Category Archives: BOOKS

Books – what I listened to or read between January and April 2018


Force of Nature – Jane Harper.

Having really enjoyed her first novel The Dry I was looking forward to whether the follow up would be as good. Actually I think it was even better. Maybe that is because the setting was one that was particularly familiar to me – an executive retreat for team building. I now know NEVER to organize one in the Australian bush! Her character development of the two main characters (Aaron and Carmen)is a good one and the nature of the crimes she writes about are always interesting and human centered – often based on feelings or actions getting out of hand. I also love the way she shows how relatively close Melbourne and the bush are but how they are effectively two different worlds with not much overlap. Can’t wait for her next one. I read the first one and used audble for this one – I remain a big fan of Audible! So good for multi tasking.

Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

Everyone has been raving about this book as one of the top ten to read from last year. It is set during the Second World War but at home not at war. The main character is a strong and willful female who wants to be a deep sea diver as her part of the war effort. Her story is mixed with that of Dexter Styles – a mid level gangster who lives within a higher storage of society than would be usual. Have to admit it took me a few chapters to get into it but once I did I could see what all the fuss was about. Always good to read some novels that are plain well written!

The Cactus – Sarah Haywood

Another book about a somewhat obsessive lady who finds herself pregnant in her 40s and comes to the realization that her ordered existence may never be the same again however hard she tries to make it so. It is quite funny and you do want to cheer for the main character to make it.

Mythos – Stephen Fry

I really enjoyed Stephen Fry’s take (he also reads the book) on the stories of Greek mythology. If you love knowing where words or expressions came from or want to know why the peacock has eyes in its feathers or why bees make honey or even where you came from – this is for you. He really makes the whole story of Greek mythology interesting and relevant to today’s world.


How to Stop time – Matt Haig

I am always a sucker for a novel that enables a character to travel across time (but NOT in a sci-if kind of way). This one was enjoyable as the main characters adventures over time – due to the fact he is one of a very few people who does not age which sounds great but tends to mean he is constantly assumed to be a witch of some sort – means he gets involved in all sorts of interesting historical times like working with Shakespeare at the Globe and less cheerfully the Black Death. It is also a love story – and who can resist one of those.

The Tine Between – Karen White

OK story which flits between a woman now who feels guilt over an accident caused to her sister and the story of sisters in the pre war years in Hungary. Easy read. Nothing that memorable.

Once upon a time in the East – Xiaoguang Gulo

When I’m not being a sucker for time travelers then I am also obsessed with anything set in China. This is a memoir of a woman who only meets her parents for the first time when she is six. It describes life in the country and the poverty there very well but also life in Beijing where she goes to study and subsequently the UK where she ends up living. Some of it is quite confronting but I very much liked the style it was written in.

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn.

This really is a book about dark places – both in the real world and in the mind. It tells the story of a woman in her 30’s whose whole family was wiped out when she was 7 in a murder committed by her brother who is now in prison. It flips between the past and the present as she tries to figure out what really happened – and it is indeed dark – but characters are well written if not eminently likeable in many cases. Recommend.

Tell a Thousand Lies – Rasuna Atreus

Recommended by my mate Tania this tells the stories of two sisters in India who want very different things and end up with things very different to what they wanted. Great way to get an understanding of small village life. I thought it was excellent.

How to be a Good Wife – Emma Chapman

This is a good debut novel. Is the main character losing her mind or is something more sinister going on. You decide….

BOOKS – since September 2017

Sorry it has been a long time since book updates but I read a lot while in Italy (all those train journeys) and while I have been back in Melbourne packing up my apartment – which I left today:(.

Watch the blog for what I do next – suffice to say, I still haven’t got rid of my travel bug:)

As usual always keen to get ideas on what to read from anyone reading this.



This was my favourite thriller of the year. The story is told by someone who is in a coma and flips back and forth in time. Kept me guessing until the very end. More twists and turns than you can imagine but sparingly written so easy to follow although some seem confused about the ending? I’m sure you won’t be but don’t read any spoilers beforehand. Love it.


I wanted another good thriller after the one above and so picked this book. It was good but not as good as Sometimes I lie. This one is also and “then and now” story about an apartment in London which is too good to be true – and we all know that cannot possibly bode well for anyone who lives there. Enjoyable


Obviously a modern Australian classic but as I hadn’t read any Tim Winton I thought it was time to do so. It took a bit of time to get used to his writing style which is sometimes a stream of consciousness but once I did I enjoyed the rhythm of his writing. The story is about two families in the same town and spans a fairly long period of time and I found it especially helpful that I was listening to this book as a good reader is important to the language.


An easy read about a young Russian emigre woman whose adventures take her from Shanghai to the Philippines to Australia in the 50s. If you like historical novels this one is for you and I learned a bit about what it might have been like to be a refugee in Australia at that time.



Recommended to my by my friend Margot it is a wondrous book if like me you are throwing lots out and trying to simplify your life. I loved it but then I love things about how to roll socks in your drawers so it is not for everyone. I also enjoyed her approach to getting rid of old clothes – thank them for their service to you in the past – then move them along!


Recommended to me by my friend Sylvie as I was going to be spending time in Venice. This is the first in a series of detective novels about Guido Brunetti and gives you an excellent feel for the murkiness that can be Venice in the Winter. Good story too and I will probably read more of them for the feel they give you of Venice as a local as well as the actual murder mystery part. If you are heading to Venice on holiday – give it a go.


Another thriller – must be a theme going on here? This one is set on a luxury cruise ship so was of interest to me given I have been on one or two over the last 12 months. A page turner where no-one believes the story being told by the main protagonist due to her previous mental state. An enjoyable read. Not too stretching and it hasn’t put me off cruising either!


Who doesn’t enjoy a book by the Irish writer Marion Keyes. Yes this is chick lit – but of a high quality and often quite funny. A good holiday read about a wife whose husband decides to take a break to find himself after 20 years of marriage. Yes there does appear to be a male menopause too. The difference is that we ladies go out and buy an new handbag or lipstick and get on with it!


Interesting novel based on the assumption that the Diana, Princess of Wales actually survived the car crash but faked her death a few months later and what happened to her after that. Quite interesting insight into what might have made her tick. Will leave you to read it to determine what the conclusion is.


My friend Margot gave me this one after I read the Break. Not as good as The Break but again nice holiday reading about life in fashion publishing in Dublin – Keyes does Dublin life very well. She obviously has lived there and is entertaining when comparing it to London life.


Ng has a new novel out called Little Fires which is getting a lot of good press so I read this one – her first i think. It is about a mixed race Chinese American family in the 70’s and starts with the knowledge that their daughter has been found dead in the local lake. However this is not a murder mystery story so much as an insightful view of how difficult it can be to “fit in” or “be different” to others in our society. Interesting perspectives about whether you should do what is expected of you by your parents – and indeed they do seem to f@#k up some peoples lives.


This novel seems to be getting a lot of traction and it is a delightful read. if you liked the Rosie Project you will like this. I laughed out loud a couple of times. While this is about a woman who has some “issues” and acts in ways that some find a bit weird – you find out she has her reasons by the end of the book.


This one is indeed a murder spy mystery story that I really enjoyed. I think that Hayes has written other books about the main protagonist who is an ex spy. I liked the pace of this story and it looks like it may be coming out as a movie quite soon so read it first – books are (nearly) always better.


This was a good debut novel. It is set across various decades from the 60s to end of the century and follows the life of a man who is estranged from his mother but due to certain circumstances needs to make contact with her again. It is a very interesting historical backdrop and you get a good feel for life during that period from the Chicago riots to the addicts who play complex war games for hours at a time. Very enjoyable. I am sure he will churn out more good stuff over time. Has a similar storytelling style to John Irving. Sweeping tales over time with a lot of amusement along the way.


I actually read this one (and the Break) in paper format! That is rare these days and usually happens when friends pass on their books to me – some of mine refuse to use kindles – I couldn’t live without mine and have become so used to it that when I read a paperback recently I found myself tapping the page expecting the page to change! Anyway this is another easy read about a child who goes missing when she is 5 and the impact that has on her mother and two sisters twenty years later. It was ok at best.

Books – since May

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my reading and listening books but one of the nice things about long haul travel is lots of reading and listening time. So here’s what I’ve been through since May and as usual I am always looking for new ideas of good reads.

Tommo and Hawk – (Audible) Bryce Courtney. 

Second in the trilogy set during the period of Australia becoming an independent country. I enjoyed this one almost as much as the potato factory and learned a lot about the New Zealand whaling industry too. Like the first book there is an abrupt and shocking ending. Terrific

Solomon’s Sons (Audible) Bryce Courtney 

The final in the trilogy and my least favourite of the three. Maybe because there was a lot about war in it – in particular Gallipoli which is not really my thing to read about but I felt the characters were far less fleshed out and real than the fantastic people in the first to books.

The Girls – Emma Cline

Based on Manson cult but from perspective of adult looking back on her 15 year old self. You know this is not going to be a light and fun read but the lead up to the eventual denouement keeps you reading. 

This must be the place – Maggie o’Farrell. 

Unresolved Relationships over decades are always a good read. I liked the first 3/4 of the book better than the end and the female lead – the former actress – was a character I found rather irritating – but I enjoyed the male storyteller’s perspective. 

One for my Baby – Tony Parsons. 

I liked this as it was set in Hong Kong and London – two places I know quite well but really these locations are the backdrop for a man who has a lot of growing up to do after a tragedy impact him. If you grew up in the UK, especially London, you will appreciate his writing and there are times when he is quite funny.

White Gardenia – (Audible) Belinda Alexander 

Interesting story about White Russians in Harbin and Shanghai who subsequently get deported to Australia via the Philippines. Well researched on life in Australia and the migrant camps at that time but I found the characters a bit annoying. Also this is one where I forgot to check I liked the readers voice before I bought it – and frankly I didn’t!

The Dry -Jane Harper. 

Although this is a ripping crime story set in country Victoria, Australia – it is also a story about how tough it can be to live in such places and the abundance of secrets of small towns – especially when the long drought threatens everyone’s livelihoods and at times their commons sense as well. Well written.

The Glass Room – Simon Mawer.

I really liked this story about a beautiful house built in the Czech Republic before the war and revolution and what happens to the house and the people in it over the following decades. The house has many lives and ends up being one of the strongest characters in the book – even though any house is only a reflection of those who live in it. 

Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty. 

This is the same writer of Big Little Lies so if you enjoyed that you will enjoy this. An entertaining read for a flight with, as you would expect with that title, lots of guilt being felt all round – but why? Well you need to read it to find out.

Five Star Billionaire – Tash Aw

Four Malaysians find themselves in Shanghai trying to deal with what life has thrown them. Mostly the stories are separate but with some intersections along the way and some redemption too. The star is that saucy and demanding mistress – Shanghai – having lived there myself I enjoyed the way the writer shows how the city drives behaviours and actions as it sucks you into its vortex.

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett

Understated story of two families that spans around 50 years from the 60’s and two states in the US. It is strong on sibling rivalries, relationships and eventually maturity. Not that much happens so it is a slow burn but very subtly written as is the case with many of her books.

A Fraction of the Whole – Steve Tolz.

I loved this book. It is mostly about a father and son and includes some entertaining if somewhat outrageous short stories within the broader novel. This is very cleverly done – being both laugh out loud funny and sad at the same time. There are some other characters – but not many – although I loved the criminal who is desperate to write a guide on how to be a good criminal – very funny segments.

Not my Father’s Son – Alan Cumming

This autobiography was one I listened to on Audible. It is read by Alan Cumming (it’s not usual for the author to read their own works but in the case of this wonderful actor he does an excellent job telling his own story). The book jumps back and forth neatly between “then” and “now” and is actually a fascinating story about his background, relationship with his very difficult father and other family mysteries that came to light after he was part of the TV program “Who do you think you are”?  I thought this was excellent.

Books I’m reading while travelling

Books I’ve been reading on my travels – warning there are no business or management books here (!).
Miss You – Kate Eberlen

Quirky kind of sliding doors theme with a touch of the Rosie Project – an easy read and great for a long flight.

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

A story covering a few decades and how perspectives of things that happen at different times in your life change as you get older and sometimes wiser. Well written and good read

The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain

I’ve yet to read any book by Rose Tremain that doesn’t have me thinking about it for days afterwards. They are all so different from one another too. This one is set in Switzerland and tells about the lifelong relationship between two boys – Gustav and Anton – the story of a neutral country that demands it’s people remain dispassionate about everything – and how difficult that actually can be. Loved it. I think there are a few of hers I have yet to read – sadly not enough. She is brilliant.

Euphoria – Lily King

This one was recommended to me by my HR colleague and fellow book reader Sarah Traynor. It tells the story of a strong and willful woman who is an anthropologist in PNG – loosely based on Margaret Mead and her contemporaries experiences – with various tribes in that part of the world – but nevertheless fiction. Fascinating to understand how this profession works and how there are nuances in what different anthropologists choose to specialise in. As someone who has been lucky enough to visit some of the more remote parts of PNG I especially enjoyed this,

Any Human Heart – William Boyd

He is fast becoming one of my favourite writers – shades of John Irving with an ability to write about completely different topics. This one – which has also been made into a BBC series – is about the life of a man – sometimes simple, sad, unbelievable, spread over different countries and just a great way to see how a life can twist and turn on a dime. Excellent. I also loved his book Sweet Caress about a fictional character but interspersing real events into her story – from deb to photographer with many roles in between. Spans a number of decades.

A Little Life – Hanna Yanagihara

I finished this a few days ago but it had such a profound effect on me it has taken me a while to assimilate it all. This is a long book, but easy to read – that is, it is unputdownable but not easy in terms of its content. It includes unspeakable evil and pure love and is a roller coaster of a novel. I believe it has been nominated for many awards and deservedly so. It is the lifelong story of four male college buddies and how they stay in each others’ lives over the following decades – read it.


This Must Be The Place  – Maggie o’Farrell. 

Unresolved Relationships over decades are always a good read. I liked the first 3/4 of the book better than the end and the female lead – the former actress – was a character I found rather irritating – but I did enjoy the male storyteller’s perspective. 

Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh

 A very small but significant  period in a young girl’s life that allows her to break out of a boring life and small town. Tightly written but ending lacked the gusto of the first half in my view. However it was listed for the Booker prize so others may disagree. Maybe I have a thing about poor endings?

The Drowning Guard – Linda Lafferty 

I really liked this book. It is set in Constantinople during the time of the Ottoman Empire – an era I really like as my ancestors lived there for many centuries after leaving Spain. It is based on the sister of the sultan and the man who does the drowning of the men she has spent the night with – possible an even tougher  job than HR? 


The newest thing is that thanks to my friend Margot, I’ve discovered audio books. Why this has taken me so long is a mystery but honestly when you listen to a well read story it takes you back to being a child in junior school and leaves you free to imagine things much more vividly. The challenge now is which books to buy to read and which to listen. At the moment I am listening to  Australian novels only using Audible and reading others on the kindle. So newest updates are:

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee  – Agnes Martin-Lugand

A nice plane read – not too taxing about a woman finding her emotional wings again after losing her family in a tragedy.

Moon glow – Michael Chabon

This is the first time I had read Michael Chabon – a well known writer who has a wry observation about life and tells a readable story. This one is about this grandfather and his larger than life exploits which he chooses to share with his grandson when he knows he is dying. It is funny but also full of pathos and reminds us all that what fate has in store for us is not always in our control.

A Town Like Alice – audio book narrated by Robin Bailey

I’m sure most of my Australian friends would have read this book and indeed I had but so long ago I had forgotten it. So I really enjoyed this version, especially as I loved the narration style – but also I found it an interesting mix of an exciting story, an unusual heroine and hero in Jean Paget and Joe, an insight into Malaya during the war and the Australian outback after it as well as the lonely voice of the writer who in some way has fallen for the heroine but is much too much of a gentleman to admit it or do anything about it. In many ways it is dated and some of the references make you cringe with today’s political correctness in mind – but I do think it has stood the test of time.

The Potato Factory – Bryce Courteney narrated by Humphrey Bower

Thanks Tania for suggesting this one. Boy can Bryce Courteney write a good yarn in the style of a  modern day Charles Dickens type epic. This is the first of a trilogy based on the story of Ikey Solomon the notorious Jewish criminal in the east end of London in the mid 1800s who was subsequently transported to Australia. Two thirds of this book is set in Dickensian London and the last part inAustralia. It is just wonderful – the three main characters – Ikey, his wife Hannah and his partner and mistress Mary Abacus are brilliantly bought to life as is the awful environment they come from and end up in. Ikey is based on Fagin – the fence for stolen goods who trained young urchins to pick pockets for him as seen and read by many of us in the book and musical of Oliver. This book is a homage to Australia and really helps explain the mindset of the convicts who came to Australia and how they vowed that their new lives would never be the same as they were in England. It certainly explains a lot about the “fair go” and “tall poppy” syndromes. I can’t wait to hear the second and third parts of the trilogy

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