Six Under Eight

Six Under Eight by Madeleine West

The mother of all parenting diaries. You've read parenting stories before but most parents are only managing a small brood; with six children, all under eight years old, actor Madeleine West (Neighbours, Satisfaction, Underbelly) can justifiably lay claim to having seen it all. In this hilarious and moving book, Madeleine takes us through a year of her life as a mother and shows us that it is possible to have a large family and keep your sanity, wisdom and sense of humour intact.

Madeleine West is a well known Australian actress who's partner is restauranteur and chef extrordinaire Shannon Bennett. This memoir chronicles a year in her hectic life, with 4 kids, then finding she is pregnant with twins.

'My son shoved an unpopped popcorn up his nose . . . what do I do?'
'My daughter was drinking from the dog's bowl with a curly straw . . . is that a problem?'
'There is something in my baby's nappy resembling a creature from the Alien franchise . . . should I be concerned?'

Ahhhh, Parenthood. So much joy, so many stains. So many rewards, so many unfinished lattes. So many questions, so many people pretending they have the answers. Madeleine West is an actor, a writer and sometimes a comedian, but most importantly, she is a mother, and even though she has a perfectly functional television, she has six of the crazed critters to prove it. Madeleine is no expert, but if she hasn't seen it, wiped it up, medicated it, rushed to the emergency ward with it, raised bail for it, or given birth to it, it isn't worth knowing. In this hilarious, moving, brutally honest tale, Madeleine takes you through the ups and downs of the rollercoaster called Parenthood.  You will laugh, you may cry, and you might just learn something along the way.

I found this to be quite a laugh out loud book at times that all mums out there will be able to relate to. I take my hat off to her, as The Chef (her nickname for Shannon Bennett) seems to be generally absent around 200 out of 365 days per year, and when he is home is busy in his study checking emails. She does offer some parenting advice which is interspersed throughout the book and based on her experience as mum of six under eight. A most enjoyable read!

~ Janine


Calendar Girl: Volume One

Calendar Girl: Volume One by Audrey Carlan

Mia Saunders needs money. A lot of money. She has one year to pay off the loan shark who has threatened her father’s life and is coming after his unpaid gambling debts. One million dollars to be exact. 

Her mission is simple - serve as a high-priced escort for her aunt’s Los Angeles-based company and pay monthly against the debt. Spend a month with a rich man whom she doesn’t have to sleep with if she doesn’t want to? Easy money. 

Unlucky in love with a spirit that never gives up, this curvy motorcycle-riding vixen plans to get in, make her money, and get out. Part of that goal is keeping her heart locked up tight and her eye on the prize. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to go.

I grabbed Calendar Girl thinking it was going to be an easy read, with little substance and lightweight shallow characters. I was wrong.  The characters are exceptionally attractive, the men incredibly rich, and the main character Mia is anything but shallow. 

Exploring issues such as self-worth, responsibility, family duty, sexual orientation and more, Calendar Girl is a surprisingly deep book that had me welling up with tears a time or two.  I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to get my hands on volumes two, three and four. Each installment in the Calendar Girl series will feature Mia, told from her perspective, as she continues her journey as an escort to twelve clients in twelve different locations.

~ Leanne


Three Sisters, Three Queens

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

United in sisterhood by birth and marriage, Katherine of Aragon, Queen of England, Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots, and Mary Tudor, Queen of France immediately recognize each other as both allies and rivals in the treacherous world of court and national politics. Their bonds extend beyond natural and expeditious loyalties, as romance, scandal, war, and religion inextricably unite these three for better or for worse.

Back in 1501 – Katherine of Aragon is brought to the Tudor court as a young bride. Margaret, a Tudor princess with the pride of a king, immediately measures her up. With one look, each girl knows the other for a rival, an ally and a pawn. Caught in the crossfire is Mary, Margaret’s youngest sister, who grows to love Katherine as her own blood. They will become the queens of England, Scotland and France, who, united by family loyalties and affections, find themselves set against each other. As sisters, they share an everlasting bond. As queens, they break each other’s hearts.

Why we love it: Philippa Gregory encapsulates the strength, beauty and determination behind the women in the Tudor Court in a mesmerising historical fiction that takes you on an emotional rollercoaster.

~ from The Team at Better Reading


Sleeper's Castle

Sleeper's Castle by Barbara Erskine.

Hay-On-Wye, 1400 - War is brewing in the Welsh borders, Catrin is on the brink of womanhood and falling in love for the first time. Her father is a soothsayer, playing a dangerous game playing on the mixed loyalties and furious rivalries between welsh princes and English lords. For two hundred years, the Welsh people have lain under the English yoke, dreaming of independence. And finally it looks as though the charismatic Owain Glyndwr may be the man legend tralks of. 

In the walls of Sleeper's Castle, Catrin finds herself caught in the middle of a doomed war as she is called upon to foretell Wales's destiny...And what she sees, is blood and war coming closer...

Hay, 2015. Miranda has moved to Sleeper's Castle to escape and grieve. Slowly she feels herself coming to life in the solitude of the mountains. But every time she closes her eyes her dreams become more vivid. And she makes a connection with a young girl, who's screaming, who's reaching out...who only Miranda can help. Is she losing herself to time?

Sleeper's Castle sees Barbara Erskine on top form. The story is set in the present and in medieval Wales. At the start the two periods are easily differentiated, but as Andy, the main character, becomes more and more embroiled with the past, so too the reader finds it more and more difficult to distinguish between the two periods. This device heightens the tension and ensures that the reader remains involved. 

The characters are fully believable and engage one's interest from the start. Great care has been taken to be historically correct, even when fictionalising event of "real" people, giving the story a depth not always found in historical fiction. This tension lasts until the very end, with various unforeseen twists, and the conclusion is satisfying, if not wholly expected. All in all, an excellent read.

from readers David & Hillary


Sisters and Lies

Sisters and Lies by Bernice Barrington
Narrated by Caroline Lennon and Marcella Riordan

One hot August night, Rachel Darcy gets the call everyone fears. It's the police. Her younger sister Evie's had a car crash, she's in a coma. Can Rachel fly to London right away? 

With Evie injured and comatose, Rachel is left to pick up the pieces of her sister's life. But it's hard fitting them together, especially when she really doesn't like what she sees. Why was Evie driving when she doesn't even own a licence? Who is the man living in her flat and claiming Evie is his girlfriend? How come she has never heard of him? The more mysteries Rachel uncovers the more she starts asking herself how well she ever really knew her sister. And then she begins to wonder if the crash was really the accident everybody says it is. 

Back in hospital, Evie, trapped inside an unresponsive body, is desperately trying to wake up. Because she's got an urgent message for Rachel - a warning which could just save both their lives.

Although overly long, this was a good book to listen to – the Irish accents get me in every time!  I don’t know how true it is that someone in a total coma can will themselves into moving, or force themselves to remember what happened prior to whatever put them in a coma in the first place; “it’s a bit of a stretch” I found myself thinking, but who knows? Dubbed a suspense thriller, Sisters and Lies is an interesting story with suspense, yes, but the thriller bit never really came to the fore.  

~ Deb. 


Enter Helen

Enter Helen: the invention of Helen Gurley Brown and the rise of the modern single woman by Brooke Hauser

In 1965, Helen Gurley Brown-best known for her groundbreaking 1962 manifesto Sex and the Single Girl, took over the ailing Cosmopolitan magazine. Under her stewardship, it became one of the most bankable brands on the planet, with 64 editions published in 34 languages and distributed in more than 100 countries, and one of the most revolutionary. At a time when women's magazines were instructing housewives on how to make the perfect casserole, Brown reimagined Cosmo for the single girl next door: a hard-working, sex-loving woman, who didn't need to be married with children to be happy.

Helen wrote for, and about, those thousands of single American girls (her “Cosmo girls") who worked, balanced their finances, worried about landing a future husband, and HAD SEX. Such an approach was not just revolutionary but marked a pivotal change in the way women in the US thought about themselves and were viewed by the rest of society.  Without Helen Gurley Brown, there would be no Sex and the City.

Helen was tough but used her femininity to get what she wanted, shrewd but often kind-hearted, an extremely good businesswoman but astonishingly insecure – in other words she was an amazing mix of contradictions and surprises. She broke barriers and glass ceilings, but was also vilified by the second wave feminists who viewed her as a slave to the reigning patriarchy. 

Her story is intriguing and riveting and, like Helen herself, never ever boring.

~ Teresa


The Memory Stones

The Memory Stones by Caroline Brothers

Buenos Aires. 1976. In the heat of summer, the Ferrero family escapes to the lush expanse of Tigre. Osvaldo, a distinguished doctor, and his wife Yolanda, gather with their daughters, sensible Julieta who lives in Miami, and wilful Graciela - nineteen, and madly in love with her fiance, Jose. Those days will be the last the family ever spends together.

On their return to Buenos Aires, the Argentine military stages a coup. Friends and colleagues disappear overnight, and Osvaldo is forced to flee to Europe. When Jose is abducted, Graciela goes into hiding, then vanishes in turn. Osvaldo can only witness the disintegration of his family from afar, while Yolanda fights on the ground for some trace of their beloved daughter. Soon she realises they may be fighting for an unknown grandchild as well.

Why we love it: 
Caroline Brothers’ second novel, The Memory Stones, is a sublimely told and heartbreaking story. While devastating in its depiction of the depths to which humanity can sink, its evocative language and splendid characters make it a pleasure to read.

~ from The Team at Better Reading


Cold Grave

Cold Grave by Kathryn Fox 

It feels like the safest place on earth. A family-friendly, floating palace. But, as Anya Crichton soon discovers, cruise ships aren't all that they seem...

Statistics tell us that a woman is twice as likely to be sexually assaulted on a cruise ship than on dry land. Customers aren't screened, so the ships are a haven for sex offenders and paedophiles. With no policing, and floating in international waters, sexual assaults and passengers 'disappearing' are uncommonly frequent. So when a teenage girl is discovered, dead on the deck of the ship that she is holidaying on, Anya feels compelled to get involved. 

There's no apparent cause of death, but Anya's forensics expertise uncovers more than the ship's doctors can, or want to. With the killer still on board, and subsequently a crew-member found shot, it becomes clear that the safe haven of the cruise-ship is actually anything but. And, as Anya comes under increasing pressure to abandon her investigations, will she continue? Or do whatever it takes to keep her own family safe?

This is book 6 in the Dr Anya Crichton series. I've read quite a few in this series now, totally out of order of course, but that's what happens more often than not.  Some of these forensic pathology novels are absorbing, and a few are really annoying.  Then you get one like this that leaves you thinking why did I bother.  

There was a vested interest in the lead character and her personal life, but this sub-plot is totally overtaken by the author's soapbox stance on issues such as violence against females, drugs and date rape, the dangers of social media, environmental issues like the illegal dumping of rubbish and sewage at sea, working conditions on cruise ships and even death and suicide on the ocean.  I finished the book, well narrated as always by Jennifer Vilutec, but am not in a hurry to continue on with the Doctor.  We have this series in print and all electronic formats. 

~ Deb


It Ends With Us

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

Lily Bloom had a difficult upbringing; an only, lonely child witnessing her parents’ abusive relationship, she finds solace in growing things, the coincidence of her name not escaping her, and in the intimate cry-for-help journals that take the form of personal letters to her heroine Ellen DeGeneres. 

When Lily finds an older boy from her school, Atlas Corrigan, squatting in a nearby empty house, she is moved to pity but that soon turns into something more and Atlas becomes an unforgettable force in her life.

Years later, Lily has matured into an independent woman who fulfills her dream of moving to Boston and starting her own business. As if life couldn’t get any better, she meets a handsome neurosurgeon, Ryle, and falls hard for him. Only thing is, there are issues from his past, he’s absolutely committed to his career, and he’s got a firm no-dating rule. The attraction turns out to be too much for him though and that rule will soon be broken. 

Just as life seems to be too good to be true, Ryle and Lily are forced to confront the skeletons in Ryle’s cupboard that continue to haunt him. At the same time, the mysterious Atlas comes back into Lily's life and things start to get really complicated so that she must make some agonising decisions.

Why we love it: 
Bestselling Young Adult author Colleen Hoover’s has turned her skilled hand to adult fiction with a stunning debut – It Ends With Us is confronting, poignant, and deeply moving.

~ from the Team at Better Reading


Secret Recipe for Second Chances

The Secret Recipe for Second Chances by J.D. Barrett

From the cover:  Lucy Muir is leaving her husband.  It’s complicated. They’re joint owners and chefs at one of the best restaurants in town, so making a clean break is tough.  But, let’s face it, a woman can only take so much cheating, recipe stealing and lack of good grace.

Despondently driving around the back streets of Woolloomooloo, Lucy happens upon an old, empty terrace that was once the city’s hottest restaurant: Fortune. One minute she’s peering through grimy windows into an abandoned space, the next she’s planning a pop-up bistro.

When Lucy fires up Fortune’s old kitchen she discovers a little red recipe book that belonged to the former chef, the infamous Frankie Summers.  As she cries over the ingredients for Frankie’s French Onion Soup, she imagines what Fortune was like in its heyday.  It’s strange, Lucy can sense Frankie beside her; almost see him there …

This fiery chef, who lived with a passion for food and women in almost equal measure, just might help Lucy cook herself up a better life.  But is she brave enough to believe?

That was a long blurb so I’ll keep it brief.  I LOVED this book! Always a sucker for a good ghost story, and of course, cooking, this debut novel is a sweet, funny, delightful tale of crime, love and recipes.  It has some snappy repartee, a great sub-plot, some quirky characters, and bonus, is set in Australia and written by an Australian! It’s the crème de la crème of ROMCOMs and would make a wonderful movie!

~ Deb


Watching Edie

Watching Edie by Camilla Way

Edie was the kind of girl who immediately caused a stir when she walked into your life. And she had dreams back then - but it didn't take long for her to learn that things don't always turn out the way you want them to. 

Now, at thirty-three, Edie is working as a waitress, pregnant and alone. And when she becomes overwhelmed by the needs of her new baby and sinks into a bleak despair, she thinks that there's no one to turn to ... But someone's been watching Edie, waiting for the chance to prove once again what a perfect friend she can be. 

It's no coincidence that Heather shows up on Edie's doorstep, just when Edie needs her the most. So much has passed between them - so much envy, longing, and betrayal. And Edie's about to learn a new lesson: those who have hurt us deeply, or who we have hurt, never let us go, not entirely.

Heather was an overweight, friendless 16-year-old, an academic achiever with strict parents who had moved to the good side of a rather grim English town. Heather struggled to fit in, so when new arrival Edie, one of the cool girls and a budding artist, is happy to be her friend she’s surprised and becomes besotted with her.

But Edie, who lives with her sick, disinterested mother and hasn’t seen her father for years, has fallen for bad boy Connor. It’s not long before Edie is in all kinds of trouble, with drugs, alcohol and her increasingly abusive relationship with Connor. Heather tries to help Edie by hatching an escape plan but this only leads to a terrible event that destroys their lives.  A chilling story of two friends with a shared and shameful past that has each of them in their clutches and won’t let go.

Why we love it: 
Watching Edie is a gripping psychological thriller about friendship, jealousy, obsession, and lies that hooked us from the start.

~ from The Team at Better Reading


Baby Doll

Baby Doll by Hollie Overton

You've been held captive in one room, mentally and physically abused every day since you were sixteen years old. Then, one night, you realize your captor has left the door to your cell unlocked. For the first time in eight years, you're free. This is about what happens next ... 

Lily knows that she must bring the man who nearly ruined her life to justice. But she never imagined that reconnecting with her family would be just as difficult. Reclaiming her relationship with her twin sister, her mother, and her high school sweetheart, who is in love with her sister, may be Lily's greatest challenge. After all they've been through, can Lily and her family find their way back after this life-altering trauma?

Wow, what a great example of Domestic Noir! This story starts with Lily and her daughter Sky (who was fathered by her captor) escaping from their prison of eight years and running for their lives, only to realise that they are just a few kilometres from home. Just imagine being kept in one room and being used like a "baby doll" by this man is unthinkable. 

This is the story of what happens once Lily returns home.  She finds her twin sister is now having a baby with Lily's high school sweetheart, and her captor is a well known and respected man in society. The book changes viewpoint all throughout the story from Lily, to her mother Eve, her twin sister Abby and her former captor, Rick. 

I found myself completely engaged in this story very early on and that momentum continued right till the end. Oddly enough, the story begins AFTER the main event is over and done with, which is an interesting way to write a book. This is Hollie Overton's debut novel and I will definitely be keeping her future books on my radar. It will appeal to fans of Gone Girl and Girl on the train.

~ Janine


The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls: they paid with their lives, their final fight was for justice by Kate Moore

As a war raged across the world, young American women flocked to work, painting watches, clocks and military dials with a special luminous substance made from radium. It was a fun job, lucrative and glamorous - the girls themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered head to toe in the dust from the paint. They were the radium girls. 

As the years passed, the women began to suffer from mysterious and crippling illnesses. The very thing that had made them feel alive - their work - was in fact slowly killing them: they had been poisoned by the radium paint. Yet their employers denied all responsibility. And so, in the face of unimaginable suffering - in the face of death - these courageous women refused to accept their fate quietly, and instead became determined to fight for justice. 

Drawing on previously unpublished sources - including diaries, letters and court transcripts, as well as original interviews with the women's relatives - The Radium Girls is an intimate narrative account of an unforgettable true story. It is the powerful tale of a group of ordinary women from the Roaring Twenties, who themselves learned how to roar.

In the early twentieth century radium was thought to be a “wonder drug”, promoted as giving anyone who took it a “healthy glow”. In these early years it was not known that radium is actually a poison, which causes horrific cancers, disfigurement and death. So, the US girls who flocked to work in the factories to paint clock faces with this luminous substance had no reason to doubt their employers’ reassurances that it would do them no harm. 

They followed the instructions to lick their paintbrushes dipped in radium solution before applying it to the clock-faces and dials, the better to obtain a fine point for the delicate work. But soon the women started getting sick – jaws literally disintegrated, red cell blood counts plummeted and hideous tumours grew. Yet still the owners of the factories denied there was any danger in the work they were doing or in the way they were instructed to carry it out.

This incredible book tells their story, how they fought for years for recognition that the radium paint was toxic, and for many more years for compensation for their injuries through the courts. It is an amazing and outrageous story of employer neglect and deceit, and how these cases became the trailblazers for workplace health and safety regulations which we take for granted today.

We all owe these women an enormous debt of gratitude. Read it and be thankful.

~ Teresa


The Couple Next Door

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

From the cover:
Your neighbour told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying.
Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half-hour.
Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone.
You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there…

Anne and Marco are the parents of little Cora. Cora goes missing in the middle of the night, the front door found open and the back door unlocked. But the parents weren’t home at the time. They were at a dinner party next door. With extreme grief and guilt, they need to work with the police to find their daughter. The parents are guilty of leaving their baby unattended, but are they guilty of child abduction or even murder? 

All may not be what it seems as the police race against the clock to find little Cora. There are so many twists and turns in the plot, maybe a little too much at times. It is a quick and easy read with the element of suspense. However I lost some confidence in the author towards the end of the book, as the plot got too busy for me, and the ending in my opinion, disappointed. 

This is a debut novel for Shari Lapena. Shari has worked as a lawyer and English teacher and has now turned to writing fiction. The Couple Next Door is worthy of consideration for those who are lovers of suspense and thrillers.

~ Narelle 


Davitt Awards shortlist

Sisters in Crime has announced the longest shortlist (28) for its 16th Davitt Awards for best crime books written by Australian women. “The reason for such a long shortlist is simple,” said Jacqui Horwood, the Davitt Judges wrangler, “there are just so many outstanding debut books. The crime writing sorority is bursting with new and exciting authors with so many different takes on the genre.

“Non-fiction crime also packed a punch this year and we had trouble winnowing down the list. All round, the judges were thrilled by the enormous variety of protagonists, plots, places and perspectives and the high standard of writing.”

The Davitts are named after Ellen Davitt, the author of Australia’s first mystery novel, Force and Fraud, in 1865. The awards are handsome carved polished wooded trophies featuring the front cover of the winning novel under perspex. No prize money is attached.

Adult fiction:
Medea’s Curse: Natalie King, Forensic Psychiatrist by Anne Buist
Fall by Candice Fox
Give the Devil His Due by Sulari Gentill
Storm Clouds by Bronwyn Parry
Time to Run by J. M. Peace
Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

Black Widow by Carol Baxter
Why Did They Do It? by Cheryl Critchley and Helen McGrath
The Sting by Kate Kyriacou
Wild Man by Alecia Simmonds
Behind Closed Doors by Sue Smetherst
You’re Just Too Good to Be True by Sofija Stefanovic

In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker
Medea’s Curse: Natalie King, Forensic Psychiatrist by Anne Buist
Time to Run by J. M. Peace
Please Don’t Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler
Double Madness by Caroline de Costa
Risk by Fleur Ferris
Good Money by J. M. Green
The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner
Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic 

Australian crime writer Liane Moriarty will present the awards at a gala dinner at Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre on Saturday 27 August, 7pm. After talking about her ‘life in crime’ with true crime author Vikki Petraitis, Moriarty will present six awards: Best Adult Novel; Best Young Adult; Best Children’s Novel; Best Non-fiction Book; Best Debut Book (any category); and Readers’ Choice (as voted by the 600 members of Sisters in Crime Australia).

~ Deb.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children. 

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes darkness comes from unexpected places.

I’ve been a Harry Potter fan for years, so I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when I heard there was going to be another book in the series!  As I heard more about it, my enthusiasm waned - it wasn’t going to be a novel like the previous books, it would be the script from the new London play; it wasn’t even going to be written by J.K. Rowling, only based on a story of hers. I went from eagerly awaiting the Cursed Child’s release to “Yeah, I’ll suppose I’ll read it when it gets released”.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released on Sunday (31 July, 2016), with the Library having copies ready to be borrowed by the public by Monday afternoon. I took my copy home with me and was more than pleasantly surprised.

Without giving away any spoilers, the book opens with the closing scene from The Deathly Hallows, allowing readers to picture it clearly and adjust to the new “script” format. From there it is a whirlwind of new faces, old faces, magic and mystery. I loved every minute of it and have my fingers crossed that the play will come to Melbourne so I can see it performed on stage.

~ Leanne


The Lost Swimmer

The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner

Rebecca Wilding, an archaeology professor, traces the past for a living. But suddenly, truth and certainty is turning against her. Rebecca is accused of serious fraud, and worse, she suspects – she knows – that her husband, Stephen, is having an affair. Desperate to find answers, Rebecca leaves with Stephen for Greece, Italy and Paris, where she can uncover the conspiracy against her, and hopefully win Stephen back to her side, where he belongs. There’s too much at stake – her love, her work, her family. 

But on the idyllic Amalfi Coast, Stephen goes swimming and doesn’t come back. In a swirling daze of panic and fear, Rebecca is dealt with fresh allegations. And with time against her, she must uncover the dark secrets that stand between her and Stephen, and the deceit that has chased her halfway around the world.

I loved this book. The description of the coast of Italy and its people are beautiful.  The twists and turns in the plot are puzzling and I did find myself worrying at how little pages there were left to tie everything up, but Ann Turner manages to do just that with aplomb.

~ Claire


The Saddler Boys

The Saddler Boys by Fiona Palmer

Schoolteacher Natalie has always been a city girl. She has a handsome boyfriend and a family who give her only the best. But she craves her own space, and her own classroom, before settling down into the life she is expected to lead. 

When Nat takes up a posting at a tiny school in remote Western Australia, it proves quite the culture shock, but she is soon welcomed by the inquisitive locals, particularly young student Billy and his intriguing single father, Drew. 

As Nat's school comes under threat of closure and Billy's estranged mother turns up out of the blue, Nat finds herself fighting for the township and battling with her heart. Torn between her society life in Perth and the rural community that needs her, Nat must risk losing it all to find out what she's really made of - and where she truly belongs.

This delightful rural fiction book is set in Western Australia. Fiona Palmer has written from experience because she herself lives in a small town in WA on a farm with her husband and children. I really loved this novel - it was well written and easy to listen to. The story flowed naturally and held me spellbound as the characters developed and relationships formed with intriguing twists and turns. She touches upon modern issues such as single parenting, small town matters, bullying, domestic abuse and children who are developmentally challenged. I listened to the audio book which was excellently narrated by Danielle Baynes. It is also available in print format.

~ Janine


Last Painting of Sara de Vos

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

In 1631, Sara de Vos is admitted as a master painter to the Guild of St. Luke's in Holland, the first woman to be so recognized. Three hundred years later, only one work attributed to de Vos is known to remain - a haunting winter scene, At the Edge of a Wood, which hangs over the bed of a wealthy descendant of the original owner. 

An Australian grad student, Ellie Shipley, struggling to stay afloat in New York, agrees to paint a forgery of the picture, a decision that will haunt her. Because now, half a century later, she's curating an exhibit of female Dutch painters, and both versions threaten to arrive. 

As the three threads intersect, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos mesmerizes while it grapples with the demands of the artistic life, showing how the deceits of the past can forge the present.

Just as in “All the Light We cannot See” the story here is very strong and propels the reader along. The setting is in three eras and three continents with the interconnecting thread "At the Edge of a Wood.  All the characters are believable and it’s refreshing to see a fictional Australian woman featured prominently in what is now an international best seller. 

I listened to the audio and although I admire Edoardo Ballerini, the voice actor, unfortunately he’s unable to pull off the Aussie accent. He does, however, inadvertently manage South African very well! I did find this off putting and it has made me aware of the complexity of our lingo! 

This book was highly enjoyable and I’d recommend it to all art lovers, and lovers of contemporary historical fiction. 

~ Ali 



Blame by Nicole Trope

Anna and Caro have been firm friends since they met at their local early childhood centre with their babies. For the next ten years the two of them become great friends, always there for the each other in their lowest times. But all that changes in just one day when a terrible accident tears both of their families apart. The narrative alternates between the two women’s voices. Each of their stories is shocking and there’s blame on both sides, but who is really at fault and which one of them is lying?

Why we love it: 
Blame is an intense and shocking novel, a darkly humorous story that cuts straight into the broken lives of two suburban women whose experience of motherhood are a far-cry from rosy social media stereotypes.

~ from The Team at Better Reading


Ned Kelly Awards - shortlist

The Australian Crime Writers Association has announced the shortlists for the 2016 Ned Kelly Awards for the best in Australian crime writing. The judging panel is made up of booksellers, book industry luminaries, readers, critics, reviewers and commentators.

The 2016 shortlists are:

This year’s fiction award is shaping up as a battle of the heavyweights with five former winners on the list, including two multiple winners and rounded out by rock musician, author and screenwriter Dave Warner whose eighth novel is his first in fifteen years.

Mark Dapin - R&R 
Garry Disher - The Heat
Candice Fox - Fall
Adrian McKinty - Rain Dogs
Barry Maitland - Ash Island
Dave Warner - Before it Breaks 

The True Crime shortlist features authors tackling subjects that range from the operation to unmask the killer of schoolboy Daniel Morcombe - The Sting by Kate Kyriacouthe now infamous Graham Thorne kidnapping for ransom in 1960 - Kidnapped by Mark Tedeschi; and a long-forgotten murder that captivated Melbourne society in 1949 - Certain Admissions by Gideon Haigh; plus Martin McKenzie-Murray's A Murder Without Motive and 
Rebecca Poulson's Killing Love.

Tania Chandler - Please Don't Leave Me Here
J M Green - Good Money
Mark Hollands - Amplify
Gary Kemble - Skin Deep
Iain Ryan - Four Days 
Emma Viskic - Resurrection Bay 

This year’s NED KELLY AWARDS will be presented during the Melbourne Writers Festival at a free event including live music, storytelling and door prizes on Sunday August 28 at 4.00 p.m. at TOFF IN THE TOWN, 252 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000.

For further details, contact the Australian Crime Writers Association http://www.austcrimewriters.com/ned-kelly-awards-page

~ Deb


Journey's End

Journey's End by Jennifer Scoullar

When Sydney botanist Kim Sullivan and her husband inherit Journey's End, a rundown farm high on the Great Eastern Escarpment, they dream of one day restoring it to its natural state. Ten years later, however, Kim is tragically widowed. 

Selling up is the only practical option, so she and her children head to the mountains to organise the sale. The last thing Kim expects is for Journey's End to cast its wild spell on them all. The family decide to stay, and Kim forges on with plans to rewild the property, propagating plants and acquiring a menagerie of native animals. But wayward wildlife, hostile farmers and her own lingering grief make the task seem hopeless. That is, until she meets the mysterious Taj, a man who has a way with animals. Kim begins to feel that she might find love again. But Taj has his own tragic past - one that could drive a wedge between them that can not be overcome.

This is the first book I have read by author Jennifer Scoullar - a local living in Pakenham Upper on a beautiful property in the hills - and it certainly won't be the last!  It's a story of friendship, renewal, racism, war, wild life rescue, rainforest, love and environmental issues. Jennifer writes with such knowledge about environmental matters, but it's not surprising. Her father set up a nursery specialising in native plants, long before it was fashionable to so, and passed on his lifelong love of horses and the bush.  

I was glued to this book and really didn't want it to end. It will go down as one of my best reads this year.

~ Janine


Breaking Cover

Breaking Cover by Stella Rimington

#9 Liz Carlyle series.
Back in London after a gruelling operation in Paris, Liz Carlyle has been posted to MI5's counter-espionage desk. 

British relations with Russia are tense in the wake of Putin's incursions into the Ukraine. Discovering that an elusive Russian spy has entered the UK, Liz needs to track him down before he completes his fatal mission - and plunges Britain back into the Cold War. 

Meanwhile, following the revelations of Edward Snowden, the intelligence services are in the spotlight. MI6 hires Jasminder Kapoor, a controversial civil rights lawyer, to explain the issues around privacy and security to the public. But in this new world of shadowy motives, Jasminder must careful about whom she trusts. One night Kapoor is brutally mugged and almost raped in a seemingly random attack, but is saved in the nick of time by a feisty Norwegian who happened to be passing by. She strikes up a romance with the handsome banker but there’s something about him that seems too good to be true.

Why we love it: 
In Breaking Cover, veteran MI5 insider and author Stella Rimington delivers a clever, fast-paced and timely espionage thriller that reflects up-to-the minute current events and her own insider knowledge of the intelligence services.

~ from The Team at Better Reading 


Rain Music

Rain Music by Di Morrissey
Narrated by David Tredinnick

Brother and sister Ned and Bella Chisholm are struggling with a family tragedy that has set them on opposite paths. After taking off to pursue his musical dreams in Far North Queensland, Ned disappears. When Bella goes in search of him, she finds herself in remote Cooktown, the isolated, little-known gem of the far north of Australia, and a place where both Ned and Bella's lives will be dramatically changed forever. This is one story told through two sets of eyes.

Di Morrissey is part of the Australian fiction landscape. Her first novel, Heart of the Dreaming, was published in 1991 and became a best-seller, establishing a demand for Australian-based stories.  All her novels are inspired by landscape with environmental, political and cultural issues woven into mass market popular fiction. Rain Music was inspired by her adventures in Far North Queensland - its characters, its forgotten history, its modern dilemmas.

I've read, and forgotten, a lot of Di Morrissey novels over the years. They are holiday fodder, airport gate lounge fillers, but nonetheless entertaining for a short while with their character-driven plots, artless dialogue and immediately recognisable Aussie settings.  Morrissey's audiobooks are nearly always narrated by Kate Hood whom I find intensely irritating to listen to, but when I saw the talented David Tredinnick noted on this one, I couldn't resist.  He's just as good as always, and she's still Di Morrissey, as always.

~ Deb 


The Natural Way of Things

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a ‘nurse’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? 

What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? 

Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl’s past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue – but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

The novel is set somewhere in the Australian outback, so isolated there are no made roads, and takes place at an abandoned sheep farm. This farm becomes the institution for ten young women who have been drugged, abducted and imprisoned there. They are under the surveillance of two men, Teddy and Boncer, and one woman, Nancy, a sham-nurse. All three are nasty, vindictive and brutal.

The only link for these ten incarcerated women is all have had sexual encounters of some kind or another which has been blamed on them. Now they are there to pay the price. The Natural Way of Things demonstrates the animal instincts which can be found in all of us when we have, or need, the will to survive.

However, this book left more questions than answers for me. Although it was an easy, quick and intriguing read, I found myself disappointed with the protagonists’ acceptance of their plight in a dystopian environment. There were so many contradictions with Verla and Yolanda, two women who seemed strong in so many ways and yet still allowed weakness in other ways. This title would be worthy of consideration for book groups though, as it can create great discussion on the themes of abandonment, survival, brutality, and power.

~ Narelle


The Twisted Knot

The Twisted Knot by J. M. Peace

A marked man. A damaged cop. A town full of secrets. After her abduction and near death at the hands of a sadistic killer, Constable Samantha Willis is back in the uniform. Despite being on desk duty, rumours reach Sammi that Someone in Angel's Crossing has been hurting little girls, and before long a mob is gathering to make sure justice is served. So when a man is found hanging in his shed, the locals assume the pedophile has finally given in to his guilt. That is, until Sammi delves further into the death and uncovers a dark family secret, an unsolved crime and a town desperate for vengeance.

J M Peace is an Australian serving police officer based in Queensland, and you can tell that she writes with experience and gives you a great insight into policing, especially in a small town.

I absolutely adored the first book in this series "A Time to Run" . This book - #2 in the series - is an edge of your seat read and keeps you guessing until the very end which had a fantastic twist that I did not see coming at all.  I eagerly look forward to reading her next book to continue the story of Constable Sammi Willis.

~ Janine


Breaking Cover

Breaking Cover by Stella Rimington
#9 Liz Carlyle series.

Back in London after a gruelling operation in Paris, Liz Carlyle has been posted to MI5's counter-espionage desk. British relations with Russia are tense in the wake of Putin's incursions into the Ukraine. Discovering that an elusive Russian spy has entered the UK, Liz needs to track him down before he completes his fatal mission - and plunges Britain back into the Cold War.

Meanwhile, following the revelations of Edward Snowden, the intelligence services are in the spotlight. MI6 hires Jasminder Kapoor, a controversial civil rights lawyer, to explain the issues around privacy and security to the public. But in this new world of shadowy motives, Jasminder must careful about whom she trusts. One night Kapoor is brutally mugged and almost raped in a seemingly random attack, but is saved in the nick of time by a feisty Norwegian who happened to be passing by. She strikes up a romance with the handsome banker but there’s something about him that seems too good to be true.

Why we love it: 
In Breaking Cover, veteran MI5 insider and author Stella Rimington delivers a clever, fast-paced and timely espionage thriller that reflects up-to-the minute current events and her own insider knowledge of the intelligence services.

~ from The Team at Better Reading 

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