Five Vintage Classics You Simply Must Read Even Though They Aren’t On Your List

Let me add a few more books to your
“I Must One Day Get Around To Reading Those Books Everyone Keeps Telling Me I Must One Day Get Around To Reading’ list.

I just can’t help myself. I love to encourage people to read the classics. And the Vintage Classics range is so beautiful and now so affordable I find I return again and again to this wonderful, all encompassing range.

But that said, sometimes the great monoliths of literature – War and Peace, Ulysses, David Copperfield, Les Miserables – can block our view. So much so, in fact, we might fail to see how truly vast and varied  the world of literature is.

Today I have chosen five Vintage Classic titles you may not have thought to read. Five very different books. Hopefully, they will encourage you to seek adventure, love, glory in more varied climes. Because, in the world of literature, there truly is something for every mood, every moment and every stage of our lives.

By Kurt Vonnegut

Let me quote author Matthew Green who recently spoke about Breakfast of Champions when answering my Ten Terrifying Questions: “It was the first book by Vonnegut that I had ever read, and it taught me that there are no rules when it comes to writing.

Want to insert yourself into the novel as a character? Go right ahead.

Want to abandon traditional conventions of plot and character? That’s your prerogative.

Vonnegut taught me that I could do whatever I damn well pleased when it came to writing, and that was very liberating indeed.”

I quote Matthew in full because I had the same experience when reading Breakfast of Champions – it is a  truly fun, truly liberating read…

Blurb: In a frolic of cartoons and comic outbursts against rule and reason, Kurt Vonnegut attacks the whole spectrum of American society, releasing some of his best-loved literary creations on the scene.

Click here to buy Breakfast of Champions

By Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa

E.M. Forster on The Leopard: ‘Reading and rereading it, has made me realise how many ways there are of being alive, how many doors there are, close to one, which someone else’s touch may open.’

It wasn’t until I finished The Leopard that I realised just how much this book meant to me. This is a book which deserves to be returned to, again and again.

Blurb: Lampedusa’s masterpiece, one of the finest works of twentieth century fiction, is set amongst an aristocratic family facing social and political changes in the wake of Garibaldi’s invasion of Sicily in 1860.

At the head of the family is the prince, Don Fabrizio. Proud and stubborn, he is accustomed to knowing his own place in the world and expects his household to run accordingly. He is aware of the changes which are rapidly making men historically obsolete but he remains attached to the old ways. His favourite nephew, Tancredi, may be an ardent supporter of Garibaldi and may later marry outside his class but Don Fabrizio will make few accommodations for the modern world.

Containing, for the first time in any language, the full original text, Tomasi di Lampedusa’s classic tale lovingly memorialises the details of a vanishing world while retaining its melancholic and ironic sense of time passing and the frailty of human emotions.

Click here to buy The Leopard

By Anne Bront

There is a case for saying The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the most mature work to come from the Brontë sisters. The issues Anne addresses were (and for many women, still are) of the greatest importance. True independence for women was not possible. Marriage stripped women of many rights and could sometimes bind them to a life of violence with a partner who thought them of less value than their horse. Anne Brontë does not flinch when portraying life of a woman thus treated. This is a raw and sometimes brutal novel.

If Jane Eyre is the most romantic, and Wuthering Heights is the most passionate, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the most realistic of the Brontë novels and all the more powerful for it.

Blurb: When the mysterious and beautiful young widow Helen Graham becomes the new tenant at Wildfell Hall rumours immediately begin to swirl around her.

As her neighbour Gilbert Markham comes to discover, Helen has painful secrets buried in her past that even his love for her cannot easily overcome.

Click here to buy The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

By Patricia Highsmith

Nothing can prepare you for it. It is utterly unique. Probably the most uncomfortable sensation you will experience. Unforgettable. Part dread, part thrill. When you discover you have befriended a psychopath just remember to act cool. For at that moment you’ll realise you have come too far to disentangle yourself, you are involved. As dangerous as it is to stay, you know it would be infinitely more dangerous to leave.

The Talented Mr Ripley traps you in its psychological web. We are seduced by Ripley’s innocence. We ignore warnings and think of him as the hero of the novel.

This is a clever, evocative, disturbing and utterly convincing novel which describes the genesis of evil. Brilliant.

Blurb: Tom Ripley is struggling to stay one step ahead of his creditors, and the law, when an unexpected acquaintance offers him a free trip to Europe and a chance to start over. Ripley wants money, success and the good life and he’s willing to kill for it. When his new-found happiness is threatened, his response is as swift as it is shocking.

The psychopathic Ripley has been portrayed on screen by actors as diverse as John Malkovich, Alain Delon and Dennis Hopper. But in the recent stylish film adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley, Matt Damon took the title role, alongside Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here to buy The Talented Mr Ripley

By William Somerset Maugham

There is something in this novel, something which makes it stand apart from the rest of Maugham’s work. To me, it is a book written from the heart with little or no art. This is not great story telling, as such, but it is an additional volume in the great book of humanity. And because it adds to our knowledge of ourselves, it is utterly, utterly compelling.

Blurb: OF HUMAN BONDAGE is the first and most autobiographical of Maugham’s masterpieces.

It tells the story of Philip Carey, an orphan eager for life, love and adventure. After a few months studying in Heidelberg, and a brief spell in Paris as a would-be artists, Philip Settles in London to train as a doctor. And that is where he meets Mildred, the loud but irresistible waitress with whom he plunges into a formative, tortured and masochistic affair which very nearly ruins him.

It is in OF HUMAN BONDAGE that the essential themes of autonomy and enslavement which dominate so much of Maugham’s writing are most profoundly explored.

Click here to buy Of Human Bondage

Blogging and Tweeting without Getting Sued : A global guide to the law for anyone writing online by Mark Pearson

What you post on a blog or tweet to your followers can get you arrested or cost you a lot of money in legal battles. This practical guide shows you how to stay out of trouble when you write online.

Every time you blog or tweet you may be subject to the laws of more than 200 jurisdictions. As more than a few bloggers or tweeters have discovered, you can be sued in your own country, or arrested in a foreign airport as you’re heading off on holiday – just for writing something that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if you said it in a bar or a cafe.

In this handy guide, media law expert Mark Pearson explains how you can get your message across without landing yourself in legal trouble. In straightforward language, he explains what everyone writing online needs to know about free speech, reputation and defamation, privacy, official secrets and national security, copyright and false advertising.

Whether you host a celebrity Facebook page, tweet about a hobby, or like to think of yourself as a citizen journalist, you need this guide to keep on the right side of cyberlaw.

Click here to order Blogging and Tweeting without Getting Sued  from
Australia, No.1 Online Book Shop

About the Author : Mark Pearson is a journalist and professor of journalism at Bond University, and co-author of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law. He is a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and has been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Australian. Blog:; Twitter: @journlaw; Facebook: Journ Law

Available from 1st April 2012

The Australian Moment : How We Were Made for These Times by George Megalogenis

There’s no better place to be during economic turbulence than Australia.

Brilliant in a bust, we’ve learnt to use our brains in a boom. Although the Great Recession continues to rumble around the globe, we successfully negotiated the Asian financial crisis, the dotcom tech wreck and the GFC.
Despite a lingering inability to acknowledge our achievements at home, the rest of the world now asks: How did we get it right?

This is the page-turning story of our nation’s remarkable transformation since the ’70s. One of our most respected journalists, George Megalogenis, traces the key economic reforms and brilliant moments of collective instinct that opened our society to the immigration of capital, ideas and people to just the right degree. He pinpoints the events that shaped our good fortune and national character, and corrects our selective memory where history has been misunderstood or misdirected by self-interested political leadership.

No one writing today is better at reading the numbers and telling the story around them than Megalogenis, and no one else has been able to coax our former prime ministers to candidly re-assess each other’s contribution to the Australian Moment. Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard and Rudd, as well as Whitlam’s confidant Graham Freudenberg, go on record for the first time about many aspects of the internal politicking, decision-making and bids for the legacy of our astonishing period of significant reform.

The Australian Moment demands we reconsider what we have achieved and our place in the global economy, and how we might purposefully approach the future. A groundbreaking work in the tradition of The Lucky Country and The End of Certainty.

‘Megalogenis is Australia’s best explainer – a historical bowerbird who has woven a sparkling narrative answering the big contemporary questions of how the hell we got here, and how we go about not buggering it up. A brilliant read.’ Annabel Crabb

About the Author: George Megalogenis is a senior journalist and political commentator with The Australian newspaper, to which he also contributes the much-respected blog Meganomics, and is a regular guest on ABC TV’s The Insiders. He spent over a decade in the Canberra press gallery, and is the author of Faultlines, The Longest Decade and Quarterly Essay 40: Trivial Pursuit – Leadership and the End of the Reform Era.

Click here to buy The Australian Moment from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

Parker Bilal, author of The Golden Scales, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Parker Bilal

aka Jamal Mahjoub

author of  The Golden Scales: A Makana Mystery

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in London and raised in Khartoum, Sudan. Later I attended college in England. After that I moved on, settling in a number of places and winding up in Spain.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to be superhuman. I wanted to wear a cape and climb walls and fly over tall buildings. It just didn’t work out that way. Actually, I really wanted to be a film director. I’ve always loved movies and for a long time I carried that dream. Writing novels is a kind of shorthand version of that. It all happens in your head. You don’t need a budget and all the rest of it. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil – or nowadays, a laptop.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That you could travel the world and yet always come back to where you started and find your home was still there. Nowadays, home for me is not so much a place as the people I care about.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Jamal Mahjoub. Photo by Stephan Röhl.

American culture is a huge influence, largely because of its concerns about rootlessness and improvisation. Whether it is the music of Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong, or the works of Raymond Chandler, or the movies of the 1970s, when the oil crisis and the Vietnam war produced a moment of introspection we haven’t seen recently.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

It was the one that came to me naturally. I didn’t even think consciously about it. I read avidly as a child and began writing sketches, scenes that would later turn into stories, when I was still at school. It was exciting to be able to invent something out of mid-air, a kind of conjouring trick. It still is.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel The Golden Scales.

It tells the story of Makana, a former police detective in his native Sudan who has landed in Cairo and finds himself trying to survive on his skills. He is asked to look for a missing football player and this brings him into contact with the complexities of high society, corruption and terrorism. As the first novel in a series this is an introduction to the main character and the circumstances that led him to his present situation.

(BBGuru: the publisher’s blurb - The launch of a major new detective series set in modern-day Cairo – moving between its labyrinthine back streets, and its shining towerblock – featuring Makana, an exiled Sudanese private investigator, escaping his own troubled past… 

A lost child. A missing hero. A bitter rivalry.
In Cairo the ghosts of the past are stirring…

The ancient city of Cairo is a whirling mix of the old and the new, where fates collide and the super rich rub shoulders with the desperate and the dispossessed. It is a place where ambition and corruption go hand in hand, and where people can disappear in the blink of an eye.

Makana is a former police inspector who fled for his life from his native Sudan seven years ago. Down on his luck and haunted by the past, he lives on a rickety Nile houseboat. When the notorious and powerful Saad Hanafi hires him to track down a missing person Makana is in no position to refuse him. Hanafi, whose past is as shady as his fortune is glittering, is the owner of Cairo’s star-studded football team. His most valuable player has just vanished and Adil Romario’s disappearance threatens to bring down not only Hanafi’s private empire, but the entire country. But why should the city’s most powerful man hire its lowliest private detective?

Thrust into a dangerous and glittering world Makana’s investigation leads him into the treacherous underbelly of his adopted country – where he encounters Muslim extremists, Russian gangsters and a desperate mother hunting for her missing daughter – it becomes a trail that stirs up painful memories, leading him back into the sights of an old and dangerous enemy… )

Click here to order The Golden Scales from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

First of all, to be completely absorbed and entertained. It should be a pleasurable experience. Then, I suppose a sense of the complexity of the world, of the Middle East and of Egypt in particular. The planned series should carry us across the past decade to the present day and I’d like the reader to feel like they want to tag along for the rest of the journey.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Writers who surprise me. Not in the gimmicky sense, but those who allow us to see the world in a different way. When you find a really good book you don’t want to let go of it, and when you do you want to give it to your friends. Most of them are dead, I suppose, Faulkner, Greene, Yourcenar – too many to name. Of the living, Michael Ondaatje, Lorrie Moore, Richard Powers, Sebald. I could go on.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Simply to write better than I have done before. I see every novel as a new opportunity, a chance to do something I haven’t achieved before. It’s all about renewal.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

When you think something is finished, think again.

Parker, thank you for playing.

Click here to order The Golden Scales from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

Praise for The Golden Scales from The Economist:

A London-born literary novelist, Parker Bilal (whose real name is Jamal Mahjoub) has also lived in Cairo and Sudan. His prose has a subtlety that is rarely found in crime novels: an old man “screwed up his face so that all the lines drew together, like a net being drawn in”; metal rods on a construction site are scattered like “enormous burned matchsticks”; naked light bulbs on an electrical flex resemble “strange fruits on a vine”.

Zoë Foster, author of The Younger Man, Amazing Face, Playing the Field and Air Kisses, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Zoë Foster

author of The Younger Man, Amazing Face, Textbook Romance, Playing the Field and Air Kisses

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was raised in Bundanoon, which, unlike Wagga Wagga, isn’t even imaginary. We lived in town, but mum and dad managed to somehow sneak bees, chooks and cows into the family, which is not only impressive but potentially illegal. I went to public primary and high school, and am dismayed to admit tracksuit pants were classed as acceptable school uniform at both of these institutions.

Nonetheless, I loved my childhood and teen years immensely. Even if at the time all I wanted was to live in Sydney and audition for Heartbreak High.

Zoë Foster at Booktopia about to sign a big pile of her new novel, The Younger Man

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve, a dancer. I spent an inordinate amount of time prancing theatrically in front of reflective surfaces, and bemoaning the fact that mum and dad wouldn’t drive me to the local dance school on Saturdays, because it was too far and Saturdays were their day off, too. (A philosophy I will now obviously emulate when I am a parent.) I settled for local cricket and was predictably appalling.

At eighteen, I was convinced I would be an advertising copywriter. (This might explain my fixation with Mad Men, but a brooding Don Draper might be more accurate.)  It seemed like a profound, important career to want, and dissing advertisements with claims I could do better provided the perfect foundation for what would later become fully-fledged arrogance.

By thirty, I was content. I didn’t want to be anything, because I already was something, and that something (author, columnist and extreme tweeter) thrilled me to my frills.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

‘Midriffs are cute to show off!’, would be one. So too, ‘Sambucca is best drunk with Sprite, and extremely quickly.’ Back then I was also a real cool cat when it came to boys and relationships. For example, I was convinced the best way to win an ex-boyfriend back was to show up at his house unannounced, and then sit and wait for his return for SIX HOURS, while his poor flatmate awkwardly tried to hint he might not be back til “pretty late, hey.”  Obviously I would never do that now. I would leave after five hours.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (series) was instrumental in showing me just how terrifically funny and entertaining and brain-bendingly innovative grown up books can be. Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales was equally influential, and as well as my dad, I credit him for introducing me to satire. I also took a lot of enjoyment and inspiration from the Monty Python crew, who taught me in their own wild way how amusing playing with known forms can be, not to mention the power and joy that comes from pure nonsense.

I must also mention The Simpsons and The Family Guy, which are probably my most beloved source of entertainment, and also my favourite form of comedy writing, too. They are the masters of economical, elegant self-reference and the kings of one-liners, and I openly worship at their animated altar.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I heard the money was fantastic. Also, because I am a crazed fool without a project, and a project that involves 100,00 words is going to keep me 100 times more busy than one that demands only 1000. But exciting multiplication aside, I thoroughly enjoy writing books. I’d produce three a year if I could (and by that I mean, ‘if I didn’t waste so much time on Twitter and Tumblr and the innernette in general.’) They become like a friend to me – they are the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I think about at night. They’re always there to hang out when my friends are busy, and they never eat the last piece of Haigh’s. It’s thrilling to push them out onto the world, but then sad when A Newer Shinier Book comes along and knocks them off their perch. (Literally.) There’s a tiny chance I am too emotionally attached.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel… The Younger Man

It’s about this cute, moody girl and this hunk with yellow eyes and sparkly skin who is always angry for some reason… Alright, alright, it’s not.

It’s about Abby Vaughn, a confident, fun woman in her early thirties who is quite happy being single, thank you very much. She hooks up with a dashing young (“embryonic”) hunk, Marcus, and before she knows it, is accidentally falling for him. This causes her some distress, because while her head is telling her what she is doing is ludicrous, and that to invest in a man so young is foolish, her heart is bouncing along happily, whistling and clicking its heels and just quite thrilled in general.

I was inspired by the several million women I know who date or have dated younger men. Some of these relationships worked, some of them failed, some should’ve worked but didn’t, but every one of the reasons behind these outcomes intrigued me. (Sicko.)

(BBGuru: the publisher’s blurb – Abby runs her own agency, providing beautiful girls for promotional events. She needs a new website and when she calls in the web contractors, none other than the gorgeous, sexy, young Marcus turns up.

Abby had met Marcus at a party a few weeks earlier and they had an amazing one-night stand. Abby is not unhappy to see him again. He is rather divine, after all. It’s just that she’s 33 and he’s 22, so how can she ever expect anything to come of this relationship.

But Marcus is determined and sets out to prove to Abby that he is wise beyond his years and knows what he wants. Abbie is not so sure and when she escapes to Italy and meets someone else, she must decide whether to follow her head or her heart.)

Click here to buy The Younger Man from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

It probably won’t be anything too profound with my books… What I genuinely do hope though, is that they had fun. I certainly had fun writing them, and it would be very selfish if the fun ended there, wouldn’t it?

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

My mind automatically screams to children’s authors, because they’re playing with such delicate, susceptible minds, and have the potential to cause a life-long impression on the reader. (If they’re lucky and by “lucky” I mean “shockingly talented.”) The grand emperor of these in my eyes is Roald Dahl, whose books I read and re-read as a child, and now buy for children (ones I know, not just random kids in the street)  with evangelical passion. I loved his subversiveness, the way he empowered his child protagonists, and of course, his fascination (and mastery of) the disgusting, the dysfunctional and the dreaded.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I used to have age-based ones, but no longer care for racing myself in that fashion. I’d love to really cement myself as a fiction writer, something which will hopefully come with solid, interesting content, life experience, and swift output so as to keep the masses slaked. And, like so many other writers, I’d love to try my hand (or both hands, to be accurate; typing a book with one hand seems terribly inconvenient) at children’s books. But not for a long while yet. (Sleep easy, Jeff Kinney.)

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Get it down, get all your ideas and anecdotes down, no matter which order and in what shape. There! You’ve inadvertently just written half your book! Well, maybe not half, but, you know, a good whack of it. I think it makes it a lot easier to write a book when you’ve already got the bones there. Also – just give me a second to get up onto this soapbox conveniently placed to my left – please stop talking about how you want to write a book, and write a book. It’s no more impressive telling people you “want to write a book,” than it is to say you “want to climb Everest.” You gotta take action! Action is the thing! Action is the thing.

Zoë, thank you for playing.

Thank YOU for providing the monkey bars!

Follow Zoë Foster on Twitter – click here

Various Pets Alive and Dead by Marina Lewycka (Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling)

In her fourth novel, Various Pets Alive & Dead, Marina Lewycka employs her customary brand of keen wit and farcical comedy to explore the ever-present, ever widening gap that separates one generation from the next. Switching scenes between Doncaster and London, this is a refreshingly original and absurdly funny commentary on modern values told with a delicious combination of irony and dark humour.

As well as a cast of fascinating human characters it also features a variety of pets (alive and dead) including, but not limited to, hamsters, dogs and a rapidly increasing family of rabbits.

Various Pets Alive & Dead follows the story of aging hippies, Doro and Marcus, and their three children, Clara the teacher, Serge the genius and the youngest child Oolie-Anna, who has Down’s Syndrome.

In their youth Marcus and Doro, along with a group of likeminded friends, founded a commune in which they all lived together from the late 1960s until the early 1990s. The commune, Solidarity Hall, was based in a dilapidated gothic mansion situated outside Doncaster. The dream was to create a “non-bourgeois, non-private, non-nuclear, non-monogamous community” celebrating co-operation, creativity, non-violence and, of course, free love.

Clara, the oldest of the children, has tried to distance herself from her unconventional upbringing by becoming a primary school teacher. She craves order and cleanliness, having been raised in an environment decided lacking in both qualities, and is determined to make a nice traditional life for herself, with a beautiful home and a rewarding career.

 “It’s the kind of book that makes you worry
about the state of the world,
whilst simultaneously laughing at
how absurd it is.”

Clara wants desperately to connect with her students, to make a difference in their lives. When her class is given a pet hamster, however, a wealth of old tensions and long buried memories begin to resurface – in particular the memory of another hamster, the unfortunate Fizzy, who met with a rather untimely end.

Her younger brother Serge, meanwhile, is busy living a lie. Rather than “peace, love and mung-beans” Serge has embraced a life of expensive suits and insider trading. While his parents believe him to be studying at Cambridge he is in reality working for an investment bank in London.

Serge is painfully aware that, unlike most parents, Marcus and Doro would be horrified to discover that he has abandoned a life of academia to make a fortune in the city. His mother already disapproves of his glasses – a heavy pair of Buddy Holly style frames that he wears in hopes perfecting a “hipster-geek” look. He hates to think how she will react once he finally confesses what he does for a living.

Leading a double life is beginning to take a toll on Serge. While he struggles with money troubles and an unrequited passion for his co-worker, the beautiful Maroushka, his dreams are haunted by the ghosts of dead rabbits that plague him in the same way that Clara is plagued by the memory of Fizzy.

And then there is Oolie-Anna who is bent on escaping the over-protective arms of her mother. Oolie wants independence and freedom. She wants to move out into a place of her own. She also wouldn’t mind a pet hamster to call her own but would much prefer to have a baby.

As the novel begins Doro and Marcus announce to their dubious children that, after almost forty years together, they are finally planning to get married.

There is real poignancy in way the Lewycka explores the generation gap between parents and their children, shown most clearly through the viewpoint of Doro.

 “The ideals of her youth,
which were so radical at the time,
are now regarded by her children as
“quaint life-style whims””

Doro longs for the certainty of her youth. As old age approaches, she perceives that her life has been “a journey backwards into uncertainty –from knowledge to doubt.” At thirty, her world was clearly outlined in black and white. At sixty, however, everything has somehow blended into shades of grey. The ideals of her youth, which were so radical at the time, are now regarded by her children as “quaint life-style whims” – just as Doro used to view the conservative/religious values of her own parents. On the other hand, as far as she can tell, the new generation seems to think the word “revolutionary” is best used to describe the latest mobile phone technology, that listening to Indie music and wearing “ironic” glasses is all it takes to be a rebel. She worries about her children, particularly Oolie-Anna, and as the novel progresses grows increasingly suspicious of Serge.

Lewycka’s hugely successful first book, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, won the Bollinger Everyman Prize for Comic Fiction and the Waverton Good Read Award. Various Pets Alive & Dead is not quite as cynical a read as her first novel, and yet no less hilarious.

In Various Pets Alive & Dead, Lewycka examines a wide range of issues from the disillusionment that accompanies the loss of youth, the dramas that arise from family conflict and changing social values that define each generation. As always, she writes from a comic perspective, and yet manages to maintain a perfect balance between farce and pathos. This is a genuinely funny and thoughtful book that will appeal to fans of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. It’s the kind of book that makes you worry about the state of the world, whilst simultaneously laughing at how absurd it is. Best of all, it’s a book bursting with colourful and original characters, not all them human.

Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling

David Gillespie, author of Big Fat Lies and Sweet Poison, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

David Gillespie

author of Big Fat Lies: How the Diet Industry is Making you Sick, Fat and Poor , Sweet Poison and The Sweet Poison Quit Plan

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and raised in Queensland. I spent a lot of time in country towns while I was growing up but ended up in Brisbane for high school and university.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I had no idea what I wanted to be at any of those ages. I stumbled from opportunity to opportunity choosing only the option that gave me the most other options. At University I did law instead of medicine because I didn’t want to be locked into a single career.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That I was capable of drinking all night and not having a hangover the next day.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

The internet tech bubble (1995-2001) gave me a start in Technology and ultimately (when we sold out) the time to write my first book. The technology business also gave me to motivation to find a solution to my obesity (by making me fat in the first place – all those business lunches).

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?

Books are the only media which couldn’t care less about advertising. When everything you write attacks the business interests of the biggest advertisers in the market, it’s a good idea to go with a media that doesn’t care.

6. Please tell us about your latest book… Big Fat Lies

There’s a lot to it. It systematically analyses what we are told should make us healthy (and what we are not told) and comes to some pretty startling conclusions, such as:

· Diets don’t work. The studies show that the best indication that we will be fatter in 2 years is being on a diet now.

· Vitamins are simply a way of producing expensive urine. The only measurable effect is on the size of your bank balance.

· Sugar is in everything, is highly addictive and is the root cause of most chronic diseases (such as obesity, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease).

· Polyunsaturated fat (think margarine and canola oil) makes us prone to cancers and helps sugar finish off the job on heart disease.

· The answer for good health is simple. Do not eat sugar or polyunsaturated oils and the rest will take care of itself. You will be thinner, healthier, happier and live long enough to annoy your children.

Click here to buy Big Fat Lies from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop (err… I mean… the book)

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

The prohibition of the use of sugar and seed oils in the food supply.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Hard to pick one. My father in law Tony Morton has more medical degrees than you could poke a forked stick at. Even in his seventies he takes on new and ever more complex areas of interest. I think Paul Keating is admirable for his ability to take a long view, make a decision and stick to it. And Archie Cochrane’s dogged determination for medicine to be evidence based is truly inspirational.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

See #7 above and personally to be able to spend all my time writing about anything that interests me.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Practise. Writing is like anything else. The more you practise, the better you get. I reckon a blog is a great way to keep the machine oiled.

David, thank you for playing

Kay Schubach, author of Perfect Stranger, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Kay Schubach

author of Perfect Stranger

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

· Born in Melbourne, Australia. Local high school then Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Bachelor’s Degree in Media Studies and currently studying my Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics. Growing up in suburbia gave me an unquenchable thirst for exploration.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At 12: an astronaut, from reading science books and the scary mystery of it all. At 18 and 30: writer and writer – there was no choice.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I can’t think of anything I’ve been so disillusioned by that has changed my fundamental beliefs. I briefly lost faith in humanity but surviving cancer and witnessing the love and generosity of friends, family and medicos, I have my faith completely restored. I believe in myself more than did at 18.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

Deciding, against prevailing wisdom and financially tricky times, to take a year off work to write fulltime. It changed the way I thought about myself, gave me confidence and thoroughly exercised the writing muscle.

Deciding to risk everything for love and having it blow up in my face.

Deciding to write about those events.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

An amazing book deal from Penguin is pretty persuasive.

6. Please tell us about your latest book

A true story, my story, of turning forty, wanting a baby and falling for a charming charismatic handsome man – who turned out to be a violent narcissist. He almost killed me and turned my life upside down. It’s a story of love and war. I wanted to tell people about this monster preying on women so that hopefully he can’t do it again.

(BBGuru:  the publisher’s blurb -


Kay Schubach almost has it all – a great job, a beautiful apartment, a life of champagne and mixing it with Sydney’s A-list, and a steady relationship.

By chance she meets handsome and charismatic Simon. He sweeps her off her feet with promises the one thing her younger boyfriend won’t give her – a baby. She takes the biggest risk of her life, leaving all certainties behind for love.

All too quickly, the romance turns sour, and Simon goes from charming to controlling, from magnetic to threatening. By the time Kay uncovers his violent past, Simon has decided he will not let her go – and he’s not a man to be argued with. Trapped in a terrifying relationship, isolated from friends and family, Kay must decided what she values most, and fight for it.

A brutally honest cautionary tale, this is a true story of obsession and desire.)

Click here to buy Perfect Stranger from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online book Shop

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

I want to explore and explain people’s motivations and the forces acting on them: from mental illness to domestic violence to the difficulties and wonder of human communication and relationships. I hope to help some people who might otherwise feel isolated by the circumstances they might find themselves in.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

My friend Dr Phillipa Castle. A single mum who raised a gorgeous son, gained her Doctorate, paid off the mortgage and has worked tirelessly without fanfare and little financial reward for ‘at risk’ children and vulnerable families. She has been the most amazing friend to all of us, and I hold her in the highest regard.

In general, for the ‘quiet achievers’. I really admire people who are driven to make a difference for the sake of the cause, not their egos.

My family: extraordinarily generous and non-judgemental people with the kindest hearts in the world

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Having my first book published in my forties and recovering from cancer, I now want to write as much as I can while I can.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

If you can, take some time off from EVERYTHING else and concentrate on doing nothing but writing and researching. You need to hone the writing muscle.

Kay, thank you for playing.

Click here to buy Perfect Stranger from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online book Shop

Wendy James, author of The Mistake, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Wendy James

author of The Mistake, Why She Loves Him, Where Have You Been?

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Sydney and spent the first few years of my life in Manly. When I was four or so we moved to Bourke – the small town in Western NSW where my Dad grew up. Here I was made to join pony club, despite the fact that I feared and detested horses, and insult was added to injury when my Grandfather bought me a horrible chestnut pony. When I was ten we moved back to Sydney. I went to Manly Girls’ High – which sounds really cool, but sadly I wasn’t much good riding the waves, either, so there went my surfie chick dreams. We went bush again when I was sixteen, this time to Wellington ( NSW , not NZ), where after much effort (and possibly bribery) I eventually made it to second reserve on the Brown Cup volleyball team. I also met the bloke I married at Wello High (no bribery this time). I headed back to Sydney when I’d finished school. By this stage I was quite confused about whether I was a country or a city girl. Still am, really….

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve I made the decision that as science and maths clearly weren’t my strong points, I was unlikely to be a doctor. At eighteen I really wanted to study music or act : so I settled for nursing – for six weeks or so. By thirty I had two kids and was writing writing writing…

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That life would become simpler and less confusing as I got older.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat – opus 9, no 2 — this piece inspired me to slam down the piano lid. Quite resoundingly, and pretty much permanently.

Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I love all of Austen, but seem to reread this particular novel most frequently. Perhaps it’s the way the pathos and irony are perfectly balanced : a lesson for living, too.

Margaret Preston’s woodblock prints. My parents once had a numbered print of Preston’s Lorikeets – I remember being utterly unimpressed by it when Mum first showed it to me as a teenager. But over the years I’ve become a devotee – of Preston and block printing in general. It’s hard to explain the attraction… though I’m sure there’s an analogy with the way I see the world there somewhere. My second novel, THE STEELE DIARIES, was about an imagined Australian woodblock artist, Zelda Steele. I’ve recently had a go at doing lino-prints myself. I’m not much good – but it’s fun – and the battle scars are far more impressive than those you sustain whilst writing ( computer-eyes, muffin top, bad posture, etc…)

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Ah yes, all those alternative careers… Well – I was a very ordinary musician, too be honest, also lazy; and I was far too diffident to throw myself into the maelstrom that is the actors’ life; and let’s not discuss my artistic abilities … Reading had always been my greatest pleasure – still is, really – so eventually writing seemed a natural extension of this .

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

My latest novel – THE MISTAKE – is essentially the story of what happens to a family when a mother’s closely guarded secret is revealed – very publicly. It’s about many things – marriage, parenthood, the media, growing up, friendship, class ….

(BBGuru: the publisher’s blurb - 

We all have secrets . . .

Jodie Garrow is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks when she falls pregnant. Scared, alone and desperate to make something of her life, she adopts out the baby illegally – and tells nobody.

Twenty-five years on, Jodie has built a new life and a new family. But when a chance meeting brings the adoption to the notice of the authorities, Jodie becomes caught in a nationwide police investigation, and the centre of a media witch hunt.

What happened to Jodie’s baby? And where is she now? The fallout from Jodie’s past puts her whole family under the microscope, and her husband and daughter must re-examine everything they believed to be true.

Potent, provocative and compulsively readable, The Mistake is the story of a mother and the media’s powerful role in shaping our opinions. With astonishing insight, it cuts to the heart of what makes a family, and asks us whether we can ever truly know another person.)

Click here to buy The Mistake from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Robert Graves’ puts it beautifully in “The Devils Advice to Storytellers”

…To forge a picture that will pass for true,
Do conscientiously what liars do—
Born liars, not the lesser sort that raid
The mouths of others for their stock-in-trade:
Assemble, first, all casual bits and scraps
That may shake down into a world perhaps;
People this world, by chance created so,
With random persons whom you do not know—
The teashop sort, or travellers in a train
Seen once, guessed idly at, not seen again;
Let the erratic course they steer surprise
Their own and your own and your readers’ eyes;
Sigh then, or frown, but leave (as in despair)
Motive and end and moral in the air;
Nice contradiction between fact and fact
Will make the whole read human and exact.

It’s a brilliant poetic representation of Keats’s idea of negative capability, and expresses just what I set out to do when I write – gathering ideas, characters, events, letting them ‘shake down’ as they will, suspending judgement… I guess I want to leave readers with a sense of wonder and surprise at the world we live in, the people we live amongst – complex, contradictory; to give them a story that’s ‘human and exact’.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I especially admire those who keep on going – disregarding fashion, critical reception, sales…. Persistence is all, to misquote Shakespeare.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I’d like to get to the point where I sit down with an ‘idea’ for a novel, and have it come tapping through my fingertips and onto the blank screen without effort or angst. I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, sadly.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

There’s so much conflicting advice out there: write what you know, write only from the imagination, write all the time, write only when the muse is present, make your characters central, plot is all, make your prose lush, pare it down… etc, etc. I think every writer’s approach is unique – which is what makes reading so much fun. Really, the only thing I can say without qualification is read read read. Write. And then read more.

Wendy, thank you for playing.

Cathy Kelly, bestselling author of The House on Willow Street, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Cathy Kelly

bestselling author of The House on Willow Street, Homecoming, Once in a Lifetime, Lessons in Heartbreak and many more…

Six Sharp Questions


1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

The House on Willow Street is about how the past keeps following you around until you deal with it. For Danae, who lives in the coastal town of Avalon, that means facing up to her mysterious past and destroying the myth that she’s this calm woman who lives alone at the top of Willow Street, with just her beautiful wolf-like dog and some mad chickens for company.

For sisters Tess and Suki, daughters of the ‘Big House’ which sits in ruins above Avalon, that means facing up to what happened to set their lives on a certain path twenty years ago.

As for what it means to me…. ooh, tough one. This was my thirteenth book and it was tricky to write, so it now fills me with pride that I got through it.

Click here to order a signed copy of The House on Willow Street from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

The best has been watching my sons grow and the sheer joy they bring into my life.

As for the worst, if I tell you, I will have to kill you.

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us?It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

I get to watch a lot of kids’ movies and I adore the Madagascar series. I particularly love the penquins and have taken their motto as my own:

‘Just smile and wave, boys, just smile and wave.’

When McDonalds had a Madagascar promotion, I kept one of the penguins which used to (the batteries are now dead) say this. Will have to get a new one. Anyone got any ideas?

4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

I like to think I buck the trend in that I am incredibly practical and do not lie about on a chaise longue and demand grapes, because myself and my husband have to run a house and bring up our boys. So my day goes along the lines of get up and either myself or my husband lets the dogs out. (Three adorable Jack Russell sisters whom I call The Puplets of Loveliness) kiss them, make them brekkie, have coffee myself, get the boys’ lunch, then leg it back upstairs to get the boys’ up.

Finally, I drive my sons to school and we listen to CDs – I am determined to get them into Lenard Skynard and Sweet Home Alabama and they now love it.

After school, I come home, have breakfast and write, as well as doing work-related emails, sticking on the odd washing load, etc. Are you getting the picture here? Normality. The thing is, I am immensely privileged to be able to work from home and be there for my sons to pick them up from school and help with homework, and cook dinner, so I schedule my work around school hours.

At night, I fall into a coma and knit – badly. But I love it. I don’t think I’m difficult to live with, but then perhaps you need to email my husband…? Only kidding. I am a saint, really.

5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

If you write for the marketplace, YOU WILL FAIL. That’s what I believe. If you do not write the truth that is in you, you may as well forget it. I can’t speak for anyone else but that’s what I believe in. I don’t want to live a lie through my work, I put too much into it.

6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

Really, really hard questions and am rushing but….. OK.

1. Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. Hysterically funny, off-the-wall, and easy to read. Let’s get them into reading first. I am assuming they don’t read.

2. Schindler’s Ark - Thomas Keneally – an amazingly moving book about the plight of Jews during World War II, later made into the movie Schindler’s List. I think they will need to understand a little about our world and our past and this book presents a stunningly sad and yet hopeful vision of one of the tragedies of life

3. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins – set in a dystopian future, teenagers are the protaganists – brilliant, brilliant stuff.

4. A Million Little Pieces – James Frey. This is huge book but realistic and grim vision of life addicted to drugs. There was, as you know, controversy about this as Frey had slightly sold this story as his own but it appears to have been not quite his own story. Either way, it’s powerful and a pretty good ‘don’t take drugs, guys’ message. You won’t think a hash cigarette is quite so cool once you’ve read this.

Finally….ooooh, this is HARD. I did think of Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, which is brilliant but dark too, and they’re getting the darker side of life from Thomas Keneally and James Frey already. Catcher In The Rye – teenager-dom done fabulously. But no. Let’s go for the entire Harry Potter series. Wonderfully written, gloriously enthralling and with a strong message of doing the right thing despite fear, these are great books.

Cathy, thank you for playing… and we look forward to seeing you soon!

Cathy Kelly is coming to Booktopia on 7th March 2012!

While Cathy  is here she will be joining us for
a Facebook chat!

Cathy will be answering your questions live!

So, make sure you get your questions ready.

This is going to be great!

Signed Copies: The House on Willow Street will be available from 1st March 2012. However, Cathy Kelly is visiting Booktopia in person on 7th March 2012, and she has agreed to sign copies of her new book for Booktopia’s customers. Therefore,we will only be shipping copies of the book after that date. If you would like to have your book sooner and are happy to have an unsigned copy please contact Customer Service via the Message Centre. Thank you.

BBGuru: I bet you all want to know more about Cathy’s new novel The House on Willow Street – am I right?

So, here is the publisher’s blurb -

Tess used to be happy with her lot: she lives in the idyllic Irish coastal village, Avalon, with her teenage son, Zach, and nine-year-old Kitty, and works in the local antiques shop. Her only regret in life is that everything went so horribly wrong with her first love. Then her marriage falls apart and her first love returns to Avalon.

Suki, Tess′s sister, fled Ireland years ago to marry politician Kyle Richardon, but when Suki discovers that a biographer is planning to tell all, there is only one place she can go to ensure that her secrets stay hidden.

Danae is the village postmistress in Avalon and she′s worked very hard to make sure nobody knows where she came from or who she is. Her past is her business and that′s the way she would like to keep it.

In Galway, Mara sits with a smile glued to her face at a wedding. She only wants to ask the groom one thing: why did he tell her he loved her? Needing to put her past behind her, Mara packs up her life and gets ready for a fresh start.

Can these four women lay their pasts to rest? Or do they need to look back before they can begin to live for the future?

Click here to order a signed copy of The House on Willow Street from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

Visit our Cathy Kelly author page

In 2010, Cathy Kelly answered my Ten Terrifying Questions


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