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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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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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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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2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai Exhibition

Crosbie Morrison Building, Australian National Botanic Gardens
9:30am – 4:30pm on Saturday 29 February 2020
9:30am – 4:00pm Sunday 1 March 2020

Coinciding with the ANBG’s 50th Anniversary in 2020, the exhibition will be a display of over 50 bonsai, suiseki and related items created by Canberra and visiting interstate artists.

Barbie spoke to Jennifer Motlee about the 2020 Australian Plants as Bonsai exhibition
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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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Ursula Dubosarsky: Read for your life

Author Ursula Dubosarsky has been named Australian Children’s Laureate for 2020-21

Dubosarsky is the author of over 60 books for children and young adults. She has won many national prizes, including the NSW, Victorian, South Australian and Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award, and has been nominated for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for children’s literature.

Her books have been published widely across the world and translated into 14 languages. The theme for her two-year term as Australian Children’s Laureate is Read For Your Life.  

Barbie speaks with Ursula Dubosarsky
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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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Shamini Flint – Inspector Singh investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder

The first of the Inspector Singh investigates stories
Piatkus 2009

People who live in Canberra will appreciate just how much of the Christmas holiday period we have all spent cooped up indoors, due to air quality which over the months of December and January frequently registered as the worst of any capital city in the world – smoke from our region’s bushfires blew our way with the shore breeze every afternoon. Then we had fires on our doorstep in the Orroral Valley.

The major up-side of this – thank goodness everything has an up-side – was the many hours this afforded us to read (and watch tennis on TV) with a free conscience (if we need an excuse).

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Livia Day – Drowned Vanilla

Deadlines Australia 2014

Drowned Vanilla is the second of a triplet of culinary crime novels dubbed the Café La Femme series.

Livia’s first crime novel, A Trifle Dead, was released by Twelfth Planet Press in May 2013. This was followed by a novella The Blackmail. Blend. The third was Keep Calm and Kill the Chef, pub. Deadlines, 2019.

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Musica Viva – Garrick Ohlsson

Tuesday 18 February 2020  7pm
Llewellyn Hall ANU School of Music

Garrick Ohlsson is a revered American pianist, a master of the intimate art of the solo recital. He remains the only American to have won the Chopin Competition.

Barbie speaks with Musica Viva’s Christina Cook about Garrick Ohlsson’s concert
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The 31st Alliance Française French Film Festival

Thursday 12 March –  Wednesday 8 April 2020
Palace Electric Cinema Canberra

This year’s festival brings us 49 contemporary and classic French films, many enjoying their Australian premiere. Dynamic filmmaker, Justin Kurzel (The Snowtown Murders, Macbeth, True History of the Kelly Gang), who has long taken inspiration from French cinema, will be the 2020 Festival Patron.

Patrice Gilles from the Alliance Francaise, previews the Festival
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