Katherine Kovacic – Painting in the Shadows

Echo Publishing, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK, 2019

This is the second of Katherine Kovacic’s Alex Clayton art mysteries. Like its predecessorThe Portrait of Molly Dean, it is a wonderfully engaging read, a story that whips along at a suitably brisk pace and is  filled with personalities from the Melbourne art world.

Barbie speaks with Katherine Kovacic
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Julie Keys – The Artist’s Portrait

Hachette Australia 2019

This debut novel by Julie Keys was shortlisted for the Richell Prize for Emerging Writers. It is a work of historical fiction, an absorbing and fast moving story that waltzes elegantly between the past in the 1920s and the recent past of the 1990s.

First and foremost this is a story of secrets and the murky world of the Bohemian Sydney art world. Artist Muriel Kemp steps into the present however, despite having been reported dead in 1936, and meets her biographer in Jane Cooper, newly pregnant and suffering from morning sickness. What follows is both a fascinating story of the untangling of truth from fiction and the development of a strange but important relationship between two women from different times and places.

Barbie talks with Julie Keys
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Mary-Rose MacColl – The True Story of Maddie Bright

Allen & Unwin Australia 2019

This is an achingly beautiful and sad story, a work of historical fiction, a tale that, as so often happens in this genre, weaves the past and present through family connections, secrets and lies. Told in two voices, one that of Maddie herself and the other of the omniscient author, the story held me instantly in thrall. The time frames are 1920s and 1990s, the places mainly London, Sydney and Brisbane. 

Barbie speaks with Mary-Rose MacColl
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Michael Duke – Arabana and the Ghan

Connor Court Publishing Queensland, 2019

Melbourne based writer and psychiatrist Dr Michael Duke has worked with Aboriginal people from the 1980s.

In researching for this book, he made a number of trips to Arabana country and recorded interviews with Arabana people about their experiences of the railway.  He also read extensively and has helpfully provided the reader with a list of references.

Michael Duke talks about his book Arabana and the Ghan
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Nigel Featherstone – Bodies of Men

Hachette Australia 2019

In moving into historical fiction, Nigel Featherstone has created a moving and sensitive work which, whilst set against a backdrop of war in Egypt in 1941, focusses most strongly on the nature and possibilities of love.

William Marsh and James Kelly, childhood friends, meet again unexpectedly minutes after disembarking in Egypt as soldiers. A stoush with the Italian army forces quick action and William is found wanting. Not long after this William is posted to the desert to supervise a stores depot and to train a group of raw soldiers. James goes AWOL. We follow their separate and entwining stories and those of a rich collection of supporting characters.

Nigel Featherstone talks about Bodies of Men
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Geoff Page – Elegy for Emily: A Verse Biography of Emily Remler (1957 – 1990)

Puncher and Wattmann, Australia 2019

With beguiling rhythm and cadence Geoff Page tells the story – or parts thereof – of the short life of jazz guitarist Emily Remler. This is a sad story of a life gone too quickly and marries Page’s passion for poetry as a storytelling form with his love for jazz.

The work is a set of 24 glimpses into parts of Emily Remler’s life from a small child to her death. Geoff Page found what he could, mainly on the internet, to piece together a story that feels surprisingly full.

Barbie speaks with Geoff Page
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Natasha Lester – The French photographer

Hachette Australia 2019

The French Photographer is the fourth of Natasha Lester’s historical fiction novels. Like the previous book, The Paris Seamstress, it has historical and contemporary story lines running parallel and intersecting.

The story begins in New York in 1942 with fashion model and our future war photojournalist heroine Jessica May. It moves to the European war front and the focus is then strongly on both the horrors of war and the extraordinary efforts of women like her to be allowed to operate in an arena previously reserved for men. Much of the future action shines a light on the effects of war on women, whether it be as professional correspondents or as victims of war atrocities.

Listen to Barbie’s interview with Natasha Lester
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Bettina Ehrlich – The Goat Boy

Second edition published by For Pity Sake Publishing, 2019
First published by Oxford University Press 1965

This is the second in a series of picture books by the late Austrian artist Bettina Ehrlich to be re-published by For Pity Sake Publishing.

Working from the artist’s originals, the company has brought these books back to life for a new generation of children and their parents. The original books are much loved possessions of For Pity Sake founder Jennifer McDonald’s family, so much so that FPS obtained the rights to re-publish a series of them.

The Goat Boy is a tale within a tale. Miss Patricia Higgins who teaches German in an English girls. School goes to Austria for her holiday to practice the German language and enjoy the mountain scenery. Whist on her walk one day she encounters an elderly gentleman, who recounts the story of Toni, a goat boy who must take his family’s herd to the mountain pastures each day to graze.

He is a very good child but suffers from a terrible fear of thunderstorms. And it is this that brings him undone for he is caught in a storm one day and flees, losing three of the herd. However, a touch of magic, in the form of a naiad, saves the day for Toni.

We are left to wonder if the story may also bring something magic into the lives of Miss Higgins and the elderly gentleman.

Bettina Ehrlich tells her stories with a delicate touch, with great empathy for her characters and with deceptively simple, graphic prose. These are stories to be read aloud to children and grandchildren many times, searching in the pictures for details and in the layers of the story for secrets and nuances.

Sarah Ford: BE A UNICORN, & live life on the bright side

Illustrated by Anita Mangan
Spruce, an Hachette UK Company, 2017

I received this charming little bright pink book as a gift, possibly prompted by my recent habit of signing off my texts with three unicorn emojis (since visiting the Lady and the Unicorn exhibition at Art Gallery of NSW last year).

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Steven Carroll – the year of the beast

Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Australia 2019

In his Notes for a Novel essay at the end of the year of the beast, written when he was halfway through writing this book, Steven Carroll explains that the Glenroy series was originally intended as a single book but that 20 years on the Glenroy novels now number six. They span 60 years of Australian history but have been produced in no particular order and do not rely on one another as a series from the reader’s point of view.

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Indigenous Literacy Foundation: Great Book Swap

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The Indigenous Literacy Foundation is a not-for-profit charity that has gifted over 350,000 culturally appropriate books to more than 280 remote Indigenous communities and service organisations across Australia. Through the 2019 Great Book Swap program, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) aims to raise $350,000 to gift 35,000 new books for Indigenous children.

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Lynne Edwards – How to Pass a Test – Is this the direction of Australian education today?

Ginninderra Press. 2015

The (finally) current debate about the continuance or cancellation of NAPLAN testing in our schools makes it appropriate that I refer you to Lynne Edward’s excellent short book tackling the subject of testing and teaching, published four years ago.

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Hazel Hall – Moonrise over the siding

Interactive Press, Brisbane QLD Australia, 2019

This collection of tanka verse was created by Hazel Hall in collaboration with other tanka poets. It is a sensitive and moving collection which also features the artwork of the late Robert Tingey, whose diagnosis with Parkinsons Disease inspired the work of his wife, artist Nancy Tingey, in forming the Painting with Parkinsons organisation.

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Karen Viggers – The Orchardist’s Daughter

Allen & Unwin, Australia 2019

This, the latest of Karen Viggers’ novels, follows the well-deserved international success of The Lightkeeper’s Wife and retains one of its characters in Leon, the park ranger. The title alludes to the other central figure, Miki, home schooled and isolated child of religious parents and now an orphan kept under tight control by her brother Kurt.

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