Friday, July 31, 2009

The lost quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini

Each new volume in Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts series of novels is eagerly awaited, but it's not necessary to be a quilter to appreciate them.
In Chiaverini's latest offering, she delves into the story behind Sylvia Bergstrom Compson's treasured antique quilt that is known by three names - Birds in the Air, after its pattern; the Runaway Quilt, after the woman who sewed it; and the Elm Creek Quilt, after the place to which its maker longed to return.
That quilter was Joanna, a fugitive slave who travelled by the Underground Railroad to reach safe haven in 1859 at Elm Creek Farm. Now it falls to Sylvia -- drawing upon her Great-Aunt Gerda's diary and Joanna's quilt - to connect the past and present.
Just as Joanna could not have foreseen that, generations later, her quilt would become the subject of so much speculation and wonder, Sylvia and her friends never could have imagined the events Joanna witnessed in her lifetime. Punished for her escape by being sold off to her master's brother in South Carolina, and through hardship and deprivation, she kept her dream of freedom. Determined to remember each landmark on the route north, Joanna pieces a quilt of scraps left over from the household sewing, concealing clues within the meticulous stitches. Sustaining herself and her family through ingenuity and art during the Civil War and into Reconstruction, Joanna leaves behind a remarkable artistic legacy that, at last, allows Sylvia to discover the fate of the long-lost quilter.
The Lost Quilter is an engrossing novel that had me marvelling at Chiaverini's skill as a storyteller - and at Joanna's ingenuity - and appalled at the barbarity of the slave trade.
Rating - I give this 4/5
Reviewed by Jan @ Ballarat branch

The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott

Archaeologist Nina Wilde believes she knows how to find the lost civilisation of Atlantis. She wants to prove her theory. But the sinister Giovanni Qobras wants her dead! Accompanied by beautiful heiress Kari Frost and ex-SAS bodyguard Eddie Chase, Nina begins a breakneck race around the world to find the clues that will lead to the legendary city, pursued at every step by the agents of the mysterious - and murderous - Brotherhood of Selasphoros. For Atlantis holds a secret hidden for over 11,000 years that in the wrong hands could destroy civilisation as we know it..(from the publisher).
I have always been somewhat intrigued by mythical legends, so I picked up this book to see what Andy would do with this legend. It doesn't seem to take itself too seriously, having a bit of fun along the way and a lot of action that pushes the boundaries of believability. A good pick for a bit of fun reading. But tell me, why do these types of books (and films for that matter) always have to destroy, whether deliberately by the baddies or not, what has stayed intact and hidden for thousands of years? Just to leave you guessing perhaps - is there, isn't there...
Rating - I give this 3.5/5 Not bad!
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Reviewed by Michelle @ admin

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

1570 in the Italian city of Ferrara, and the convent of Santa Caterina is filled with noble women who are married to Christ because many cannot find husbands outside. Enter sixteen-year-old Serafina, ripped by her family from an illicit love affair, howling with rage and hormones and determined to escape. While on the other side of the great walls, counter-reformation forces in the Church are pushing for change, inside, Serafina's spirit and defiance ignite a fire that threatens to engulf the whole convent. SACRED HEARTS is a novel about power, creativity and passion - both of the body and of the soul. Hidden history brought alive by a wonderful storyteller, renowned for her Italian Renaissance novels.
I should have known better! There really is no way of spicing up life in a nunnery! I am learning a bit about the Renaissance Church but probably a lot more than I ever really needed to know!
Rating - I give this 3/5 Not bad!
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Reviewed by Sarah @ Hamilton library name

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sign of the Cross by Chris Kuzneski

The first victim is abducted in Italy then crucified over a thousand miles away. The next day, the same crime is repeated--this time in Asia and Africa. Three different continents but one brutal pattern: someone is reenacting the execution of Christ. While visiting Spain, Jonathon Payne and David Jones are arrested for crimes they committed during their military careers. Fortunately, the CIA brokers a deal on their behalf: all charges will be dropped if they help catch Dr. Charles Boyd, a master thief who has stolen some of the finest treasures in Europe. With little choice, the duo begins their pursuit, only to realize that Boyd is more than a criminal. He is one of the world's top experts on Ancient Rome and is close to making a discovery that threatens to rewrite the basic foundations of Christianity (from the publisher).
Not another one... Christianity is threatened again in this book, with a family secret that goes back 2000 years and is just itching to be revealed. There are numerous twists along the way (just wait until you read the final pages in particular, I best say no more), and while there are quite a few characters to keep track of, the story unfolds quite well. More enjoyable than I was expecting.
Rating - I give this 3.5/5 Not bad!
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Reviewed by Michelle @ admin

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dark Mirror by Barry Maitland

His non-series debut Bright air was riveting, but I bet those of us who love Barry Maitland's acclaimed Brock and Kolla series couldn't wait for the pair to return to set the world - or at least their part of London - to rights.
Now they have. When beautiful, mysterious Marion Summers collapses and dies in the rarefied surrounds of the London Library, Kathy Kolla - newly promoted to Detective Inspector - and DCI David Brock are sent to head the investigation. Kathy finds a reluctant kinship with the feisty Marion, who had, like Kathy, left a difficult home life when young and struck out to London for independence. Her research on the intriguing, adulterous circle of artists, wives, lovers and muses around Victorian artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti seems irrelevant until the question of arsenic - much-used in Victorian circles - arises.
As Brock and Kolla get closer to the truth, another victim dies an excruciating death by poison in a library, and it seems a serial poisoner is on the loose.
Dark mirror is another intriguing, rewarding read by this top Australian crime writer. There are plenty of red herrings and at times the story - like the investigation - seems bogged down in the details of Marion's research, but as a fan of that artistic circle I found all this quite fascinating. I couldn't put this book down and am already looking forward to Maitland's next title.
Rating - I give this 5/5
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Reviewed by Jan @ Ballarat branch

The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday

The novel begins as Michael, a middle-aged man of means, is dressing for dinner at a friend's country house in Ireland. As he descends the grand staircase, he spots a small painting of a landing with a woman in a dark green dress in the background. During dinner, Michael comments on the painting to his hosts but they say there is no woman in the picture. When Michael goes up to bed later, he sees that they are correct. Thus begins a series of incidents that lead Michael to question his grip on reality.
This book was surprisingly gripping and had me guessing to the very end. Michael and Elizabeth's mundane marriage is slowly transformed by ghosts from Michael's past which at first seem to improve their relationship but eventually lead to disaster. The action takes place in London and the wilds of Scotland and is a real page turner.
Rating - I give this 5/5 GREAT!!
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Reviewed by Libby @ home

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The bookshop on Jacaranda Street by Marlish Glorie

Meet the Budd-Doyles: a suburban family in shambles, and about to unravel further as Helen Budd-Doyle in one fell swoop destroys her bed, abandons the family home, and buys a second-hand bookshop from a man in a pub - leaving her bewildered junk-collecting husband Arnold to sort out his life. But he can't. Enter Gabriel, one of their sons, wreaking havoc as he pushes his father to sell off the accrued junk of a lifetime. Add a little sibling rivalry with his brother Vivian fresh home and licking his wounds from a life in the far north ... and watch the fireworks on Jacaranda Street. [from the publisher]

This is a gem of a book from an Australian writer who has previously written for the theatre. It explores that most common theme, the dysfunctional family. I can't say it any better than Tolstoy: "All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion." Without giving away the plot, I'll just say that the reason for the Budd-Doyle family's dysfunction is one that allows us to sympathise with them all. It is funny and moving with characterisation that reminded me of Tim Winton's Cloudstreet. Perhaps the ending was a little too tidy to be realistic, but it was a satisfying read and one that had me pondering the 'what-ifs' for days after. I'll be looking out for more by Marlish Glorie.
Rating - I give this 4/5 GREAT!!
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Reviewed by Julie @ Wendouree library

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

My name was Salmon, like the fish, first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. My murderer was a man from our neighborhood. My mother liked his border flowers, and my father talked to him once about fertilizer'. From heaven, Susie watches. She sees her happy suburban family implode after her death, as each member tries to come to terms with the terrible loss. Over the years, her friends and siblings grow up, fall in love, do all the things she never had the chance to do herself. But life is not quite finished with Susie yet. The Lovely Bones is a luminous and astonishing novel about life and death, forgiveness and vengeance, memory and forgetting. It is, above all, a novel which finds light in the darkest of places, and shows how even when that light seems to be utterly extinguished, it is still there, waiting to be rekindled (from the publisher).
I have read this book twice now - the first time was quite a few years ago and I didn't really enjoy it all that much. I decided to give it another try as it is being released as a movie on Boxing Day this year. Hmm, I'm still a little undecided as to whether I like it or not. Something about this book makes me a little uncomfortable for some reason. Perhaps it is the way Susie dies and that she is 14, or that I wasn't completely satisfied with the ending - karma does get the baddie of the book, but the family never finds out what became of Susie's remains. Still, makes for a different kind of read.
Rating - I give this 3/5 Not bad...

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Reviewed by Michelle @ admin

Dirty pretty things - DVD

Dirty pretty things offers some uncomfortable insights into the bleak lives of illegal immigrants in London.
Nigerian former doctor Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) drives a cab during the day and mans a hotel front desk at night. His Turkish friend Senay is a maid at the same hotel and dreams of a new life in New York. Their lives are reduced to trying to get by and stay ahead of the immigration police. Meanwhile, the hotel's manager runs a scheme where immigrants sell a kidney in exchange for passports and new identities and pressures Okwe to become involved. How can he refuse and still protect his friend?
Sounds bleak? Not your cup of tea? Dirty pretty things isn't easy watching, or light and fluffy. Instead, it's edgy, intelligent and compelling. Audrey Tautou shines as the downtrodden Senay and Chiwetel Ejiofor is impressive as Okwe.
Rating - I give this 5/5
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Reviewed by Jan @ Ballarat

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans

It is 1940. France has fallen, and only a narrow strip of sea lies between Great Britain and invasion. The war could go either way and everyone must do their bit. Young copy writer Catrin Cole is drafted into the Ministry of Information to help ‘write women’ in propaganda films – something that the men aren’t very good at. She is quickly seconded to the Ministry’s latest endeavour: a heart-warming tale of bravery and rescue at Dunkirk. It’s all completely fabricated, of course, but what does that matter when the nation’s morale is at stake? Since call-up has stripped the industry of its brightest and best, it is the callow, the jaded and the utterly unsuitable who must make up the numbers: Ambrose Hilliard, third most popular British film-star of 1924; Edith Beadmore, Madame Tussauds wardrobe assistant turned costumier; and Arthur Frith, whose peacetime job as a catering manager has not really prepared him for his sudden, unexpected elevation to Special Military Advisor. And in a serious world, in a nation under siege, they must all swallow their mutual distaste, ill-will and mistrust and unite for the common good, for King and Country, and – in one case – for better or worse…

This is a great read. If you like the TV show Foyles War and loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society then you should probably give this one a go. This is full of the kind of British humour that only the British can do - witty, wry, vaguely absurd and very stoic in the face of adversity!
Rating - I give this 4/5 GREAT!!
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Reviewed by Sarah @ Hamilton library

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Marnie by Winston Graham

Marnie was one of my favourite books as a teenager, so I was curious to know if this 2003 reprint would grab me now as the original had all those years ago - and do you know, it did!
I remembered little enough of the story for it to be almost a fresh read, and what a satisfying experience that was.
Marnie Elmer supports her elderly mother and has been the charming, polite accounts girl in a variety of businesses - and under a variety of names. When a small family firm employs her, two of the partners seek her attention - and the younger partner becomes desperate to understand her cynicism and lies.
This story by master story-teller Winston Graham - best known for his historical Poldark novels - is as full of suspense as any mystery story, and is every bit as engrossing as I remembered.

Rating - I give this 4/5
Not bad!
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Reviewed by Jan@ Ballarat branch

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A gentle axe by R.N. Morris

St Petersburg in the winter of 1866.
Two frozen bodies are found in Petrovsky Park - a dwarf neatly packed in a suitcase, and a burly peasant hanging from a tree. Police Detective Porfiry Petrovich begins his investigation in the city's squalid brothels and drinking dens but is soon led into an altogether more genteel stratum of society - and to a shocking discovery which reveals the darkest reserves of the Russian soul.
I am intriged enough by this to read the follow up A Vengeful Longing. Lovely and grisly low tech forensics going on and the descriptions of the living conditions makes it easier to understand how the Bolsheviks alternative model for society was so appealing to so many!
Rating - I give this 4/5 GREAT!!
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Reviewed by Sarah @ Hamilton library

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Hear this tragic tale: a sleeping family, a talented murderer, and an adventurous toddler—orphaned, but not assassinated. Small and alone, by accident and luck he escapes the scene of the crime and climbs a grassy hill to safety. At the top of the hill the boy finds a fence, and on the other side, a dark, quiet place (from the publisher).
This is a rather good book that gives the whole ghost/ghoul/vampire/witch/hell hound/murderer theme a bit of a twist. The toddler that escapes the night his family is murdered, finds his way to a graveyard, and that is where he grows up. Needless to say, he is brought up in a slightly different way than most as he is adopted by the ghosts of the graveyard.
Rating - I give this 4/5 Not bad!

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Reviewed by Michelle @ admin

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin

Two murdered princes; a powerful queen betrayed; a nobleman riding towards his certain death. Everyone thinks they know about the Princes in the Tower: one of the most fascinating, and most brutal, murder mysteries in British history. But the real story of the suspicious deaths of the young Edward V and his brother, and the involvement of the man who would become Richard III, remains unknown, over five hundred years since the boys were taken from their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV. Now, Emma Darwin has recreated their world and their terrible, exhilarating story: the power struggles and passion that lay behind their birth; the danger into which they fell; the profoundly moving days before their imprisonment; and the betrayal of innocence (from the publisher).
I started to read this book because I had heard the story of the Princes in the Tower when I went to the Tower of London and wanted to see the thoughts of what may have happened. I found this book to be confusing and not always easy to follow as the story seemed to move between different years with Elizabeth, and her brother Anthony, while also following a character set in present times. The actual murder of the princes was scarcely mentioned, a couple of pages towards the end and that was it. In short, a rather disappointing story.
Rating - I give this 2/5 Nothing Special

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Reviewed by Michelle @ admin

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

Meet the Troutmans.
Hattie is living in Paris, city of romance, but has just been dumped by her boyfriend. Min, her sister back in Canada, is going through a particularly dark period. And Min’s two kids, Logan and Thebes, are not talking and talking way too much, respectively. So when Hattie receives a phone call in the middle of the night from eleven-year-old Thebes, begging her to return to Canada and help sort out their family, she knows she has to go. When she arrives home, Min is on her way to a psychiatric ward, and Hattie becomes responsible for her niece and nephew. She quickly realises that she is way out of her depth, and hatches a plan to find the kids’ long-lost father. With only the most tenuous lead to go on, she piles Logan and Thebes into the family van, and they head south.
Absolutely loved this! Hilarious and tragic at the same time. I have read some other reviews of this online and some were not kind and others were full of praise - so I guess it is one of those books that really divides readers. If you liked the movie "Little Miss Sunshine" I think you'll like this book.
Rating - I give this 4/5 GREAT!!
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Reviewed by Sarah @ Hamilton library

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Life sentences, by Laura Lippman

I am such a fan of this American writer's Tess Monaghan private eye series, with its quirky humour, spot-on characterisation and richly detailed descriptions of life in Baltimore.
I've admired, too, her non-series titles - Every secret thing, To the power of three and What the dead know, so I dived enthusiastically into Lippman's latest offering, Life sentences, only to be disappointed.
The idea is promising. The main character, author Cassandra Fallows, has written two remarkably successful memoirs. Now, with her first novel a failure, she decided to mine her earlier life again. But her focus this time is not herself, but the fifth member of her group of best friends at school, a shy, unobtrusive girl named Calliope Jenkins, who years later would be accused of killing her infant son. The child's body was never found and Calliope remained mute and in jail for seven years before being released.
While the book is well-written, the characters let it down. They're all unattractively smug and I found it hard to care about any of them.
Make up your own mind about this one - but please don't let this be your introduction to Lippman's work. She can do better.
Rating - I give this 3/5
Reviewed by Jan @ Ballarat branch