Reviews

The Good People by Hannah Kent

This is the second novel from the author of “Burial Rites” (Iceland), and is just as compulsively readable. It is set in Ireland during 1825 and 1826 and is also based on a true event, in a very poor valley near the town of Killarney. It is the overwhelming poverty and ignorance that remains, after finishing the book. The “Good People” of the title are the fairies of traditional folk mythology and the narrative depicts a clash between that and the belief system of the Catholic Church. After the untimely deaths of her husband and daughter, elderly widow Nora Leahy is left the sole carer for her young grandson, who has severe physical and mental developmental delays. In desperation, Nora turns to the local doctress, Nance Roche, for advice. Nance declares the boy a fairy changeling. Soon, the two women, along with Nora’s timid servant girl Mary, turn to supernatural cures, with dark and unexpected consequences.

Reviewed by Gerardina from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This novel won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is a Vietnam War spy novel and satire. In parts it is very beautifully written and very astute. To quote a reviewer: “smart, funny and self-critical, with a keen sense of when to let a story speak for itself ….. Nguyen proves a gifted and bold satirist”. This is all true, and the descriptions of the desperation to get out of Saigon at the end of the War, ring true. However, after such an impressive start, I didn’t finish this novel – it lost my interest when it degenerated into a parody of “Portnoy’s Complaint”.

Reviewed by Gerardina from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

Oblivion by Arnaldur Indridason

Indridason is a well-established Icelandic crime writer. He beautifully evokes the bleak Icelandic winters and, like the best crime writers, provides a social critique. This novel is set at the point where his protagonist’s (Erlendur Sveinsson) career as a newly promoted detective begins – so it’s a step back in time to a period when Iceland was very poor and the Americans, controversially, had a large base there. Iceland’s geopolitical position made it a vital Cold War monitoring station and famously, at the start of the end of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met there. The narrative contains elements of the Cold War and some suspicious events at the American military base. Added to this is Erlendur’s (in Iceland people are referred to by their first names) investigation of a cold case in which a young girl seemingly disappeared into thin air.

Reviewed by Gerardina from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym

Jane and Prudence by the much under-rated novelist Barbara Pym was a revelation, as I had owned and enjoyed two of her books decades ago, namely “Excellent Women” and “A Glassful of Blessings”, but had not realised that there was more to her output. The older Jane is now a somewhat ineffectual country vicar’s wife, while the younger Prudence (whom Jane tutored at Oxford) is a single professional women with a string of failed love affairs. At first glance, this novel set in the early 1950’s, both in London and a country village, and dealing with middle class life, religion and morals, might seem to have a limited vision. However it is the interaction of the two women, Jane’s attempts at matchmaking, and the intricacies of small village life that make it such a microcosm. It is a gently written, acutely observed, and at times funny novel of social manners that is thoroughly enjoyable over the nine hours listening time.

Reviewed by Leonie from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty

This British edition of an American non-fiction book includes a few statistics about the UK and absolutely none about Australia. Aside from their annoyance value, the numbers probably won’t get your attention. But the procedural descriptions of cremations and embalming are quite explicit and you will be either fascinated or horrified. Doughty doesn’t really know what to do with herself but she does have a preoccupation with death so she goes to work at a crematorium. With macabre humour, she describes her encounters with dead bodies. Along the way, she realises that modern society has literally buried our dealings with death.

Reviewed by Reader K

As Time Goes By by Mary Higgins Clark

Lottery winners Alvirah and Willy feature in another of their mysteries by this well-known suspense writer. Alvirah is determined to find the unknown parents of their friend, TV reporter Delaney Wright. In the meantime, Delaney is covering a court case involving Betsy Grant, a wealthy widow accused of murdering her husband, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. Delaney’s friend Jonathan Cruise, another reporter, is tracking down doctors illegally supplying prescription drugs, including some of Dr Grant’s former colleagues. Betsy’s stepson owes a lot of people a lot of money. As always, the killer is identified just in the nick of time.

Reviewed by Reader K

The Road To Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Britain has changed since the publication of Bryson’s first look at his adopted country: Notes from a small island over 20 years ago. And, just like everyone else, Bryson has aged since then. He’s also lived in the UK for a very long time so he should be used to the place by now. You will either ignore or sympathise with the curmudgeonly bits of this collection of vignettes. In 2016 the book won the National Geographic Traveller Reader Award for Best Travel Book of the Year.

Reviewed by Reader K

A Distant Journey by Di Morrissey

American girl marries handsome Australian sheep station heir ... sound familiar? Anyone of a certain age who has read the stories of Lucy Walker will recognise the plot. Cindy has the usual adjustment problems after moving from California to New South Wales in the early 1960s. Her father-in-law dislikes her so much that she begins to realise why her husband’s mother may have abandoned her only son Murray, Cindy’s husband.

Reviewed by Reader K

The Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen

“Write what you know” is sometimes offered as advice to beginning writers. Queanbeyan author Owen has done just that with her first book about Dr. Elizabeth Pimms, “intermillennial sleuth.” The unexpected death of her father, some years after her mother was killed in a car accident, draws Elizabeth away from archaeological digs as she is needed back in Canberra to financially support her younger brother and sister. She returns to the extended household of two grandmothers, one grandfather, her siblings, and several cats, to take up a graduate position with a large library. Offered an opportunity to examine a group of skeletons from ancient Mexico at a local university, she soon realises that there is more than one mystery to solve. This is a past and present story with the intricacies of an Olmec society gradually revealed over the course of a calendar year.

Reviewed by Reader K

Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen

Dr. Elizabeth Pimms is back with her second archaeo-biblio mystery set in a slightly alternate version of Canberra. Her boyfriend Luke returns home with a collection of Mayan skulls and bones from Guatemala which he arranges for Elizabeth to examine. Once again we move between the present and the past as the story of Lady Six Sky is revealed. In the meantime, as she juggles her paid work at the library and her unpaid work at the university, Elizabeth has to deal with a surprise from her family’s past and an uncertain future. PS There’s a great shout-out in the acknowledgements to “the librarians extraordinaire at Queanbeyan City Library ...”

Reviewed by Reader K

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

On the way to Brisbane I listened to the unabridged “The Dressmaker” by Rosalie Ham, as read quite drily by Rachel Griffiths. This one is a driver’s dream, compressing all 7 ½ hours playing time in MP3 format on a single CD. This story of ultimate revenge was absolutely riveting, even if rather unbelievable in eccentric (mostly nasty) characters and plot. It did have some delicious moments, such as the almost orgasmic description of fabrics, texture, colour and design, not to mention the cross dressing policeman. A highlight was the town drama society’s attempt at staging Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The audiobook was entertaining enough to persuade me to purchase the movie DVD starring Kate Winslet, but I felt this did not do the book justice.

Reviewed by Leonie from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Racist and realistic, this profile of past life in the Deep South of the USA is not really a pleasant read. And if you aren’t familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird, either from the book or the movie with Gregory Peck, then there’s really no point to reading this story. Jean Louise Finch, daughter of lawyer Atticus Finch and known as Scout during her childhood, makes her annual pilgrimage from New York City to Alabama to visit family. Her brother and mother are long dead and her father is suffering from arthritis but he’s coping with the help of his sister at home and his protégé at the office. Scout has idolised her father forever but a chance discovery changes her view of the man.

Reviewed by Reader K

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

The fifth fiction title by Brooks is a story about the Biblical King David as told by the prophet Natan. To set the scene, Natan first interviews key players in David’s early life before picking up the tale in the present. David was a fighter, a lover and a musician, winning many battles to consolidate the tribes into one kingdom. He also had many wives and many children but his life does not seem a very happy one. Fortunately, he manages to set his son Solomon on the throne before he dies.  As with her other novels, Brooks transports us to yet another different world of the past. 

Reviewed by Reader K

The Governor's House by J.H.Fletcher

Convict Cat Haggard, aged 17, is transported to Tasmania in early 1850. Joanne, her descendant, is a university dean of history in 2015. Their adventures are told through the popular format of alternating past and present story instalments. Joanne is looking for a jewelled crown that Cat supposedly found and hid somewhere. Cat encounters the perpetrator of her wrongful conviction and, after short stints as a bush-ranger and a pretend pirate, she becomes respectable and marries a minor government official. Joanne isn’t the only person interested in finding the crown which, by rights, belongs to another national government. Will she prove to be as intrepid as her ancestor?

Reviewed by Reader K

The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The author of the autobiographical Eat, Pray, Love: one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia has also been nominated for various fiction awards. Alma Whittaker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to an English father and a Dutch mother. Her life spanned most of the 19th century,the 1800s, although the history is only mentioned cursorily as the tale is all about Alma, a naturalist with a particular interest in mosses. She remains at the family home for most of her life, studying the natural world and eventually caring for her father, also a naturalist, until his death. Then she decides a little travelling is in order. She ends up in Amsterdam, living with her mother’s extended family, and continuing her studies at the Hortus Botanicus.

Reviewed by Reader K

London: The Concise Biography

The book traces the history of the city of London, UK, from its earliest beginnings, with the first chapter called “From Prehistory to 1066” and continues right up to the start of the 21st century. There are numerous old drawings, sketches, and photographs scattered throughout the book. Subjects covered include transport, buildings, architecture, religion, politics, gaming, gaols, punishment, geography, climate, class, music, food, entertainment, diseases, pollution, city planning, and many others. By the time I had reached the end of this book I really wanted to jump on a plane and go and explore the region for myself. I enjoyed every page of the book. Highly recommended and enjoyable.

Reviewed by Vanessa from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

The Lake House by Kate Morton

Set in the Cornwall area of England between the wars, this story goes back and forth between 1933 and 2003. A young child disappears from the country estate of the Edevane family on Midsummer’s Eve. The house is then abandoned as the family returns to the city to live. London Detective Constable Sadie Sparrow makes the trip in reverse, retreating to her grandfather’s country cottage after she refuses to accept the closure of a recent police case involving a missing mother and her abandoned child. With the help of a friendly librarian and also one of the original detectives, Sadie decides to pursue the cold case to keep herself busy while she contemplates her future with the force. This historical fiction with a mystery will keep you guessing as more and more information is revealed.

Troll Mountain by Matthew Reilly

This young adult story was first released on-line but is now available in print. According to Reilly, the tale is “an action-fable that the whole family can enjoy.” There are lots of life lessons to be learned as 17-year-old Raf decides to go on a quest to obtain an elixir to save his sister’s life. He makes new friends along the way and together, they manage to defeat the evil trolls. There’s plenty of action as usual but also plenty to ponder in this morality tale.

Spirits of the Ghan

In 1876 a 16-year-old daughter gets lost in the outback after her father is killed by a snakebite. Near death, she is found and adopted by an Aboriginal clan. Fast forward to the early years of the 21st century when the Alice Springs to Darwin railroad track was being laid across the desert. Jessica Manning from Sydney meets Matthew Witherton from Adelaide as they work together on the project, she as a negotiator between the railroad and the elders; he as a surveyor. Matthew is too pragmatic to believe in any sort of spirits but nights of bad dreams and episodes of mental blankness make him crazy enough to confide in Jessica. She realises that the ancestors are sending Matt a message he is never going to believe.

Havana Storm by Clive Cussler

The 1898 sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbour was the start of a short war between the United States and Spain. Cussler takes us from the past into a post-Castro Cuba as Dirk and Al try to identify the source of a toxic marine outbreak in the Caribbean. Of course Pitt’s children, Summer and Dirk Jr, working nearby in Mexico, also find themselves caught up in the investigation.

Rain Music by Di Morrissey

Set in Far North Queensland, this story concerns a musician brother who can’t seem to settle down and his sister who feels trapped by her local government job and local dentist boyfriend. Ned never really got along with their now-deceased father and later abandoned his bride before the wedding. Bella wants to know why and sets out from Victoria to confront her brother somewhere up north. She finally finds him in Cooktown where they confront their own and Australia’s past.

The Convict Girl series by Deborah Challinor

  1. Behind the sun
  2. Girl of shadows
  3. The Silk thief [Harrie Clark]
  4. A Tattooed heart [Friday Wolfe]

New Zealand historian Challinor has written an absorbing series about four convict girls who arrive in Australia in 1829. The first story introduces the four characters: Rachel Winter, Sarah Morgan, Harriet Clarke and Friday Woolfe. Rachel does not survive her pregnancy so the other three vow to support baby Charlotte as best they can as they adapt to their new lives as convicts in Sydney. The remaining three books continue their stories for the next two years but each title refers to one of them. Sarah, a burglar and a jeweller, is the girl of shadows. Harriet was the silk thief. Friday, a prostitute with no liking for men, has herself tattooed and later finds a tattooed lover.

There are several sub-plots and intrigues which come together very satisfyingly in the last book. The three girls all end up doing far better for themselves than you might expect under the circumstances.

Reviewed by Vanessa from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

The Beast's Garden by Kate Forsyth

Master storyteller Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven and developed a fascination with fairy tales which culminated in her receiving her doctorate in this subject. Not surprisingly, Kate is a direct descendant of the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia.

Set amongst the backdrop of war-torn Nazi Germany and the city of Berlin her latest adult novel is a compelling retelling of the Grimm Brothers famous fairy tale. To save her father, young Ava who is a talented singer and a strong-willed, courageous German beauty must marry a young Nazi officer who works for Hitler’s spy chief. Ava joins an underground resistance movement to assist and support her Jewish friends but she must live a double life and hide her true feelings from her husband, even as she falls in love with him.

Filled with danger, intrigue and romance it is at times confronting when it deals with the atrocities of Nazi war camps and the treatment of Jews but it is thoughtfully written and highlights the complexity and strength of the human spirit.

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

There are several main characters in this book, all contributing their complex and detailed strands of their lives to a tidy, fascinating and satisfying conclusion. Each chapter spins a new web of intrigue in what appear to be vastly unrelated links. An historian, an African-American ex-convict, an oncologist, a young girl on a bus in a racially discriminating part of a large city, and also Holocaust survivors all find their place in this very interesting novel.

I was fascinated by the way the author brought together the pieces of this puzzle. The size of the volume was not a problem for me as the pages seemed to turn themselves. I found a strong empathy with most of the characters, and surprisingly found the names given to each person appropriate to their part; e.g. Lamont Williams was the African American street sweeper. A very confronting section of the book was the detailed description of the thousands of Polish Jews being processed on their arrival at the Death Camps, but this was a crucial part of the story.

I would recommend this book to a wide range of readers; those interested in the recording of history, the Holocaust, personal relationships in close families, and those who enjoy a good story with a well-thought-out plot and conclusion. A most interesting and enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Vanessa from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare

In preparation for an imminent visit to Tasmania, I re-read this book having previously enjoyed it some 25 years ago. Nicholas Shakespeare moved to Tasmania and found he is related to many of the people already living there. Having been given by a relative, a large collection of documents and letters, he then began to research one of his ancestors, Anthony Fenn Kemp, who called himself “the father of Tasmania”. It soon became apparent that this was not an ancestor to be proud of. Tasmania has a dark past, but also a fascinating one of intrigue and mystery, the history of the beginnings of this amazing and diverse country, and of it very colourful characters. 

I was fascinated by the stories and the discoveries Shakespeare has made in his research while writing this book. He writes in a very interesting way, making the book very hard to put down at times. He included a chapter on the demise of the Tasmanian tiger, the medical challenges facing the Tasmanian devil, the problems facing new arrivals in the 19th century, as they battled to grow crops and avoid starvation. I shall certainly travel from Launceston to Hobart with a better understanding of this fascinating island and its secrets and mysteries.

Reviewed by Vanessa from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Mia is looking forward to studying with the Julliard School of Music on the east coast of the United States even though her boyfriend Adam will remain on the west coast touring with his up-and-coming indie rock group. But a spur-of-the-moment road trip with her family ends in the death of her parents and brother. While in a coma, Mia reviews her 17 years of life as she decides whether or not she wants to go on living. 

Reviewed by Reader K

The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford

In book two of a planned trilogy, Bradford continues the saga of the rich Inghams and their retainers, the Swanns. The story picks up in mid-1926 and ends with the crash of the London Stock Exchange in September 1929. The lives of the four Ingham daughters and their surviving brother, the heir, reflect the changing British society after WWI. The Swanns continue protecting the Ingham family secrets and preserving Cavendon Hall for the future. The famous Emma Harte gets a brief mention as a business partner of Cecily Swann, a successful fashion designer.

Reviewed by Reader K/p>

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The book is a work of historical fiction but with a spooky undertone. Who is the mysterious miniaturist and how does she know what is going to happen in the Brandt household? In just a few months, from mid-October 1686 to mid-January 1687, newly-married 18-year-old country girl Nella learns many secrets about her rich merchant husband and his unmarried sister.

Inside the O'Briens

After writing about early onset dementia in Still Alice, neuroscientist Genova takes on Huntington’s disease. The O’Briens are a middle class American family living in the Boston area. Joe is a policeman with a wife and four adult children, all still living at home. In his early 40s Joe starts to notice some unexpected physical and mental changes. He doesn’t realise that his mother died of same disease until genetic testing reveals he has Huntington’s, which means each of his children has a 50% chance of carrying the same gene. The emotional intensity of this book is such that you will probably either read as quickly as you can to get to the end or you will read as slowly as possible because you can only take in so much at a time.

Reviewed by Reader K

Stay With Me by Maureen McCarthy

A story for older young adults, this is a timely novel about a young woman who is a victim of domestic violence. After her father dies and her mother disappears, Tess and her older siblings are left to fend for themselves. Aged 17, Tess goes to Byron Bay with some girlfriends for a holiday but impulsively decides to stay on and work in a local cafe instead of completing her education. She is attracted to Jay, 10 years older, but realises too late that he insists on completely controlling her life. When he starts to abuse their young daughter as well, she knows she has to escape, but how and where? Her siblings have all gone their separate ways and she has no friends. And guess what? The climax takes place inside and outside the local library! A longtime fan of McCarthy, Reader K had the unexpected pleasure of meeting this Australian author on a bus tour through Turkey in 2010.

For more information on Domestic Violence visit http://www.domesticviolence.nsw.gov.au/

Reviewed by Reader K

The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins Clark

Parker Bennett managed a pyramid scheme for a long time, secretly stashing the money that was invested in good faith by his middle-aged customers and then disappearing two years ago after a sailing accident. His wife is left with only a small house that is being re-decorated by Lane Harmon as a favour by her well-known interior designer boss in New York. Lane is attracted to son Eric Bennett and refuses to believe that he could be involved in the crime.

Reviewed by Reader K

A Short History of Stupid by Bernard Keane

This is the history of the rise of the lowest common denominator, the lack of evidence based science and thought, that determines stupid decision making. Keane and Razer share chapter by chapter the history of the fall of reason. It does not provide us with a solution, but does help to raise the issue and create debate. The book finishes with appendices that give the reader a list of the top ten stupids, friends of stupid, enemies of stupid and a recommended reading list for those who wish to explore more of the history of stupid. 

Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin Jacobsen has always loved his adventurous childhood friend Margo Roth Spiegelman. Their social lives however, went separate ways and Quentin is left loving Margo from the side lines. So one night when she climbs through his window, calling him to help her execute an ingenious revenge plan, Quentin follows. The exciting night ends too quickly, but Quentin’s love for Margo is heightened and he is left exhilarated. That is until Quentin arrives at school the next day to find that Margo has disappeared. Will Quentin see her again? Quentin’s hope is restored when he learns that there are clues to her mysterious disappearance – and Margo left the clues for him. With the help of his friends, Quentin pieces together Margo’s clues, follows false leads, and the closer he gets to finding her, the less Quentin sees the girl he thought he knew. Instead he realises that the girl he loves, may not be the true Margo after all.

Throughout ‘Paper Towns’ John Green explores many struggles that teens face and must learn to overcome, including self-discovery and depression. It is a book packed with mystery and humour and is full of relatable circumstances that are portrayed through the different characters. ‘Paper Towns’ is an entertaining novel that keeps you wondering what will happen next. It is definitely a great read for teenagers and maybe even for those of older age groups. Overall I would rate this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Reviewed by Georgia

The Daughters of Mars by Tom Keneally

There is a certain sense of deja vu in reading "The Daughters of Mars", as it covers very similar territory to the recent ABC TV series "Anzac Girls". This is not surprising given the source material. "Anzac Girls" tells 'true' stories of real people, based on Peter Rees' book "The Other Anzacs", which is also one of the sources cited by Tom Keneally for his fictional account. The Durance sisters from rural NSW sign up as nurses, sail to Egypt, nurse on the hospital ship Archimedes off Gallipoli, then on Lemnos after the ship's sinking, and finally on the Western Front. This long book allows much vaster scope than the TV series, while still being very intimate and perceptive about the many characters' reactions, interactions and interior selves. The horror of war is evoked through the somewhat clinical and matter of fact description of the soldiers' injuries, and the inability of the nurses and doctors to cope with the worst cases.

My only quibble is with the alternative realities of the ending, which I found unsatisfactory. This disclosure does not require a spoiler alert, since the first few sentences of the novel read as follows. "It was said around the valley that the two Durance girls went off, but just the one bothered to come back. People could not have said which one, since both the girls were aloof and looked similar - dark and rather tall. There was confusion even in the local paper." This extract also illustrates the generally easy flow of Keneally's prose and his gift for exciting the interest of the reader. There are many passages in the book of extraordinary beauty and lyricism, as well as highly dramatic scenes, such as the sinking of the Archimedes. "The Daughters of Mars" is a compelling read and a worthy addition to the best of World War I literature.

Reviewed by Leonie from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club<

The First Casualty by Ben Elton

The first casualty in this historical war novel by Ben Elton is not truth but good writing. The only thing that kept me reading this whodunit set against a backdrop of World War I in Flanders was the discovery of the murderer's identity. I say backdrop deliberately because the setting is as two dimensional as the characters are one dimensional. Despite much description of mud, blood and guts, the horror of trench warfare at a personal level is just not evinced. The plot is far-fetched (engaging in battle action merely to secure evidence), and the dialogue does not ring true. The intimate scenes with the sexy suffragette nurse are frankly ludicrous.

Elton does have valid points to make about the morality and futility of war, via his main protagonist, a detective imprisoned for refusing to serve in the military, because the war offended his sense of logic. The trial and subsequent scenes are an opportunity for somewhat heavy-handed lecturing on the political background of World War 1. No doubt it seemed a clever idea to question the relevance of one man's murder amid legally sanctioned mass slaughter, but the novel as a whole is not convincing. The anti-war message was delivered much better by the satirical TV series "Blackadder Goes Forth", which was actually co-written by Ben Elton.

Reviewed by Leonie from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen

This abstract reality/fantasy totally absorbed and held me in the journey of the middle aged Professor of Poetry recovering from a brain tumour as she moves into her future through her past and her imagination. I randomly picked this book up in the library and the writing alone excited me; her ‘seeing’ I saw with her, her pain is tactile, and her need to be touched, physically and metaphysically, to be seen and unseen, are universal to those who have experienced a life, or a moment, of being the ‘outsider’ despite perceptions and deceptions of a ‘successful life and career’.

Although the author denies this 4th book (albeit the 1st she chose to publish of the four) is autobiographical, the online interviews with the author lead to a belief (mine, at least) that her personal story informs throughout every page of the book. The book left me drained of emotion, mostly read one chapter at a time, and anxious to read the next chapter. It took lots of ‘cuppa’ breaks and was worth every moment in the sharing of the weakest moments and the parallel successes and sheer courage of the heroine. The story has to be read to be shared.

Reviewed by Marje from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club<

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catherina Ingleman-Sundberg

This is the first of a trilogy of books written by the Swedish author Catherina Ingleman-Sundberg. If you enjoyed the Best Marigold Hotel, then you will love this book. 79 year old Martha is in a retirement home and is determined to make her life and those of her friends more exciting. To make this possible she plans to rob the bank of $3 million. This is a quirky and humorous book about growing old disgracefully. To borrow the book click here.

Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg is a Swedish author who has written seventeen books in several genres, including popular science, cartoon, children's and historical fiction. Her individual writing style, featuring depth of insight, and sense of surprise and humour, gives her books a special appeal. So much so that in 1999 she won the prestigious Widding Prize as the best writer of popular history and historical novels. Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg is a former journalist and marine archaeologist. She now works full-time as an author. To find out more about Catherina, please visit: www.catharinaingelman-sundberg.com

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee

This is the second novel by Darien Gee, whose first, 'Friendship Bread', became a best seller. This again is set in the fictional small town of Avalon Illinois, with some of the previous characters reappearing, along with a whole cast of new ones. Again like 'Friendship Bread', good food is an essential ingredient of community, with featured recipes thoughtfully provided at the end of the book. However, it is not necessary to have read the first book, but I shall certainly seek it out after reading The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society.

This book celebrates female friendship and support through various vicissitudes of life: marital infidelity, death of a partner, a thwarted marriage, an overseas adoption gone wrong, false accusation and developing dementia. Coming to terms with the sometimes painful memories of the past enables the women to learn, grow and possibly experience a happy ending. The pervasive theme of scrapbooking is not so much about the craft itself (although there is plenty of that and tips at the end of the book), but about how memories are treasured, preserved and shared.

This is a heart warming book full of humour and wisdom that is easy to read and will appeal to a female readership.

Reviewed by Leonie from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

The Ghost at the Wedding by Shirley Walker

“The young men who worked in the cane fields of northern New South Wales in 1914 couldn't wait to set off for the adventure of war. The women coped as best they could, raised the children and lived in fear of an official telegram.” This book chronicles the events from both sides of war: the horror of the battlefields and the women left at home. Shirley Walker, the daughter-in-law of the main character, Edward (Ted) Walker, writes about the lives of her extended family, including Ted’s wife, Jessie, their sons, his brothers and their grandsons. 

The book begins with Jessie’s parents having fled the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides at the end of the 19th century, following persecution and starvation. They migrate to Australia and settle in the northern cane fields of New South Wales. Shirley has meticulously researched the family story, drawing on material provided from the War Memorial in Canberra, the Australian Archives, various documents and records in French cemeteries, as well as many letters written to and from the young soldiers during the First World War. Sadly there are no photos of the people in the story, other than the picture of young Ted on the front cover. 

The book is very well written, and Shirley depicts in excellent detail the way life was in Australia, during the early part of the 20th century. Jessie, Ted’s wife, is the connecting force between all the family members in the book, and the story begins and ends with her. Reading the book I am again reminded how futile war is – how cruel, senseless, and all it does is cause great misery, despair, cruelty and misery. An excellent read.

Reviewed by Vanessa from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

Lost for words by Edward St Aubyn

Edward St Aubyn is the acclaimed English author of the Patrick Melrose novels, one of which 'Mother's Milk' was short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2006. Now he has written a comic novel that lampoons the whole absurd world of literary prizes. Amazingly, 'Lost for Words' went on to win the 2014 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic literature. 

The fictitious Elysian Prize for literature is decided by a committee of five politically suitable judges, each of whom has their own preferences and agendas, so long and short listing is a matter for deals and compromises. The eventual short list contains novels with wonderfully pretentious or gritty titles, plus 'The Palace Cookbook', an Indian cookbook with family anecdotes, mistakenly submitted by a publisher. Naturally, this last is critically acclaimed as a fine example of a post modern novel.

The writing is very clever, with excerpts from the novels being done in an appropriate style. I liked the description of an aspiring thriller writer using highly addictive software called Gold Ghost Plus to generate metaphors and similes. 'Lost for Words' is witty and entertaining, but not particularly sympathetic to its cast of characters of writers, publishers, critics and judges. However, through humour, it does address the serious questions of the recognition of genuine talent and the role of art in the modern world.

The Road Back by Di Morressey

Morrissey tells a very contemporary tale about a male journalist who loses his newspaper reporting job in Sydney when he refuses another transfer overseas in order to become the full-time father of his 14-year-old daughter. With no income, he takes his reluctant child up the country to live with his mother in the small town of Neverend. As always, there is a story within the story, and this one takes place in Indonesia during the turbulent 1960s. Repeat after me: “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home ...”

Watch a 2014 interview with the author here.

Reviewed by Reader K

Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver

Think Jean Auel for young adults. This series comprises the “six adventures. one quest” of Torak, Renn and Wolf.

  1. Wolf brother: We meet a young Torak who lives in the prehistoric forest with his father. Torak loses his dad but finds his animal spirit helper and his first real friend, Renn.
  2. Spirit walker: Torak decides to leave Renn’s clan on his own to obtain a cure for the sickness that has affected some of those who live in the forest. Along the way, he learns the value of trusting your friends.
  3. Soul eater: Wolf is captured by Torak’s enemies, the soul eaters, who want to rule the world. Torak experiences more spirit walking and realizes that he must destroy his adversaries.
  4. Outcast: When his soul-eater tattoo is revealed, Torak finds himself cast out of the Raven clan. Renn teams up with Torak’s kinsman Bale to break the law and help Torak survive. Torak makes friends with Rip and Rek, two young ravens.
  5. Oath breaker: Torak blames himself for Bale’s death and vows revenge on the soul-eaters. Just like Ayla, he learns to ride a horse. But he breaks his oath to save Renn.
  6. Ghost hunter: About 15 summers old now, Torak still has to kill the last soul-eater. Is it his destiny to die?

Visit the author’s website: http://www.michellepaver.com/

Reviewed by Reader K

Cairo by Chris Womersley

In one of those serendipitous coincidences, the next book randomly read by this reviewer mentioned Vermeer’s “the girl with a pearl earring” painting within the first 50 pages. And, just like the Chevalier book, this is an imagined tale written around a painting – in this case the “Weeping woman” by Pablo Picasso. However, this story is a bit more modern as it takes place in Melbourne during the mid-1980s when the painting was stolen from the National Gallery of Victoria [TRUE!]. Country boy Tom Button travels to the “big smoke” and, in his naivety, thinks some of his older neighbours in the Cairo apartment block might actually want to be his friends.

Reviewed by Reader K

Six Years by Harlen Coben

If you are a person who needs to drive for work, and is looking for a book that will keep your mind active and alert as you head to your destination, then this is one for you. Six Years is one of those books that claims the title “The Number One Bestseller” and is deserving of this claim.This is a love story with a difference. You have the central character, Jake Fisher, who has found and then lost his one true love Natalie, but has never fully accepted the situation. Six years later, (hence the title), life takes a strange turn for Jake and in rolls a tsunami of events that sends Jake and the reader on an action packed journey. The themes of the story are grounded in realistic possibilities and the entire plot flows well – love, loss, murder, kidnapping, bank robbery, the list goes on. 

Coben has created a range of different characters that work well together and keep the reader on the edge of anticipation – this reviewer was glad of the seatbelt on many an occasion. This was particularly the case on the final CD, when an unexpected twist was thrown in and SLAM, things became clear. This twist was so good that after initially not seeing things coming, you are left saying “of course…it all makes sense now”.

Orion Audiobooks selected Kerry Shale to narrate Six Years. As with all audio books, the narrator is vital to the success of the story. Shale’s does a wonderful job of translating Coben’s words into a graphic story for the reader. It is no wonder that he has won major awards for Audio Book narration in both the UK and US. His ability to sustain a variety of different male and female characters is seamless.

Do yourself a favour and borrow Six Years from QCL…you won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed by S.T. Inky

Switched by Amanda Hocking

A fantasy written for teens, ‘Switched’ tells the story of a young girl with the mysterious ability to influence the decisions of others.

Taken from her family at age eighteen to a race of people with magical powers, Wendy discovers that she is the daughter of the Queen of the Trylle and next in line to rule. In line with Trylle custom, she was swapped at birth with the human baby of a wealthy family, and returned to her people with the expectation of a substantial inheritance, which funds the lifestyle of the Trylle.

With help from the handsome tracker who brought her back to her people, Wendy faces tensions and turmoil in her new life, opposition and treachery from an opposing race, collision between her new and old worlds, and choices she must make which will affect the people she cares for in both worlds.

Though far from my teens I found myself drawn into the story, wanting to know what happened and being frustrated to discover that I had two more books to read to find out.

Will I read them? While not top of my list, I might!

Reviewed by Christine from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

The blurb on the back cover says “Mark Lawrence’s powerful debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, and sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne”. Not a bad summary really – one that was enough to entice me to open the first book of the trilogy.

Lawrence has demonstrated that he can tell a story and keep the reader wanting more. He creates an exciting plot that contains various twists and turns on a fast paced journey. He uses a retrospective technique throughout the book, taking the reader back in time during particular chapters, to provide a greater depth of understanding about the central character, Jorg Ancrath.   

Readers will need to make their own minds up as to the degree to which they ‘like’ Jorg Ancrath. He is a complex character who moves in a complex and brutal world. One thing that is for sure, Jorg Ancrath has enough depth of character and purpose to go for another two books…I for one, look forward to reading the next instalment “King of Thorns”.

Reviewed by S.T. Inky

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

Do yourself a favour…borrow Twelve Years a Slave! Without exaggeration, this is an incredibly moving story, or perhaps more correctly, an important historical account that is a ‘must read’. It provides a chilling account of the darker side of ‘humanity’.

Solomon Northup provides a recount of his experiences as a black man who was born free and then sold into slavery. His vivid prose is confronting and leaves the reader feeling deeply affected by injustice: the injustice experienced by Northup and the broader injustice of slavery on the whole. The story serves to educate the reader who will be the richer for the experience. 

As an audio book, the role of the narrator is critical to the reader’s experience. Tommie Earl Jenkins was outstanding in this role and brought the words of Northup to life. Jenkins is clearly a seasoned actor who lives the characters he plays (or reads). His transition between the characters of Twelve Years a Slave consistently flowed. Jenkins brings the characters to life and creates a mental image that works.

Having experienced the audio book, this reviewer is keenly awaiting the opportunity to see how Twelve Years a Slave plays out on film – Queanbeyan City Library will hopefully add the DVD to its collection shortly.

Reviewed by S.T. Inky

Popular Mechanics (Periodical)

The Queanbeyan City Library has a great range of magazines to choose from and it is definitely worth checking out the collection. Popular Mechanic is a great magazine that covers a variety of topics– Home, Technology, Automotive, Adventure, and Science. It is a United States publication and accordingly it looks very different to a home-grown publication. 

One of the first things you notice is the difference in advertising – tobacco sponsorship is clearly part of life in the US. There are also a range of products, etc that we don’t see Down Under. These differences provide an interest factor for the reader if nothing else.

Popular Mechanic is a magazine that is ideal for reading in many locations. It could be read equally well in the man-cave or scrapping-room. It is an easy pre-bed read. It would be ideal bath time reading, for those inclined, and perfect toilet reading. BUT, please note that this reviewer does not encourage the reading of library items in the smallest room in the home

Reviewed by S.T. Inky

Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu

This book is a Singaporean mystery written by Singaporean author, Ovidia Yu.

The story is based around Rosie Lee's restaurant called Aunty Lee's Delights, where spicy Singaporean meals are served to locals and tourists alike. After losing her husband, Rosie has thrown her energy into her restaurant.

A body is found at Sentosa Beach, a popular tourist resort. Aunty Lee and her step-son, Mark, hold a dinner and wine tasting night whereby Aunty Lee caters for the food and her step-son conducts the wine tasting, which complements the food. When one guest who is to help with organising and contacting people to attend the function doesn't show at the dinner, Aunty Lee knows the two events are connected. This lady's name is Laura Kwee and she seems to be involved with a number of groups etc.

Aunty Lee is an amateur sleuth and, as Police Commissioner Raja and Senior Staff Sergeant Salim investigate the murder, they quickly discover that Aunty Lee's sharp nose for intrigue can sniff out clues that elude law enforcers.

This book is about love, friendship and food in Singapore, where money flows freely and people of many ethnicities coexist harmoniously, but where tensions lurk underneath. It is an enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Judy from The Queanbeyan Reading Circle Book Club.

Malicious Intent by Kathryn Fox

The best thing about reading Malicious Intent was finishing the book. As I turned the final page, I was greeted by the section titled “ALSO BY KATHRYN FOX IN PAN MACMILLIAN”.  Discovering that Fox has three other titles involving the characters from Malicious Intent made my day.

Fox has created wonderful characters in Forensic Physician Dr Anya Crichton and Detective Kate Farer. These powerful women are supported by a number of minor characters who create balance to the story.

Malicious Intent is composed of the right level of descriptive text that allows the reader to get to know the characters, the setting and the story line. Fox draws the reader in with a gripping and believable plot which is a little scary at times. Just when I thought I had figured out where we were going, BAAM…an unexpected switch was turned on and the story hurtled towards its ultimate conclusion.

I loved Malicious Intent and can fully understand why this debut novel won the 2005 Davitt award for adult fiction. I can’t wait to get to the Queanbeyan City Library so I can borrow Without Consent, also by Fox.

Reviewed by S.T. Inky

2312: a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson

Three hundred years from now, will we have colonized the other planets in our solar system? Would you recognize a humanoid with artificial intelligence if this individual passed the Turning test?

Swan and Wahram are both over 100 years old and still going strong as they shuttle between planets trying to help improve whichever world they happen to be on at the time. Earth is more or less a dump site due to global warming. Humans still survive there but the animals are long gone.

This 500-page book is not as easy to read as the “Science in the Capital” series about climate change [40 signs of rain – 50 degrees below – 60 days and counting]. Access to a dictionary might be useful for those of us who are non-scientific types.

Robinson is perhaps best known for his Mars trilogy: Red Mars – Green Mars – Blue Mars.

Visit a fan site: http://kimstanleyrobinson.info/

Reviewed by Reader K

The lavender keeper and The French promise by Fiona McIntosh

Luc is a lavender farmer turned French resistance fighter and Lisette is an orphan turned English spy. In World War II Paris during the German occupation, they try to set aside their feelings for each other and concentrate on their separate missions.

After the war, they settle in England but Luc misses his lavender fields so the family of three moves to Tasmania in the early 1950s. Luc returns to France in the early 1960s seeking to avenge the death of his family by the Germans.

McIntosh is probably better known for her fantasy tales but these two books comprise a pleasant, romantic story for readers who enjoy historical fiction.

For more about the author: http://www.fionamcintosh.com/

Reviewed by Reader K

Red dirt talking by Jacqueline Wright

The manuscript of this story, titled “The Telling,” was awarded the 2010 T.A.G. Hungerford award in Western Australia. Published in book form in 2012, the story made the longlist for both the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award and the 2013 Dobbie Literary Award. This fascinating and evocative tale is definitely worth a read.

Annie, an anthropology student, travels out to a remote area to interview the local population about an incident that took place long ago. But no one wants to talk about that – the locals are more concerned about an eight-year-old child who has seemingly disappeared. Most of the story is told in the third person but Maggot, the garbo, adds his version in the first person from time to time. “It’s build-up time in the north-western town of Ransom, just before the big wet, when people go off the rails.”

Hungerford prize winners

Kibble prize winners

Reviewed by Reader K

I’ve got you under my skin by Mary Higgins Clark

The plot is always different but the structure is always the same in Clark’s many mystery/suspense novels. There are more red herrings than you’d ever find on a breakfast buffet. Someone is dead and each of the characters has a very good reason to have committed the murder. Laurie is producing a “cold-case” reality television program about the death of a wannabe socialite at a high school graduation party 20 years ago. But someone from Laurie’s past has his own plans to catch up with her at the reunion.

Reviewed by Reader K

Be careful what you wish for by Jeffrey Archer

Treachery, triumph and tragedy are the hallmarks of many of Archer’s well-told tales. Regular readers will anticipate the usual surprise ending with both dread and glee. Book 4 of the Clifton Chronicles takes the story of the Clifton family from 1957 to 1964.

Harry’s mystery stories become even more popular. Emma strives to succeed in the masculine world of international shipping. Sebastian and Jessica consider the first steps in their careers. But Don Pedro Martinez is determined to interfere with their lives as he pursues a vendetta against the Cliftons.

More about the series: http://us.macmillan.com/series/TheCliftonChronicles

Reviewed by Reader K

Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Think “Upstairs, Downstairs” or “Downton Abbey” and you’ll feel right at home in England before the first world war. In book one of a planned trilogy, BTB sets the scene by describing the interwined lives of the Ingham and Swann families. Their joint motto is “loyalty binds me” which means the servant Swanns have agreed to keep the secrets of their rich masters the Inghams. The secret in this story concerns Daphne, the second daughter of the 6th Earl of Mowbray and his wife Felicity.

More about the author: http://www.barbarataylorbradford.co.uk/

Reviewed by Reader K

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Book three of the Divergent trilogy. Set in Chicago, this future world demands that each 16-year-old choose one of five factions in society: the Dauntless, brave but cruel; the Erudite, intelligent but vain; the Amity, peaceful but passive; the Candor, honest but inconsiderate; the Abnegation, selfless but stifling. Tris decides to leave her Abnegation parents and join Dauntless, where she meets Four, named for his four fears. Her brother Caleb also rejects the family faction to join the Erudite so he can learn more about the world. Will this make them enemies? What about the factionless? Which faction would you choose?

Reviewed by Reader K

City of promise: a novel of New York's Gilded Age by Beverly Swerling

This book is actually number four of a series but may be read on its own. The history of New York City is told through the doings of the Turner and Devrey families. Book four covers the years from 1864, the year before the Civil War ended, through 1883, the year the Brooklyn Bridge opened. Property developer Joshua Turner wants to create a new kind of building and a new type of accommodation for the increasing number of white collar workers in the city.

The library holds book two City of glory: a novel of war and desire in old Manhattan which is set during the War of 1812, when the United States fought against Great Britain for the second time.

Book one – City of dreams: a novel of early Manhattan

Book three – City of God: a novel of passion and wonder in old New York

Shadowbrook: a novel of love, war and the birth of America, also held by the library, is a standalone story about colonial America during the time of the French and Indian Wars.

Reviewed by Reader K

Mateship with birds by Carrie Tiffan

This story won the first ever Stella prize for Australian women’s writing in 2013.  A good word to describe the book would be earthy. Another good (though often overused) word would be lyrical as there's no denying the author has a way with words.

The main characters are Harry and Betty, neighbours in an Australian country town during the 1950s. A kookaburra family (Mum, Dad, Club-Toe and later Bub) also stars in this tale of bird-watching and people-watching.

According to the author's notes, Australian nature writer Alec Chisholm wrote a book of bird notes which was published as Mateship with birds in 1922.

For more about the Stella prize: http://thestellaprize.com.au

Reviewed by Reader K

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, is a really enjoyable read that shows that the author has moved beyond wizards and magic. Rowling’s creates a variety of characters that the reader can both love and hate at the same time. The Casual Vacancy tells the story of life in the sleepy English town of Pagford and the goings on in the Parish Council. On the surface this may seem a strange formula for success but Rowling’s has ensured that the character have deep secrets that are waiting to be revealed. The magic of this novel occurs in the final chapters of the book when the discrete yet interrelated  plots are revealed to the reader. It is a fast paced ending with many twists and turns that leaves the reader happy in the knowledge that life in Pagford will never be the same again. A great read from a great author.   

Reviewed by S.T. Inky

Fifty Bales of Hay by Rachel Treasure

For years now, I have been wondering what keeps people on the land when they have to deal with our iconic droughts and flooding rains. But now, thanks to Rachael Treasure’s Fifty Bales of Hay, I finally have the answer. The jumbuck is now out of the swagman’s tuckerbag.

Fifty Bales of Hay is a light-hearted read that that both titillates and educates. For us city folk, it opens the mind to the possibilities of the country. It makes you want to get out there and find a shearing shed and think about what shearer’s do with the shearing sling when they have finished the days shearing. You realise that there is more than one type of judging that goes on at the agricultural show and perhaps what happens after hours could be more enlightening. 

A thread that runs through Fifty Bales of Hay is a reference to another book with a similar name. Treasure skillfully weaves some cheeky threads through the pages and it is clear that this other book has inspired her work. A difference between the works however is the Treasure has added an element of realism in this book and does not venture into the extremes of fantasy. Just like the country we live in, the pages of Fifty Bales of Hay provide a vivid kaleidoscope of colour that keeps the reader alive. 

The big question that needs to be answered for those who will catalogue Fifty Bales of Hay – has Rachael Treasure created a book that is fiction or is this non-fiction?

Reviewed by S.T. Inky

The Everything guide to coping with perfectionism by Ellen Bowers, PhD

The format of this “Everything” guide will be familiar to anyone who has read any of the “for Dummies” series of how to titles.  Written for an American audience, this book starts out with general information about perfectionism.  Chapters explaining the various disorders and addictions that may be related to perfectionistic tendencies make up the middle part of the book.  The remainder consists of practical advice, concluding (as you might expect from an American author) with some ideas of how to begin “moving forward with freedom.” 

When the BGE suggested this non-fiction book, Reader K was a bit taken aback.  “Practically perfect” perhaps but surely not obsessively so!  Did she really want to “overcome toxic perfectionism, learn to embrace [her] mistakes, and discover the potential for positive change”?  Nonetheless, Reader K diligently read every word of every chapter, even the ones that definitely did NOT apply to her.  And she may even have learned a thing or two in the process.

Reviewed by Reader K

The tournament by Matthew Reilly

Like or loathe his style of writing, you must admit that Australian author Reilly has quite an imagination.  Murder, mystery and mayhem feature in this tale that the author has categorised as “for mature readers.”  The descriptions of various sexual activities taking place in Turkey in the mid-1500s may not be appreciated by everyone.  The story features 13-year-old Elizabeth, third in line to the English throne, and her teacher Roger Ascham, a rather logical thinker, who travel to the heart of the Ottoman Empire to attend a chess tournament arranged by the Sultan.

Although not written in the second-by-second detail of the Scarecrow series, the action moves along quickly once the travellers arrive in Constantinople.  Reader K is a Reilly fan and is not going to spoil the anticipation of others by revealing any more of the plot!

For more about the author: http://www.matthewreilly.com

Reviewed by Reader K

Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough

What do women want?  Each of the four Latimer twins (two sets of two) has a different desire but each is determined to support the other during her journey through life in 1920s Australia.  

The sisters start out together to learn nursing at the local hospital in a NSW country town but soon move in different directions as they confront the restrictions of a male-dominated society and learn to live with both pleasure and pain.

For more reviews of this book: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18453864-bittersweet

For a real life account about nursing in the past, you may wish to borrow the library’s copy of A country nurse and midwife: the life, career and times of Mary O’Rourke/Bowers, MBE in the Queanbeyan district of New South Wales, 1889-1973.

Reviewed by Reader K