Our Zoo

Our Zoo by June Mottershead

George Mottershead's ambition since childhood had been to open a zoo without bars. In 1930 he moved his family, including his four-year-old daughter June, to a property called Oakfield at Upton near Chester in England hoping that this would be the place to fulfil his dream. 

June's book chronicles her early years at the zoo, the struggles with local authorities, efforts to house and feed the continuously expanding stream of animals, to draw in the public and just to make ends meet. The zoo managed to keep open during the Second World War and began a huge period of expansion afterwards. June's parents and grandparents, working class people with very little money to fall back on, were extremely dedicated people who worked every day for very little financial reward, but her father in particular had amazing drive and vision and has had a huge impact on the way zoos are run today. 

Chester zoo is now one of the world’s top zoos and a leader in conservation of species. June and her husband were both keepers there for most of their working lives and her children and grandchildren have been involved as well. 

The story of Chester Zoo's early years has been made into a TV series and though June, now in her 80's, enjoyed the series she wanted to tell the real story with all its highs and lows and it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.  




Orient by Christopher Bollen.

Orient, seated at the toe of the north leg of Long Island, ebbs and flows with the seasons. When the days start to grow, the first SUVs begin to roll in, filled with beach towels, croquet sets, and the summering multitudes of nearby New York City. But when the season reaches its close and the swell recedes, a town remains in its wake. Mills Chevern rode into town in Paul Benchley's passenger seat on that last day of summer. Who is this foster kid? Where did he come from? Why did Paul, that nice, lonely, middle-aged neighbour bring him to the quiet streets? It's not long after Mills rolls in that all hell breaks loose: the local handyman is found bloated to bursting in the bay, an elderly neighbour is discovered face-down in her garage, and a grotesque creature washes up on shore. As the town swarms with fear, Mills (we're certain that's not his real name) finds himself the chief suspect in a riddle of violent deaths, one he must solve before his own time runs out.

Why We Love It:

It’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil meets Jonathan Franzen.  While the whodunnit mystery will keep you guessing until the very last pages, it’s the dissection of small town American life that had us truly hooked – for all 600 pages.

Orient beautifully captures the angst, desperation, innocence and dark side of small town life. It’s the second novel by Christopher Bollen.

from the team at Better Reading


Vale Henning Mankell

Swedish author Henning Mankell has passed away, aged 67. The author discovered he had cancer last year, and wrote about the experience in his last book, Quicksand: What It Means To Be A Human Being. 

Mankell delighted fans with more than 40 novels, plays and children's books, selling about 40 million copies around the world, earning several awards for his children’s and youth books, among others the Nils Holgersson Plaque (A Bridge to the Stars), Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (A Bridge to the Stars), the August Prize (The Journey to the End of the World), the Astrid Lindgren Award and Expressen’s children’s book award (When the Snow Fell). 

His best-selling adult novels, which follow policeman Kurt Wallander through Sweden and Mozambique, were turned into a TV drama starring Sir Kenneth Branagh.



The House We Grew Up In

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-coloured house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children's lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they've never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in -- and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Way back in 2005, I read a book by this author called One Hit Wonder and rated it one of my top reads of that year, which is why I picked this one off the shelf, despite the saccharine-sounding introductory para in the publisher’s blurb. 

And while The House We Grew Up In won’t make my best-reads-this-year list, it was absorbing and kept me listening, mainly because the main character, Lorelei, suffers from something I’ve never really considered before ... Hoarding.  Hoarding stuff, to the point where there are literally tunnels between the mountains of stuff as a way of getting from one room to another.  Or not - one room’s door cannot be opened because the mountain has collapsed inside the room.  The bed is not slept in because it can’t be found under mounds of ‘stuff’.  The family is fracturing under the weight of Lorelei’s disorder and this is what makes up the bulk of the story, but it’s not the tragedy alluded to, that’s something else altogether, and I’m not going to spoil it for you here. 

The House We Grew Up In is very well written, and I must say narrated brilliantly by Karina Fernandez in this Playaway audio format.  We have the book in all audio formats plus regular and large print copies. 



The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir

After being blown away by a ferocious wind storm, astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead by his crew mates and left behind when they are forced to evacuate the planet.

From the back cover:  “I'm stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. I'm in a Habitat designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I'll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death.
So yeah. I'm screwed.”

The Martian is not your typical science fiction novel – there are no aliens or futuristic robots, just an advanced space shuttle which is most likely on the drawing boards at NASA today.  This is a gripping survival thriller, which just happens to be set on Mars.

Andy Weir is a self-confessed science geek who self-published “The Martian” a few years ago. The book rights were sold to a main stream publisher, and within the same week, the film rights were sold. The film, starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney, was released last week. I’m looking forward to seeing it, but here’s hoping I haven’t spoiled it for myself by reading the fantastic novel first! 
Fingers crossed.



Sweet Caress

Sweet Caress by William Boyd 

When Amory Clay was born her disappointed father gave her an androgynous name and announced the birth of a son. From this inauspicious start springs an entirely remarkable woman. Born in 1908, Amory survives two world wars, the first of which alters her father forever. As a schoolgirl, she learns the art of photography from her maternal uncle Greville, a talent that shapes her life.

After an unforeseen event splits her family in two, Amory finishes school and moves to London to work as an assistant to Greville, society photographer and kindred spirit. During this time, she grows from silly schoolgirl into a disgraced photographer working anonymously after causing a scandal with an embarrassing photograph.

Escaping London, Amory heads to Berlin where she meets another female photographer, Hannelore Hahn, and they begin a lifelong friendship. In pre-war Berlin her career begins in earnest; no longer photographing society belles, she starts taking secret photographs at brothels, which forms a London exhibition that sees her charged with obscenity.

Fleeing from London again, Amory takes up an offer from a handsome American, Cleveland Finzi, and relocates to New York to become a photographer with magazine Global Photo Watch. While in America, her real sexual awakening begins and she is caught between Finzi (a married man) and a charming French novelist.

Throughout the novel, Amory documents the action, everything from the fascist riots in London’s East End, to the advance of the US Seventh Army through France in World War 2, to the Vietnam War. Her first-person narration provides fascinating insight into major historical events, while touching on themes such as war, post-traumatic stress disorder, homosexuality, and infertility.

Why We Love It: 
William Boyd takes us on a sweeping journey through the twentieth century. While not always sympathetic, Amory is a woman ahead of her time and someone readers can relate to. The photography found throughout the novel is a captivating innovation employed for the first time by Boyd and gives us further insight into Amory’s life and work. Blending historical fact with fiction, and using found photographs to illustrate the text, Boyd captures the imaginations of his readers once again.

from the team at Better Reading


Shanghai Girls

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

From the catalogue: Shanghai, 1937. Pearl and May are two sisters from a bourgeois family. Though their personalities are very different, Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid, they are inseparable best friends. Both are beautiful, modern and living a carefree life until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away the family's wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to two 'Gold Mountain' men: Americans. 

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, the two sisters set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the villages of southern China, in and out of the clutches of brutal soldiers, and even across the ocean, through the humiliation of an anti-Chinese detention centre to a new, married life in Los Angeles' Chinatown. Here they begin a fresh chapter, despite the racial discrimination and anti-Communist paranoia, because now they have something to strive for: a young, American-born daughter, Joy. 

Along the way there are terrible sacrifices, impossible choices and one devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of the novel hold fast to who they are, Shanghai girls.

I really loved this book. It gave me an indication of how things were at that time, lots of historical facts and descriptions. The author did her research well! I am looking forward to listening to the sequel "Dreams of Joy" to continue their story. 

We have this title in paperback and large print formats but I listened to this on audio. The narrator, Janet Song, was wonderful! 



Aussie wins UK Gold Dagger

Australian author Michael Robotham has taken out the coveted UK's Crime Writers Association top award, the Gold Dagger, for his latest novel, Life or Death. The Crime Writers’ Association Daggers have been synonymous with quality crime writing for over fifty years. The prestigious awards started in 1955; currently ten Daggers are awarded annually by the CWA, with the crime novel of the year receiving the Gold Dagger.

Sydney-sider Robotham was up against some heavy-weight opposition on the short list, comprising:

Stephen King - Mr Mercedes
Belinda Bauer - The Shut Eye
Robert Galbraith - The Silkworm
James Carlos Blake - The Rules of Wolfe
Sam Hawken - Missing
Attica Locke - Pleasantville.

Michael Robotham Tweeted last week ...

"Big week ahead. LIFE OR DEATH is shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger. I'm up against my hero Stephen King among others. Dreaming of a joint win."

And today on Twitter ...
"I've only gone and won the CWA Gold Dagger. J.K. Rowling was among the first to congratulate me. What a classy lady."

Congratulations. Take a look at the author chatting about this book ...



Want You Dead

Want You Dead by Peter James
Roy Grace Crime Series #10

From the cover:  When Red Westwood meets Bryce Laurent through an online dating agency, there is an instant attraction.  But as their love blossoms, the truth about his past beings to emerge. Everything he has told Red about himself turns out to be lies and her infatuation with him gradually turns to terror.  But Bryce is obsessed, and he intends to destroy everything and everyone she has ever known – and then her too …

I think I’ve stumbled across this series before because I recall quite liking Det. Roy Grace.  And the fact that even though this is a long-evolving series, you can pretty much read them like a stand-alone novel, though one thread is still continuing – Roy’s missing wife, Sandy.  

Don’t let the “online dating agency” bit bother you because it hardly rears its ugly head thank goodness.  This is basically a story of a narcissist’s revenge, and it’s one hell of a ride.  Despite at times wishing Red wasn’t quite so blind (what is glaringly obvious to us is not to her) – it is a gripping, stomach-clenching read and very well done in maintaining and upping the suspense.  I borrowed the Playaway which was very well narrated by Dan Weyman, but we have this title in all hard print and other audio formats.  I'm looking forward to borrowing the 11th in the series when it is released. 



Splinter the silence

I was very keen to catch up with Val McDermid's latest book "Splinter the silence" because I wanted to see how the ongoing storyline across the series would develop.  "Splinter the silence" is the next in the Tony Hill series, following the profiler and his work with Bradfield Police.

But first, there was a murder to solve.  Or was there?

"Psychological profiler Tony Hill is trained to see patterns, to decode the mysteries of human behaviour, and when he comes across a series of suicides among women tormented by vicious online predators, he begins to wonder if there is more to these tragedies than meets the eye. Similar circumstances, different deaths. Could it be murder? But what kind of serial killer wants his crimes to stay hidden? Former DCI Carol Jordan has her own demons to confront, but with lives at stake, Tony and Carol begin the hunt for the most dangerous and terrifying kind of killer - someone who has nothing to fear and nothing to lose . . ."

Val McDermid is great at getting you into the lives of the characters she writes.  I was fully engaged with the things they went through, upset when it went wrong, happy when something good came out of it and sympathetic at the fallout for others as a result.  Sound mysterious?  You'll have to read it yourself to find out what I am talking about.  :)

The mystery side came to a nearly sudden conclusion, with it all coming together within a short time, however, McDermid did manage to do so whilst only brushing against my suspension of disbelief.
This part alone was unsettling, but not unsatisfying and overall I really enjoyed the story, the whole concept of the mystery and the journey she took the characters on.  And there are some lovely lighter moments in there too to watch for and delight in.

If you like Val McDermid or the TV series Wire in the Blood, you will enjoy "Splinter the silence". If you enjoy forensic type mysteries, then I encourage you to get into this series.

~ Michelle


Only in Spain

Only in Spain by Nellie Bennett

One day, Nellie Bennett falls in love with flamenco in a Sydney dance studio. Tired of her boring retail job and longing to get closer to the authentic experience, she packs her suede dance shoes and travels to Seville, Spain. What Nellie didn't realize is that flamenco is not just a dance; it's a way of life. While there, she falls in love three times-with a smoky-eyed dance teacher, a tempestuous Gypsy, and with a handsome Basque chef-only to discover that it's the country that's held her heart all along

Although this is a memoir, it's also a witty passionate story of romance and discovery. 

When she was in her early twenties Nellie discovered flamenco dance and travelled to Spain to further her studies at the birthplace of flamenco, Seville. She soon fell in love with all things Spanish, and moved to Madrid, where she learnt to dance from the neighborhood gypsies. 

Nellie Bennett grew up in Sydney, Australia. She has worked as a screenwriter in both Australia and Bollywood, and contributed feature articles to The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald. 




Hopscotch by Jane Messer

Forced into an early retirement due to illness, Sam Rosen has lost any semblance of control over his life. His wife, Rhonda, confined to the carer role, is feeling her identity ebb slowly away as her former life retreats further and further into the past. Their eldest son Mark is over-invested and as he lurches towards financial disaster, he can't bring himself to tell his wife Ingrid that they're losing money fast. Middle child Liza has always been independent and content to scrape through on her child-care worker's wage in one of the most expensive property markets in the world. But when her biological clock goes off, she's out of time in a city where men are thin on the ground and grown-up ones even scarcer. Baby of the family Jemma thinks that being mild-mannered will let her pass through life unharmed. And then, one night, everything changes.

This contemporary read held me to the end with its humour and insights. The Rosen kids have grown up and left home living independent lives in their own ways.  Their parents are bumbling by, adjusting to Sam’s diagnosis. Each character is very clearly defined; their thoughts, loves, desires and errors are beautifully described. All of them are slightly different at the end of the book from who they were at the start. Each one has been transformed in some small way. Hopscotch is self contained yet doesn’t try to resolve the minutiae of the Rosen family’s experiences. There are a few little loose threads left for the reader to tie how they wish. This was a really enjoyable read.



The Cellar

The Cellar by Minette Walters

Muna's fortunes changed for the better on the day that Mr and Mrs Songoli's younger son failed to come home from school. Before then her bedroom was a dark windowless cellar, her activities confined to cooking and cleaning. She'd grown used to being maltreated by the Songoli family. She's never been outside, doesn't know how to read or write, and cannot speak English. At least that's what the Songolis believe. But Muna is far cleverer, and her plans more terrifying than the Songolis, or anyone else, can ever imagine.

“This book is a Hammer Horror novella”.  Not sure what that is? Me neither, so I did some sleuthing ...

“Working in association with Hammer Films, Hammer publishes compelling and intelligent horror in the form of film tie-ins, backlist classics re-imagined to bring them to a whole new market with a modern and sophisticated twist, and new novellas by established authors…” in this case, the award-winning English author, Minette Walters.  

I downloaded the title from our catalogue and was immediately impressed with talented narration by Sara Powell - her African/English/male/female accents bringing a stomach-clenching atmosphere to the text.  And I think that about sums up the positives!  The very graphic contents I found disturbing.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly was not slavery, physical beatings, sexual abuse, bullying, revenge and murder.  I also found Muna’s playing the family members off against one another in a manipulative manner quite unsettling; and if that's not enough, the ending seemed to be rushed and confused.

I don’t know if this book actually fits the Hammer Horror genre (aside from the horror of what humans can do to degrade each other). Although Muna believes there’s a Devil in the walls of the cellar, that never really hits its stride to make this a horror novel. Is it "Compelling?  Intelligent?"  I don't think so.    

Minette Walters’ first full-length novel was The Ice House, published in 1992. It took two and a half years to write and was rejected by numerous publishing houses until Macmillan Publishers bought it for £1250. Within four months, it had won the Crime Writers Association John Creasey award for best first novel and had been snapped up by 11 foreign publishers. With her next two books, The Sculptress and The Scold’s Bridle, Walters won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award and the CWA Gold Dagger respectively, giving her a unique treble. She was the first crime/thriller writer to win three major prizes with her first three books.

Perhaps one of these may erase my distaste, but I’m just not ready to jump in yet – a definite change of pace is required!!



After the Storm

After the Storm by Linda Castillo

From the cover:  When a tornado tears through Painters Mill and unearths human remains, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder finds herself tasked with the responsibility of identifying the bones – and notifying the family. Evidence quickly emerges that the death was no accident and Kate finds herself plunged into a thirty-year-old case that takes her deep into the Amish community to which she once belonged.
Meanwhile, turmoil of a emotional and personal nature strikes at the very heart of Kate’s budding relationship with State Agent John Tomasetti, a reality that strains their fragile new love to the breaking point and threatens the refuge they’ve built for themselves – and their future.
Under siege from an unknown assailant – and her own personal demons – Kate digs deep into the case only to discover proof of an unimaginable atrocity, a plethora of family secrets, and the lengths to which people will go to protect their own.

Two things intrigued and attracted me to this story. Firstly imagine a natural disaster and amongst all the carnage, a body being discovered, totally unrelated to the tornado itself. Secondly imagine yourself as a female police officer, former Amish community member now alienated from that community, trying to enlist their assistance to solve a mysterious death.

This is just the start of what became a thrilling, horrific and intriguing tale of murderous proportions. The tornado at the start just sets the scene for the carnage and violence to follow. The title ‘After the Storm’ is very apt with storms brewing in Kate’s life both professionally and personally. 

It is the seventh book in the Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo, but don’t be put off by this. The reader is not required to have read the other books first. It is fine as a stand-alone read. But reader beware, you may just want to read the others when you realise the fine tale that Linda Castillo puts together with her heroine, Kate Burkholder!

~ Narelle


Vale Jackie Collins

Best-selling English romance novelist Jackie Collins OBE died aged 77 after a battle with breast cancer.

Collins wrote 32 novels, all of which appeared on The New York Times bestsellers list. She moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s and became a US citizen, selling more than 500 million copies in 40 countries. Eight of her novels have been adapted to film or television mini-series including Hollywood Wives, Lady Boss, The Bitch and Yesterday's Hero.


An American in Oz

An American in Oz by Sara James.

"No one thought Sara James, a seasoned NBC TV correspondent and Manhattanite through and through, would move to Australia after a long and successful fast-track career reporting from around the globe. But move she did, when her Australian husband Andrew wanted to go home, in a journey that sees her morph from a big-city anchor to a small-town mum living an Australian country life.

It is an odyssey filled with drama and adventure, both personal and professional, intentional and accidental. We see Australia through a New Yorker's eyes, and follow Sara's adventures as she faces head-on the challenges of everyday life in a new country with two children, one of whom has special needs.

We laugh with her as she drives on the other side of the road, grapples with the Australian vernacular and its penchant for understatement, and ponders the prevalence of local wildlife that could kill. We cheer for her when she sets up the NBC Australasian bureau at her home in the Wombat Forest, reporting from a specially constructed sound booth in the garage, located between her husband's Mustang and the shed. Most of all, we see a mother, a wife, and a reporter determined to create a new home for her family."

I absolutely loved this memoir. I laughed in parts and almost cried in others. Its hard enough moving halfway across the world and leaving all your friends and family behind, let alone understanding the Aussie lingo, driving on the opposite side of the road, and dealing with a daughter with a disability.

Sara knows no one in the Macedon area and with her daughter she commutes to and from inner-city Melbourne to drive her to a special school. Of course finding friends is always a challenge, so she joins a midweek ladies tennis team and the results of that had me laughing out loud!!

How the family dealt with the devastating 2009 bush fires and the Australian wildlife and fitting into a new community was inspiring. We have this book available as an e-book as well as a hardcover.

~ Janine


The Anchoress

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

Set in the twelfth century, The Anchoress tells the story of Sarah, only seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a small cell, measuring seven paces by nine, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth and the pressure to marry, she decides to renounce the world, with all its dangers, desires and temptations, and to commit herself to a life of prayer and service to God. But as she slowly begins to understand, even the thick, unforgiving walls of her cell cannot keep the outside world away, and it is soon clear that Sarah's body and soul are still in great danger.

This book has a sparse narrative that describes Sarah's life as it is entwined with the lives of the peasant women who serve her meals and relate village life to her. The simplicity of the novel has sensuousness to it. The reader gets inside the head of the young girl with her efforts to ward off sinful thoughts and concentrate on devotion, instead of the gossip of the village and the attentions of the local Lord who sponsors her internment. Its simplicity lets us see the beauty in the everyday through smell, touch and reflection. This debut novel is a beautifully researched book from an academic who first read about anchoresses when doing research for her PHD on St Margaret of Antioch. 

Sandra C


Secret daughter

The Secret Daughter by Kelly Rimmer

 "As I saw my new-born baby’s face for the first time I tried desperately to capture her face in my mind—to stamp it onto my eyelids. As she was taken from me I knew I might never see my daughter again."

37 years later…

‘You were adopted’. Three short words and Sabina’s life fractures. There would forever be a Before those words, and an After.

Pregnant with her own child, Sabina can’t understand how a mother could abandon her daughter, or why her parents have kept the past a secret. Determined to find the woman who gave her away, what she discovers will change everything, not just for Sabina, but for the women who have loved her all these years. 

What a delightful book! I'd never heard of this author but have since found out that she lives in rural Australia.

What unfolds is Sabina's search for her birth mother, and also it explores her relationship with her adoptive parents where all is not what it seems.

I found this story to be enchanting and I loved the way the author gradually told the story through the eyes of Sabina, her mother and birth mother and time stamped each chapter. It also delved into history when babies were taken from their birth mothers because society would not accept unmarried mothers.

I would thoroughly recommend it to lovers of womens' fiction. I now shall be looking out for Kelly's other novel and look forward to her next one.

~ Janine


Come Away With Me

Come Away With Me by Karma Brown

One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined. Tegan is consumed by grief - not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she's hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime. From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavours of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it.

Why We Love It:  Come Away With Me is a profoundly moving story of one woman’s journey from unfathomable loss to healing through love, family and travel.

from the team at Better Reading


The House by the Sea

The House by the Sea by Santa Montefiore

Ten-year-old Floriana is captivated by the magnificent Tuscan villa near her village. When the owner’s son invites her inside, Floriana knows that her destiny is there, with him.  But as they grow up, things begin to change.

Miles away on the Devon coastline, Marina’s hotel has fallen on hard times.  The arrival of Rafael Santoro, artist-in-residence, seems to bring peace in Marina’s family.  But Rafa is not who he seems ...

The publisher’s blurb is a scant reference to the book’s storyline – there’s a lot more going on in here than initially thought,  like a string of burglaries in the little Devon township; a love affair and heartache; a love affair that blossoms after a rocky start; and a love affair that comes completely out of the blue.   It’s a light and gentle read, totally un-demanding of the reader, one that you can pick up and put down at any time rather than busting a gasket to turn the next page to find out what will happen.   

I borrowed the audio version on Playaway which was narrated beautifully by the accomplished Juanita McMahon, but we have this title in all formats. 



Season of shadow and light

Season of Shadow and Light by Jenn McLeod

"When it seems everything Paige trusts is beginning to betray her, she leaves her husband at home and sets off on a road trip with six year old Matilda, and Nana Alice in tow.

But stranded amid rising floodwaters, on a detour to the tiny town of Coolabah Tree Gully, Paige discovers the greatest betrayal of all happened there twenty years earlier.

Someone knows that truth can wash away the darkest shadows, but…Are some secrets best kept for the sake of others?"

I am so pleased to present this great book by an Australian author. Seasonof Shadow and Light is a fantastic book, it tells the story of Paige who has suffered a terrible loss in her life with the birth of a stillborn son, and subsequently her health is affected, so she heads off on a road trip with her "other mother" in search of her birth mother's story in country NSW. The story alternates between the three protagonists - Paige, Nana Alice and Aiden. Paige and her daughter have left the high life in Sydney (and her husband) and are looking for answers to long kept secrets about her late mother Nancy.

Nana Alice who is her "other mother" has kept a secret for years and is nervous about returning to the country in case Paige does find what she is looking for, and how that will impact their relationship. In the town they meet Aiden who has issues of his own to deal with let alone Paige and her daughter and mother coming into town.

I just loved the way the author gradually let you into these people's lives and throughout the 470 pages you felt like you understood where they were all coming from and you grew to love them. The descriptions of the town they were in and the Australian rural way of life was well depicted throughout and some of the other characters you could just place in your mind so easily!

Nana Alice's story is portrayed with great sensitivity, and the secret that she has kept will gradually be revealed - I didn't see it coming at all. 


Book of Strange New Things

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. 

His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter's teachings - his Bible is their "book of strange new things." But Peter is rattled when Bea's letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea's faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter. Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. 

While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us

The intriguing title and the striking cover are what first attracted me to this book. The Book of Strange New Things is a romance and an adventure. It follows the story of Peter, who embarks on a mission to spread the work of his church, leaving behind his wife, Bea. The story traces their relationship as it is tested by distance and the challenges each must face alone, with only their faith and their electronic letters to offer support. Peter's loneliness is tempered by his adventures and the unexpected companionship he finds with his flock. Oh, and he's on another planet.

The Book of Strange New Things is an easy, enjoyable, but addictive read. While not usually a reader of fiction, I found myself compelled to keep reading - I had to know what was going to happen to our protagonist. Where was the author taking me?

My only criticism with this book is that it could do with another chapter or two. I still have unanswered questions, and weeks after reading the book I find myself still thinking about it. 



Elon Musk

Elon Musk: how the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is shaping up by Ashlee Vance

South African born Elon Musk is the renowned entrepreneur and innovator behind PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity. Musk wants to save our planet; he wants to send citizens into space, to form a colony on Mars; he wants to make money while doing these things; and he wants us all to know about it. 

The personal tale of Musk's life comes with all the trappings one associates with a great, drama-filled story. He was a freakishly bright kid who was bullied brutally at school, and abused by his father. In the midst of these rough conditions, and the violence of apartheid South Africa, Musk still thrived academically and attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he paid his own way through school by turning his house into a club and throwing massive parties.

He started a pair of huge dot-com successes, including PayPal, which eBay acquired for $1.5 billion in 2002. Musk was forced out as CEO and so began his lost years in which he decided to go it alone and baffled friends by investing his fortune in rockets and electric cars. Meanwhile Musk's marriage disintegrated as his technological obsessions took over his life ...

Elon Musk is the Steve Jobs of the present and the future, and for twelve months has been shadowed by tech reporter, Ashlee Vance. 

Elon Musk is acknowledged as one of Silicon Valley’s most dynamic entrepreneurs, trailblazing the industries of the future – electric cars, space travel for non-astronauts, and solar power. Like most business geniuses (think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates), he is also brilliant, impatient, rude and works like a demon. His story is fascinating as not only a “succeeding against all odds” story, but for the way it opens up the reader’s mind to the possibilities of creating a better future for the planet, and showing that it actually may be feasible to do it. 
Also, like most business geniuses, he has weathered his share of near death financial crises, times when he was literally days away from economic ruin and failure. This is a truly exciting story which is engrossing and ultimately hopeful. 



The Secret River

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

From the catalogue:  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 aired on the ABC.  Secret River is about early encounters the settlers had with the Aboriginals of the Hawkesbury River. Pardoned convict William Thornhill and his family decide to settle there and farm the land the white man's way.  William is torn whether to be tolerant or dismissive of the original owners, eventually coming to a decision that 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. 

Sandra C


The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

From the catalogue:   Here is a truth that can't be escaped: for Mia 'Rabbit' Hayes, life is coming to an end... Rabbit Hayes loves her life, ordinary as it is, and the extraordinary people in it. She loves her spirited daughter, Juliet; her colourful, unruly family; the only man in her big heart, Johnny Faye. But it turns out the world has other plans for Rabbit, and she's ok with that. Because she has plans for the world too, and only a handful of days left to make them happen. Here is a truth that won't be forgotten: this is a story about laughing through life's surprises and finding the joy in every moment.

Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, wildly funny and emotionally devastating, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes is a superb novel from Anna McPartlin.

What a delightful surprise this book is! A contemporary Irish novel which, despite the subject matter, abounds in humour, pathos and depth. The banter is spot on and all of the characters stand alone in their own right. 

We learn about “Rabbit” through trips back in time to her childhood when she hung out with her brothers’ band and befriended the singer Johnny (who came up with her nickname due to her sticky up bunny-ear hair) and through default (and talent) gained employment with them. The descriptions of the shenanigans of the boys in the band are hilarious. All of the family members and their close friends are such wonderful characters; warm, outspoken, strong and defiant. And funny! 

This is a poignant story which will stay with you long after you finish it and have wiped away the tears. I highly recommend the audio version which is beautifully brought to life by Irish actor Caroline Lennon. 



The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

From the catalogue:  This is the story of the men and women whose lives were irrevocably changed by the Chicago World Fair, and of two men in particular: an architect and a serial killer. Spicing the narrative are the stories of a cast of historical characters including Buffalo Bill, Scott Joplin and Theodore Dreiser.

The Devil in the White City tells two parallel stories from the history of Chicago in the late 1800s. Inspired by the Great Exhibition that had recently occurred in France, the citizens of Chicago lobbied the United States government to be the site of a similar undertaking in America. The Paris Exhibition had been an opportunity for that city to display the best architecture and engineering the country had to offer. The famous Eiffel Tower was built to display at this event as a monument to the intellectual achievements of the age. 

Those who proposed the Chicago World’s Fair were determined to do even better than Paris. At the time this was regarded as somewhat of a joke, as Chicago was seen as a bit of a backwater, and unsuitable for the dreams that were dreamed by those who lived there. 

The first of the parallel stories in this book concerns the architect who drove this campaign and the successful construction of the event. Daniel Hudson Burnham had the weight of the expectation of the entire country on his shoulders as he organised and designed the Fair. Several buildings, each more ornate than the last were to be designed and built. The area was to be landscaped (a challenge taken on by Olmsted, the man who had just finished working on New York City’s Central Park), and exhibits from all over the world brought to Chicago for the edification and education of the masses. 

But while this stunning example of man’s achievements of the age was taking place, something much darker was happening in another part of Chicago. This is where the second of the parallel stories told by Larson is focussed. 

Henry H. Holmes, often referred to now as an American’s first serial killer was setting up shop in the city to take advantage of the mass influx of visitors to the Fair. He swindled and lied is his way to the wealth  that allowed him to build what has been referred to as his ‘Murder Castle’, a three storey building with crazy architecture concealing a variety of ways for Holmes to catch and murder his victims. 

The twin stories are equally fascinating, and handled with just the right amount of drama and suspense by Larson. While the portions of the story about the serial killer were obviously disturbing, the writing never felt sensationalised or manipulative. While it may seem strange to have decided to tell two such stories together, both set the scene for each other, and reflect the best and worst that humanity have to offer. 

The film rights have been snatched up by Leonardo Di Caprio – so be prepared for a fascinating movie at some point in the future. 



Temporary Bride

Temporary Bride: a memoir of love and food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec

In her thirties, Jennifer Klinec abandons a corporate job to launch a cooking school from her London flat. Raised in Canada to Hungarian-Croatian parents, she has already travelled to countries most people are fearful of, in search of ancient recipes. Her quest leads her to Iran where, hair discreetly covered and eyes modest, she is introduced to a local woman who will teach her the secrets of the Persian kitchen. Vahid, her son, is suspicious of the strange foreigner who turns up in his mother's kitchen; he is unused to seeing an independent woman. But a compelling attraction pulls them together and then pits them against harsh Iranian laws and customs. Getting under the skin of one of the most complex and fascinating nations on earth, The Temporary Bride is a soaring story of being loved, being fed, and the struggle to belong.

A different romance about complex relationships in an unusual setting, but it left this reader with an appetite for more about the food!  Have you read it, what do you think?



Go Set A Watchman

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Set two decades after the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, 'To Kill a Mockingbird', twenty-six year-old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. 

Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bitter sweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her value and assumptions are thrown into doubt.  

The book captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past – a journey that be guided only by one’s own conscience.

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book.  Not because of the intrigue and mysterious provenance surrounding it but to be reacquainted with those memorable characters 26 years later had me full of anticipation.  Not unlike the excitement of a reunion with friends or relatives after years of absence.

I had a number of questions right from the beginning ,including the title. At first I was confused and later intrigued to discover the reader could use it to interpret a number of opinions and ideologies. The biblical reference is quoted early in the book and you can draw your own conclusions for interpretation.

Harper Lee writes in an emotional style and as such I was left with the feeling she was writing a dramatic account of what she was experiencing about her own life at that time growing up in the South. Emotions of frustration, anger and confusion are with the reader throughout.

The author presents thought provoking dialogue from her characters of the political, cultural and emotional turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement in which they are living.  Woven into this setting, we experience how they think and feel about themselves, family and the world in which they live.  It is a time of transitions both personal and national which gives rise to more questions than answers.  Although the issues are serious there is humour and a feeling that the characters we came to know from her first book 'To Kill A Mockingbird', were credible in this new time period. We see the deconstruction of icons to human beings complete with flaws and imperfections.

Atticus is a complicated character, the silent and stoic type, and much has been said and written by critics that he is a bigot.  I need to be careful what I say in case you haven’t read the book. However this is just one point that makes this a good choice for book group discussion.  “A man can appear to be a part of something not-so-good on it’s face, but don’t take it upon yourself to judge him unless you know his motives” states Henry, the brother of Atticus.

Jean Louise – Scout, is on a journey of self-discovery although she doesn’t know it in the beginning.  The story starts with her returning to Maycomb County by train rather than plane, a point the author is clear to make.  Jean Louise gets on and off that train emotionally throughout the book. In her memory she is stopping all stations as she revisits childhood experiences. Certain revelations start to appear and an awakening of her adult self emerges. A bitter-sweet journey to her destination. 

There were times when I thought the author could have expanded more on certain scenes. I could see the scene so vividly but she ended it too quickly leaving me somewhat confused. As such, I think the book would translate well to film whereby actors would translate in action what words did or could not do.  Finally, the ending was a bit sentimental for me. Another point to raise in book discussion.  It would be interesting to hear how others would write the conclusion.  

So, how did my reunion go?  Well, like most reunions there were some surprises, disappointments and laughs.  But I am definitely glad I had the experience.  

Kim G

Library Catalogue

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Search This Blog


Blog Archive


Reading Rewards | Template by - Abdul Munir - 2008 - layout4all