on the hugely lucrative art fraud that triggered her dismissal.

Why we love it: 

Fifty Shades, The Talented Mr Ripley, Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… The comparisons are inevitable. But they tend to miss the point because Maestra is an original and this new heroine, Judith Rashleigh, is too. Sure, there are elements of Amy Dunne, Lisbeth Sander, and Ripley, but Judith is her own woman – super-smart, independent and she gets exactly what she wants. Maestra is fun, intriguing, sexy, sometimes funny, sometimes stomach-churning and definitely not for the faint-hearted.

from The Team at Better Reading