The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Café

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Café by Mary Simses

From the cover:   Manhattan lawyer Ellen Branford is going to fulfil her grandmother’s dying wish – to find the hometown boy in Beacon she once loved and give him her last letter. Hoping to be in and out in 24 hours,  Ellen ends up the talk of the town when carpenter Roy Cummings saves her life when she tumbles into the ocean. Roy happens to be the nephew of Ellen’s grandmother’s lost love, and the one person who can bring closure to her quest. But as Ellen learns what Beacon has to offer and what her grandmother left behind, she may find that a 24 hour visit will never be enough.

It is heart-warming and uplifting to hear of one woman’s journey to discover the hidden past of her grandmother and discover that a simpler life that can be more rewarding than the high-flying life of the lawyer she once was.

The inspiration for this novel came from the radio when Mary Simses heard one woman’s story about how her grandmother’s last words before dying were “Erase my hard drive”.  Simses immediately began to wonder what was on the grandmother’s computer that she wanted to remain unknown. And so the story began but this time, with a sealed letter, rather than a computer.

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Café was such a beautiful story about love, loss, secrets and sacrifice.



St. Kilda Blues

St.Kilda Blues by Geoffrey McGeachin

It's 1967, the summer of love, and in swinging Melbourne Detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin has been hauled out of exile in the Fraud Squad to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl, the daughter of a powerful and politically connected property developer. As Berlin's inquiries uncover more missing girls he gets an uneasy feeling he may be dealing with the city's first serial killer. Berlin's investigation leads him through inner-city discothèques, hip photographic studios, the emerging drug culture and into the seedy back streets of St Kilda. The investigation also brings up ghosts of Berlin's past as a bomber pilot and POW in Europe and disturbing memories of the casual murder of a young woman he witnessed on a snow-covered road in Poland in the war's dying days. As in war, some victories come at a terrible cost and Berlin will have to face an awful truth and endure an unimaginable loss before his investigation is over.

I love this author - you just never know what he's going to produce next!  From the hilarity of Fat, Fifty and F***ed to the horror and heartbreak of St. Kilda Blues, the man can sure do justice to the written word.  This is Book 3 in the excellent Charlie Berlin series.  He's a deep and fascinating character is our Detective Sergeant Berlin, and with each chapter we get further into his personality to find out what makes him tick. Even if this is your first Charlie Berlin book, you will pick up quite easily why Charlie is the way Charlie is.  

This book also ticked a few boxes for me in the familiarity stakes with not only the setting - my old stamping grounds of St. Kilda, South Melbourne and Parkville, but the era and its fashion, the hair, the new-fangled decimal currency, the music, even the names of the discos, like Berties, that were the bane of parents' existence. Bolte was premier, the Beatles were 'in' and the second semi final in the VFL was about to be played.  It doesn't get more parochial than that, and the author delivers it in spades. 

This may all sound a bit lightweight, but nothing could be further from the truth.  St. Kilda Blues has some full-on language at times, is quite sexually graphic and can be brutal and hardhitting, but thankfully McGeachin doesn't overplay his hand.  The story is also peppered with some wry humour, some very well-written sarcasm and a well-tuned appreciation of family dynamics.  He also delivers a surprising twist, one I didn't see coming, and that was very upsetting.

We have this book in all formats - I chose to download the Bolinda e-Audio version with David Tredinnick delivering an excellent narration.  Overall, this is a great Australian read and I highly recommend it.  


Be Safe I Love You

Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman

This is the story of former Sergeant Lauren Clay, a woman soldier returned from Iraq, and her beloved younger brother Danny, who is obsessed with Arctic exploration and David Bowie.  Until she went into the military Lauren was the protector and provider for both Danny and her dysfunctional father after her mother left them.  Lauren is home in time to spend Christmas with Danny and her father, who is delighted to have her back but reluctant to acknowledge that something feels a little strange.   As she reconnects with her small-town life in upstate New York, it soon becomes apparent that things are not as they should be.  And soon an army psychologist is making ever-more frantic attempts to reach her.  

All the characters that interact with Lauren are interesting and believable in their own right.  The statistics on the lives of returned servicemen and women in America are chilling; I hope Australian veterans have better support. This is a quiet thoroughly intriguing book to read and hard to put down - you know something is wrong and you keep wondering what she is going to do, or has done.  Highly recommended. 


Indie Book Awards

Every December, the 170+ independent Australian booksellers that make up Leading Edge Books take stock of the year in books and nominate their favourite Australian titles for the Indie Book Awards shortlist. The shortlist falls into four categories - fiction, non-fiction, debut fiction and childrenʼs/YA books.

Judges select a winner of each category and the Indie Book Awards overall winner is voted on by the Leading Edge group as a whole.

Last night, Wednesday 25 March 2015, Don Watson was awarded the 2015 Indie Book of the Year Non-Fiction and the overall prize for The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia.

Other category winners were: Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (best fiction); Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke (debut fiction); and Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell (best children's and young adult category).



Man Booker Finalists

Ten writers are on the judges’ list of finalists under serious consideration for the sixth Man Booker International Prize, the £60,000 award which recognises one writer for his or her achievement in fiction.  It is awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language. 

The winner is chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel; there are no submissions from publishers. In addition, there is a separate award for translation and, if applicable, the winner may choose a translator of his or her work into English to receive a prize of £15,000.

The authors come from ten countries with six new nationalities included on the list for the first time. None of the writers has appeared on a previous Man Booker International Prize list of finalists and the proportion of writers translated into English is greater than ever before at 80%.

The ten authors are:

César Aira (Argentina)
Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)
Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)
Mia Couto (Mozambique)
Amitav Ghosh (India)
Fanny Howe (United States of America)
Ibrahim al-Koni (Libya)
László Krasznahorkai (Hungary)
Alain Mabanckou (Republic of Congo)
Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)

Professor Marina Warner, Chair of the judging panel said:  "The judges have had an exhilarating experience reading for this prize; we have ranged across the world and entered the vision of writers who offer an extraordinary variety of experiences. Fiction can enlarge the world for us all and stretch our understanding and our sympathy. The novel today is in fine form:  as a field of inquiry, a tribunal of history, a map of the heart, a probe of the psyche, a stimulus to thought, a well of pleasure and a laboratory of language. Truly, we feel closer to the tree of knowledge."

The 2015 Man Booker International Prize winner will be announced at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on 19 May.


Lambert & Hook

Although the author of many stand-alone novels, last year prolific UK author J M Gregson added book 26 to his Lambert & Hook series. Think gentle English country crime shows on tv and you won't be too far wrong in picking up the setting and tone of these books. I've had the 'pleasure' of reading a couple of these, and they vary widely with reviewers as well as with myself.  I chose Bolinda audio downloads narrated by the somewhat grating Richard Aspel, but we have them in all formats so the print route might be a better idea. 

Dead on Course
Book 3 in the series
Amid the luxurious surroundings of the Wye Castle Hotel and Country Club, a man is found dead on the course. Superintendent Lambert and Sergeant Hook establish fairly quickly how he died, but discovering who killed him provesa more difficult challenge. The golf course and hotel are set in spectacular scenery beside one of England's most beautiful rivers, with Hereford's ancient Cathedral visible in the distance. In May this incomparable valley is at its best, but it is a bizarre context for the investigation of a brutal murder. Gradually, over the days of their stay, Lambert unearths the secrets of the group who surrounded the dead man. There is an urgency about his investigation, for even while the suspects play golf and enjoy good food and wine, there is more violence outside the ivy-clad walls of the old hotel. 

This is a typical police procedural and definitely not the crime thriller as publicised.  It’s all rather humdrum; a pleasant enough time waster but tedious in patches with the writer’s determination to show off his skills with the dictionary (e.g. Pusillanimous - lacking courage or resolution; cowardly; faint-hearted; timid.  Anodyne - anything that relieves distress or pain.  Pulchritude - physical beauty; comeliness). 

The Fox in the Forest
Book 5 in the series
A motiveless murder - every policeman's nightmare - is committed in a stretch of forest between two peaceful villages. Superintendent Lambert and his CID team can find few connections between the people who were around at the time of this death and a victim who seems to have no enemies. Before long, it seems that they have a serial killer on their hands, selecting victims at random. The rural community closes upon itself, preserving its secrets from outsiders...

With between 4, 4/12 and 5 stars on Good Reads.com, this appears to be one of the better ones in the series.

If you've read any of the other in this series, we'd love to receive your review for publication.  Drop us a note in the comments section below.



When the Wind Blows

When the Wind Blows by James Patterson

From the catalogue:  Frannie O'Neill, a young and talented veterinarian whose husband was recently murdered, comes across an amazing discovery in the woods near her animal hospital. Soon after, Kit Harrison, a troubled and unconventional FBI agent, arrives on Frannie's doorstep. And then there is eleven-year-old Max - Frannie's amazing discovery - and one of the most unforgettable creations in thriller fiction. 

The legion of James Patterson fans would never let any of his titles disappear from our Library shelves, which is why I discovered this one!  It's one of his early ones, and an absolute treat if you enjoy something that's entertaining and not too much of a brain drain!  This book has reviewers completey polarised - from 5 stars: "What an amazing book. Flawless in every aspect, and throughouly enticing" or 1 star:  "a dull plot, flat characters and general silliness". When the Wind Blows was written as an adult sequel to Patterson's Maximum Ride series for young adults, as as RR readers know, there are some damn fine YA titles out there to be thoroughly enjoyed. Like this one!



The Strange Library

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

This book has prompted much discussion and reviews from two Library staff members.  Why not borrow it and send in your comments?

“All I did was go the library to borrow some books”

How could anyone working in a library resist a title like this? A quick thumb-through reveals some intriguing illustrations - but don’t let them fool you - this is not a children’s book! Our protagonist is a child who visits the local library after school with a seemingly innocent request for information. From the moment he walks through the door, the tale takes on the elements of a dream - bizarre characters living within labyrinthine corridors beneath the library, whose behaviour cannot be explained. I don’t want to give any more of the story away.

One wonders if the author had an unpleasant experience at the library as a child. It’s such a little book, but the story packs a wallop and tends to linger. It’s not a horror story by any means, but I would not recommend reading before bedtime. But go on - I challenge you to visit “The Strange Library”.

Another comment :
This weird little novella by Japanese author Haruki Murakami left me wondering what was going on. A child goes to the library to return some books on his way home from school, three days later he gets home. Was what happened in between a dream? Sheepmen, disappearing girls, Ottoman taxes? Is it an allegorical tale in the Japanese tradition or maybe a joke?


The Boy in the Woods

The Boy in the Woods by Carter Wilson

This intriguing tale is narrated by a man, Tommy Devereaux, who was witness to a horrific murder when he was fourteen years old. Back in 1981, he, along with two other mates of the same age, witnessed the murder of a young boy in the Oregon woods. All three boys were manipulated into becoming unwilling accomplices to the subsequent cover-up, swearing never to talk about what had happened on that fateful day. 

Thirty years later, Tommy has become a successful bestselling author and is using his writing as a kind of therapy and disguising the murder he witnessed as fiction. At a book signing event he is approached by a woman who asks for his autograph, leaving behind a note that read: 'You didn’t even change my name'. 

Tommy's worst nightmare has just come true. A figure from his past has returned, threatening to divulge his darkest secret unless he agrees to do everything she asks of him. Thus begins a deadly cat-and-mouse game... 

I loved this book for the thrills, manipulation and intrigue that is woven throughout the story. It was a page-turner that was both terrifying and tantalising. 

~ Narelle


Flying on Broken Wings

Flying on Broken Wings by Carrie Bailee

Carrie Bailee fled Canada and came to Australia when she was twenty. Once here she was assisted by a number of Australian women, and was ultimately encouraged to apply for refugee status in order to stay in this country. So began her battle to be granted asylum in Australia. 

Carrie stood before the Refugee Review Tribunal and revealed the dark underbelly of child sexual abuse and organised crime rings in our privileged, first-world neighbourhoods. This is the story of one young woman’s heroic journey to survive, escape and soar above her shocking childhood experiences, and her powerful struggle for freedom and a beautiful life in Australia.

Carrie Bailee would have to be one of the bravest young women in Australia. After a years of shocking sexual, physical and psychological abuse from her own father and others, she has managed to write a compelling account of her life with candour and honesty. 

The chapters alternate between Australia and Canada which is just as well because the extreme nature of some of her recollections warrants a breather with more uplifting events. Because of her tendency for major blackouts explicit description is minimised, however some parts are confronting. Carrie Bailee should be so proud of not shying away from getting her story out there. She is a natural writer and encapsulates her personality nicely, revealing a good humoured and self deprecating nature despite all that has happened in her past. 



Romance Readers Awards

The winners of the 2014 Australian Romance Readers Awards (ARRA) have been announced. The nominations were open to all romance novels published in 2014. 

The awards are handed out annually in nine categories, and each year in the run-up to the awards, ARRA members are invited to choose and vote on three, special 'reader-selected' awards. This year those awards were handed out for Sexiest Hero, Favourite Cover, and Favourite New Australian Romance Author. 

Drum roll please …

Paranormal Romance — Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh
Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Futuristic Romance — Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews
Short Category Romance — The Honeymoon Trap by Kelly Hunter
Historical Romance — The Winter Bride by Anne Gracie
Contemporary Romance — Play by Kylie Scott
Erotic Romance — Down and Dirty by Rhian Cahill, Lexxie Couper, Jess Dee and Sami Lee
Romantic Suspense — Safe Harbour by Helene Young
Continuing Romance Series — Stage Dive by Kylie Scott
Favourite Australian Romance Author for 2014 — Kylie Scott

Favourite Cover — Play by Kylie Scott
Sexiest Hero — Adam in Outback Ghost by Rachael Johns
Favourite New Romance Author 2014 — Alli Sinclair



Midnight is a Lonely Place

Midnight is a Lonely Place by Barbara Erskine

From the cover:  After a broken love affair, biographer Kate Kennedy retires to a remote cottage on the wild Essex coast to work on her new book - until her landlord's daughter uncovers a Roman site nearby and long-buried passions are unleashed!  In her lonely cottage, Kate is terrorised by mysterious forces. What do these ghosts want? That the truth about the violent events of long ago be exposed or remain concealed? Kate must struggle for her life against earthbound spirits and ancient curses as hate, jealousy, revenge, and passion do battle across the centuries.

If you like a good dose of haunting with an accompanying history lesson, Barbara Erskine is always an excellent choice.  I’ve read quite a few of hers – House of Echoes, the wonderful Whispers in the Sand and its follow-on, The Sands of Time, and Daughters of Fire.  They are absorbing reads, very evocative and occasionally quite scary, but most suffer, as did this one, from being just too long and drawn out.  At 77 chapters, Midnight is a Lonely Place would’ve been tighter and a bit more enjoyable with 10 or so chapters less.  However, Erskine’s talent at winding love/hate/jealousy and history into a modern day tale of an English seaside cottage roiling with passions long gone is an entertaining read, one I found hard to put down.  It was well narrated by the talented Rula Lenska – my only beef being her pronunciation of the word ‘grimaced’ which she read as gri-maced [rhymes with raced].  


Vale Sir Terry Pratchett

Popular fantasy sci-fi author, Sir Terry Pratchett, passed away yesterday (March 12, 2015) has died aged 66, eight years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015) was an English author of fantasy novels, especially comical works. He is best known for his Discworld series of about 40 volumes. Pratchett's first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971, and since his first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983, he wrote two books a year on average. His 2011 Discworld novel Snuff was at the time of its release the third-fastest-selling hardback adult-audience novel since records began in the UK, selling 55,000 copies in the first three days.

Pratchett was the UK's best-selling author of the 1990s, and has sold more than 85 million books worldwide in 37 languages. He is currently the second most-read writer in the UK, and seventh most-read non-US author in the US.

"The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds," said Transworld publisher Larry Finlay. He enriched the planet like few before him and through Discworld satirised the world with great skill, enormous humour and constant invention," said Mr Finlay. "Terry faced his Alzheimer's disease (an 'embuggerance', as he called it) publicly and bravely," said Mr Finlay.

"There was nobody like him,” added author Neil Gaiman.  "Over the last few years, it was his writing that sustained him. His legacy will endure for decades to come." 

The library has so many Terry Pratchett novels in various formats that it is too extensive to individually link here.  Please click on the author's name at the top of this post to browse our catalogue entries.



Stella Prize Shortlist

The 2015 Stella Prize shortlist has just been released, with three of the titles being debut novels by Maxine Beneba Clarke, Emily Bitto and Ellen van Neerven:

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke
The Strays by Emily Bitto
The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally
The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna
The Golden Age by Joan London
Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

The 2015 Stella Prize will be awarded in Melbourne on the evening of Tuesday 21 April. Stay tuned ...

Indie Awards Shortlist

The Indie Awards are chosen by panels of booksellers from entries nominated and voted for by independent bookshops across Australia. The shortlist is divided into categories:  

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia)
Amnesia by Peter Carey (Penguin Books Australia)
Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin Books Australia)
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (Text Publishing)

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis (Hachette Australia)
Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clark (Hachette Australia)
The Strays by Emily Bitto (Affirm Press)
After Darkness by Christine Piper (Allen & Unwin)

This House of Grief by Helen Garner (Text Publishing)
The Bush by Don Watson (Penguin Books Australia)
Where Song Began by Tim Low (Penguin Books Australia)
Cadence by Emma Ayres (ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers Australia)

and a Children's and YA shortlist.

Winners, and the overall Book of the Year winner, will be announced on 25 March 2015. Stay tuned ...



The Children Act

The Children Act by Ian McEwen

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge presiding over cases in the family court. She is independent and intelligent, not to mention musical. She has the respect of her peers and plenty of experience. She knows how to weigh up the sensitive cultural and religious differences in court cases. What her colleagues don’t know however is that her marriage is crumbling and one night her husband asks her to consider an open marriage. After an argument he moves out of the house and she is adrift. She throws herself into work and finds herself involved in a complex case about a 17 year old boy, Adam, who needs a blood transfusion as he has leukaemia. The boy’s parents however refuse to allow him to have one as it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fiona has to make a choice.

This story was enjoyable and kept me interested right to the end. The domestic problems allowed a breather from the court scenes.  It would have been nice if we heard more of Adam’s history but  despite this I very much recommend the book.



Far from the Tree

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so. Solomon's startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter. 

The central theme of this extraordinary book is the family and  how much parents, and society as a whole, should accept children for what they are and how much they should encourage them to be their best selves, even though the notion of a best self is imposed by others. Is 'normality' the only desired outcome for our children and us? Solomon has done a huge amount of research for each of the identities discussed, interviewed many families over the space of 10 years and weaves together the science, culture, ethics and a great depth of understanding, empathy and acceptance of all the differing views of each group without ever making light of the difficulties parents and children face.

I was only planning to read the chapters on deafness and autism but have read it all. Though some of the stories are sad, even harrowing, many more are hopeful even joyful, all are thought provoking and many of the parents say that raising their different children added a new depth of meaning to their lives.  

Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance-all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.

Take with you the wonderful picture of the young woman who spent her holidays reading some of her favourite books to her severely disabled brother "just in case" he could understand. 



The Meryl Streep Movie Club

The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March

From the cover:  There are some summers you never want to end. The women of the Weller family, matriarch Lolly, cousins Kat, June and Isabel, have not had the easiest of relationships over the years. The cousins have gone their separate ways, but now, just as each faces a crossroads in her life, they are summoned home by Lolly for some earth-shattering news. As the women spend their first summer together in years, home truths and buried secrets begin to emerge. To ease the tension, Lolly proposes a series of movie nights dedicated to her favourite actress, Meryl Streep, and as the four women sit and discuss the parallels between films and real life, they gradually help one another confront the past and make difficult decisions about the future.

I don't read a lot of chick lit but sometimes it's good to dip a toe in the water after too many crime and mystery novels.  I enjoyed this book - set in Maine USA, it's a gentle read, it's not too girly girly as some can be, and you know right up front that with someone dying of pancreatic cancer that there's going to be tears somewhere.  

Each chapter is written from one of the four main characters, and the use of discussing who did what and why in the Meryl Streep movies they all watch is a clever segue to sharing what is really happening in their own lives. The setting provides interest - The Three Captains - a bed and breakfast that Lolly, the family matriarch owns; a book shop, a houseboat - all are evocative and easily pictured. Well narrated by Laurel Lefkow, I can recommend this audio version,( available in MP3 and e-Audio), plus we also have this in hard copy and large print.


Keating: the biography

Keating: the biography by David Day

In the tradition of his bestselling 'Curtin' and 'Chifley', this is David Day's exhaustive biography of one of our most fascinating prime ministers. Paul Keating was one of the most significant political figures of the late twentieth century, first as Treasurer for eight years and then Prime Minister for five years. Although he has spent all of his adult life in the public eye, Keating has eschewed the idea of publishing his memoirs and has discouraged biographers from writing about his life. Undaunted, David Day has taken on the task of giving Keating the biography that he deserves. Based on extensive research in libraries and archives, interviews with Keating's former colleagues and associates, and walking the tracks of Keating's life, Day has painted the first complete portrait of Paul Keating, covering both the public and private man.

Via careful research and many interviews with Keating himself and those who knew him, Day tells the story of Keating from his childhood, through his glory years as federal treasurer and the Prime Minister and into his continuing role as political and social commentator.  Some little known facts emerge along the way… I did not know that Keating arrived in parliament in 1969 courtesy of a well organised branch stack! While Day generally paints Keating in a favourable light, he does not ignore the serious character flaws that ultimately lead to his downfall at the hands of John Howard in 1996.

If you enjoy revisiting the dramas of Australian political life during a period of massive reform in the 19980s and 1990s, and have an admiration (grudging or not) for this political giant, you will be enthralled by this book.



Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan’s story, of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife, journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel; from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival; from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It takes its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho’s travel journal.

This Man Booker Prize winner is a harrowing tale of a doctor's experience on the Thai Burma railway during World War Two. It tells the story of Dorrigo Evans, a doctor trying to survive and help soldiers in appalling conditions. This novel also tells the story of war through the Japanese sergeant’s eyes, and the colourful characters that Dorrigo tries to save from fever, infection, starvation and brutal beatings. It's also a love story of a love that can never be, a loveless marriage, and a life of infidelity. It is an epic novel that courses through the lives of people brutally affected by war. 

Sandra C


Diagram Prize

My favourite post of the year - it's Diagram Prize time!  The Bookseller/Diagram Prize for the Oddest Title of the year is a humorous 'literary' award that is bestowed annually in the UK by The Bookseller, a British trade magazine for the publishing industry.  The winner was initially decided by a panel of judges, but since 2000, it has been decided by a public vote on the magazine's website.  

The Bookseller magazine’s annual award highlights “a year of astonishing publishing depth, range and bat-guano eccentricity”, the magazine said. 

And the winner is ... drum roll please ... 
Divorcing a Real Witch: for Pagans and the people that used to love them by Diana Rajchel. 

Rajchel’s title was up against :
-  Nature’s Nether Regions by Menno Schilthuizen
-  Advanced Pavement Research: Selected, Peer Reviewed Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Concrete Pavements Design, Construction, and Rehabilitation, ed. Bo Tian
-  The Madwoman in the Volvo: my year of raging hormones by Sandra Tsing-Loh
-  Where Do Camels Belong? by Ken Thompson
-  The Ugly Wife is Treasured at Home by Melissa Margaret Schneider, and 
-  Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte.



IMPAC Awards open

Each year public libraries throughout the world join together to submit titles for consideration in the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, one of the world's richest literary prizes with a €100,000 prize (AUD $145,000).

The State Library of Victoria invites you to help select Victoria’s titles from the list below:

A Million Windows by Gerald Murnane
Amnesia by Peter Carey
Asking for Trouble by Peter Timms
Challenge by Paul Daley 
Cicada by Moira McKinnon
Demons by Wayne Macauley
Goddess by Kelly Gardiner
Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett
Joyful by Robert Hillman
Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas
Quota by Jock Serong
The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew by Eli Glasman
The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna
The Glass Kingdom by Chris Flynn
The Lost Child by Suzanne McCourt
The War of the Four Isles: The Ship Kings 3 by Andrew McGahan
The Word Ghost by Christine Paice
This Picture of You by Sarah Hopkins
Tree Palace by Craig Sherborne
What Came Before by Anna George

You can vote for your preferred title, one only please, at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MC8DZBB by close of business Friday 10 April.  The State Library of Victoria will put forward the top three titles to be in the running, with the winner announced 17 June, 2015. 



The Strays

The Strays by Emily Bitto

Evan Trentham is the wild child of the Melbourne art world of the 1930s. He and his captivating wife, Helena, attempt to carve out their own small niche, to escape the stifling conservatism they see around them, by gathering together other like-minded artists. They create a Utopian circle within their family home, offering these young artists a place to live and work, and the mixed benefits of being associated with the infamous Evan. 

At the periphery of this circle is Lily Struthers, the best friend of Evan and Helena's daughter Eva. Lily is infatuated by the world she bears witness to, and longs to be part of this enthralling makeshift family. As Lily observes years later, looking back on events that she still carries painfully within her, the story of this groundbreaking circle involved the same themes as Evan Trentham's art: Faustian bargains and terrible recompense; spectacular fortunes and falls from grace. Yet it was not Evan, nor the other artists he gathered around him, but his own daughters, who paid the debt that was owing.

I really enjoyed the story and characters, in particular the friendships between the girls. The discussions about new and frantic creativity brought an energy and excitement to the story which, for the time, was right at the forefront for art. The story is most likely inspired by the Melbourne art scenes of the time. A great read. 



The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

From the cover:  Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?"

This is a debut novel by a former journalist. Rachel witnesses something on her daily train journey, but with a history of alcoholism, a broken marriage, a lost job, who possibly would believe her? You hear the individual stories of the key characters in the book and how they are all linked into the disappearance of Megan, whose story begins one year before Rachel's. 

I must admit, initially it was a little confusing with the dates interspersed throughout the story, but you have to just go with it, all will be revealed! Megan's story seems to move quickly forward, while Rachel's, very slowly. I thought they were a perfect analogy for two trains on different tracks, bound to converge at some point along the way. And they do. 

Megan goes missing on a day Rachel has drunk herself into a blackout. What has happened to Megan and what does her story have to do with not only Rachel herself, but also her fantasy story of the perfect couple? Also, what about Rachel's ex-husband and his new wife who just happen to live five houses away, how have they become linked? You can't help but get involved in the individual character's lives and develop some empathy for them.

This is definitely a thriller that kept me moving quickly through the pages once the pace picked up. Think Gone Girl crossed with Rear Window!! It's no surprise that this book has already been optioned for a film version.



When the Night Comes

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett

When the Night Comes tells the story of a young girl learning what is important in life and who to trust; and of a crewman on the Antarctic supply ship, the Nella Dan, a modern Viking searching to understand his past and find a place in this world for himself. When their paths cross, he teaches her the gift of stillness, of watching birds and shares tales of sailing south to the ice. She shows him what is missing in his life. Though their time together is cut short, the small gifts have been enough to set her path towards the sea. And maybe what they give to each other will mean they can both eventually find their way home.

Bo is a cook on the 'Nella Dan' while Isla and her brother have moved from the mainland to Tasmania with their mother for a 'better' life. It’s obvious there is a romantic relationship between Isla’s mother and Bo, but the real story focuses on the connection between Bo and Isla. 

The actual timeline of the story is brief - two summers. When the Night Comes is not a plot-driven story. The tension is understated. Emotion is the main focus. Parrett's characters are living, breathing, feeling human beings laid out on the page in a way that reminds the reader that the smallest happening can sometimes have the largest impact. 

It is said that everyone who enters your life is either there for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Bo opened up the world for Isla. He helped her to dream big dreams and to be unafraid of following them. Isla helped Bo realise that he wanted to have a family of his own and to raise them where he was raised, to share the traditions and experiences his father shared with him. The lives of these two characters were made better by simply knowing one another.

The writing is lyrical, soulful, real. Parett’s storytelling is gentle, yet masterful, with its ability to draw you in so deeply with very little going on.


ED: This is an abridged version of Lisa's review.  You can read the full review at
Lisa's poetry and stories have been published in various literary magazines and journals. Her short story collection "Reflections" was published in Dec 2009 by Ginninderra Press.


The Anniversary Man

The Anniversary Man by R.J. Ellory

From the cover:  John Costello and girlfriend Nadia became victims of the deranged "Hammer of God" killer who terrorized Jersey City throughout the summer of 1984. This murderer went after young courting couples in an attempt to "save their souls." Nadia was killed, but John survived. Physically and psychologically scarred, he withdrew from society and now only emerges to work as a crime researcher for a major newspaper. No one in New Jersey knows more about serial killers than John Costello. So, when a new spate of murders starts - all seemingly random and unrelated - he is the only one who can discern the pattern that lies behind them. But could this dark knowledge threaten his own life?

This book is definitely in the suspense genre, but thriller it’s not. It’s so long and drawn out that you have to wait quite a while for the aforementioned suspense to kick in, but when it does, it packs a whallop.  It's also different; it’s gritty, and to my mind, more realistic than a lot of crime fiction which can be a bit too slick with relationships that work out, murderers all explained and nice pat endings tidied up and pigeonholed.  This police department is overworked, understaffed, hamstrung by politics and mayoral elections.  Our lead detective Ray Irving is frustrated, exhausted, still missing his significant other who passed away more than a year ago, sad, lonely and depressed with the lack of progress in identifying the serial killer that is playing games with him.  

I did read an interesting review that said Ellory, an award-nominated English thriller writer, is out of his comfort zone by setting this story in New York, Manhattan to be exact.  It mentioned the feeling of Ellory seemingly working his way through the Manhattan ‘Melway’ and that’s pretty much spot on. There are so many street references, it drives you nuts!!  

I listened to The Anniversary Man on Playaway and it is deftly narrated by Kyle Riley but we also have this in hard copy, large print and CD audio.   If you can stick with the almost 80 chapters, it is worth it.  Take note:  there is some full-on language and some graphic murder scenes, so it’s not a novel for the fair-weather crime reader. 


Outback Dreams

Outback Dreams by Rachael Johns

Faith Forrester is at a crossroads. Single, thirty and living on a farm in a small Western Australian town, she’s sick of being treated like a kitchen slave by her brother and father. Ten years ago, her mother died of breast cancer, and Faith has been treading water ever since. 

For as long as he can remember, Daniel ‘Monty’ Montgomery has been Faith’s best friend. When he was ten, his parents sold the family property and moved to Perth, and ever since, Monty’s dreamed of having his own farm. So for the last ten years, he’s been back on the land, working odd jobs and saving every dollar to put toward his dream. 

So when Faith embarks on a mission to raise money for a charity close to her heart, and Monty’s dream property comes on the market, things seem like they are falling into place for them both. Until a drunken night out ends with them sleeping together. Suddenly, the best friends are faced with a new load of challenges...

I don't usually read rural romances as I was disappointed with the first one by another Australian author, but this time I was pleasantly surprised after being lucky enough to receive a signed copy from Rachael herself! 

The story of Faith and Monty was good, and yes, it is a romance, but the story itself had a lot more substance to it. As well as getting into both sides of their families, I thought the autism storyline was very refreshing. I also liked the fact that it was not too predictable - just when you thought they were going to live happily ever after something happened!

The author now has two more books about the residents of Bunyip Bay and I'm hoping that Faith and Monty make an appearance in these too.



Are You Seeing Me?

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

Twins Justine and Perry are about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime in the Pacific Northwest. It's been a year since they watched their dad lose his battle with cancer. Now, at only nineteen, Justine is the sole carer for her disabled brother. But with Perry having been accepted into an assisted-living residence, their reliance on each other is set to shift. Before they go their separate ways, they're seeking to create the perfect memory. For Perry, the trip is a glorious celebration of his favourite things: mythical sea monsters, Jackie Chan movies and the study of earthquakes. For Justine, it's a chance to reconcile the decision to 'free' her twin, to see who she is without her boyfriend, Marc - and to offer their mother the chance to atone for past wrongs. But the instability that has shaped their lives will not subside, and the seismic event that Perry forewarned threatens to reduce their worlds to rubble...

I was such a fan of Kindling that I was automatically interested in reading Are You Seeing Me? I was not disappointed.  The author's use of the twin's father’s letters and journal add an extra layer to this dual narrator story, and the theme of independence is a big one. 

During their trip, Perry predicts an earthquake and his prediction comes true. Justine is hurt during the earthquake. She isn’t breathing. Perry, rather than melting down in this high stress situation and failing to function, revives Justine using CPR and gets the help of a stranger to get her to the hospital. These are things he would normally have problems with, things Justine would never expect him to be able to deal with on his own, but he does.  

Perry has far more self-awareness and empathy than those around him can understand. There is a difference with being independent and being interdependent. Independence suggests you do everything for yourself without the need for assistance. Interdependence is the skill of being able to ask for the help you need when you need it. I believe this is far more important and Perry proved he is capable of doing just that. He saved his sister’s life. She has to respect and admire him for that. He is not the ’little’ brother she’s always taken care of anymore, he’s much more than that. He’s a man.

Groth has created a story with heart. Family is the main focus, but in particular, forgiveness.


ED: This is an abridged version of Lisa's review.  You can read the full review at
Lisa's poetry and stories have been published in various literary magazines and journals. Her short story collection "Reflections" was published in Dec 2009 by Ginninderra Press.

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