Thanks for visiting my book blog! What you’ll see here is about what I’m reading now – and a few bits of news about writers and books, especially if they are represented on my bookshelves. I have so many friends who are avid readers and who like to talk, borrow, buy and recommend books, and I hope you’ll feel free to comment or recommend as well. My reading tastes are eclectic – everything from biographies to crime fiction, literary novels and blockbuster best-sellers to travel narratives. There’s a strong Australian bent to a lot of it! 

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Bookfest bonanza

One of the joys of January for me is the Lifeline Bookfest in Brisbane. This is one of the biggest second-hand book sales in the state of Queensland, and I came home loaded down with new reading. And some great finds!

It’s a kind of tradition for me and my daughter Jess; every year we make a date to go together. The Bookfest runs for 10 days but we try to go early and this year managed to hit it on the first day.


About 4km of tables groaning with literally millions of books are laid out over two massive convention halls, all organised into rough categories: history, humour, biography, literature and classics, health, science fiction, cooking, computers, religion, philosophy and science, sport, economics, children’s books and more. And travel, of course! It’s bookworm heaven!


They’re also separated by price. One whole hall is devoted to $1 books, and the other to $2.50 books and “high quality” books. A little map is handed out as you enter, for ease of finding your way through the labyrinth. There are also sections for magazines, vinyl records, puzzles, DVDs, CDs, and board games.

Everyone brings their own bags, some trundle suitcases to fill up and if you are planning to buy up really big, you can hire a supermarket shopping trolley for $2. It’s packed with avid readers, but everyone’s very polite and orderly, and there’s no pushing or shoving.

After about three hours of blissful browsing, I came home with 21 books. Jess had 28 in her pile. So…what did I buy, I hear you ask? Eight crime novels (James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Peter Robinson), a biography (Joan Baez), an Australian classic (Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, which I’ve never read), Isabel Allende’s Portrait in Sepia, and one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels that had escaped me until now (Without Fail). Two old hardbacks from Australian authors:  Janet Turner Hospital’s Oyster, and an Morris West’s The World is Made of Glass. A book of short stories about Brisbane by local authors (One Book Many Brisbanes).

And a few travel books of varying kinds, of course: The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux, and Solomon Time by Will Randall, which will be perfect reading for my trip to the Solomon Islands on assignment next month. Then there was a gem called Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers, by Jane Robinson, and a 1956 edition of Tibetan Journey, by George N. Patterson which promises “landslides, bandits, unimaginable cold and a series of bridges horrifying in their insecurity”. Can’t wait. And last of all, a tome from Australian writer Christopher Koch, Out of Ireland, a novel set in Ireland and colonial Tasmania.

But the find that made me happiest was this: The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. My own copy, bought in a second bookshop in Kathmandu in the mid-1980s, has long been lost and I’ve been on the lookout for another copy for years. And there it was! How wonderful!

DSC_0520Bookfest Brisbane is the biggest fundraising event of the year for the 24 hour Lifeline crisis support line. This life-saving service offers suicide prevention and bereavement support over the telephone as well as family and crisis support – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Whether you are a book worm, a dedicated reader, a student, a book collector or someone searching for those long lost books, Lifeline Bookfest Brisbane (on until January 26) is the place to go. As for me…all I have to do now is buy a new bookcase!

Posted in Australian Fiction, Authors, Autobiography & Biography, Classics, Crime, Fiction, Non-fiction, Travel | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Girl on the Train

IMG_3576Long flights demand a really riveting read. The book I had started before a recent overseas trip was not quite capturing my attention, so at the airport on my return journey I bought a book I’d seen recently that looked as if it would do the trick.

The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller that keep me page-turning on the 14-hour flight. I really couldn’t put it down. Even the inflight movies that had captured my attention for the flight to Europe couldn’t compete with this fast-paced novel.

The book is the first from former journalist Paula Hawkins, and after hitting the top of the bestseller lists, being optioned by Dreamworks for a movie (can’t wait!) and sold all over the world, it’s sure to be followed by more.

Chapters alternate between the main characters, Rachel, Anna and Megan, and are not always in chronological sequence. But it’s easy enough to follow.  Rachel is the girl on the train, who sees something that she believes is important when Megan is reported missing. Anna is married to Rachel’s ex-husband, and lives in the same street as Megan. There are twists and turns and it’s not until the very end that we get an idea of how and why Megan has disappeared, and who is responsible. My allegiance and liking for these characters changed as the book went along; you might not like Rachel much from time to time, but her story will eventually fall into place.

I can’t say too much, so I’ll just say this: buy it. You won’t be sorry. A terrific read.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, Transworld Books, 2015. 

Posted in Crime, Fiction | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Say You’re Sorry

Crime writer Michael Robotham has published 11 novels, but this is the first one I’ve read. It probably won’t be the last.

Say You’re Sorry is written in the voice of Piper Hadley, a teenage girl who has been missing for three years. Along with her friend Tash, she simply disappeared one night and the two were believed to be runaways.

DSC_0687But when clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is called in to help police investigate a brutal double murder in the farmhouse where Tash once lived, he begins to suspect that the girls might be still alive. Then Tash’s emaciated body is found during the worst blizzard in a century, and their story begins to take on a much more sinister reality.

By this stage, with the chapters alternately told by Piper and Joe, I couldn’t put the book down. Would Piper be found? And more to the point…who was the man holding her, the man that she and Tash called “George”. And it kept me guessing right until the twist at the very end.

Say You’re Sorry is Michael Robotham‘s eighth novel, published in 2012 and shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger for best crime fiction in 2013. He’s notched up a few more awards and it’s easy to see why.

Robothom is an Australian and lives in Sydney, but his novels are set in the UK, where he lived for some years. The character of Joe O’Loughlin appears in most of them.

This book was lent to me by a fellow crime fiction fan. I’m hoping he’s got a few more I can borrow!

Say You’re Sorry by Michael Robotham, published by Sphere, 2012.

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The Life and Times of Charles Manson

DSC_0766The chilling image on the front cover of Manson, The Life and Times of Charles Manson was almost enough to put me off reading this book.

And although there were times I found it deeply disturbing and had to take a break from it, Jeff Guinn’s account of the notorious murderer’s life is a riveting read.

Like most people, I knew the bare bones of the story that made headlines more than 40 years ago, but this is more than just a re-hash of those terrible events which saw nine people, including the young actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant, brutally slain in Tate’s Los Angeles home in 1969.

Instead, the author takes us back to Manson’s childhood, his crimes as an apparently harmless juvenile delinquent and the times he lived in. The book contains the first interviews ever given by Charles Manson’s sister and cousin and includes family photographs.

But most of all, it sets Manson in the context of the 1960s, the politics and social mores of that era. It explains how Manson used his charisma to persuade young impressionable women (and a few men) that he was their saviour and would protect them from the apocalypse that was to come through a race-war he believed would end civilisation as they knew it.

Among the information I’d never heard before was Manson’s obsession with becoming a musician “more famous that The Beatles” and how he ingratiated himself with bands such as The Beach Boys.

Intensive research is at the heart of the success of this book, and it shows. Like me, you may feel the need to walk away from it from time to time, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into a particular slice of history.

That said, I’m glad I borrowed this book from a friend. I’m not sure I want it permanently on my bookshelf.

Manson, The Life and Times of Charles Manson, by Jeff Guinn, Simon & Schuster (UK), 2013.

Posted in Autobiography & Biography, Non-fiction, True Crime | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Brisbane Art Deco

Writing has taken up more time than reading in recent months, but I’ve been slack in book blogging terms.

One of the projects I’ve been writing for is this wonderful book, Brisbane Art Deco: Stories of our Built Heritage.

The brainchild of Brisbane researcher Kim Wilson, the book features 35 buildings around our city built in the art deco style of the 1930s.














It’s a beautiful glossy publication of 152 pages, with more than 140 images, including historic photographs of some of the buildings of this fascinating era.

Brisbane Art Deco: Stories of our Built Heritage not only describes the architectural features of the buildings, but offers a colourful insight into the life and times of Brisbane. It also includes vignettes from Brisbane identities, who explain what some of the buildings mean to them personally.

Kim signing 2

Kim Wilson signing books at the launch, wearing a fabulous Art Deco inspired dress.

Kim’s aim with the book, by sharing some of the interesting stories about Brisbane’s Art Deco heritage, was to highlight the significance of these structures in order to increase awareness of their value and strengthen efforts to preserve and protect such examples into the future.

The project was supported by the Brisbane City Council, through the Helen Taylor Research Award for Local History, and the Art Deco & Modernism Society. After its launch, it was the recipient of a Silver Award at the 2015 National Trust Queensland Heritage Awards.

As for my contribution, I was thrilled to be asked to write a chapter about the Walter Taylor Bridge (below) in the Brisbane suburb of Indooroopilly, where I lived for 18 years (almost within sight of the bridge). It’s a fabulous story, as the bridge was originally a toll-bridge and the toll-keeper and his family lived in an apartment on the bridge.


My other contribution was a small piece on the Stones Corner Plaza building, just down the street from where I live now.

A large team of contributing authors and illustrators worked on the book – and we’re all very proud of it. Well done, Kim!

Brisbane Art Deco: Stories of our Built Heritage can be bought online from Brisbane Art Deco, for $34.95.

Posted in Non-fiction | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Rosie Project

Best-selling Australian author Graeme Simsion was kind enough to sign his second book, The Rosie Effect, for me last night.

It was the second time I’d met Simsion. The first was last year at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, where we were both speakers. I had heard him speak, and was buying a copy of his hit debut novel, The Rosie Project, when a voice at my shoulder asked: “Would you like me to sign that for you?”

Of course I would. Then he asked: “What colour pen would you like me to use?” I said I didn’t care. He looked at me and declared: “I think you’d like PINK.” It looked more red to me…but I thought it was funny anyway!


Yesterday, I went along to hear him speak again, in my home town of Brisbane. I was a guest of MGallery Hotels, who have launched a literary project in collaboration with Melbourne’s The Wheeler Centre, the home of the Victorian Writers Centre.

Selected Australian writers will be invited to stay at MGallery Collection hotels for three nights, and in return will be asked to create an exclusive short story inspired by their stay.
The MGallery Literary Collection of short stories will be published and released exclusively for all nine MGallery Collection hotels in Australia.

IMG_2660At the New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites in Brisbane a small crowd of book-lovers was treated to an entertaining ‘In Conversation’, hosted by Brisbane author Nick Earls.

New Zealand-born Simsion, who is now based in Melbourne, talked about his two books, reading from both to illustrate certain points, and about the reaction of readers to his hero, Don Tillman. He’s now working on a new novel, as well as tackling the task of turning The Rosie Project into a Hollywood screenplay for Sony Pictures (the name Alec Baldwin was mentioned a couple of times – but not for the character of Don).  The book actually began life as a screenplay, and won the Australian Writers Guild/Inscription Award for Best Romantic Comedy before being adapted into a novel. And Rosie, it turns out, began life as Clara.

The Rosie Project went on to win the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, the 2014 Australian Book Industry Award for Best General Fiction Book, and was Australian Book of the Year for 2014. It has now been published in 40 countries.

Don Tillman is an unlikely hero. A professor of genetics, he approaches the task of finding love scientifically. There are reasons why he’s never had a second date, many of which become clear as he designs his 16-page questionnaire to help find him the perfect woman. And clearer as the reader gets to know his quirks and his voice. The book is written in first-person – which I’m not often a fan of – and it really works. It’s funny and heart-warming, and when Rosie comes into Don’s life, it changes forever. The Rosie Effect is what happens next…and I’m looking forward to reading it, even with the warning from Simsion that not everyone who liked the first book enjoyed the second.DSC_0542
What an interesting few hours it was, in large part too because of the relaxed and intelligent interviewing style of Nick Earls, sometimes offering another writer’s perspective on things.

And I couldn’t let the occasion pass without this time grabbing a photo with Graeme.


Other MGallery hotels across Australia – in Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Palm Cove in north Queensland – will hold similar events with other authors throughout the year.

Stay tuned for my review of The Rosie Effect in a few weeks!

Posted in Australian Fiction, Authors, Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My holiday read: The Burning Room

With a 10 day break over Easter, I was looking for something relaxing and easy to read and my travelling companion provided just the thing: the latest Harry Bosch novel, The Burning Room, released last year.

DSC_0224I’ve become a fan of author Michael Connelly‘s tough, ageing LAPD detective over the past year or so and have already devoured a couple of his books.

In this one, Bosch is working with a new female partner – Lucia Soto – and soon finds the case they’re investigating is entwined with an incident from Detective Soto’s childhood, the deaths of several children in an apartment building fire 20 years earlier.

Both cases are a fit for their work in the Open-Unsolved Unit, and in usual Connelly fashion the story races along. It was just what I needed.

If you haven’t met Harry Bosch yet, look out for the series. He’s a great character, and the plot twists are always hard to pick. That’s what I like in a book, especially a crime novel. And I hear that the next Bosch novel will be out in October. It’s called The Crossing.

Posted in Crime, Fiction | 8 Comments

Talking to Matthew Condon

Meeting a favourite author is always a thrill.  This week I had the pleasure of talking to Australian writer Matthew Condon, a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction books when he is not at his day job as a journalist for New Ltd’s Courier Mail in Brisbane.

trout operaI’ve met Matt several times before, but was a fan of his writing long before that happened. I had read his last novel The Trout Opera and even though it was published in 2007, it still rates among my favourite Australian novels. It’s a saga that begins in 1906, following the life of farmhand Wilfred Lampe and ending with Wilfred’s unlikely involvement in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

So for some time, I knew Matthew Condon only as a novelist (he has written 10). On moving back to Brisbane from Melbourne a few years ago, I learned he was a much respected journalist.

three kings coverIn 2013 his multi-award winning true crime book Three Crooked Kings was published. It was the first instalment in a trilogy on the life and times of former Queensland police commissioner Terry Lewis (who was jailed for 15 years for corruption and stripped of his knighthood), and of crime and corruption in Queensland and New South Wales over half a century. Queenslanders were riveted and the book a best-seller.

As Condon told my journalism students at the University of Queensland this week when he came to deliver a guest lecture on feature writing, the research involved in telling this seminal story of Queensland’s history meant there had to be more than one book. The second volume, Jacks and
jacks and jokeersJokers,
was published last April, and the final instalment in the trilogy – All Fall Down – is currently in the editing process and will be published later this year.

Long-form journalism is Condon’s forte, and the students at the lecture were enthralled as he took them through his work processes, generously sharing his passion for journalism and writing, with tips for beginners, some inside stories about what he’s working on now, and the message that nothing will stop dedicated journalists telling stories that others want hidden. He spoke for an hour, and although the students weren’t aware of it, he was standing in soaking wet clothes after being caught in a Queensland rainstorm on his way to the lecture theatre.

YD9F2652bwAfter the lecture, several students lined up to get private advice on story ideas, ethical dilemmas and more. They were the smart ones, the lucky ones. As I juggle my work as a freelance journalist with running the journalism school’s feature writing course for second year students, I’m so grateful for the support of colleagues like Matt who give so generously of their time and knowledge to those following us.

As Australia prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the World War I battle of Gallipoli on ANZAC Day (April 25), I look forward to reading Matthew Condon’s feature for QWeekend. They’ve given the whole magazine up to it.

Posted in Australian Fiction, Authors, Fiction, Journalism, Non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hooked on the Himalayas

The Himalayas have been on my mind over the past couple of weeks. From my bookcase I’ve pulled two autobiographies in which those mountains feature prominently, by two very different men from different eras.

Why the sudden interest? My daughter has been on holiday in Nepal, undertaking a trek to Everest Base Camp. An avid reader, before she left she asked if I had anything that might be interesting.  The first that sprung to mind was by Australian journalist and editor Lincoln Hall; the second by my fellow countryman, New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary, famed for being the first man to conquer Everest, in 1953.


Hillary’s book, Nothing Venture, Nothing Win, was published in 1975 and I confess I “borrowed” it from the library of the New Zealand newspaper at which I was working at that time. It still bears their ownership stamp  and the words “please return immediately”. Oops. I’m not sure why I was interested in it then, but I do recall that I read it before my only visit to Nepal, in the mid-1980s. Hillary was based there at that time, as New Zealand’s High Commissioner, and I had hoped to meet and interview him (alas, it was not to be as he was not in the country when I visited).

It’s a great read, and covers many other aspects of Hillary’s fascinating life, his work in Nepal, and his polar expedition in 1958.

Lincoln Hall’s book, Dead Lucky, is sub-titled Life after death on Mount Everest, and tells the incredible tale of how Hall was left for dead  after summiting Everest in May 2006. On his descent, he was overcome by high altitude sickness and was unable to be revived. The rest of his expedition party continued down the mountain in order to save themselves, and Hall’s death was widely reported around the world. Australia’s media community, in which Hall was well-known and respected, was in mourning. A day later, an American mountaineering team on the ascent was surprised – and shocked – to find him alive and able to walk and talk.

It’s an amazing tale, and Hall – one of Australia’s most experienced and best-known mountaineers – also goes a long way to explaining the call of the mountains and what drives climbers to try for the ultimate peak. Sadly, after recovering from his experiences on Everest, Lincoln Hall died in 2012 from mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer most often caused by exposure to asbestos.

Him_frontFor anyone heading to Nepal, both books are excellent reads. As for my daughter, she spent a little bit more time than expected in Nepal; a plane crash that closed Tribhuvan Airport earlier this week saw her stranded in Kathmandu for several days as airlines tried to re-book the 22,000 travellers affected. Did she have plenty to read? I asked. Yes, she replied: Michael Palin’s Himalaya.

Ah yes, an excellent choice…I thought I had that in my bookcase somewhere too…but it’s disappeared! I’ll have to have another look.

The book that I remember reading while in Nepal in about 1985, is The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. Published in 1978, it is an account of Matthiessen’s two-month search in 1973 for the rare and elusive snow leopard with naturalist George Schaller in the Dolpo region on the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas. I bought it in a second-hand bookshop in Kathmandu and was riveted by the wonderful writing as their trip becomes a spiritual journey as well. I lent it to someone and never got it back, and I’ve never been able to find another copy. Of course, when I looked, it’s for sale on Amazon! I must order one.  

Posted in Autobiography & Biography, Non-fiction, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Love in the Time of Cholera

A good title will get me every time.  And so it was with Love in the Time of Cholera.  I had never heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez when I bought this book on a whim, after seeing it on a bookstore shelf. It was the title that drew me in.

And the opening line:

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. 

How could I resist it? I bought the book and that was the beginning of my love affair with Marquez’s writing.

DSC_0909Last week, in the lead up to Valentine’s Day, I saw one of those “Top 10 Books about Great Love” lists (I forget now which publisher had put it together).  Love in the Time of Cholera was the only book on the list that I had read, and it made me pull it from my bookshelf for another look. My Penguin paperback copy was published in 1988, three years after its first publication in Spanish. So it must be time to re-read the 50-year love story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, loosely based on the story of Marquez’s parents.

While I loved his novels, I confess my attempt to read Marquez’s autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, failed. I got bogged down somewhere in Columbian student politics and gave up.

Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Penguin Books, 1988.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments