Forensics: the anatomy of crime

Forensics: the anatomy of crime by Val McDermid  

From the cover: The dead talk.  To the right listener, they tell us all about themselves: how they lived, how they died – and who killed them.  Val McDermid uncovers the secrets of forensic medicine with ground-breaking research and her own experience.  

In the course of researching her bestselling novels McDermid has become familiar with every branch of forensics, and now she uncovers the history of this science, real-world murders and the people who must solve them.

Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces. 'Forensics: the anatomy of crime' draws on interviews with some of these top-level professionals, ground-breaking research, and McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists. 

The chapters cover a wide breadth of subjects; fire scene investigation, entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood spatter, DNA, anthropology, facial reconstruction, digital forensics, forensic psychology and finally how these techniques are drawn on during the final legal process to gain a conviction.

Although the plethora of CSI et al shows in this day and age have pretty much portrayed the finer points of forensics, this does not detract from what is an interesting book.  I borrowed the Playaway brilliantly narrated by Sarah Barron.  She reads it in McDermid’s Scottish burr, then switches during conversations to bring an Irish, or American, London, Liverpool, or Cornish accent to answer, all totally without pause or seemingly forethought.  Amazing.  Not for the queasy or faint-hearted, this book bares all the bones of who dunnit, how, where, when and sometimes even why.  Highly recommended. 



PM's Literary Awards shortlist

The Prime Minister's Literary Awards 2015 recognise and reward excellence in Australian literature and history. Award Categories are fiction, poetry, non-fiction, Australian history, young adult fiction and children's fiction.

These Awards play an important role in celebrating the outstanding literary talent in Australia and the valuable contribution Australian literature and history makes to the nation's cultural and intellectual life.

The Prime Minister's Literary Awards provide prizes of $80,000 in each of the six categories for winning titles and $5,000 each for the shortlisted.

Adult Fiction:

Amnesia by Peter Carey
Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett 
In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower 
The Golden Age by Joan London
To Name Those Lost by Rohan Wilson 

Adult Non-fiction:

Encountering the Pacific: In the Age of Enlightenment by John Gascoigne 
John Olsen: An Artist's Life by Darleen Bungey
Private Bill by Barrie Cassidy 
This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial by Helen Garner
Wild Bleak Bohemia: Marcus Clarke, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall by Michael Wilding

Australian History:

Charles Bean by Ross Coulthart
Descent into Hell by Peter Brune 
Menzies at War by Anne Henderson 
The Europeans in Australia Volume Three: Nation by Alan Atkinson 
The Spy Catchers - The Official History of ASIO Volume 1 by David Horner 



Speaking in bones

Speaking in bones by Kathy Reichs is the latest in the Temperance Brennan series.  Yes it's the same character name as in the TV series Bones, but a very different character line development.

However, the stories are just as intriguing, moreso this latest one from Reichs.

The forensic anthropologist finds herself drawn into a world of dark secrets and dangerous beliefs, where good and evil blur. Professionally, Temperance Brennan knows exactly what to do--test, analyze, identify.  Hazel "Lucky" Strike--a strident amateur detective who mines the Internet for cold cases--comes to Brennan with a tape recording of an unknown girl being held prisoner and terrorized. Strike is convinced the voice is that of eighteen-year-old Cora Teague, who went missing more than three years earlier. Strike is also certain that the teenager's remains are gathering dust in Temperance Brennan's lab. Brennan has doubts about working with a self-styled web sleuth. But when the evidence seems to add up, Brennan's next stop is the treacherous backwoods where the chilling recording (and maybe Cora Teague's bones) were discovered. Her forensic field trip only turns up more disturbing questions--along with gruesome proof of more untimely deaths. While local legends of eerie nocturnal phenomena and sinister satanic cults abound, it's a zealous and secretive religious sect that has Brennan spooked and struggling to separate the saints from the sinners. But there's nothing, including fire and brimstone, that can distract her from digging up the truth and taking down a killer--even as Brennan finds herself in a place where angels fear to tread, devils demand their due, and she may be damned no matter what.

There is so much happening in this story, but not so much that you lose track! Web sleuths, multiple missing persons, unidentified bodies, a religious cult with its mysterious leader, new discoveries, all complicated by Brennan's personal life.  Working closely with a local sheriff's deputy on this case starts her thinking about her long term relationship. Will she accept the marriage proposal that has her 'at sixes and sevens'?

As always, the forensic side is detailed, yet understandable and full of clues so you can see where they lead before Reichs takes you there.  I was quite happy to just follow her lead and enjoy the ride.

The plot line was intriguing, taking turns when you aren't expecting it, but ending in a most satisfactory way on multiple levels.

If you're a Kathy Reich's fan or just enjoy forensic stories, you'll love this one.

~ Michelle


$2.00 A Day

$2.00 a day: living on almost nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaefer

From the catalogue:  After two decades of brilliant research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn't seen since the mid-1990s -- households surviving on virtually no income. Edin teamed with Luke Shaefer, an expert on calculating incomes of the poor, to discover that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to 1.5 million American households, including about 3 million children. Where do these families live? How did they get so desperately poor?  Through the book's many compelling profiles, moving and startling answers emerge. The authors illuminate a troubling trend: a low-wage labor market that increasingly fails to deliver a living wage, and a growing but hidden landscape of survival strategies among America's extreme poor. More than a powerful expose, $2.00 a Day delivers new evidence and new ideas to our national debate on income inequality. 

This rather depressing tale is a harrowing account of how some American families are struggling to survive on zero income – that’s right, with absolutely no cash coming into the household at all. How do they manage? What about the supposed safety nets which every civilised society is supposed to have? What happens when the lights get cut off, the fridge breaks or the food stamps run out? 

The author has conducted meticulous research into poverty for many years and this book is perhaps the culmination of what she has unveiled. Could this happen here in Australia? Let’s hope not, and be thankful while undoubtedly income inequality is a problem here, we are still miles ahead of the United States.




Reckoning by Magda Szubanski

From the catalogue:  Heartbreaking, joyous, traumatic, intimate and revelatory, Reckoning is the book where Magda Szubanski, one of Australia's most beloved performers, tells her story. In this extraordinary memoir, Magda describes her journey of self-discovery from a suburban childhood, haunted by the demons of her father's espionage activities in wartime Poland and by her secret awareness of her sexuality, to the complex dramas of adulthood and her need to find out the truth about herself and her family. With courage and compassion she addresses her own frailties and fears, and asks the big questions about life, about the shadows we inherit and the gifts we pass on. Honest, poignant, utterly captivating, Reckoning announces the arrival of a fearless writer and natural storyteller. It will touch the lives of its readers.

Why we love it:  Reckoning is a searing and brutally honest memoir that takes us on the life journey of one of Australia’s best-loved entertainers, as well as on a mesmerising journey through the twentieth century. Growing up in an outer Melbourne suburb, the half Polish, half Scottish child with an English accent never quite fits in. Her anecdotes from early childhood through her schooldays are by turns funny and deeply poignant. She describes in compelling detail her attraction to the rites of Catholicism, her struggle for acceptance at convent school in Melbourne, her hilarious attempts to be one of Melbourne’s ‘sharpies’, and her dawning sexuality.

From the Team at Better Reading


Melbourne Prize for Literature

The winners in the Melbourne Prize for Literature 2015, the Best Writing Award 2015, plus a new category in the 10th anniversary celebration – the Writers Prize 2015 – have been announced.  

The $60,000 Melbourne Prize for Literature went to Chris Wallace-Crabbe AM in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Australian literature and cultural and intellectual life.  

The $30,000 Best Writing Award was bestowed on Andrea Goldsmith for ‘clarity, originality and creativity’ in her seventh novel, The Memory Trap; while Kate Ryan won the $20,000 Writers Prize for her essay Psychotherapy for Normal People.

To showcase the work of the finalists and engage the public with the abundant literary talent in Victoria, the finalists in each category are on show at Federation Square up until 23 November 2015, where a free catalogue is available. Voting for the $6,000 Civic Choice Award 2015 will also be possible at the exhibition. 

Melbourne was the second city in the world to become a UNESCO City of Literature.



Not Your Usual Bushrangers

Not Your Usual Bushrangers by Peter MacInnis

In this entertaining and original work, wilderness walker, inveterate traveller and award-winning writer Peter Macinnis uncovers our earliest and little-known practitioners of the art of bushranging - and find that most were murderous thugs with few saving graces. Along the way he finds a few endearing ones, such as Moondyne Joe and Diver Fitzgerald, who were scallywags rather than villains. Plus there were a few who affected a gentlemanly front, a sort of false gallantry that did not sit well with their thieving ways. Curiously, the word 'bushranger' did not originally mean an Australian highwayman, rather somebody capable of surviving in the bush, and what were their motivations for taking part in this deadly game?

Peter’s book is very original look at the Australian bushrangers. All the well-known bushrangers like Ned Kelly, Ben Hall, and Captain Thunderbolt are here but just as interesting are the stories of the colonies at the time, the police, magistrates and ordinary people. Life was pretty difficult for most of the population of the new colony. The convicts were often so badly treated by their ‘masters’ that it is no wonder they bolted and tried other ways to survive. 

The book is often surprisingly humorous and very entertaining. I especially enjoyed reading Appendix 1 and 2 – all the poetry, songs and stories from the time. What is also highly interesting – the difference between what you were taught at school – and what you find out later - very different indeed. Especially John MacArthur – a very nasty piece of work in all respects. His wife Elizabeth was the real ‘father’ of the Australian Merino sheep industry – he was in gaol in England! A good enjoyable way to read up on our early history. 



Spirits of the Ghan

Spirits of the Ghan byJudy Nunn

From the cover:  "It is 2001 and as the world charges into the new Millennium, a century-old dream is about to be realised in the Red Centre of Australia: the completion of the mighty Ghan railway, a long-lived vision to create the 'backbone of the continent', a line that will finally link Adelaide with the Top End. But construction of the final leg between Alice Springs and Darwin will not be without its complications, for much of the desert it will cross is Aboriginal land.

Hired as a negotiator, Jessica Manning must walk a delicate line to reassure the Elders their sacred sites will be protected. Will her innate understanding of the spiritual landscape, rooted in her own Arunta heritage, win their trust? It's not easy to keep the peace when Matthew Witherton and his survey team are quite literally blasting a rail corridor through the timeless land of the Never-Never.
When the paths of Jessica and Matthew finally cross, their respective cultures collide to reveal a mystery that demands attention. As they struggle against time to solve the puzzle, an ancient wrong is awakened and calls hauntingly across the vastness of the outback."

I'm a first-time reader of the prolific Judy Nunn. She has obviously done quite a lot of research as the elements in the book take in Australia's colonial history as well as touching on The Stolen Generation of aboriginal children. Rose's story (Jessica's mother) is very emotional and I think a good depiction of that time in Australia's history; the aftermath which is still being felt today by the Aboriginal people. Aboriginal spiritual belief is also a feature of the story which is why Jessica's advisory role is to ensure that no sacred land is impacted by the railway. During this time Jessica also connects with her mother's family where she learns a lot about the culture, and how the coming of the white man has affected their people.

The narratives of Jessica (Rose's daughter) and Matthew (the surveyor) are very well portrayed and I found this book to be quite engaging. With a cast of other characters thrown in as well it kept me up till the early hours pressing on to find out what happened next!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good story with some history thrown in for good measure.



Distant Voices

Distant Voices by Barbara Erskine

Following on from the review below, Whispers in the Sand, I thought I'd share something a bit different - 
Barbara Erskine's second volume of short stories. (I missed Volumes 1 and 2, so must rectify that.)

From the publisher:  Distant Voices creates a wide and vivid range of worlds and emotions, from love, romance, loneliness and grief, to betrayal, passion, adventure and compelling suspense. A biographer investigating a tragic death hears voices from the past ... A young boy finds haven in wasteland... And a young woman finds help from an unexpected source. Contemporary, historical, spooky, humorous, there are over thirty stories, each one guaranteed to capture the reader's imagination, and all demonstrating Erskine's unique powers as a storyteller.

But back to this very 'English' collection of 30 stories: this is a good book to pick up and put down at your leisure.  Some stories are better than others, some are quite dated, some have been specially written for this volume.  Overall, it does reflect that the stories were created for women's magazine market, so by the time you really start getting into one, it's just about wind-up time and time to be getting on doing something else. 

A historian by training, Barbara Erskine is the author of many bestselling novels that demonstrate her interest in both history and the supernatural, plus three other collections of short stories. Her books have appeared in at least twenty-six languages. Her first novel, Lady of Hay, sold over two million copies worldwide. Click here for others in our catalogue.  We have Distant Voices in regular and large print, e-audio download and audio CD formats.  



Whispers in the Sand

Whispers in the Sand by Barbara Erskine

In the mid-nineteenth century, Anna Fox’s great-grandmother, Louisa, a renowned artist, went on a Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan.  Following Anna’s recent divorce, she decided to retrace Louisa’s journey, carrying a few of her great-grandmother’s possessions – an ancient Egyptian scent bottle and a skilfully illustrated diary that Louisa kept throughout the original cruise.  Stories from the different eras begin to intertwine with terrifying consequences.

I've read a few by Barbara Erskine, but this is by far the best! The author was deft in seamlessly blending Louisa’s narrative with Anna’s.  When Anna reads from the diary, a wonderful sense of the timelessness of Egyptian history is created with the delightful juxtaposition of shorts and t-shirts versus whale-bone corsets and long, swishing skirts when both were viewing the same relic, albeit more than 100 years apart.  At the beginning of each chapter is a paragraph or two from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which underpins the whole story as ancient priests from the Temple of Isis reach out over thousands of years to reclaim the little scent bottle that Anna is carelessly carrying about with her.  

Mix in a Victorian love story, some colourful characters, greed, death, psychic channelling, cobras and threatening emanations of powerful ancient priests bent on revenge, place all of that amongst the exotic scenery and smells of Egypt, both past and present, and voila - one of the most entertaining books I've picked up in ages!  If you love Indianna Jones/Jewell of the Nile/The Mummy style of fantasy/adventure, this one is sure to please!



The Unbroken Line

The Unbroken Line by Alex Hammond

From the cover: The violence of the past casts a long shadow – a dark legacy with lethal consequences.
When defence lawyer Will Harris is attacked by masked men with a clear message to back off, he has no choice but to listen. If only he knew what they were talking about.

Under siege as his fledgling law firm struggles to get off the ground, Will agrees to defend the troubled son of a family friend. But the case is far from clear-cut, and the ethical boundaries murky. Instead of clawing his way out of trouble, Will finds he’s sinking ever deeper. 

At the same time, his search for his attackers unearths an unexpected source that points him towards Melbourne’s corridors of power. But motives, let alone proofs, are hard to find. It is only when those close to him are threatened that Will realises how near he is to the deadly truth.

Alex Hammond is a Melbourne-based writer and this is his second book in the Will Harris series. It is a legal thriller based in Melbourne. The Unbroken Line captures a mafia element, corruption among those of extreme power, and twists and turns that all thriller readers seek. 

Will Harris is a young lawyer on a self-obsessed path to destruction. Although a lawyer, he does a lot of his own investigating and is not afraid of confrontation, violence and pain. There is some romantic interest captured in the plot but the main storyline is based around his legal cases that seem to bring him, as a defence attorney, in close contact with both corrupt and undesirable characters.

Alex Hammond’s first novel, Blood Witness was shortlisted for the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Fiction. His second novel is bound to get similar attention with its gripping storyline too.

~ Narelle


Still Alice

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Alice Howland is a 50-year-old cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics, with grown children and a satisfying marriage to an academic, when she starts to experience fleeting forgetfulness and disorientation. She initially attributes these episodes to normal aging or menopause. But as her symptoms worsen, she sees a neurologist and is given the diagnosis that will change her life forever: early-onset Alzheimer's disease. 

With no cure or treatment, Alice struggles to overcome her shock and find meaning and purpose in her everyday life as her sense of self is gradually stripped away, leaving her unable to continue in her profession, take care of herself, recognise her loved ones or even understand that she has a neuro-degenerative disease. Without memory or hope, Alice is forced to live in the moment, which is in turns maddening, beautiful and terrifying. 

I am sure every family will be touched by Alzheimer’s and dementia at some stage. This book resonated with as I have a family member that suffers from early onset dementia which is the focus of this honest, personal account of Alice Howland's journey into dementia. 

This is a very emotional read where you can feel the terrifying fear of confusion and disorientation that dementia instills in people and the enduring effect on families. The book follows Alice for some time so gives a gripping insight into the condition and what its sufferers may endure. This is a compelling, "must read" book.  



Aeronaut's windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass is the first in a new series - The Cinder Spires - by author Jim Butcher. Butcher is best known for his well-loved series The Dresden Files, which started as a series of books, but has spun out into a TV series, game, graphic novels and more.

The Aeronaut's Windlass takes us away from the Wizard PI scenario of the Dresden Files and into steampunk and war.  And wow, what a ride!

"Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace. Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy's shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion--to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory. And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity's ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake."

At 630 pages, this is not a quick read, but Butcher soon draws you in with this array of characters and the circumstances that the 'non-heroes' find themselves in. As you would expect, they more than rise to the occasion and the action runs hot and thick throughout.

With its combination of well-written characters, amazing action sequences, flying ships, magical creatures and fighting against the odds, this was a book that I just couldn't put down.  I loved the various characters and the way that Butcher brought them to life and I was taken in by all that was happening, happily spending several hours getting lost in the action-packed ending.

Without giving anything away, the first book does not do much more than hint at the 'ancient' enemy referred to in the blurb, so I can't wait for the rest of the books in the series.

If you love steampunk, great characterisations, magic or some good action sequences, then I highly recommend The Aeronaut's Windlass.

~ Michelle


The Mourner

The Mourner by Susan Wilkins

If she can't get justice, will she settle for vengeance? Kaz Phelps has escaped her brother and her criminal past to become an anonymous art student in Glasgow. But can life under the witness protection scheme ever give her the freedom she craves? 

Banged up and brooding, Joey Phelps faces thirty years behind bars. Still, with cash and connections on the outside, can an overstretched prison system really contain him? 

Helen Warner, once Kaz's lawyer and lover, is a rising star in Parliament. But has she made the kind of enemies who have no regard for the democratic process, or even the law? 

Ousted from the police and paralysed by tragic personal loss, Nicci Armstrong is in danger of going under. Can a job she doesn't want with a private security firm help her to put her life back back on track? 

A murder dressed up as suicide and corruption that goes to the heart of government unite ex-cop and ex-con in a deadly quest to learn the truth. What they discover proves what both have always known, villainy is rife on both sides of the law.

Continuing on from The Informant, Kaz and co are still battling organised crime and trying to find out who murdered whom and why.  This book isn't as predictable as the first one; there are many threads to join up as the trail becomes quite complex with some police becoming private security agents, Russians making an appearance and the political scene more corrupt than usual.  Mix in some heavy-handed violence, sophisticated surveillance, an undercover sting, a helicopter chase and a not-very-surprising ending and you have one entertaining read if you enjoy this genre.  Lucy Price-Lewis, narrator, delivers male, female, Russian and the many British aristocratic and bovver boy accents with aplomb. We have this title in audio and e-book formats.



Who Do You Love

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are just eight years old when they meet late one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she's intrigued by the boy who shows up all alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy's taken back to a doctor and Rachel's sent back to her bed, they think they'll never see each other again. 

Rachel grows up wanting for nothing in a fancy Florida suburb, the popular and protected daughter of two doting parents. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent that will let him become one of the best runners of his generation. Over the next three decades, their paths cross in magical and ordinary ways. 

They make grand plans and dream big dreams as they grow together and apart in starts and stops. Through it all, Andy and Rachel never stop thinking about that night in the hospital waiting room all of those years ago, a chance encounter that changed the course of both of their lives. 

In this captivating, often witty tale about the bonds between women and men, love and fate, and the truth about happy endings, Jennifer Weiner delivers two of her most memorable characters and a love story you'll never forget.

This was a very easy read and I really enjoyed it. The story of Rachel and Andy spans 30 years, and all through the book you are teased with will they or won't they get together. The individual storylines of both characters were engaging. This is the first Jennifer Weiner book I have read, and this would make a great movie or telemovie.



Baileys Best of the Best

Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been named 'Best of the Best' of the winners in the second decade of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. Chosen by the Chairs of Judges of the past ten years, Muriel Gray, Chair of Judges 2007, said Half of a Yellow Sun is a benchmark for excellence in fiction writing.  

Established in 1996 to celebrate and promote international fiction by women throughout the world to the widest range of readers possible, the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction is awarded for the best novel of the year written by a woman. Any woman writing in English - whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter - is eligible.

The winner receives a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze figurine known as a 'Bessie', created and donated by the artist Grizel Niven. Both are anonymously endowed.

The next Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction will be awarded in June 2016.  Last year's winner was Ali Smith for How To Be Both.  



A House in the Sky

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

As a child, Amanda Lindhout escaped a violent household by paging through issues of National Geographic and imagining herself in its exotic locales. Later in life, in war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a television reporter. And then, in August 2008, she travelled to Somalia - 'the most dangerous place on earth'. 

On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road. Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda converts to Islam as a survival tactic, receives 'wife lessons' from one of her captors, and risks a daring escape. Moved between a series of abandoned houses 
in the desert, she survives on memory - every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity - and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the tortured woman kept in chains in the dark.

This is an unbelievable story, yet it is true. Amanda has such a talent for writing. Her vivid recall of events is remarkable considering everything that she had to endure. Full of suspense, drama and her resilience of spirit, I can highly recommend this book. I listened to the e-audiobook, read by the author and articulated with steady strength. 



The Informant

The Informant by Susan Wilkins

As a drug-fuelled teenage tearaway, Kaz Phelps took the rap for her little brother, Joey, over a bungled armed robbery, and went to jail. Six years later she's released on licence. Clean and sober – and driven by a secret passion for her lawyer, Helen – Kaz wants to escape the violence and abuse of her Essex gangster family.

Joey is a charming, calculating and cold psychopath. He worships the ground his sister walks on and he's desperate to get her back in the family firm. But all Kaz wants is a fresh start and to put the past behind her. When Joey murders an undercover cop, DS Nicci Armstrong is determined to put him behind bars. What she doesn't realise is that their efforts are being sabotaged by one of their own.

The final test for Kaz comes when her cousin, Sean, gets out of jail. A vicious, old-school thug, he wants to put the girl back in her place. But can Kaz face him down and get her life back?

This is very much like watching The Minder, wiv Terry an’ Arfur getting into more than a bit of bovver wiv the Ole Bill, but more modern – with computers and ecstasy.  The amount of violence and corruption on both sides of the fence should come as no surprise. Our feisty protagonist is a very well-written character and engages some sympathy in her efforts to escape the clutches of her criminal family, and all in all, this book could be movie material; trouble is, it’s somewhat predictable as we’ve seen it all before.  

I downloaded the e-audiobook from our Bolinda site and it was very well narrated by Lucy Price-Lewis, handling male, female and different English class accents with aplomb, but we also have this title in print, audio and e-book formats.  

PS - Just noticed that this is book 1 in a series.  Book 2 - The Mourners, is available on our catalogue.


Bulwer-Lytton Awards

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is a tongue-in-cheek competition held annually. Entrants are invited "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels" – that is, deliberately bad.

The contest was started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University and is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the much-quoted first line "It was a dark and stormy night" from the 1830 novel 'Paul Clifford'.

The first year of the competition attracted just three entries, but it went public the following year, received media attention, and attracted 10,000 entries. There are now several subcategories, such as detective fiction, romance novels, Western novels, and purple prose. Sentences that are notable but not quite bad enough to merit the Grand Prize or a category prize are awarded Dishonorable Mentions.

The Grand Prize winner for 2015 is Joel Phillips from the USA with this opening:

"Seeing how the victim's body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer "Dirk" Dirksen wondered why reporters always unsed the phrase "sandwiched" to describe such a scene since there was nothing apetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt."



Tom Houghton

Tom Houghton by Todd Alexander 

As a boy growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Tom Houghton escapes the harshness of the schoolyard by cocooning himself in the cinema of the golden age of Hollywood.

When he discovers that his favourite actress, Katharine Hepburn, modelled herself on her brother, Thomas Houghton Hepburn, Tom sinks deeper into his fantasy life. Determined to reveal his true identity to the world, Tom is propelled on a torturous path with disastrous consequences.

Almost thirty years later, Tom is offered an acting role at a festival in Scotland. With the rigours of his past finally catching up with him, fantasy and reality struggle for control and Tom finds himself questioning everything he thought he knew about himself.

Who is Tom Houghton?

Why we love it: The more we get to know Tom Houghton, the more we like him, even in spite of his faults. Cleverly crafted and with characters that walk straight off the page, Todd Alexander's second novel is a masterpiece of self-discovery.

from the Team at Better Reading


Notes from the Internet Apocalypse

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse by Wayne Gladstone

When the Internet suddenly stops working, society reels from the loss of flowing data, instant messages and streaming entertainment. Addicts wander the streets, talking to themselves in 140 characters or forcing cats to perform tricks for their amusement, while the truly desperate pin their requests for casual encounters on public bulletin boards. The economy tumbles further and the government passes the draconian NET Recovery Act. 

For Gladstone, the Net's disappearance comes particularly hard following the loss of his wife, leaving his flask of Jamesons and grandfather's fedora as the only comforts in his Brooklyn apartment. But there are rumors that someone in New York is still online. Someone set apart from this new world where Facebook flirters "poke" each other in real life and members of Anonymous trade memes at secret parties. Where a former librarian can sell information as a human search engine, and the perverted fulfill their secret fetishes at the blossoming Rule 34 club. 

With the help of his friends, a blogger and a webcam girl both now out of work, Gladstone sets off to find the Internet. But is he the right man to save humanity from this Apocalypse? For fans of David Wong, Chad Kultgen, and Chuck Palahniuk, this book examines the question ~ What is life without the Web?

The story is told in the form of a journal which Gladstone keeps as he and his friends try to find out what happened to the internet.  They must negotiate New Yorks' new found perils, such as internet junkies known as "zombies" who aimlessly walk the streets searching for the life they have lost; Reddit groups who congregate on street corners to wax lyrical on their favourite subject, and a real life "Jeeves" who claims to have all the answers.  And of course there is porn.  Without the internet, the porn industry experiences an unprecedented renaissance.

The book poses some interesting questions about how we have come to rely so heavily on the internet, and what it has replaced.  The author acknowledges how much we have gained, but also points out that there is much we have lost.



The Patterson Girls

The Patterson Girls by Rachael Johns

When the Patterson daughters return home to Meadow Brook to be with their father after their mother’s death, they bring with them a world of complication and trouble.

The eldest sister, obstetrician Madeleine, would rather be anywhere but her hometown; violinist Abigail has fled from her stellar career; while teacher Lucinda is struggling
to have the children she and her husband so desperately want. The black sheep of the family, Charlie, feels her life as a barista and exercise instructor doesn’t measure up to that of her gifted and successful sisters.

Dealing with their bereft father who is determined to sell the family motel, their loves, old and new, and a series of troublesome decisions doesn’t make life any easier, but when they go through their mother’s possessions and uncover a shocking secret of an old family curse, they begin to question everything they thought they knew.

A warm and wise novel about secrets revealed, finding your soulmate and the unique bond between sisters.

Rachael Johns is Australia's top selling Rural Romance novelist, but with this book she takes a bit of a diversion from her normal style of writing. It is the story of four very different Patterson sisters who all return home to celebrate Christmas with their father after the loss of their mother earlier that year. Two of the sisters live overseas, one in Melbourne and one in Perth. I loved the story of each of the sisters - one a teacher, one a doctor, one a violinist and the other a self-described under-achiever!! As the four sisters sort out their mother's belongings they discover a reference to a Patterson curse. They eventually find out what this means from their Aunt Mags, which then becomes a catalyst that turns each of their lives upside down.

This story is told from their individual perspectives and is a story of relationships, secrets, loss and of course there is a bit of romance thrown in there as well. This story will appeal to all lovers of romance and family sagas as well as women's fiction. I absolutely loved this book, and I hope the author is going to write a sequel in the future as there are storylines that I would like to know more about!


PS:  We were lucky enough recently to host Rachael Johns at Narre Warren library where she spoke about her writing journey and had a Q & A session with the fans who came along.

The Patterson Girls is available to borrow on e-book, audiobook, e-audiobook and print.

Rachael [left] with Janine.


Sweet Wattle Creek

Sweet Wattle Creek by Kaye Dobbie 

In the years following the Great Depression, Belle Bartholomew arrives in the rural Victorian town of Sweet Wattle Creek to claim her inheritance – a decrepit hotel once owned by Martha Ambrose in the early 1900s. Belle is determined to solve the mystery surrounding her birth and find out why the hotel was bequeathed to her. However, she runs into opposition from the locals who want to keep the town’s secrets under wraps.

In the 1980s, journalist Sophie Matheson is on a quest to find Belle and her family after discovering an antique wedding dress. But as the Sweet Wattle Creek Centenary approaches, Sophie’s own past catches up with her. She must find out who exactly Belle and Martha were and uncover the link between the two women…

Why We Love It: Kaye Dobbie’s Sweet Wattle Creek is an intriguing story of three women that kept us turning the pages and wondering what was coming next. It’s a masterfully woven tale that transports us back in time to the turn of the nineteenth century, to the 1930s, and takes us forward again to the 1980s. 

from the Team at Better Reading


The Fish Ladder

The Fish Ladder: a journey upstream by Katherine Norbury

Katharine Norbury was abandoned as a baby in a Liverpool convent. Raised by a loving adoptive family, she grew into a wanderer, drawn by the landscape of the British countryside.

One summer, following the miscarriage of a much-longed-for child, Katharine sets out—accompanied by her nine-year-old daughter, Evie - with the idea of following a river from the sea to its source. The luminously observed landscape grounds the walkers, providing both a constant and a context to their expeditions. But what begins as a diversion from grief evolves into a journey to the source of life itself: a life threatening illness forces Katharine to seek a genetic medical history, and this new and unexpected path delivers her to the door of the woman who abandoned her all those years ago.

Combining travelogue, memoir, exquisite nature writing, and fragments of poems with tales from Celtic mythology, The Fish Ladder has a rare emotional resonance. It is a portrait of motherhood, of a literary marriage, a hymn to the adoptive family, but perhaps most of all it is an exploration of the extraordinary majesty of the natural world. Imbued with a keen and joyful intelligence, this original and life-affirming book is set to become a classic of its genre. 

Although the beginning to this story took a while to draw me in, I’m so glad that I stayed with it. The writing meanders and flows just like the crystal streams that Katherine follows. Gently and beautifully, landscape and people intersect. Katherine Norbury is able to focus on the minutiae of her surroundings and to describe all her journeys perfectly. If you enjoy biographies, nature or the Northern English/Scottish environment then I can highly recommend this book. I listened to the e-audio book which is read quietly and evocatively by the author. 



The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood 

Stan and Charmaine are left homeless by an economic downtown in the near future. They roam the dangerous roads of America, living out of their car, avoiding robbery, gang rape, even murder, and scrounging a meagre living any way they can. When they see a television ad at the bar where Charmaine works, promising hope of a safe life in a controlled new society, Charmaine can’t resist the lure of soft, white towels and hot running water.

Once inside though, reality is not quite so wonderful as the TV images portrayed. Charmaine has a job ‘dealing with’ the unsavoury elements in the perfect world of Positron and its alternate world, Consilience. Stan’s job is to tend the chickens that help to feed the residents of this supposedly utopian society. One month they live in their neat suburban house and on alternate months they go into the Positron ‘prison’, a system that makes everything run smoothly, according to the propaganda.

Why we love it: Margaret Atwood is at her best in this stunning novel about a crazy, dystopian world. The Heart Goes Last is a horrifying, funny and honest look at what humans will do to survive at any cost.

from the team at Better Reading


Wrong Way Round

Wrong Way Round by Lorna Hendry

When Lorna Hendry, her husband James and young kids left Melbourne on a one-year trip around Australia in a 4WD with a camper trailer (having only been camping once before they left), they ignored all advice and drove across the Nullarbor and up the west coast of Australia. They may have been travelling the wrong way around Australia, but it was the best decision they ever made. 

Lorna returned to Melbourne three years later, having crossed deserts and rivers, taken ill-advised short cuts in the most remote areas of the country, stood on the western edge and the northern tip of the country, stumbled onto its geographic centre, and lived in remote communities in Western Australia. 

Wrong Way Round is a story about four people who had to get out of the city to become a family. It's about this beautiful and harsh country. And it's about the adventures that you can have if you step outside of your door and turn left instead of right.

The map at the start of the book shows the family's travels and they are truly epic.They left home in Fitzroy and headed towards the Coorong in South Australia learning as they went. Putting up their campervan, annexe and tent was one learning experience as was trying to fill the requirements of the correspondence school curriculum for their boys. They learnt as they went along and by the end of their first year had become seasoned travellers. One year turned into three as they worked in the far north of Western Australia, visited new places and tried to never take the same road twice.  An enjoyable and easy read that is as much about family as it is about travelling around our country. 



Beneath the Skin

Beneath the Skin by Nicci French

Zoe, Jennifer and Nadia are three women with nothing in common ... Except for the man who wants to kill them. He sends them terrifying letters, full of the intimate details of their lives, and promises that he will bring those lives to a violent, horrible end. But not before he has enjoyed himself. Invisible and apparently unstoppable, he delights in watching the women suffer, thrilled by his power to leave them utterly helpless, alone in their terror and confusion. Except they're not all as helpless as he thinks.

The book is in three parts with each section devoted to one woman’s story.  They are wildly different people – in age, circumstance, looks and personalities and it’s this thread that has us (and the police) mulling over what common denominator would attract a killer.  

I’ve read a few other titles from the married writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Their psychological thrillers are usually pretty good and this is definitely one of the better ones as it has a couple of unique offerings … One: Jennifer’s killer is declared in Part 2.  But it’s a three part story so what’s left to say?  Plenty.  And two: the crime squad investigating the murders is shown quite blatantly to be not exactly bumbling but definitely inept and inadequate.  This is a ‘French’ trait that has cropped up before in their books, particularly in ‘Losing You’ where the main character seethes with rage and frustration at police procedure. 

Sometimes you can tell which team member has written which chapter (particularly noticeable in Secret Smile published in 2003) but no so in this title.  The suspense underpins most of the story pretty much up until the end, and, in this Bolinda audio version downloaded from our catalogue, is helped even further by a first-class narration from Julie Maisey.  We have this title in all print and audio formats.  




Those Girls

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens
From the cover:  Life has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney and Dani live on a remote ranch where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father’s temper. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. 

As events spiral out of control, they find themselves in a horrifying situation and are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives. Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened to them. But when one of the sisters goes missing, followed closely by her niece, they are pulled back into the past. And this time there’s nowhere left to run….

This is a gripping tale and not for the faint-hearted! The violence endured by these three sisters is unspeakable and hard to read at times. Chevy Stevens just has a knack of weaving a most intriguing tale which you don’t want to put down despite the horrific situations that unfold. It is a tale of bravery, strength, resilience and love.

~ Narelle


The Secret River

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

After a childhood of poverty and petty crime in the slums of London, William Thornhill is sentenced in 1806 to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and children in tow, he arrives in a harsh land that feels at first like a death sentence. But among the convicts there is a whisper that freedom can be bought, an opportunity to start afresh. 

Away from the infant township of Sydney, up the Hawkesbury River, Thornhill encounters men who have tried to do just that: Blackwood, who is attempting to reconcile himself with the place and its people, and Smasher Williams, whose fear of this alien world turns into brutal depravity towards it. As Thornhill and his family stake their claim on a patch of ground by the river, the battle lines between old and new inhabitants are drawn. 

I was drawn to read this book after watching the beautiful and touching three-part drama on TV. Secret River is about early encounters the settlers had with the Aboriginals of the Hawksebury River. In the early days an uneasy but tolerant relationship evolves from both cultures. William is clearly torn whether to be tolerant or dismissive of the original owners.  Eventually Thornhill is pressed to decide when the original owners decide to burn his corn crop. The decision Thornhill makes affects him and his family for the rest of their lives. This book is a moving detailed description of how tough life on the land was for ex convicts, and gives some insight into the atrocities the original inhabitants may have endured at the time. It is also a stunning narrative of the alien Australian landscape that William Thornhill comes to love. Available in regular and large print, audio and e-book.


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