Book reviews: Great reads to add to your list

Books we have read


Author: Allie Reynolds

Published by: Hachette Australia

Reviewed by: Helen Hayes   


The author: Allie Reynolds was an international snowboarder for her native UK, competing in the halfpipe. This book had 10 publishers fighting for the rights to publish it. All the more astonishing when you know that this is her first novel.

Synopsis: Five friends reconvene on a mountaintop lodge out of season on the 10th anniversary of a sixth friend’s disappearance. But danger looms on two fronts – in the crevasse-filled frozen landscape outside and from an unknown person inside. Who is it? Is it one of them? Or is it their missing friend? Or someone else?

Location: The action takes place at a small ski resort in France, where the friends used to compete at the highest level in the snowboard halfpipe. According to the author, Allie Reynolds, the resort is based on some of the places she competed in, including LAAX in Switzerland.

What I loved about the book: It is a real page-turner. I couldn’t put it down and in fact read it in a day, ignoring all other responsibilities (shhh – don’t tell!) And isn’t that the mark of a great book? I loved the snowboarding action, with the strong characters mirroring the dedication it takes to reach the top in any sport. I loved not knowing who was behind the danger, and what each individual may or may not have done a decade ago. I also loved that you don’t have to know the snowboarding world or the terminology in halfpipe to get into the book.
The verdict:
A great read. Buy it immediately!

  • We interview Allie Reynolds about the book – read it HERE


Elizabeth & Elizabeth

Author: Sue Williams

Published by: Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Sue Wallace

The author: Sydney-based Sue Williams is a bestselling author and award-winning journalist, who has written a variety of excellent books. Elizabeth & Elizabeth is her first historical fiction novel and it’s a beauty. It’s had rave reviews and is both intriguing and entertaining.

Synopsis: It is the story of the imaginary friendship between the two leading ladies of early colonial Australia, Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie and Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of John Macarthur. These two women, who should have been bitter foes, combine their courage and wisdom to wield extraordinary power and influence behind the scenes of the fledgling colony.

Location: When Elizabeth Macquarie arrived in Australia in 1810, it was a time of great turmoil over the revolt against former governor William Bligh. They also faced drought, famine and the increasing number of convicts sent from Britain, together with a fierce dispute over whether they should ever be allowed to enjoy the same rights as the free settlers.

What I loved about the book: That sense of history of the fledgling colony and the strength of these two women was intriguing and inspiring. Williams captured the visions and courage of these two women thrown together in impossible times. They were resilient in what was a brutal man’s world. They both lost children and Betsey Macquarie suffered numerous miscarriages. Yet they managed to forge independent lives for themselves. It is a compelling novel, and a wonderfully researched piece of narrative history.

The verdict: Bravo Sue Williams, pick up a copy and start reading.

We interview Sue Williams about her novel, read it HERE

The Silk House

Author: Kayte Nunn

Published by: Hachette Australia

Reviewed by: Helen Hayes

The author: Kayte Nunn was a respected magazine editor before turning her hand to writing fictional novels. Kayte has now written six novels, with the most recent being The Silk House. Previous novels, The Botanists Daughter and The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durant are best sellers and have been printed in multiple languages. On her website Kayte says: “I’ve loved books since I was young enough to curl up and escape into their magical worlds.” Now I am curling up into a magical world she has created.

Synopsis: The books tells the story of three young women who in different periods of time, are all connected to a boarding house at a posh school. The Silk House, like Kayte’s two previous books, is historical fiction, switching effortlessly from the 1700s to the present day. 

Location: The Silk House, like Kayte’s two previous books, is historical fiction. It is set in a small town near Bath in England.

What I loved about the book: I love how the author weaves the very different lives of the three women together as masterfully as the master weavers of silk did back in the day. We start off with Thea, an Australian teacher who takes a job at Oxleigh College – the place where her father went to school. She has her work cut out for her, looking after a gaggle of girls who are the first intake into what was formerly a boys-only school. We move onto Rowan Caswell, a poor maid who has a knack for herbal healing – or as some would call it – witchcraft, and then to London where we meet Mary-Louise Stephenson who is battling to get her beautiful silk designs noticed in a man’s world. Each of the women is strong, determined and each makes their presence felt … one from beyond the grave.

The verdict: Brilliant. I can’t wait for her next book The Last Reunion, which is due out in March.

Destination Coffee

Author: Jane Ormond

Published by: Hardie Grant Books

Reviewed by: Helen Hayes

The author: Jane Ormond, ably assisted with great illustrations by Wenjia Tang.

Synopsis: From the beans to the roasting to the art of making the coffee, this book is a great gift for coffee lovers.

Location: The book looks at great coffee destinations like Portland, Melbourne, Rome, Wellington and a host more.

What I loved about the book: I love coffee so I loved reading about coffee. From its origins and discovery thanks to a goat herder in Ethiopia to its important role as a social glue in a busy world. Going for coffee is not just, well, going for coffee, it’s who you have it with, where you have it, the barista who makes its and where the coffee comes from. Destination Coffee also appeals to lovers of travel. It showcases the world’s greatest coffee cities and uncovers coffee-drinking histories from around the world. It will guide you to the best cafe enclaves and help you to choose what to drink when you get there. It also tells you how to make a great brew at home.

The verdict: The perfect gift for the coffee table. And if you are into wellness, buy Destination Wellness, a similar style book written by Kate Morgan with illustrations also by Wenjia Tang.

Books we want to read next

Kate Kelly – the True Story of Ned Kelly’s Little Sister

Author: Rebecca Wilson

Published by: Allen & Unwin. RRP: $32.99

The book: Rebecca Wilson is the first to uncover the full story of Kate Kelly’s tumultuous life. It will surprise anyone who thought they already knew the story of Australia’s most famous outlaw. Kate was a popular public figure in her own right. This moving biography tells her astonishing story in full for the first time. Kate Kelly was mysteriously found dead in a lagoon outside the NSW town of Forbes in 1898.

‘Thoroughly recommended not only to those who have an interest in bushranging and the Kelly dynasty but anyone who enjoys a well-written and riveting yarn, based on fact.’ – Rob Willis OAM, National Library of Australia Oral History and Folklore Collections

With My Little Eye

Author: Sandra Hogan

Published by: Allen & Unwin. RRP: $29.99

The book: This is the true and often funny story of three children recruited by their parents to work for ASIO in the 1950s. This family of spies, the Dohertys,  lived in the suburbs and became foot soldiers in Australia’s battle against Soviet infiltration in the Cold War. They attended political rallies, stood watch on houses owned by communist sympathisers, and insinuated themselves into the UFO Society. In 1956 the Doherty family went on a beach holiday with Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov, the famous Soviet defectors, who were hiding from Soviet assassins.
Dudley and Joan Doherty swore their children to secrecy, and for decades, they didn’t even discuss among themselves the work they did for ASIO.


Books we look forward to reading when they come out

COCO CHANEL: The Illustrated World of A Fashion Icon

Author: Megan Hess
Published by: Hardie Grant in April 2021; RRP: $39.99
The book: A special enlarged edition of the international bestseller Coco Chanel: The Illustrated World of a Fashion Icon celebrating 50 years since Coco’s death, 100 years of Chanel No.5 and five years since the original release of this beautiful illustrated biography from globally renowned illustrator Megan Hess. Discover the story of Coco’s amazing early life, the iconic fashion empire that she built, and the legacy that the left behind, brought to life with Megan’s stylish and whimsical illustrations.

The Beijing Bureau

Author: edited by Trevor Watson
Published by: Hardie Grand Books in May 2021.  RRP: $29.99
The book: The Beijing Bureau is a collection of essays revealing the experiences and insights of 25 Australian foreign correspondents into China, from the 1970s to present day: the lives of its people, its government and its culture, and what China’s rise means for Australia and the world community. China dominates the headlines across the world as the country takes for itself a global role. As governments, businesses and individuals increasingly rely on news reports to make decisions, The Beijing Bureau brings together Australia’s most acclaimed journalists to share their hard-won knowledge of China and stories of life as a correspondent: including Mike Smith, Stan Grant, Stephen McDonnell, Rowan Callick and Richard McGregor, reporting for international news outlets like the ABC, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN and more.