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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.