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.

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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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.