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.

The Tale of Barnaby Glurp – The Boy who Burped

Felicity McVay (words) and Caroline Seltz (pictures)
New Holland Publishers, Australia, 2020

Gosh! We are all in need of a bit of fun right now (and always) and The Boy who Burped is guaranteed to inject a dose of this for its readers and listeners. Most small children are rather interested in bodily functions, and those involving embarrassing noises always invoke hilarity.

Barbie speaks with Felicity McVay, author of The Boy Who Burped
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Peter O’Brien – Bush School

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020
Available for pre-order

This is a book so near to my heart that I find it hard to write impartially – in fact, I will not try.

Peter O’Brien’s memoir, Bush School, is mostly an account of that part of his life when as a 20-year old single young man he was sent in 1960 to Weabonga, one teacher school in a remote area out of Tamworth.

As one whose first teaching post in 1972 was a four teacher school, though not particularly remote, I felt such a deep sense of familiarity with everything he writes that I was immediately transported back to my 20s and the challenges of beginning teaching.

Barbie talks to Peter O’Brien about Bush School
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Ashley Dawson-Damer – A Particular Woman

Ventura Press, Australia, 2020

Memoir is an interesting form of writing, as one always speculates what has been left unsaid. In A Particular Woman, we fancy this is also true but Ashley Dawson-Damer has generously shared a great deal.

She speaks with honesty and heart about many aspects and periods of her life and times (she was born in 1945, as she once proudly announced in a Board meeting, when her capacity and experience were subtly called into doubt).

Ashley Dawson-Damer talks to Barbie about A Particular Woman
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Laura Bunting and Nicky Johnston – Coco: Big City Kitty

Scholastic, Australia, 2020

This charming book is both beautiful to look at and highly appropriate in its message  – ie that we all need to be prepared for change and able to adapt to new circumstances. This moral is, of course, not just one of our times, but is a particularly salutary one for both young and old in the COVID-19 world.

Barbie speaks with Nicky Johnston about Coco: Big City Kitty
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Darleen Bungey – Daddy Cool

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020

I must admit I was taken by surprise by this book. It is truly a beautiful, deeply personal work by an awarded biographer known for her writing about two of our most beloved artists – Arthur Boyd and John Olsen.

Daddy Cool is much more than a biography of the man who was first Bob Cutter, top night club singer in the USA, and then Lawrie Brooks, suburban father and proof-reader in Australia. This is a search for the unspoken parts of her father, a pilgrimage to the secret lives of her parents. And it moved me to tears more than once.

Barbie speaks with Darleen Bungey about Daddy Cool
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Kayte Nunn – The Silk House

Hachette, Australia, 2020

This is Kayte Nunn’s third historical novel, an intriguing tale set in the present and in the second half of the 18th century. I found it to be one of those books one is impelled to read on and on into the wee small hours, reluctant to leave before each small resolution and then the final revelation in the last few pages.

Kayte Nunn talks about The Silk House
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Jane Godwin – When Rain Turns to Snow

Lothian, an imprint of Hachette, Australia, 2020

Between the beautiful cover artwork of Allison Colpoys lies an equally beautifully told story of the adolescent search for identity, family and connection.

Jane Godwin tackles many issues of social significance in this book including the difficult question of social media and its potentially dire effects on its users. Trolling, shaming, the sharing of inappropriate images, exclusion and manipulation all come under scrutiny.

Jane Godwin talks to Barbie about When Rain Turns to Snow
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Josephine Moon – The Cake Maker’s Wish

Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books,  Australia, 2020

This book is beautiful both outside and in. Set briefly in Richmond Tasmania and then mostly in the imaginary village of Stoneden in the Cotswolds, the story is deeply rooted in a sense of place.

In fact, it is the search for her place in the world and for a family she feels she has always lacked, that drives our heroine Olivia, a cake maker, to apply to be part of a social experiment aimed at the economic revitalisation of this small dying community.

Barbie speaks with Josephine Moon about The Cake Makers Wish
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Trent Jamieson and Rovina Cai – The Giant and the Sea

Lothian Children’s Books, an imprint of Hachette Australia, 2020

This beautiful work begins with sweeping views of the sea and the sand and the tale of a giant who keeps watch.  The giant’s message to the girl is that the sea is rising due to a ‘machine’ in the city. Unless it is turned off the oceans will rise, and everyone will drown.

Predictably and reflecting our sad reality, the people do not listen to pleas to shut down the machine, but rather they glorify and worship it – and disaster ensues. Short term salvation by the compassionate and wise giant leads only to further disaster.

Barbie talks to Trent Jamieson about The Giant and the Sea
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Felicity Harley – Balance and other B.S.

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020

Felicity Harley will be known to many as the founding editor of Women’s Health magazine and of whimn.com.au as well as for her appearances on commercial breakfast TV and the ‘I Support Women in Sport’ campaign.

A mother of three small children, she continues to lead a busy professional life and has turned her attention with this book to the widespread feeling of stress and being overwhelmed experienced by women, especially the millennials and Gen X/Gen Y-ers.

Felicity Harley talks about Balance and other B.S.
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Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick – On a Barbarous Coast

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020

This is historical fiction, but rather than an account of what we know from Cook’s journals, it is a- re-imagining of his voyage up the eastern coast of Australia, which has the Endeavour shipwrecked near what is now called Cooktown and a small party of survivors making it to shore.

What we know from our currently recorded history is that Cook and his crew spent 47 days in ‘Cooktown’ in 1770 after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef, the ship undergoing repairs and finally making port in Batavia in October of that year.

Barbie speaks to Craig Cormick about On a Barbarous Coast
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Karen J Carlisle – Aunt Enid: Protector Extraordinaire

Kraken Publishing, Australia, 2020

Aunt Enid is an unusual heroine in today’s popular fiction. She is in her seventies and is a protector of the world against evil, against the intrusion of other damaging and wicked worlds into ours.

I am not usually a reader of fantasy and so this was a good introduction to the genre – I applaud the author’s adoption of the older woman as her central and active crusader figure.

Barbie speaks with Karen J Carlisle
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Sandie Docker – The Banksia Bay Beach Shack

Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House, Australia, 2020

200

The cheery cover of this book belies its dark themes. Don’t for a minute imagine you are picking up a frothy beachside romance here. While there is love of all sorts, and indeed romance, in this story, there are also family and community secrets and lies, the sway of power and privilege and the inherent and deeply rooted racism of Australian society.

Sandie Docker skilfully wraps all of this in a story that holds us captive to the last page with the tantalizing unravelling of one big secret and its myriad offshoots.

Barbie speaks with Sandie Docker about The Banksia Bay Beach Shack

This is the story of generations of women. Our main protagonist is Laura, an investigative journalist from the city. The death of her grandmother Lilian and the discovery of an old photograph are the catalysts for Laura’s expedition to Banksia Bay, determined to uncover the truth about events that took place between 1961 and 1964. Sensing the need for stealth, she use the cover story of producing a travel article to hide her intent.

She finds there a small tight-knit beachside community in the off season and a local surfing culture which borders on religious. Her efforts first to identify the people of the photograph and then fit them together into Lilian’s life and the stories she has been told meet with constant obfuscation and obstruction.

In coming to know some of the people of Banksia Bay, Laura also questions her own duplicity and agonises about whether telling her own truth will help uncover the secrets of the past, so well held through decades.

As this story switches from the sixties to the present, the author reminds us of the privilege endowed by power, wealth and position – both Lilian and her husband Richard come from that echelon. Virginia, her Banksia Bay annual summer holiday friend, and Yvonne, Virginia’s life-long friend, come from a distinctly other side of the tracks.

Thrown into this is the local power structure – the police officer and his son have the power and the bully’s heart needed to crush those less influential. And at the bottom of this heap is the Greek migrant family and the gentle Costas, whose dignity and acceptance of the way of the world are heart-breaking.

As I write this piece, it is Reconciliation Week in Australia and we are acutely aware of our systemic and deeply rooted racism as a society – indeed our very presence in this place testifies to a colonial history of the 18th century  which lingers into our present. Waves of immigrants over decades have felt the resentment of the occupier to the ‘stranger’, the interloper, the foreigner – and this book is set in the era when waves of European migrants fled the devastations of WW11 in search of a better life, only to be called names and denied acceptance.

As one who was a teenager at the time of the historical past in this book, I find much that resonates in the beach and surfing threads of this tale. There was and continues to be a mystique around surfing well beyond the ken of those of us who splash about in the shallows and enjoy walking on the sand. Reluctantly, Laura agrees to surf lessons and after many failures she manages to catch some waves.

She also manages to catch on to what it is she is missing in her life. It is this union with nature and the unspoken, the irrational perhaps, that in the end allows Laura to find herself at home.

And all this in a beachside romance? I don’t think so. What a great read this is, the third of Sandie Docker’s novels, each taking small towns as their milieu. Having grown up in what was at the time a small coastal town, the author evokes this sense of place perfectly. She has written what she knows, and knew, and she convinces us utterly of this reality, this memory of a golden time that nevertheless had darkness at its core.

I’ll be searching out her back-catalogue and await with interest the new book due out in early 2021.