My monthly newsletter (which you can subscribe to by filling in the form on the right-hand side of my website’s home page) always includes an “On My Bedside Table” section. This is primarily a mix of books I’m currently reading or have just bought with the intention of reading. Disclaimer: I always buy more books than I can realistically read in any given month.
Here, however, are a few books I’ve actually finished recently and would recommend to other readers:
Skimming Stones by Maria Papas (2021)
Grace is a nurse working with young cancer patients and their families. When a critical incident occurs on her ward, Grace begins to recall the events of her own disrupted childhood, much of which revolved around her younger sister’s illness. Grace’s current day happenings are interwoven with not only her memories of childhood but also her reflections on a recent affair.
I adored this book for its beautifully crafted words and for the way Papas transitions between the past and the present without losing the reader, while gradually revealing the full impact of those childhood experiences on the now adult Grace.
Why Skimming Stones is on my bedside table: a friend invited me to the book launch, so of course, I had to buy a signed copy. Among my favourite books this year.
Still Life by Sarah Winman (2021)
I was initially drawn to this book because it’s set in Florence during the Second World War (one of my side research interest), where young soldier Ulysses Temper is stationed. There, he briefly meets art historian and kindred spirit Evelyn Skinner. However, after the war, Ulysses returns to the UK and their connection is seemingly lost.
Much of the immediate post-war period is set in and around a London pub, following Ulysses and the grab-bag of eccentric characters he calls friends, who I fell in love with despite their flaws. When an unexpected inheritance helps Ulyssess find his way back to Florence, he is set to discover what happens when friends become the family you choose in spite of everything life throws your way.
Why Still Life is on my bedside table: it was my book club’s selection last month, but it’s been on my radar for a while because of my interest in Florence and the Second World War. Still Life made me desperate to return to Florence to wander her streets once again.
A Caravan Like a Canary by Sasha Wasley (2022)
If you’ve ever wanted to head out on a long road trip, then join Tara Button, her rat bag brother, Zac, and their childhood friend, Danh, as they head out from one side of the state to the other towing a rusty yellow caravan. Tara is doing so reluctantly at the behest of her dying mother, although any request is loaded with complicated motivations and memories Tara would rather keep buried. Throw in a brother a group of bikies, an unusual graffiti artist and plenty of unscheduled detours, and you are bound for one hell of a ride.
A book for a road trip, perhaps, although Tara’s is far from smooth, so perhaps better suited for curling up with a warm blanket to escape the wintry weather outside. I devoured A Caravan Like a Canary in a single wet weekend.
Why A Caravan Like a Canary is on my bedside table: I’m a fan of Sasha Wasley’s other rural fiction.
Bedtime Story by Chloe Hooper (2022)
When Chloe Hooper’s partner is diagnosed with cancer, she searches for a way to tell their two boys about what is happening. Hooper writes Bedtime Story as if she is speaking directly her elder son (e.g. “Whenever I look for you, invariably you’re by his bedside, checking on him …”), who is six at the time of the diagnosis.
The book moves between a mostly chronologically told story as Chloe supports her partner through his cancer diagnosis and treatment, and interesting tangents about why and how we tell stories, the hero’s journey and numerous references to other literary texts, particularly those read by children.
Why Bedtime Story is on my bedside table: a friend recommended it to me because she enjoyed it and thought it might be relevant to my current work-in-progress, which also involves caring for a loved one with a serious illness.
The Twelfth Raven by Doris Brett (2014)
The Twelfth Raven by Doris Brett is another memoir of caring with someone with an illness. In June 2009, Doris Brett and her husband Martin are dancing with friends when he collapses following a stroke. During her husband’s long recovery, Doris researches the latest discoveries about brain plasticity and neurotheraphy before applying them to her husband’s condition. But the story doesn’t end with his recovery; several other life curve balls are thrown in to disrupt their lives further.
The Twelfth Raven is moving and deeply engaging without veering into self-indulgence or the melodramatic. Although caring for a husband who has had a stroke is somewhat different to my experience of mothering a child born with a congenital heart defect, there were so many times I sighed with recognition at the various emotional truths that emerge in Doris Brett’s writing.
Why The Twelfth Raven is on my bedside table: my university supervisor recommended it for its potential relevance to my research and writing project.
Over to You
What was the last book you read that you would recommend without hesitation?
And what else is currently on your bedside table?