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Biographies have long fascinated readers, serving as guides for how to live our own lives or often just giving us an intriguing peek into the world of extraordinary people. In this round-up we look at a comedian with a disability, a magician with a learning disorder, the real man behind Walter White of Breaking Bad and more. But we’re bending the biography rules a bit by also including a book by a philosopher that will prompt you to think about living a better life, a book about Aussies at war and an account of Queensland police leading lives of corruption.
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Archive Discoveries

  • If you think of the German navy in World War II, then you probably conjure up images of grand-scale conflicts such as the Battle of the Atlantic or the Baltic Sea campaigns. But not so many people are aware that German ships were also on the prowl down in the South Pacific and in the Indian Ocean, where they disguised themselves as ordinary freighters before launching their deadly assaults on unsuspecting Allied craft. False Flags, a new account by Canberra author STEPHEN ROBINSON, tells the story of four German raiders, including the infamous attack by one of them, the Kormoran, on the HMAS Sydney in 1941. GRANT HANSEN reports. Read on >
  • I switched on to watch ABC TV’s The Drum one evening and discovered Jodi Picoult sitting on the panel discussion.What a great performer she is – not only an impressive writer but also an impressive speaker.The discussion at the table was raging around whether a white author has the right, or could even have the understanding, to write about black characters. As a white woman, how could she really know what’s it’s like to be a black woman, let alone a black man? How could she write black characters and make them authentic without knowing how they feel? Read on >
  • Lynda La Plante changed the face of crime fiction and television with Prime Suspect and its stoic lead character, DCI Jane Tennison. Her new series details how Tennison cut her teeth on London’s crime-ridden, gang-ruled streets in the 80s. We asked the queen of crime 10 questions ahead of her new book release, Hidden Killers. Read on >
  • Australian author of literary and crime fiction DOROTHY JOHNSTON writes about the real-life kidnapping of a camel, coming home to Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, and how she came to write Through a Camel’s Eye. Read on >
  • The changing moral code and shift in gender roes of World War II provide the backdrop for JENNIFER RYAN's debut novel The Chilbury Ladies' Choir. She tells MAUREEN EPPEN about the people and events that inspired the story. Read on >
  • This book might have the word ‘tax’ in its title, but don’t let that dreary term fool you. The Great Multinational Tax Rort tells the intriguing tale of how, for decades, multinational corporations have been slithering out of their obligations to pay their fair share of tax, leaving governments with shrinking funds to pay for essential services for their citizens. In this extract, MARTIN FEIL, also the author of The Failure of Free-Market Economics, outlines some of the techniques these business behemoths use to cunningly avoid paying tax – leaving us all the poorer. Read on >
  • FIONA CAPP is the internationally published, award-winning author of three works of non-fiction, including her memoir That Oceanic Feeling – which won the Kibble Award – and five novels, including Gotland, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards. Fiona lives in Melbourne and works as a freelance writer and reviewer. Her latest novel, To Know My Crime, is a story of blackmail, risk, corruption, guilt and consequences set on the Mornington Peninsula. We asked Fiona to tell us about the books that have shaped her view of the world. Read on >
  • For many of the families of servicemen killed in World War I, a terse telegram from the government was never going to be enough to assuage their grief. Families wrote back in their thousands, seeking more information about the fate of their loved ones. It was the task of James M Lean to reply to these families and, as author CAROL ROSENHAIN outlines in The Man Who Carried the Nation’s Grief, he did so with extraordinary empathy and sensitivity. Read on >
  • Novelist and journalist MAGGIE ALDERSON spent her gap year as a ‘ferocious punk rocker’ working at an advertising agency and starting her own punk fanzine, for which she interviewed Bob Geldoff and Billy Idol. She went on to become the editor of Evening Standard and Elle in London. She also spent eight years in Australia as editor of Cleo and Mode, and covering fashion shows in Milan and Paris for The Sydney Morning Herald. Now back in the UK, Maggie has just released a new novel, The Scent of You. She tells us why reading fairy stories is good training for any writer, who her literary crush is, and why War and Peace is the most emotionally involving books she's ever read. Read on >
  • The author of The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: And other inspiring stories of pioneering brain transformation, busts long-held conceptions about how our minds function. Read on >
  • It’s 100 years since
 Roald Dahl’s birth on 13 September 1916. For many years now, 13 September has been celebrated as Roald Dahl Day.  I love all of Roald Dahl’s books. I love the naughty antics his characters get up to in so many of his stories. I love reading about the fascinating life he led – especially his wartime flying exploits – and I really loved how he made the nasty grandmother in George’s Marvellous Medicine just go ‘pop’ and disappear. I think we all have someone in our life we’d like that to happen to occasionally. If you are yet to read his memoirs – Boy and Going Solo – I can’t recommend them highly enough. Read on >

Book Reviews in this issue

  • The boy of this book’s subtitle was Georg Forster, son of the German naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster, who so annoyed his shipmates on Cook’s second great circumnavigation of the globe. A N Wilson uses a complex but deftly handled narrative structure to capture the complexity of Georg’s life, much of which was spent travelling. Read on >

  • ‘Who holds the whip hand?’ asks a question on the back cover of this book.Never have I been so intrigued by a blurb. Separated into two collections of short stories, Mihaela Nicolescu’s ‘The Returning’ and Nadine Browne’s ‘Playing Dead,’ this anthology is primarily concerned with women’s stories. Read on >

  • Welcome to the Late Roman Empire in the early 4th century CE. This is a pretty good read and recommended for those who want a different take on the Rome they know.   Read on >

  • Almost without exception, the characters in this novel are vividly rendered, and their attitudes and relationships – however unlikely – are entirely believable. I enjoyed almost every moment of this lovely story. Read on >

  • Thirty-something food photographer Kit is engaged to Scott, a talented but emotionally distant industrial designer with whom she has little in common. Raph is everything Scott is not: warm, sexy and mysterious. Should Kit dive into an unknown future with Raph, or play it safe with Scott? Is the man of her dreams everything he appears to be? Read on >

  • I was hooked and found myself enjoying spending time with these quirky, likeable people. A great book for the holidays. Read on >

  • Norman invites his stepmother to live with him, his wife and their three children. She proves to be an cantankerous lodger. But it’s only after she dies that the full extent of her malevolence is revealed.    Read on >

  • What would you choose to see if you could have one moment of history played out in front of your eyes? Dickinson’s novel immerses you. It can require concentration to keep up with the flow of the story but it’s worth the effort for readers who love a good time travel mystery. Read on >

  • In the distant future, the Earth has turned on humanity, almost as if in revenge for the way it has polluted, raped and pillaged the planet’s resources over the centuries. Rain is a long-forgotten memory, and the world has been reshaped by a colossal rise of the oceans, far beyond even the most pessimistic predictions of contemporary real-world pundits.  Read on >

  • Here I Am is a difficult read – not because it’s not good – but because it’s uncomfortably good. The complex subject matter, the characters and the world that Jonathan Safran Foer creates rings all too true.       Read on >

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