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.

Sophie Blackall – Hello Lighthouse

Orchard Books, an imprint of Hachette Children’s Group
England, 2019
Words and pictures by Sophie Blackall
Editor: Susan Rich
Designer: David Caplan and Nicole Brown
Shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards 2020, Picture Book of the Year category.

This book is also the winner of the 2019 Caldecott Medal, which annually recognises the preceding year’s most distinguished American picture book for children.

Everything about this book is beautiful from its singular shape reflecting the long tall lighthouse to its story and the glorious detailed pictures. I want to start at the end of the book with the author’s note. This author note is very much for parents to share with the children as or perhaps before they read the book together. It contains useful background information about lighthouses, the lives of their keepers and of the keepers’ families.

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Joanne Fluke – Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder

Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, USA, 2000

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.

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Fiona Harris and Mike McLeish – The Drop-off

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.

Barbie speaks to Fiona Harris about The Drop-off
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Rick Held – Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem

Hachette, Australia, 2020

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. 

Barbie speaks with Rick Held about Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem
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Lauren Chater – Gulliver’s Wife

Simon & Schuster, Australia, 2020

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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.

Barbie talks to Lauren Chater about Gulliver’s Wife
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Suzanne Leal – The Deceptions

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020 

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.

Barbie talks to Suzanne Leal about The Deceptions
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Erica Bauermeister – House Lessons/Renovating a Life

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.

It is exquisite.

Barbie talks to Erica Bauermeister about House Lessons
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Katherine Kovacic – The Shifting Landscape

Echo Publishing, Australia, 2020

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.

Barbie speaks with Katherine Kovacic about The Shifting Landscape
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Mick Elliott – Squidge Dibley Destroys Everything

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.

Mick Elliott talks about Squidge Dibley Destroys Everything
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Valerie Albrecht – Thirty Days

Self-published, 2020

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.

Valerie Albrecht talks to Barbie about Thirty Days
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Natasha Lester – The Paris Secret

Hachette, Australia, 2020

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.

Natasha Lester talks to Barbie about The Paris Secret
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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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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.