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.
Having just knocked out a couple of batches of lunchbox baked goods for grandkids as they return to school post-Covid 19 schooling from home, I can but admire the baking sleuth from small town America who is the heroine of the Hannah Swensen mystery series. She ably churns out hundreds of cookies a day from her bakery-café for the populace of Lake Eden, whilst moonlighting as investigative assistant to her brother-in-law, the town cop.
As you can see by the publication date of this book, I am a late comer to the delights of Joanne Fluke’s vast series of Hannah Swensen mysteries – all of them named for cakes, cookies and desserts.
Echo Publishing (an imprint of Bonnier), Australia, 2020
One of the great things about this book is its relatability. Almost everyone who reads this book will find something that will make them say,’Yep, that’s me.’ Who hasn’t, for example, in a period of respite from work taken to cleaning out the bathroom cupboards, finding boxes of long out of date bum creams?
The Drop-off centres on the separate and entangled lives of three people who find one another at the school drop off, united by their non-involvement with the in-groups at school and their desire to remain so.
Perhaps it is a sense that we must not lose the stories of the survivors of the Holocaust that has prompted writers and publishers to bring out a new wave of WW 11 novels in 2020. Indeed, the generation of our elders who lived from the time of the first world war and through the twentieth century are dying and many of them have already taken their stories with them.
There are some readers who ask what else there is to tell about this horrific history of Nazism in the 20th century – I am not one of these. I believe all of these stories need to be heard, respected and received as a salutary lesson – genocide and racial hatred, the power of privilege to cause pain and suffering, the capacity of those in political power to make unworthy and disastrous decisions, do not seem in short supply, as we make our way through the twenty first century.
With this, her second novel, Lauren Chater cements her reputation, so deservedly won with The Lace Weaver, as a fine storyteller and a mistress of atmospherics.
The notion of a fiction arising from a fiction is an interesting one. Lauren Chater has crafted her story with inspiration from Jonathan Swift’s 18th century tale, Gulliver’s Travels, first published as a prose satire: Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon , and then a Captain of Several Ships.
This is Suzanne Leal’s third novel. Like her earlier work, Border Street, it is inspired by her long and dear friendship with Fred and Eva Perger, both Czech Jews, both Holocaust survivors.
While Border Street takes its cues from Fred’s story, The Deceptions draws on Eva’s experiences from 1943 Prague in the Theresienstadt Ghetto to the April 1945 British liberation of Bergen-Belsen, via Auschwitz, Kurzbach and Gross-Rosen, as the Nazi forces retreated and transported train loads of Jews in horrific conditions to hellish camps. And this story is indeed horrific because it is true, inexplicably true in our memory and the stories we have from our parents and grandparents.
Sasquatch Books, Seattle, USA, 2020 Illustrations by Elizabeth Person
I will not for a moment pretend to be an impartial reviewer of Erica Bauermeister’s work. Since reading her first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients (Harper Collins, 2009), I have been a rusted-on fan, eagerly awaiting the next story as soon as I have finished the current.
House Lessons is a memoir, slightly fictionalised – the story of the finding, purchase and renovation of a run-down house in Port Townsend, that was eventually to become home for Erica Bauermeister. The house renovation, as indicated by the sub-title, is a metaphor for the more personal renovation of her life, the one by one epiphanies about relationships, self and place.
In this, the third in the Alex Clayton art mystery series, Katherine Kovacic brings us a tale of dispossession, a weighty national theme that underpins and is mirrored in the crime story of this book.
It is a story of power and greed. It is this gravitas of the story of connection to land on a macro scale that makes the book particularly wonderful, elevating it to much, much more than a contemporary rural crime novel. The theme is then powerfully repeated in its underlayers.
A Lothian book published by Hachette, Australia and NZ, 2020
This is a graphic novel for children which speaks with a loud clear voice about the importance of embracing, nay revelling in, difference. It also celebrates the capacity of children to problem solve and to work co-operatively and creatively to do so.
Such a work could be po-faced, but this glorious fantastical story will delight children and adults with its clever humour and zany evil-fighting plot.
I have taken a different approach to writing about Valerie Albrecht’s beautiful book about grieving. The launch of this book came just before the cancellations and closures of many things due to the COIVD-19 pandemic.
It was to be launched by natural death advocate and artist Vickie Hingston-Jones. Vickie is also President of the Artists Society of Canberra. Sadly, Vickie was unwell on the occasion of the launch, but she has kindly consented to the reproduction of her opening address.
In some ways this book concerns itself with the same central issue as The French Photographer – the efforts of women to be recognised in traditionally male preserves in the mid-20th century.
Natasha Lester also continues her interest in the second World War, its victories and atrocities, writing with intensely sensitive touch on the horrors of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, the work of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and the French Resistance.
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.
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.
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.
This is the first
of 29 (yes! 29 as of 2020) Commissario Guido Brunetti crime novels. It is also
my introduction to this wonderful police commissioner and to Leon’s series. How
could I have not read one or 28 before now? The error is soon to be rectified.
I now want to read them all.
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
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
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.
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.
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.