Vale P.D. James

Crime novelist PD James, who penned more than 20 books, has died aged 94.  Her agent said she died "peacefully at her home in Oxford" on Thursday morning.

The author's books, many featuring sleuth Adam Dalgliesh, sold millions of books around the world, with various adaptations for television and film.  Her best known novels include The Children of Men, The Murder Room and Pride and Prejudice spin-off Death Comes to Pemberley.


The Husband's Secret

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

From the cover: The story of a woman who finds a letter from her husband. It says: For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick. To be opened only in the event of my death. Her husband is very much alive. Should she open it? Would YOU open it?

The Husband’s Secret focuses on the anguish of three unrelated women whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways. Cecilia Fitzpatrick is a super-organised mum, P&C president and Tupperware extraordinaire in Sydney. Tess Curtis runs a marketing and design business with her husband Will and cousin Felicity in Melbourne. Rachel Crowley is a widow, a devoted grandmother to Jacob, and mother to Rob and to Janie who was murdered in 1984. She works part-time at St Angela’s, the school which Tess and Felicity attended as children and which Cecilia’s children currently attend.

Cecilia’s comfortable life is thrown into disarray when she discovers the mysterious letter in the attic. A letter such as this from your husband would generate curiosity in even the most unadventurous person. Like most of us would eventually do, Cecilia opens the letter and instantly regrets her decision. The lives of several characters begin to spiral out of control.

The Husband’s Secret is dilemma-based novel which demonstrates how people’s actions can profoundly affect the lives of so many others. And how keeping someone else’s secret can be a huge burden to bear. The author skilfully brings the reader into the minds of the three central characters as they stew over their own particular issues. The characters are believable, the plot is engrossing, and there are many twists and turns along the way.

We have The Husband’s Secret in hard copy, e-book and audio book CD.
Sandra E


Bulwer-Lytton Contest winners

The 2014 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced.

This whimsical literary competition challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the contest since 1982. Professor Scott Rice named the competition after Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton who wrote the iconic line “It was a dark and stormy night”.

The overall winner of the 2014 contest was Elizabeth (Betsy) Dorfman of Bainbridge Island, Washington, who penned this pearler: "When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered – this had to mean land! – but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose."

Gavin Dobson won the Adventure award with this cliff-hanger: “Listen, Control!” snarled Captain Dan McMurdo across the ether, “I’ve got one engine shut down, the other running on fumes, a seriously wounded co-pilot who won’t last the hour, fifty-three refugee orphans down the back, and a nun for a radio operator, so turn the goddam landing lights on goddam pronto – sorry, Sister.”

Winner of the Crime award was Australian Carl Turney from Bayswater, Victoria, with this tacky contribution: "Hard-boiled private dick Harrison Bogart couldn’t tell if it was the third big glass of cheap whiskey he’d just finished, or the way the rain-moistened blouse clung so tightly to the perfect figure of the dame who just appeared panting in his office doorway, but he was certain of one thing … he had the hottest mother-in-law in the world."  Oh dear!


The Art of Baking Blind

The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

From the cover: There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to be perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookery writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes.

Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the new Mrs Eaden. There's Jenny, facing an empty nest now her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife's death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it's like to have nothing and is determined her façade shouldn't slip.

As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest choux bun seems the least of the contestants' problems. For they will learn - as Mrs Eaden did before them - that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it's very much harder in life.

This is really like reading "The Great British Bake-off" in book form and tells the story of the search for the next face of a popular chain of stores seeing that the original "Mrs Eaden" has passed away. The five amateur bakers are competing for this title. They are a very different and diverse group who are there for very different reasons and you learn the story behind each of them and why they entered.

I suggest that you do not read this book with an empty stomach as the descriptions of the food they are cooking really does make you feel like you need to go and eat some "right now"!

It is an easy but very enjoyable read!


When the Devil Drives

When the Devil Drives by Chris Brookmyre

From the cover: Private Investigator Jasmine Sharp has been hired to find Tessa Garrion, a young woman who vanished without trace.  What begins as a simple search awakens a malevolence that has lain dormant for three decades.  As Jasmine uncovers a hidden history of sex, drugs, ritualism and murder, she realises she may need a little help from the dark side herself if she’s going to get to the truth.  

This novel is the second featuring PI Jasmine Sharp and Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod, the first being Where the Bodies are Buried.  And from various Brookmyre fans comes the general consensus of opinion that he’s on a bit of a downhill slide.  Not having read the first one, I can only put forward my opinion that this book is OK, a relatively pedestrian read and a bit of a letdown when compared to the blurb above which sounds like there’s going to be some paranormal goings on.  There isn’t.  Set in Scotland, and with myriad accents, narrator Sarah Barron does well bringing colour to the somewhat one dimensional story.  Our 21 years old protagonist, Jasmine, has potential but just doesn’t ramp up any feelings of “go girl!!”  It's not that this book is bad, it’s just a bit boring. 


Let Her Go

Let Her Go by Dawn Barker

From the cover:  How far would you go to have a family?  What would you hide for someone you love?  Confused and desperate, Zoe McAllister boards a ferry to Rottnest Island in the middle of winter holding a tiny baby close to her chest, terrified that her husband will find her or that her sister will call the police.

Years later, a teenage girl, Louise, is found on the island, unconscious and alone. Flown out for urgent medical treatment, when she recovers she returns home and overhears her parents discussing her past and the choices that they've made. Their secrets, slowly revealed, will shatter more than one family and, for Louise, nothing will ever be the same again. Let Her Go is a gripping, emotionally charged story of family, secrets and the complications of love. Part thriller, part mystery, it will stay with you long after you close the pages wondering ... What would you have done?

My view: This book had me hooked from the very beginning. Dawn's previous book "Fractured" was one of my top picks for last year, and this new one is up there as well.  The subject of surrogacy is a painful and controversial one but Dawn Barker handles this issue so well, as she is also a Psychologist. You see things from all perspectives, the surrogate mother, the adopted mother (who are step sisters), the two husbands and of course the child.  As things progress in this book you can't help but feel for all parties involved and you can sympathise with each one of them.

Another wonderful thing is that the Author comes from Western Australia and locations from this area are highlighted in the book which gives an insight into this part of Australia. I am a huge fan of this Australian author and I think authors like Jodi Picoult should start to get worried ... Dawn Barker has well and truly arrived!


Burial Rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

From the cover: A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Toti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard. Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

This story about the last woman to be executed in Iceland has intrigued me since I saw an Australian Story episode (ABC TV) that charted South Australian author Hannah Kent’s rapid rise in the literary world. (When her draft novel won the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award, she received a mentorship with Pulitzer Prize-winning Australian novelist Geraldine Brooks. Since publication, Burial Rites has won multiple awards.) 

However, it took a long while before I picked up a copy of Burial Rites because the subject matter seemed so dismal and depressing. It took a recommendation from a friend and the novel being assigned as my book club’s latest title before I finally bit the bullet so to speak.

Burial Rites is superbly written, quickly drawing the reader into the story of Agnes Magnusdottir who was convicted of murdering her former master and another man on an isolated farm. Hannah Kent spent time in Iceland researching her work of historical fiction and read widely about life in the country during that era. As a result, she paints a vivid picture of farm life in 19th century Iceland – the basic and freezing living conditions, the exhausting manual labour that women undertook, as well as superstitions, religious beliefs and the morals of the time.

As the story progresses, I found myself – along with the family on the farm – getting attached to Agnes and feeling empathy for her predicament. I kept hoping someone would find a way to save her at the last hour but then remembered that unfortunately the book tells the story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland – not imprisoned or set free. 

A dark and captivating novel set in a desolate environment.

Sandra E


The Wife Drought

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

'I need a wife' is a common joke among women juggling work and family. But it's not actually a joke. Having a spouse who takes care of things at home is a Godsend on the domestic front. It's a potent economic asset on the work front. And it's an advantage enjoyed - even in our modern society - by vastly more men than women. Working women are in an advanced, sustained, and chronically under-reported state of wife drought, and there is no sign of rain. But why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Why don't men get the same flexibility that women do? In our fixation on the barriers that face women on the way into the workplace, do we forget about the barriers that - for men - still block the exits? 

Writer, political commentator and presenter of ABCs “Kitchen Cabinet” Annabel Crabb explores the great barbeque stopper of work/life balance, but does so in a way that is smart, funny and biting in its satire. While woman with children and a job will empathise with Annabel’s stories of juggling the demands of small children with the demands of tight work deadlines, all women, irrespective of whether they have children or not, will concur with her contention that the same demands are rarely, if ever, placed on men. Her ideas for ways of resolving the “wife drought” may not be all that realistic, but they are certainly thought provoking. If you want a book that makes you laugh but also makes you think, this one is it.


The French House

The French House by Nick Alexander

From the cover:   CC is trapped by a job she no longer loves in an unfriendly city.  So when her new boyfriend decides it’s time to sell up and move to the South of France, she decided in seconds to change her life. After all, who wouldn’t pick an azure sea, aperitifs and sunshine over a dreary commute and a rainy climate? She hadn’t expected a tumbledown farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  Or a motley assortment of surly builders, eccentric farmers and a resentful, terrifying neighbour – who happens to be her boyfriend’s aunt.  Suddenly CC’s dream of a place in the sun is looking more like a nightmare.  Does she have the courage to stick it out and make a home of her French house?

Overall this was a fun read though there were a couple of patches we could have done without.  The banter between Victor and CC is a highlight throughout and, as you can imagine, trying to renovate an old farmhouse brings much laughter and the occasional tears of frustration.  There’s a fair bit of French parlez so dust off your high-school conversation classes and just go with the flow.  It’s a light and breezy read, though be aware of some full-on swearing and drug use.  I borrowed the Playaway version, well narrated by Suzy Aitchison who handles CC’s Irish accent and the dual languages beautifully.


Macavity Awards

The Macavity Award is a literary award for mystery writers. Nominated and voted upon annually by the members of Mystery Readers International, the award is named for the "mystery cat" of T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The award is given in four categories - best novel, best first novel, best nonfiction, and best short story.
Drum roll please ...

Best Mystery Novel: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Best First Mystery Novel: A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames 

Best Mystery-Related Non-Fiction: The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War by Daniel Stashower

Best Mystery Short Story: The Care and Feeding of Houseplants by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2013)



The Rosie Effect

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

From the cover: ‘We’ve got something to celebrate,’ Rosie said. I am not fond of surprises, especially if they disrupt plans already in place. I assumed that she had achieved some important milestone with her thesis. Or perhaps she had been offered a place in the psychiatry-training programme. This would be extremely good news, and I estimated the probability of sex at greater than 80%. ‘We're pregnant,’ she said. In true Tillman style, Don instantly becomes an expert on all things obstetric. But in between immersing himself in a new research study on parenting and implementing the Standardised Meal System (pregnancy version), Don’s old weaknesses resurface. And while he strives to get the technicalities right, he gets the emotions all wrong, and risks losing Rosie when she needs him most.

The Rosie Effect is the highly anticipated sequel to The Rosie Project, which was an international phenomenon with more than a million copies sold in 40+ countries. Described as the most hilarious romantic comedy of 2013, it won the coveted Book of the Year award at the 2014 Australian Book Industry Awards. The Rosie Project's central character Don even had his own Twitter feed (@ProfDonTillman). I would not be surprised if author Graeme Simsion suffered a massive attack of “second novel syndrome” during the writing of this book as the pressure to produce a sequel as captivating as The Rosie Project would have been extraordinary.

Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman have married and are living in New York City. Don has been teaching while Rosie simultaneously studies at Columbia Medical School and finishes her thesis. Just as Don is about to announce that Gene, his philandering friend from Australia, is coming to stay, Rosie drops her pregnancy bombshell.

While The Rosie Effect does not have the surprising magic of the The Rosie Project, it is still an entertaining read with many screwball adventures. We now know Don and almost want to scream out to warn him when he is about to become embroiled in yet another misunderstanding. It begins with the Orange Juice Incident, escalates over lunch with the Blue-Fin Tuna Incident and gets fairly ridiculous when he recruits his plumber mate’s pregnant wife to impersonate Rosie at an important appointment. Don’s interest in and enthusiasm for becoming a parent is heart-warming and hilarious but Rosie’s attitude and interactions become irritating.

Definitely worth a read for Don Tillman fans.

Sandra E

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