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.

Lauren Chater – The Lace Weaver

Simon and Schuster 2018

This is a debut novel for Sydney writer Lauren Chater, a story set in Estonia mostly between 1939 and 1941, that exposes the dire human consequences of WWII and successive occupations by the Russians, the German Nazis and the Soviets.

It is also about the importance of cultural identity and the objects and practices that allow a people to hold onto this despite awful events unfolding around them.

Barbie speaks with Lauren Chater
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Well Read Cookies

Beautiful Biscuits inspired by Great Literature
Simon and Schuster 2018

Proving that not only is she a fine writer of historical fiction, Lauren Chater has also shown her domestic goddess side with this delightful cookie cookbook based on her popular The Well-Read Cookie blog.

Drawing on her eclectic personal reading list – as diverse as Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) and It (Stephen King) – Lauren has created bespoke cookies inspired by themes or characters therein. She includes information about how to wrangle royal icing, necessary and desirable equipment, baking techniques and the like.

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Lisa Kalma – My llama Drama

Illustrated by Eduardo Paj
Created by Bear with Us Productions UK
Published by Brindie Books 2019

This charming debut book by Canberra author and teacher Lisa Kalma will delight early readers and young story listeners.

It is written with a sense of fun and a teacher’s knowledge of the importance of rhyme and rhythm in the development of early readers’ love of language. Lisa is the sort of teacher we all wish we had and would wish for our own children and  grandchildren.

Lisa Kalma talks about and reads My llama Drama
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Jane Sullivan: Storytime – Growing up with Reading

Ventura 2019

On one level, Storytime is an exploration of children’s literature. On another it is a journey of self-discovery for author Jane Sullivan, both the child self and the now adult self.

Jane Sullivan is a literary journalist, writing Tuning Pages for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald as well as contributing the odd feature, essay and interview to various publications including Australian Book Review. She is also the author of two novels.

Barbie speaks with Jane Sullivan about Storytime
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John Blay – On Track: Searching out the Bundian Way

Newsouth Australia  2015

This lyrically written account of John Blay’s quest to find the ancient Aboriginal path from Kosciuszko to Eden, The Bundian Way, is at once a history of the lands and people, a study of geography and botany and a love story with country.

Barbie speaks with John Blay about On Track
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Joanna Nell – The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village

Hachette Australia 2018

In a culture like ours where youth in all its facets  is worshipped, writing about our elders is often twee and nearly always patronising. One is frequently irritated by depictions in the media and especially in advertising, of older people as cranky, doddering, cute, inept, foolish or humorous.

It is therefore particularly pleasurable to find in Joanna Nell’s The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village  a simultaneously sympathetic yet realistic portrayal of ageing and the older individual.

Barbie speaks with Joanna Nell about The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village
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Meg Keneally – Fled

Echo Publishing, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK, 2019

Based on the life of Cornish convict Mary Bryant, Fled is the story of a remarkable sea voyage, a daring escape from the colony of NSW by a group of convicts in a small open boat over thousands of sea miles, much of it uncharted.

Meg Keneally joins a number of earlier writers in bringing this tale to us with her fictitious character Jenny Gwyn nee Trelawney. As much as it is an adventure on the seas story, this is a character driven tale, delving deeply into the nature of Jenny and her skill in reading and manipulating those around her.

Barbie talks to Meg Keneally about Fled
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Erica Bauermeister – The Scent Keeper

St Martin’s Press, NY 2019

The Scent Keeper is the fourth novel of Seattle based writer Erica Bauermeister. I first met her writing with The School of Essential Ingredients, her first novel, deservedly a best seller. This fourth is equally endowed with the capacity to move and hold us, to powerfully evoke a sense of place.

Barbie speaks with Erica Bauermeister about The Scent Keeper
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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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Rosalie Ham – The Year of the Farmer

Picador, Pan Macmillan Australia 2018

Having recently re-read The Dressmaker upon the opening of the exhibition of the film costumes at the National Film and Sound Archive, I was fortunate to speak with Rosalie Ham about her work. This sent me to her latest novel, The Year of the Farmer and I am also now reading my way through her back catalogue.

In The Year of the Farmer, Rosalie Ham shows us the same wit, sharp observation and finally a forgiving affection for the people of her chosen setting, the small Australian country town. Topically, this book focusses on the scarcity, the supply and the purchase of water, and all the scope for dirty dealing that this entails.

Barbie speaks with Rosalie Ham about The Year of the Farmer
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Michael Beashel – Unshackled

Book 2 of The Sandstone Trilogy
Independently published, printed by Ingram Sparks 2016

Unshackled, set in the 1850s in Sydney, continues the story of Irish born John Leary and his rise in the building trade. It is at once a glimpse into the history of the growth of the city and a story of the complexities of family.

John Leary’s business struggles in a tough and often corrupt industry are just part of this tale. Michael Beashel interests himself in the status and place of women at this time and in the conditions of the working men and women of the era.

Listen to Barbie’s interview with Michael Beashel.
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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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