Man Booker Prize

Man Booker Prize 2016

Paul Beatty has become the first American writer to win the £50,000 Man Booker prize for a caustic satire on US racial politics that judges said put him up there with Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift.

The 54-year-old Los Angeles-born writer won for The Sellout, a laugh-out-loud novel whose main character wants to assert his African American identity by, outrageously and transgressively, bringing back slavery and segregation.

Beatty has admitted readers might find it a difficult book to digest but the historian Amanda Foreman, who chaired this year’s judging panel, said that was no bad thing.

“Fiction should not be comfortable,” Foreman said. “The truth is rarely pretty and this is a book that nails the reader to the cross with cheerful abandon … that is why the novel works.

“While you’re being nailed, you’re being tickled. It is highwire act which he pulls off with tremendous verve and energy and confidence. He never once lets up or pulls his punches. This is somebody writing at the top of their game.”

~ Deb



Zodiac by Sam Wilson

In a society divided along Zodiac lines, status is cast at birth – and binding for life. Who you are can be determined by a matter of days, hours, even minutes.

When a series of uniquely brutal murders targets victims from totally different signs, is it misguided revolution or the work of a serial killer? Even for the most experienced detectives, every once in a while a murder can shake them to the core. Like when the Chief of Police is killed in his own home.

They may disagree over whether the answers are written in the stars, but they are united by their belief that a grand plan is being executed ...

I approached this book in two minds ... it had the potential to be total trash or something else.  I think I'm heading more for the "something else" side of the scale.

I found it startlingly laugh out loud at times - the sheer nonsense of it all, like this:  "... she said in her Libran accent". How the hell you can gain an accent via astrology is mind boggling! The outrage that if you're an Aries you should only live in a certain part of town! That Aquarians are creative whack jobs who will never be considered for 'serious professions'! That a mother will undergo a C-section to avoid a child being born a certain star sign! "Oh god, darling, we don't want him being a Virgo!". It's all so laughable.  But ... 

Within this world, murders take place. The rich are Capricorn. The entire police force is Taurus. The 'enemy' is the sign most despised  - Aries, who by birthdate, education, and ghetto living, are doomed to a life of struggle, despair and prejudice. There is an uprising from the repressed, atrocities are committed ... Are you getting a terrible sensation of deja vu?  It's all familiar; brutality, segregation, brainwashing, murder, corruption, power and control.  

And it's all been done before, in life and in fiction, but never under a starry cloak like this. Zodiac is a clever crime thriller but in a really cringe-worthy way. 

~ Deb.


Girl in Hyacinth Blue

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

A professor invites a colleague from the art department to his home to view a painting he has kept secret for decades - Girl in Hyacinth Blue. The professor swears it's a Vermeer, but why exactly has he kept it hidden so long? The reasons unfold in a gripping sequence of stories that trace ownership of the work back to Amsterdam during World War II and still further to the moment of the painting's inception. Each story is a luminous evocation of Dutch life, featuring people who have been touched by the painting’s seductive beauty and mystery, and whose defining moments take place in its presence.

This is a quiet novel about a Vermeer painting; each chapter goes back in time with each owner and their story until the moment he painted it. I found some chapters more engaging than others but a fabulous idea! Recommended for art lovers!

~ Pru


With Love from the Inside

With Love from the Inside by Angela Pisel

Grace Bradshaw knows the exact minute she will die. On death row for murdering her infant son, her last breath will be taken on February 15 at 12:01 a.m. Eleven years, five months, and twenty-seven days separate her from the last time she heard her precious daughter's voice and the final moment she'd heard anyone call her Mom. 

Out of appeals, she can focus on only one thing - reconnecting with her daughter and making sure she knows the truth. Secrets lurk behind Sophie Logan's big house and even bigger bank account. Every day when she kisses her husband good-bye, she worries her fabricated life is about to come crumbling down. No one knows the unforgivable things her mother did to tear her family apart - not her husband, who is a prominent plastic surgeon, or her "synthetic" friends who live in her upscale neighbourhood. 

Grace's looming execution date forces Sophie to revisit the traumatic events that haunted her childhood. When she returns to her hometown, she discovers new evidence about her baby brother William's death seventeen years ago - proof that might set her mother free but shatter her marriage forever. Sophie must quickly decide if her mother is the monster the prosecutor made her out to be or the loving mother she remembers - before their time runs out.

With Love From the Inside by Angela Pisel captured my attention from the synopsis, but the story is so much more. Grace and Sophie (her daughter) tell their stories in alternate chapters. Grace maintains her innocence while sitting on death row and Sophie is trying to put her past behind her. Sophie has not seen her mother for years, and is now married to a successful surgeon from a prominent family - all of whom know nothing about Sophie's family. Sophie receives news from her attorney that her mother is going to be executed. She returns to her childhood home to try to find out the truth and see her mother one more time. 

This was a very emotional and thought-provoking story which kept me turning the pages. What Sophie discovers will tear at your heartstrings; it's hard to believe this was a debut novel. With Love from the Inside will appeal to readers of women's fiction and those who enjoy mother/daughter relationship stories.  Highly recommended, five stars from me.

~ Janine


Jane Austen Writers' Club

The Jane Austen Writers' Club by Rebecca Smith

Jane Austen is one of the most beloved writers in the English literary canon. Her novels changed the landscape of fiction forever, and her writing remains as fresh, entertaining and witty as the day her books were first published. 

Bursting with useful exercises, beautiful illustrations and enlightening quotations from the classic author's novels and letters - and written by none other than Austen's five-times-great-niece - this book will teach you her methods, tips and tricks, from techniques of plotting and characterisation through to dialogue and suspense. 

Whether you're a creative writing enthusiast looking to publish your first novel, a teacher searching for further inspiration for students, or fan seeking insight into Austen's daily rituals, this is an essential companion, guaranteed to satisfy, inform and delight.

We don’t need to tell you how many spin-offs of Austen’s works there are –  some of them are wonderful works in their own right, others less so. But Rebecca Smith’s The Jane Austen Writers' Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World’s Best-Loved Novelist is another worthy addition. This time it’s not a work of fiction, but as evident from the title, it’s a creative writing guide.

Using her comprehensive knowledge of Austen’s works and surviving letters, Smith has created a series of interesting chapters examining many of the different aspects of a writer’s toolbox – plot, character, place, dialogue, point of view. Smith has constructed a delightfully user-friendly and enjoyable guide on the art of novel writing.

Why we love it: Another book inspired by the one of the world’s best-loved authors, Jane Austen? Don’t roll your eyes – for this is a must-read for any budding writer, who will find invaluable gems of advice, as well as compelling reading.

~from The Team at Better Reading


Passing Clouds

Passing Clouds –a Winemaker’s journey by Graeme Leith.

Graeme’s memoir takes us from his rough and tumble boyhood and messing about with old cars and bikes to earning a living as an electrician and his involvement with the theatrical world of the Pram factory in Carlton, then his travels to England and Italy, where he had his first taste of wine! In the mid-1970s he and his partner established Passing Clouds vineyard in Victoria’s Spa Country, producing award-winning wines. In 1984, his family is struck by tragedy with the murder of his beautiful and talented daughter, Ondine.

The final sections of the book provide a fascinating insight for lovers of drinking wine into the intricacies of the winemaking process through their diaries of a typical year and finishing with an informative glossary of terms.

Humorous and heartbreaking, it tells of a life fully-lived, sheer hard work and optimism. His introduction explains how his intentions for writing the book grew from his 40 year involvement in wine-making to align them with his life experiences; he concludes: “…my own enthusiasm remains undiminished – the old stock horse still snuffling the battle with delight! He looks forward to each new vintage with a sense of anticipation of another new wine to taste, savour, drink and enjoy with friends –the best thing one can do with a bottle of wine!”

I really enjoyed reading this – a knock-about Aussie bloke applying himself as a tradesman and turning himself into a successful winemaker;  a life of fun, mateship and seasons of intense work but very able to convey the highs and lows -we chuckled at times, but felt for him too.  If you enjoy a glass of wine or two, reading this book will help you appreciate the winemakers and just what it takes to turn those grapes into wine!

~ Pru


The Wrong Girl

The Wrong Girl by Zoe Foster.

"Lily is a producer on a successful cooking segment for a daily morning show. The new chef has just arrived on set and he is drop dead gorgeous. And despite everything - the sabbatical that Lily and her flatmate Simone are taking from men, the fact that Jack is a work colleague - Lily falls head over heels for him. And while Lily battles her feelings, her flatmate Simone breaks their pact and starts dating some guy from her wholefoods shop. That guy turns out to be Jack. Up close, Lily bravely watches on as romance blossoms between Simone and Jack. Or does it? They don't seem to have much in common, apart from their striking good looks. And Lily and Jack just seem to get each other. Is that the same thing as falling in love? And could she ever dream of betraying a friendship?"

I was keen to read this book before the television series starts, because the book is always better than the movie! Zoe Foster Blake has written four commercial fiction novels as well as being a journalist and author of beauty books plus a book on dating, which she co-wrote with her husband comedian Hamish Blake.

Although this book would be classed as chick-lit, the characters within were quite likable and funny. Poor Lily seems to be always playing second fiddle to everyone - her gorgeous flatmate, her boss, her co-workers and her friends. I quite liked her and it was refreshing to read a book about morning television which we all watch while we are getting ready for work and having breakfast. She is under-appreciated and overworked but things pick up once the gorgeous celebrity chef Jack appears on the scene - and its her job to manage his cooking segment on the morning show. Of course there is a love triangle with her best friend Simone, and the book is pretty predictable but if you want a light-hearted read, then its worth picking up.

I will be watching to see how the television adaptation of this book goes. There will have to be a lot of new characters and storylines introduced to make it up to several episodes but it should be interesting, Jessica Marais is perfect for the role of Lily. 

We have this available in print and audiobook formats.

~ Janine


Flight to Coorah Creek

Flight to Coorah Creek by Janet Gover.

"What happens when you can fly, but you just can’t hide? Only Jessica Pearson knows the truth when the press portrays her as the woman who betrayed her lover to escape prosecution. But will her new job flying an outback air ambulance help her sleep at night or atone for a lost life?

Doctor Adam Gilmore touches the lives of his patients, but his own scars mean he can never let a woman touch his heart.

Runaway Ellen Parkes wants to build a safe future for her two children. Without a man—not even one as gentle as Jack North.

In Coorah Creek, a town on the edge of nowhere, you're judged by what you do, not what people say about you. But when the harshest judge is the one you see in the mirror, there's nowhere left to hide."

Author Janet Gover, while based in the UK, grew up in the Australian Outback and this is where she has based this rural story. Her heroine, Jess, is a pilot and she takes a job in the mining town of Coorah Creek to fly an emergency response plane for the local hospital. There’s a secret in her past that’s eating at her and is the reason she’s fled a glamorous city lifestyle, and boyfriend, to such a remote location.

Adam, the local doctor also has a tragic past and the story of how these two wounded souls get together is beautifully crafted. There’s a diverse cast of secondary characters who easily trap you into caring about their lives. The romance between the abused wife, Ellen and aircraft mechanic, Jack is just heartwarming. The location is also a character in itself, providing the isolated setting and the tyranny of distance when there’s an emergency.

I listened to this on audiobook which was narrated by Federay Holmes, but its also available to read in Large Print.

~ Janine



Home is the latest (and 11th title) in the Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben. Myron Bolitar is a former sports star, sports management representative and all round investigator.   But in Home, his friends come into the picture much more, in a very interesting way.....

From the book: "A decade ago, kidnappers grabbed two boys from wealthy families and demanded ransom, then went silent. No trace of the boys ever surfaced. For ten years their families have been left with nothing but painful memories and a quiet desperation for the day that has finally, miraculously arrived: Myron Bolitar and his friend Win believe they have located one of the boys, now a teenager. Where has he been for ten years, and what does he know about the day, more than half a life ago, when he was taken? And most critically: what can he tell Myron and Win about the fate of his missing friend?"

Harlan Coben is master of the mystery twists and he even outdoes himself on this one.  Although Win is usually a supporting character, he takes a more leading role in this story, even to the point of having a few chapters coming from him in first person narrative.

The mystery is amazing, the story twisting and turning, but as always, Coben takes it where you don't necessarily expect, but Wow he does it well and as always, still in a way that is totally believable.

I loved the way the story turned, although shocked, I appreciated the ending and the revelations of the relatioships that come out in Win' perspective are just mind-blowing.

If you love a good mystery, then I can't recommend Harlan Coben or Home enough - you don't necessarily need to have read any of the other Myron Bolitar stories to appreciate the story. If you love Harlan Coben, you are going to love this ride!

~ Michelle


Only Daughter

Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra

In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared. She'd been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast-food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen — blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, and a feeling of being watched. 

Eleven years later she is replaced. A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec. Soon the imposter is living Bec's life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends' names. Playing with her twin brothers. But Bec's welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem. As the impostor dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter — and soon realises that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger. In this chilling psychological thriller, one woman's dark past becomes another's deadly future.

Why we love it: A startlingly good thriller set not in Stockholm, the home counties of England or east coast USA, but in… Canberra, Australia! Yep, that’s right. Only Daughter is the stunning crime fiction from the new kid on the block, Australian debut author Anna Snoekstra.

~ from The Team at Better Reading


Out of bounds

Out of bounds is the latest from Val McDermid, author of the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series (basis for the Wire in the blood TV series), the Kate Brannigan series, the Lindsay Gordon series and more.

Out of bounds brings us back to Polis Scotland Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie.

From the book: "There were a lot of things that ran in families, but murder wasn't one of them ...' When a teenage joyrider crashes a stolen car, a routine DNA test could be the key to unlocking the mystery of a twenty-year-old murder inquiry. Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is an expert at solving the unsolvable. With each cold case closed, justice is served. So, finding the answer should be straightforward, but it's as twisted as the DNA helix itself. Meanwhile, Karen finds herself irresistible..."

I am a fan particularly of McDermid's Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, but she writes a good story regardless of who the leading character(s) is and this book is no different.

Karen is not a sexy character, but she is hard working, dedicated, committed, determined and I found myself barracking for her all the way.   She is smart, working within a system that is portrayed as unhelpful to her work, but she has allies - characters who are also well written and relatable.

Two cases make up the focus of this story and McDermid intertwines them nicely, so that I never felt lost or confused as to where we were at.  She leads us through a range of potential suspects and although I had an inkling early on as to who the real culprit might be, I was never totally sure until the very end, as she threw in a couple of 'curve-balls' that made me think again.

I love a good mystery and a good detective story and got that in spades here.  Being a cold case made it all the more challenging, but McDermid is a wonderful storyteller and rose to the challenge admirably.  It is not the first title with Karen Pirie, but you don't need to have read any of McDermid's other titles to appreciate it. I highly recommend it.

~ Michelle


Dark Tides

Dark Tides by Chris Ewan

When Claire Cooper was eight, her mother disappeared during Hop-tu-naa, the Manx Halloween. When Claire was 18, she and her friends took part in a Hop-tu-naa dare that went terribly wrong. Now that she is in her early 20s and a police officer, what happened that Hop-tu-naa night has come back to haunt them all, and Claire must confront her deepest fears in order to stop a killer from striking again.

The title of this book is spot on as there are many aspects that sweep us along through the story, so if you're looking for something a bit different in the thriller/murder genre, this could fit the bill.  

Firstly it's set on the Isle of Man and features quite a lot of the local sites/scenery, and of course, the famous TT motorbike race gets a mention or two. Secondly it features teenagers doing dares and exploring their sexuality; to them coping with a moral dilemma after a dare takes a very wrong turn; to them growing older, questioning things and searching for excuses? blame? answers?  

There are some interesting characters in this story - the classic creepy rich man and his sickly son kept locked away in an mansion; "poor Claire" who is always at odds with her agegroup after her mother disappears; her friend who makes-up, dresses, and acts way beyond her years, dragging Claire into her escpades; and the heartbroken father who cannot cope with life since his wife vanished.

There are a couple of story threads winding in an out which all tie together neatly at the end, but don't be fooled, there's a classic, one of those "whoa, I-didn't-see-that-coming" scenarios just to cap things off nicely.  I borrowed the audio book which was narrated perfectly by Alex Tregear, her multi-accents both male and female delivered with aplomb!

~ Deb  


Indoor green: living with plants

Indoor Green: Living with Plants  by Bree Claffey

For centuries, plants have transformed interiors. Today the plant-filled home is an inspiration to every avid shelter-blog reader or expert Pinterest-board maker. Author Bree Claffey journeys into the interior worlds of fellow plant lovers to explore the enduring attraction of houseplants. From the ever-reliable peace lily and beguiling fiddle leaf fig to the elusive Chinese money plant, Indoor Green makes it obvious that even the humblest greenery can transform a home. 

Houseplants encompass the art of decorative arrangement and add romance to any room. Within the pages of Indoor Green gorgeous photographs of interiors from across the globe, divided into chapters such as "Plant Music," "How to Grow Fresh Air," "Plant Portraits," and more, make the magic easy to replicate in one's own home. Interviews of indoor green enthusiasts appear alongside the images, as well as tips on caring for plants and an index of plant varieties. More than good-looking props, plants are living, growing, joyful things rooted in community and creativity, and are easy to introduce into any home and lifestyle. 

This is a beautiful book. The result of a plant loving former farming girl from Sale. Bree Claffey is now the owner of a hipster nursery come homewares space in Brunswick.

I love the aesthetic of this book. It harks back to the 1970s when indoor plants were a cheap student way to decorate your space. A time that taught me about plants and developed a love for them. The book explores the homes, shops restaurants of botanists, scientists, collectors and lovers of all things green.

A book to enjoy, by a window with the Winter sun streaming in.

~ Sandra


The Art of Keeping Secrets

The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns

"Little secrets grow up to be big lies… 

They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought. But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness. 

Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss. And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son. 

When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other. Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept."

Rachael Johns is an Australian writer who is best known for her Rural Romance books. Last year she broke away slightly from that genre and wrote a Womens Fiction book - The Patterson Girls, which won the ABIA General fiction book of the year. She coined the phrase 'life-lit' and this new release of hers sums it up beautifully. I was totally engaged from start to finish and the thing I love is that the characters could be somone you know or are related to - they are so believable! We have this title available in print format, so if you like this style of writing, put it on hold now!!



These wonderful rumours

 May Smith was a primary school teacher living with her parents in Swadlincote in Derbyshire, England during the second world war. May was witty, intelligent, educated and her diary is a delight to read.

Her diary is set in an exceptional time as the war raged around them in the background of their lives with bombing raids, deaths of friends, shortages and a life we have no comprehension of now but she also describes the mundaneness that was part of life as well; freezing winters, chilblains, what to wear, the tennis club intrigues and classes full of children receiving what education they could provide them with. The diary chronicles her ongoing relationships with desperate Doug and Faithless Freddie and how to juggle both men until the decision was made.

She like to puncture some of the wartime pretensions and felt that it was a sense of humour that helped to keep Britain going during these years, her description of the wonderful rumours illustrates this. For example Auntie announces that Hitler is coming tomorrow, at which my father remarked that “He would, now that he's Just Finished Papering Upstairs". 

A lovely read. 

~ Fay


The Art of Keeping Secrets

The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns

"Little secrets grow up to be big lies… 

They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought. But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness. Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss. And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son. 

When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other. 

Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept."

Rachael Johns is an Australian writer who is best known for her Rural Romance books. Last year she broke away slightly from that genre and wrote a Women's Fiction book - The Patterson Girls, which won the ABIA General Fiction book of the year. She coined the phrase 'life-lit' and this new release of hers sums that up beautifully. I was totally engaged from start to finish and the thing I love is that the characters could be somone you know or are related to - they are so believable! 

We have this title available in print format, so if you like this style of writing, put it on hold now!!

~ Janine


Mrs Queen Takes the Train

Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

After decades of service and years of watching her family’s troubles splashed across the tabloids, Queen Elizabeth II need some proper cheering up. An impromptu visit to the place that holds her happiest memories  - the former royal yacht, Britannia, moored in Leith, Scotland – is just the cure she needs. Hidden beneath a scull-emblazoned hoodie, Elizabeth walks out of Buckingham Palace to catch the train to Scotland. But an unlikely group of royal attendants  - a lady-in-waiting, a butler, an equerry, a mistress of the Mews, a dresser, and a clerk from the shop that serves Her Majesty’s cheese – form an uneasy alliance to find their missing monarch and bring her back before her absence sets off a national scandal. 

A fun, light hearted romp, sending up the pomp of the British monarchy and providing a glimpse into the person at its centre. I thought the idea was clever but at times it got a bit distracted in the private or former lives of the “attendants” however the author did bring them together believably,  softening their stiff relationships and helping them grow through the crisis! The Queen’s journey with her fellow travellers on the Flying  Scotsman was a hoot! 

~ Pru


Murder of Mary Russell

The Murder of Mary Rusell by Laurie R King.

Mary Russell is used to dark secrets—her own, and those of her famous partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes. Trust is a thing slowly given, but over the course of a decade together, the two have forged an indissoluble bond. And what of the other person to whom Mary Russell has opened her heart: the couple’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson? Russell’s faith and affection are suddenly shattered when a man arrives on the doorstep claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s son. 

What Samuel Hudson tells Russell cannot possibly be true, yet she believes him—as surely as she believes the threat of the gun in his hand. In a devastating instant, everything changes. And when the scene is discovered—a pool of blood on the floor, the smell of gunpowder in the air—the most shocking revelation of all is that the grim clues point directly to Clara Hudson.

Or rather to Clarissa, the woman she was before Baker Street. The key to Russell’s sacrifice lies in Mrs. Hudson’s past. To uncover the truth, a frantic Sherlock Holmes must put aside his anguish and push deep into his housekeeper’s secrets—to a time before her disguise was assumed, before her crimes were buried away. There is death here, and murder, and trust betrayed. And nothing will ever be the same.

Laurie King’s plots are always complicated and the stories well researched. Both Holmes and Russell emerge as people throughout the series but this one brings Mrs Hudson, Holmes’ long term housekeeper to life. Number 14 in the Mary Russell Holmes series reviewers say this new one might well be the best yet. I have enjoyed them all and look forward to proving them right about this one. (Fay)


Everywhere I look

Everywhere I look by Helen Garner.

From the book: Spanning fifteen years of work, Everywhere I Look is a book full of unexpected moments, sudden shafts of light, piercing intuition, flashes of anger and incidental humour. It takes us from backstage at the ballet to the trial of a woman for the murder of her newborn baby. It moves effortlessly from the significance of moving house to the pleasure of re-reading Pride and Prejudice.

Everywhere I Look includes Garner's famous and controversial essay on the insults of age, her deeply moving tribute to her mother and extracts from her diaries, which have been part of her working life for as long as she has been a writer. Everywhere I Look glows with insight. It is filled with the wisdom of life.

Why I liked it: Helen Garner has such a unique knack of knowing how to write succinctly. She doesn’t muck around. The effect of this is that at times I’ll be chuckling and at other times one line will bring me to tears. In this book of musings about various topics which have taken her interest over the years, Garner displays her strength in observation, hence the title of the book. From ageing to crime, news stories to Russell Crowe, Helen Garner will write. She not only notices but she then beautifully articulates what she’s seen. 

~ Ali


Hotel Du Barry

Hotel Du Barry by Lesley Truffle

When a laughing baby is found amongst the Hotel Du Barry's billowing sheets, tucked up in an expensive pair of ladies' bloomers and neatly pegged to the laundry line, the hotel staff resolve to keep the child. The hotel's owner, Daniel du Barry, still mourning the loss of his lover in an automobile accident, adopts the little girl, names her after his favourite champagne - Caterina Anastasia - and seeks consolation in fatherhood. 

Cat du Barry grows up beloved by both hotel staff and guests, equally at home in the ninth floor premium suite as she is in the labyrinth below stairs. Years later when Daniel du Barry dies in sinister circumstances, Cat determines to solve the mystery with the assistance of her extended hotel family. From hotel detective to roguish Irish gigolo, from compassionate housekeeper to foxy chamber maid, each will play their wicked part in this novel that will charm, amuse and delight.

Expertly narrated by Willow Nash, it did charm, amuse and delight but also shocked and caused a grimace or two with language and sex scenes worthy of a large warning on the front. Still, it was entertaining if many chapters too long.  Put in the hands of a talented screen writer, Hotel Du Barry would make a great movie - set just after WWI, some of the characters, clothes and locations are wonderful!

~ Deb


Girl Up!

Girl Up by Laura Bates.

They told you- you need to be thin and beautiful.

They told you to wear longer skirts, avoid going out late at night and move in groups - never accept drinks from a stranger, and wear shoes you can run in more easily than heels.

They told you to wear just enough make-up to look presentable but not enough to be a slut; to dress to flatter your apple, pear, hourglass figure, but not to be too tarty.

They warned you that if you try to be strong, or take control, you'll be shrill, bossy, a ballbreaker. Of course it's fine for the boys, but you should know your place.

They told you 'that's not for girls' - 'take it as a compliment' - 'don't rock the boat' - 'that'll go straight to your hips'.

They told you 'beauty is on the inside', but you knew they didn't really mean it.

Well screw that. I'm here to tell you something else.

This book is an introduction to feminism- nothing is held back! It is not for the faint of heart.  There are crude drawings and rude words throughout the novel. This is an ideal book for teenagers in that it answers all the questions they may be afraid to ask. I would have liked to have read this as a teen as it has a humorous take on some daunting topics.

~ Claire

All the light we cannot see

All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

What I liked: the storyline of this Pulitzer prize winning novel is very strong and easy to get swept up in. The chapters are structured so that the reader alternates between the two main stories and the chapters are short. The setting of Europe throughout the War added drama and intensity. The writing is beautiful and the imagery is finely observed. Thrown into the mix is a diamond mystery. I loved the thread about radio transmitters, sound and communication. As far as the characters go, I felt that there was a depth which was missing. We are in no doubt about family allegiances and love, but the characters to me felt a little incomplete. The people had an ever so slight caricature feel them, in particular the preposterously named Reinheld Von Rumpel. This in the most part was subtle and doesn’t distract from the creativity of the story. All the Light we Cannot See was a hugely enjoyable read and it was great to find a book which was hard to put down. A must read! 

~ Ali


The Dry

The Dry by Jane Harper
Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn't rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty. 

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him 20 years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke's death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend's crime.

Some of my reading friends have raved about this book, but unfortunately I didn't find it worthy of more than 3 stars.

I did listen to The Dry on audiobook - narrated by Steve Shanahan, so maybe reading it in print may have been a better experience as I felt it dragged and was very slow. It was also padded out in parts that I didn't feel were necessary. There were lots of suspects in the murder of the husband, wife and child; and there was also a secondary plot about the death of a young teenager many years before which eventually is solved at the end.  Sorry, but not engaging enough for me. 



Man Booker Shortlist

Established in 1969, The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel, written in the English language, and published in the UK. The winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the shortlisted authors. 

The six shortlisted books tackle some grim subjects – from a Swiftian satire about a black man reintroducing slavery in Los Angeles to a bleak and depressing exploration of masculinity and the state of contemporary Europe. This year’s chair of judges, the historian Amanda Foreman, admitted that they could be seen as “very difficult, challenging and upsetting”. But crucially, she said, each one was “transporting for the reader”.

Paul Beatty (US) The Sellout

Deborah Levy (UK) Hot Milk 

Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) His Bloody Project

Ottessa Moshfegh (US) Eileen

David Szalay (Canada-UK) All That Man Is

Madeleine Thien (Canada) Do Not Say We Have Nothing

The prize winner will be announced on 25 october 2016.

~ Deb.


The Science of Appearances

The Science of Appearances by Jacinta Halloran

In the years after World War 2, in a country town outside Melbourne, an Irish Catholic family is hit hard by the sudden death of their schoolteacher father. Twins Dominic and Mary Quinn react differently to the death, according to their distinct personalities – ‘like chalk and cheese’ says their mother. Dominic is dutiful and resilient while Mary rebels against the restraints placed on her by their emotionally reticent mother.

It’s a time when a widow’s pension can barely keep them and they’re forced to vacate their home, a house that was owned by their father’s school. While the clever Dominic stays on at school, Mary, the arty one, must supplement the family’s tight income with cleaning jobs. A stint cleaning the sexually predatory priest’s house is the last straw. When her mother punishes Mary for refusing to return there, she runs off to Melbourne. Without the extra income, Dominic, despite his gifts, must leave school and take a menial job at the post office.

Once in Melbourne Mary navigates her way out of poverty and miserable drudgery at a hostel and soon finds herself in the Bohemian world of St Kilda, while Dominic finds some luck in the form of a benefactor and makes it to Melbourne University where he studies botany and genetics. Each of the twins feels the pull towards a new horizon and a keen longing for each other. But there lurks a secret from their family history that will soon be brought to the surface.

Jacinta Halloran skillfully evokes 1950s Melbourne and the intersection of two eras. Mary is absorbed by the heady world of jazz and art in St Kilda, while Dominic finds excitement in science, especially the groundbreaking study of eugenics, and his dawning sex life. Through his German-Jewish girlfriend, he too gains access to a more liberal world than he’s previously known. His further attraction to the field of genetics is ironic given his family history and the dreadful secret that awaits him. 

Why we love it: 
Jacinta Halloran’s The Science of Appearances is an exquisitely drawn and emotionally powerful novel about a pair of twins in 1950s Melbourne. It is a thought-provoking and original coming-of-age novel.

~ from The Team at Better Reading


Southern Ruby

Southern Ruby by Belinda Alexandra

When Amanda, who was orphaned as a child, loses her dear grandmother she finds a letter from her unknown family in New Orleans – a family her grandmother refused to talk about. Amanda had always felt that a part of her was missing so, desperate to learn her father’s heritage, she leaves Sydney in search of this mysterious family from the other side of the world.

In New Orleans, Amanda’s grandmother Ruby is hiding the family secrets and living a life constrained by social mores and class boundaries, but when the granddaughter she lost in a custody battle arrives in New Orleans, she begins to slowly reveal the tightly secreted truth that she has kept buried for so long...

Why we love it: 
Belinda Alexandra transports us from Sydney to the seductive world of New Orleans. In her signature style, she teases out the long-held secrets of one family’s dark past.

~ from The Team at Better Reading


Cat 'o nine tales

Cat 'o nine tales by Jeffrey Archer.

Cat O' Nine Tales is the sixth collection of irresistible short stories from the master storyteller , illustrated by the internationally acclaimed artist, Ronald Searle, creator of Molesworth.These twelve yarns are satisfying and ingeniously plotted, featuring richly drawn characters and Jeffrey Archer's trademark deliciously unexpected conclusions. They feature the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know , as well as more poignant and telling characters.   

This is one of those books I couldn’t put down once I started reading. I have read the book at least a few times and enjoy it every time due to the author’s superb writing style.  There are a total of twelve tales. Nine were gathered from stories of inmates during Archer’s two years imprisonment (2001 -2003) and three after his release.  According to Archer’s Foreword all tales are based on true life stories and have been masterfully elaborated by him.

Discover how a man robbed his own post office, how an inspector working with the Inland Revenue Office uncovered an Italian chef’s scheme for evading taxes,  how the wisdom of a judge prevented a man from losing his inheritance  or ponder how beauty resides in the eye of the beholder.

The book is wittily illustrated by Ronald Searle and was published in 2006.

~ Lilia (Placement student with Casey Cardinia Libraries)


Missing Pieces

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf

From the back cover: Sarah Quinlan’s husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. The case rocked the small farm town of Penny Gate, Iowa, where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home. But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalised in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.

Upon arriving in Penny Gate, Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago – barely a trace of the wounds that had once devastated them all. But as facts about Julia’s accident begin to surface, Sarah realizes that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Caught in a flurry of unanswered questions, Sarah dives deep into the puzzling rabbit hole of Jack’s past. But the farther in she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a deadly truth she may not be prepared for.

This was a thrilling and intriguing tale. Sarah and Jack Quinlan have been married twenty years but Sarah is soon to discover many secrets about her husband and his family that he has kept hidden their whole married life! What unfolds turns from a family drama into a murder investigation. Lots of family members are questioning allegiances and trust is at times lost.

Heather Gudenkauf has succeeded in providing a family drama with murderous consequences - a real page-turner! I listened to this great audiobook in the car. It was performed by Christina Traister who masterly narrated this enthralling tale. Missing Pieces is also available in large print format.

~ Narelle


I want my epidural back

I want my epidural back : adventures in mediocre parenting by Karen Alpert

Now that I’m a mom, I know the most painful part isn’t getting something giant through your hooha. It’s having a real live child. 

If you are the kind of mom who shapes your kiddo’s organic quinoa into reproductions of the Mona Lisa, do not read this book. If you stayed up past midnight to create posters for your PTO presidential campaign, do not read this book. If you look down your nose at parents who have Domino’s pizza on speed dial, do not read this book. 

But if you are the kind of parent who accidentally goes ballistic on your rugrats every morning because they won’t put their shoes on and then you feel super guilty about it all day so you take them to McDonald’s for a special treat but really it’s because you opened up your freezer and panicked because you forgot to buy more frozen pizzas, then absolutely read this book.

I Want My Epidural Back is a celebration of mediocre parents and how awesome they are and how their kids love them just as much as children with perfect parents. Karen Alpert’s honest but hilarious observations, stories, quips and pictures will have you nodding your head and peeing in your pants. Or on the toilet if you’re smart and read it there."

As a parent myself, I enjoy reading about other people’s parenting strategies; so when I saw “I want my epidural back : adventures in mediocre parenting” I grabbed it! The word “mediocre” in the title describes me perfectly and made me laugh, as did the rest of the book.

To any other mediocre parents out there who want to feel they’re not alone in the strategies they use to get through the day (or night), and could use a good laugh, this is the perfect book for you.

~ Leanne


Precious Things

Precious Things by Kelly Doust

Normandy, France, 1891: a young woman painstakingly sews an intricate beaded collar to her wedding dress, the night before her marriage to someone she barely knows. Yet Aimee longs for so much more.

Shanghai, 1926: dancing sensation and wild child Zephyr spies what looks like a beaded headpiece lying carelessly discarded on a ballroom floor. She takes it with her to Malaya where she sets her sights on a prize so out of reach that, in striving for it, she will jeopardise everything she holds dear.

PRECIOUS THINGS tells the story of a collar - a wonderful, glittering beaded piece - and its journey through the decades. It's also the story of Maggie, an auctioneer living in modern-day London, who comes across the crumpled, neglected collar in a box of old junk, and sets out on an unexpected mission to discover more about its secret and elusive past. 

Maggie has a journey of her own too. Juggling a demanding job, a clingy young child and a rebellious stepdaughter, and with her once-solid marriage foundering under the pressure of a busy life, Maggie has to find out the hard way that you can't always get what you want...but sometimes, you're lucky enough to get precisely what you need.

This book took me a bit by surprise - it turned out to be more engaging than first thought. Some of these "let's go back in time" storylines can be quite clumsy and/or boring, but this one is handled well with unique characters and stories.  There is also a subplot of Maggie's family and though that's got nothing to do with beaded piece, it does round out the character and why she works with beautiful old things that encompass a family history.

I borrowed this title on e-audiobook and it is perfectly narrated by Mel Hudson, but we have it in e-book and print formats.  Book Discussion Groups should love this one!

~ Deb

Just as an aside, this is a debut novel by Australian Kelly Doust, the bestselling author of a number of books on craft and fashion, including Minxy Vintage and A Life in Frocks. She's written for Vogue and Sunday Life magazine, and worked in the UK and Hong Kong. She now lives in Sydney.

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