CategoryThe Reading List

This reading list is a contribution to the sharing of books. All sorts of books make their way to my bedside table. Some are sent, some recommended, some given as gifts or lent by someone who has enjoyed reading them.

Others (let’s be frank – many) I see on a bookstore shelf, find irresistible and bring home. A few of these become family members who may not leave my bookshelf, but can be read by guests who stay. Some wander on to other homes and hearts.

If you have books you’d like to talk about contact me via the web contact form.

Catherine McCullagh – Secrets and Showgirls

Big Sky Publishing, Australia, 2021

Catherine McCullagh’s fictionalised history joins a swathe of current works about the WW2 European experience under the Nazis. Whilst set in a Paris cabaret, Le Prix d’Amour, it interests itself largely with how the ‘normal citizen’ coped with the many privations and difficulties of Vichy France, at the time of the German Occupation and then under its total control.

Barbie talks to Catherine McCullagh about Secrets and Showgirls
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Christine Sykes – Gough and Me: My Journey from Cabramatta to China and Beyond

Ventura Press, Australia, 2021

Christine Sykes’ memoir will strike a chord with many baby boomers, not just because of the Whitlam connection but because of her experience growing up in an age of change and reform.

Barbie spoke with Christine Sykes about Gough and Me
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Pamela Hart – Digging up Dirt

HQ Fiction, an imprint of Harlequin, a subsidiary of Harper Collins Australia, 2021

Let’s get this clear straight away – I loved this book. It’s a delicious piece of contemporary cosy crime, well written, full of relatable characters and social issues, all rendered with a delightfully light touch.

Barbie spoke to Pamela Hart about Digging Up Dirt

The book falls into the category of the ordinary Joe or Jane prompted to investigate a crime due to a personal connection. In this case, our heroine is Poppy McGowan, researcher for ABC children’s education section. She’s staying with her very nice Mum and Dad during renovations to her little historic cottage, when the builder unearths a set of bones.

Work is interrupted so that the nature of the bones and their historic significance can be assessed. Sadly, an ex-colleague, Dr Julieanne Weaver, with whom Poppy has had a chequered relationship, turns up to do the investigation. Not long after that, said colleague also turns up dead in the excavations – not until after she has organised for the local council to execute a stay order on Poppy’s building work, despite the bones turning out to be from sheep and other livestock and not particularly special although quite old.

Hence, the motivation for Poppy’s investigations to clear her name when she is dubbed suspect number one.

What follows is a twisting tale delving into right wing religious groups and the mirky mire of politics. Poppy proves to be not only intelligent, feisty and fearless, but a dogged investigator, though one who mostly defers to the investigating police, under the leadership of the redoubtable Detective Chloe. She also demonstrates her prodigious people skills – we understand her to be a person who treats others with respect and hence is a loved friend, family member and colleague – all very refreshing in the world of crime fiction.

The book is also laced with witty humour. Its supporting cast are well observed, roundly drawn and always recognisable. We do know people like the stalwart, laconic Terry and Dave, her newshound cameramen buddies. We also know builders like the wonderful Boris (am a bit in love with this character), boyfriend types like Stuart and certainly local Councillors like Cardigan Man. Pamela Hart writes her people so that we can like or loathe them, but there is often still compassion for the badduns, even those we are glad to see get their comeuppance.

Digging up Dirt is definitely a ripping yarn with a contemporary bent. We can get our teeth into the social issues addressed, but we can also just enjoy this as a crime romp. Justice is served, as we expect it to be and goodness wins the day. There’s even a dash of romance, but not mindless abandon – our likeable heroine is not all head, but then not all heart either.

Such a pleasure to learn that Poppy and some of her compatriots will ride on into a series of books. The next cannot come soon enough for me.

Thank you to Harper Collins for the review copy and to Pamela Hart for such an informative and pleasant conversation about the book and other important things.

Lydia Williams and Lucinda Gifford – Goal!!!

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021

Lucinda Gifford is a children’s book author and illustrator based in Melbourne Australia, who also spends a lot of her time drawing in front of an audience.

Lydia Williams is an Indigenous Australian soccer player, goal keeper for the Australian Matildas and for Arsenal in the UK. She  spent her early childhood  in outback Australia, then moved to the city with her family.

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BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival Monthly Podcasts

Hosted by authors Suzanne Leal and Andy Muir

All about Crime podcasts will examine the hot topics and themes in crime fiction – true crime, psychological thrillers, domestic crime, spy thrillers, police procedurals and more with crime writers and readers, both Australian and international.  

Suzanne Leal talks about the new BAD All About Crime podcast, an initiative of BAD Sydney Writers Festival
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Emma Batchelor – Now That I See You

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021
Winner of The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award in 2021 for unpublished manuscripts by writers under the age of 35

This debut novel by Emma Batchelor charts the breakdown of her relationship with her partner who discloses that ‘they’ are transgender. Whilst this narrowly specific scenario is not one that readers might automatically identify with, that of relationship breakdown and loss is certainly very common.

Emma Batchelor talks to Barbie about Now That I See You. Content warning – contains reference to suicidal thoughts
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Kathy Mexted – Australian Women Pilots: Amazing true stories of women in the air

NewSouth Publishing, 2020
Review and interview by Richard Scherer

It was a speech in 2016 by former New Guinea bush pilot Patricia Toole at a women pilots’ conference which inspired writer, photographer and private pilot Kathy Mexted to put together this collection of 10 stories of women pilots from the 1930s until the present day.

Richard spoke to Kathy Mexted at her hotel in Canberra about Australian Women Pilots . End music is by Kristina Olsen.
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Saffron Howden and Dhana Quinn – Kid Reporter: The Secret to Breaking News

New South Publishing, Australia, 2021

Known as the co-founder of the national newspaper for children, Crinkling News, long time journalist and educator Saffron Howden has worked with journalist and TV presenter Dhana Quinn to produce this media literacy handbook, equally useful for children, teachers and parents.

Saffron Howden talks about Kid Reporter: The Secret to Breaking News
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Hugh Mackay – The Kindness Revolution

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021

This is a gentle but assertive book. The author, a social psychologist by trade, has produced a work of contemporary philosophy in which he argues that kindness is hard-wired into us as human beings. We are as a species built for co-operation and collaboration, though, of course, we do not always behave in this way.

Hugh Mackay talks about The Kindness Revolution
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Ella Kurz, Simone King and Claire Delahunty (eds) – What We Carry

Recent Work Press, Canberra, Australia, 2021

This superb collection of poetry is about childbearing.  The editors speak in their introduction of ‘the ineffable mosaic of wonder, fatigue, love, elation, discomfort and tedium experienced during pregnancy, birth and early parenthood.’ The works selected also speak of the diversity of experience around the whole notion of childbearing – birth, pain, blood, loneliness, heritage, abortion, IVF, infertility, still birth, rape. But also, joy.

Barbie speaks to Ella Kurz about What We Carry
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Karly Lane – Take Me Home

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021

Take Me Home is a story of the search for self and family. Our heroine Elle honours the wishes of her beloved grandmother by taking her ashes to her Scottish homeland, which she left at the age of 15 with a mystery in her wake.

Elle’s life to date has been one of feeling like a square peg in her family. Her siblings have all followed academic paths to successful careers; her mother is a bit of a helicopter, wanting Elle to also follow that expected path. Only her dad and her grandma (his mother) seem to understand that she is of a different ilk.

Barbie talks to Karly Lane about Take Me Home
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Kelly Rimmer – The Warsaw Orphan

Hachette Australia 2021
Offset by arrangement with Graydon House Books, an imprint of Harlequin, a division of Harper Collins Publishers USA

The Warsaw Orphan joins a growing collection of books about aspects of the Holocaust, this one the Nazi occupation of Poland. It is a story focused on  families caught up in the cruelties and privations of the period – the Jews who were placed in the confines of the ghetto in Warsaw and the Catholic Poles living in relative comfort but still under great duress and hardship in the part of  the city outside those walls.

Barbie talks to Kelly Rimmer about The Warsaw Orphan
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Irma Gold – The Breaking

Midnight Sun Publishing, Australia, 2021

This is compassionate writing. There is compassion for the two young Australian women whose search for love and self is the framework of the story, compassion for the cruelly misused Thai tourist trade elephants, for the Thai people whose daily lives are shaped by the demands of Western tourists ever in pursuit of  exotic entertainment, for the reader lest we find the harsh reality of the results of our wanton search for pleasure too gruelling to face.

Barbie spoke to Irma Gold about The Breaking
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Kaneana May – All we have is now

Harper Collins, Australia, 2021

In this, her second novel, Kaneana May brings us a story of family. Most families will experience times of loss, grief, sadness, dispute, misunderstanding, failures of communication and petty bickering. But amidst it all there is usually love. And indeed, this is what we see in the lives of the three women at the centre of this epic tale.

Kaneana May talks about All we have is now
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Emma Bowd and Tania McCartney – Wonderful Shoes

Windy Hollow Books, Australia 2021

Emma Bowd’s lilting rhymes and Tania McCartney’s jaunty images marry beautifully in this new toddler book.

Who cannot remember their children or grandchildren clomping about in the grown-ups’ shoes? Of perhaps young parents will recall doing this themselves. And this is where the book positions itself, not just with its story of all the wonderful and varied shoes in a normal life, but in the visual perspective of a child, who of course often sees the world by looking up.

Barbie spoke to Emma Bowd and Tania McCartney about Wonderful Shoes
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