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.

Shamini Flint – Inspector Singh investigates A Calamitous Chinese Killing

Piatkus, Great Britain, 2013
Book 6 in the Inspector Singh Investigates series

This brings me to the end of the Inspector Singh series, as I started at the most recent (A Frightfully English Execution) before acquiring the rest of the books and then reading in order.

The story begins with reference to the ethnic divide in Singapore (Chinese, Malay, Indian). As is her wont, Mrs Singh has a view and is not backward at expressing it, condemning cheap Chinese goods and China Girls (‘Up to no good until proven otherwise!’) with equal vehemence. We pass quickly into the ‘dark matter’ of the imprisonment of Chinese intellectuals, the suppression of dissenting views, the disappearance of the discontented and rebellious.

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Shamini Flint – Inspector Singh investigates A Curious Indian Cadaver

Piatkus, Great Britain, 2012
Book 5 in the Inspector Singh Investigates series

Inspector Singh is on medical leave after an incident at the end of the Cambodian investigation, on which I will not elaborate to avoid spoiling your read if you haven’t yet got to it. It is probably due to the boredom of staying at home that he relents and allows Mrs Singh to cajole him into attending a family wedding in Mumbai.

Predictably the social event turns into a disappearance and murder investigation, making it much more fun for the canny inspector. As in all of the books in this series, while we are engrossed in the crime solving, there are many more issues to consider.

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Suzanne Barton and Shannon Horsfall – My Unicorn farts Glitter

Hachette, Australia and NZ, 2020

This rather charming little picture book is just what we need right now. Whilst it may seem at first to be just another jump onto the unicorn bandwagon, this book actually comes with an endearing and important message about the importance of sibling love.

There is just enough icky in it to satisfy young readers/listeners. The artwork is simple and colourful – good for reading to a group and in these days of social distancing probably will come up quite well via Zoom or Skype or other such group online meeting places.

After all, we all need someone in our lives who will share the last bite of his or her icecream cone – post-COVID-19 of course.

Felicity Volk – Desire Lines

Hachette, Australia, 2020

This exquisitely crafted work is Felicity Volk’s second novel. At its simplest level it is the story of a long love between two people so necessary to one another that time does not diminish its potency.

However, there is nothing simple about this deeply metaphorical novel which explores, at both a macro and a universal level, truth and lies, justice and injustice, the national conscience, love and loss, shared and divided histories and the matter of place and displacement. Hanging weightily over it all is the question of the survival of the world and its plant species – present in the act of Evie’s delivery of seeds to the international seed vault in Norway.

Barbie speaks to Felicity Volk about Desire Lines
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Pamela Watson – Gibbous Moon over Lagos

Hardie Grant, Australia, 2020  

Pamela Watson’s thirst for adventure was first documented in her account of her solo bicycle trip across Africa in the nineties. In Gibbous Moon over Lagos she writes of her experiences as an entrepreneur setting up both a social enterprise (Ekologika paper making company) and a for-profit business Strategyworks in Lagos, Nigeria, living and working there from 2004 to 2009.

While to some this may seem a foolhardy venture, it is Pamela Watson’s optimism and pluck that shine out of this interesting account of the vicissitudes of working in a fast-growing economy in a huge African city (21.32 million in 2015).

Pamela Watson talks to Barbie about Gibbous Moon Over Lagos

With humour and self-deprecation the author  shares her various successes and challenges – corruption at all levels, staff issues, the difficulties of a long distance  personal relationship, lack of political leadership, lack of interest at diplomatic level from Australia, personal safety, reliability of fuel and power and  navigating cross-cultural attitudinal differences.

This is a detailed account but one which whips along at the pace of life Pamela Watson so enjoyed in Lagos. There are constant problems to be solved and a large cast of characters (names changed and usually a mélange of people from the real world) to get our heads around. We do feel very present in this work as Pamela speaks honestly and openly about her ‘mistakes’. She see the whole experience as an opportunity for learning and growth and as readers we are very much plumping for her as she faces one catastrophe after another whilst maintaining her ethics and faith in the human beings she is working with – even in the face of damning evidence.

It is a philosophical Pamela Watson we see at story’s end. We are conscious too that it is a continuing story for her. Her connection with and love for Africa and the possibilities it holds for the disadvantaged in the population are unscathed by her experiences of disappointment and betrayal. She continues to see people as ‘just people’, everywhere facing the same demons, everywhere showing the same capacity for camaraderie or for duplicity.

The African proverbs with which she starts each chapter are startlingly apposite at a time when her own book tour was cancelled due to COVID-19. I like this one:

However long the night, the dawn will break. (page 151)

And equally in her case:

Where a woman rules, streams run uphill. (page 163)

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Sulari Gentill – A Testament of Character

Pantera Press, Australia, 2020

Sulari Gentill’s work is often reviewed as an easy read. Indeed the Rowland Sinclair series are highly readable, compelling works – we can hardly read fast enough to take in the words.

This facility is not easy to achieve. It is a mark of Sulari’s literary prowess that she can spin us through the intricacies of her plots, engage our emotions with her now almost familial main characters and their supporting casts, and subtly instruct us in the fascinating details of the period of history in which the stories sit.

Barbie speaks with Sulari Gentill about A Testament of Character
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Dervla McTiernan – The Rúin

Harper Collins Publishers, Australia, 2018

This is the first of now three Cormac Reilly crime novels, the latest having just been released in March 2020 and currently being toured nationally by its. I have come late to Dervla’s work it seems but am immediately a fan. The other two await in my book basket.

The Rúin is a story that spans two decades, and it can aptly be described by the much over-used word ‘gripping’. A murky tale of child abuse and its long tendrils runs as the underplot to the 2013 murder/suicide story, connected by Jack and Maude, with whom Cormac comes into contact in 1993 when he is a junior cop in Mayo.

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Genevieve Gannon – The Mothers

Allen & Unwin, 2020

Ostensibly the story of an IVF mix-up, The Mothers is the story of three women in search of family and identity. The expectations and demands of a society based on family units affects them all and to some extent leads to some aberrant and essentially out of character behaviour.

Grace and her husband Dan have had six unsuccessful attempts at IVF and their lives are totally enveloped in the desire for a pregnancy and live birth. Priya and her husband Nick are attending the same fertility clinic and are also struggling to achieve a successful outcome. At the same time, they have problems with their marriage which come to a head, causing them to separate. Ashley Li is a young doctor at the fertility clinic, deeply committed to her patients, living without having known her father and now  in a relationship with her (older) boss.

Barbie speaks with Genevieve Gannon about The Mothers
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Kerri Turner – The Daughter of Victory Lights

HQ Fiction Australia, 2020 (an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises, a subsidiary of HarperCollins Publishers Australia)

This is Kerri Turner’s second historical fiction novel. It is set between 1942 and 1963 in Britain and is very much the story of the restrictions and freedoms society placed, and to some extent continues to place, on women.

The impacts of war and other forms of violence are explored at a macro level – we interest ourselves in the personal stories of the men and women in this novel and the wounds they carry from what they have seen, done and had done to them, as well as their capacity for re-invention and courage.

Barbie speaks with Kerri Turner about The Daughter of Victory Lights
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Shamini Flint – Inspector Singh investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree

The fourth of the Inspector Singh investigates stories
Piatkus 2011

One of the great strengths of Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh series is her capacity to take us to very dark places in society and history whilst at the same time engaging us in a work of contemporary crime fiction with her delicious humour and lithe story-telling prowess.

Who would think that the killing fields of Cambodia would allow this? And yet this book delivers both an exploration of this hideous history and a story of the personal impacts and long tendrils of this history, wrapped in the highly readable and absorbing tale of Singh’s murder investigation – again he goes off-road from his original assignment to be an observer at an international war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh.

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Shamini Flint – Inspector Singh investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy

The third of the Inspector Singh investigates stories
Piatkus 2010

In each of Inspector Singh’s adventures, Shamini Flint takes us on a cultural exploration. These are crime stories which delve into the specifics of cultural mores, history and human behavior. Super reads every one of them. Thus it is I crave your indulgence in writing about all seven of them, though the first was published back in 2009 – A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder.

In this book Inspector Singh is, unusually, home in Singapore, and is called out to investigate the brutal murder of a senior partner in an international law firm. There is a vast array of possible suspects, so many of the people associated with the firm being up to no good one way or another. In true Christiean form, money really is the root of all evil.

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Catherine Saxelby – Nutrition for Life

Hardie Grant Melbourne Australia
Revised edition published 2020

What a very sensible book on nutrition and diet this is! No wonder it has been in constant demand since its first iteration in 1986. Nutrition for Life provides the reader with a simply explained, factual run-down on major aspects of eating, and offers information that will allow the reader to make informed decisions about what he/she eats.

As with many books on nutrition, a key message is: Eat more vegetables. However, it goes much further. Catherine Saxelby examines food faddery, myths and misinformation whilst also giving sus simple to follow ways of preparing for good eating.

Barbie speaks with Catherine Saxelby about Nutrition for Life
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Sujata Massey – A Murder at Malabar Hill

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2019

Every time I meet an author new to me, I am struck by how many thousands of writers I do not know of whose work awaits as a new delight. So much to read and how can we ever do it all?

Sujata Massey Sujata writes mystery and suspense fiction set in pre-independence India, as well as a modern mystery series set in Japan. She is the author of 14 novels and numerous short stories published in 18 countries, and yet this is the first of hers I have read! I will certainly read more – in fact, I am now bursting to read the second of the Perveen Mistry series, The Satapur Moonstone.

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Shamini Flint – Inspector Singh investigates: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul

Piatkus 2009

This Balinese tale is the second of the Inspector Singh Investigates series and I highly recommend it.

Perhaps it is because of Australia’s losses in the Bali bombings of 2002 that this book moved me so much. Having read all seven of these excellent crime stories, I find this one especially stays with me.

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