Designing Your Life: Book Review

Feeling a little lost? Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by university professors Bill Burnett and  Dave Evans uses the theory of design thinking to work out what you want and a life that works for you.

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life was originally offered, by the authors, as a Life Design course at Stanford University. The course was aimed at graduating students preparing to embark on the next stage of their lives. The book is suitable for anyone looking to make changes in their life, at any age. I highly recommend this book to anyone that is still trying to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Through a series of exercises you will be challenged to think about your life and work views. The author’s write “There is no one idea for your life. There are many lives you could live happily and productively.”(1)

The difference between Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life and a self help book, is that you are not left hyped up and with no real plan for the future. With Designing Your Life you develop a number of ‘life-views’ , possible options for what your future could look like and concrete steps to move forward.

Design thinking has become the new trend for Not For Profits and forward thinking corporations, who are trying to find new ways of solving old problems. By having the right mindset and applying design thinking principles the authors help you find your best life.

Design Thinking Principles
  1. Accept: you cannot solve a problem that you are not willing to have.
  2. Empathy
  3. Define the problem. What do you really want?
  4. Prototype solutions. Fail fast & often. Learn and do again. Radical collaboration. Mind mapping.
  5. State of flow
  • What are you curious about?
  • Re-frame problems; change your perspective to address a perceived problem
  • Well designed life means a well lived life.

This book is recommended for anyone who is embarking on a new phase in their life and lacking direction. A good time to read this book would be when graduating from university, if you are thinking of changing jobs or careers or just feel unhappy with your current life.

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life has a 4 out of 5 stars rating.


South of Forgiveness by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger

South of Forgiveness by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger is the remarkable story of rape and subsequent forgiveness by both the survivor and the perpetrator.

Both Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger tell their remarkable story that started in Reykjavik with teenage infatuation, developed into rape and finally ends with forgiveness, with Tom travelling from his home country Australia. We follow both Thordis and Tom as they commit to exploring the event that had come to define both of their lives.

After exchanging hundreds of brutally honest emails over eight years Thordis and Tom decide to meet up in South Africa. A country that is no stranger to violence and the healing power of forgiveness.

South of Forgiveness is a true story of resilience, courage and of finding hope from tragedy.

This story is an unprecedented collaboration between survivor and perpetrator. At times the story telling jumped between the past and present leaving a disconnect that was sometimes annoying.

South of Forgiveness has a 4 star rating. Compelling story but a little clumsy in the format.

The Mind Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer MD: Book Review

Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health by Emeran Mayer MD, explains the science behind the connection between our mind gut and digestive system.

As someone who has a general interest in health, I found this book to be an interesting read, although I did ‘dip’ in and out of the book and at times went ahead to see what the secret was to a happy mind gut. The content, while explained simply, was still a little over whelming.

The author presents the latest research on the effect of the mind gut on our overall well-being. The insights into microbiota (gut flora) offer hope to suffers of gut disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In essence, medical doctors had thought that our brain controlled our digestive system, when in fact the science now proves that the gut impacts our mood, choices and health. The mind communicates with the gut, but your gut also talks to your brain.

In The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health you will learn;

  • The importance of intuition and gut feelings
  • How we can optimize our gut health to live a long disease free life.
  • The relationship between our digestive health and the emotions that make us who we are. Some may even call it our soul!

A big ‘take away’ for me was learning about the effect of unhealthy childhood memories on the mind gut and the resulting long term health outcomes. As a parent it is a natural to want to give your child a happy childhood filled with healthy memories. Sometimes it isn’t always possible and I now see the importance of the link between your child’s mental well-being and the mind gut. It is so important to seek support if you or your child is not processing their life experiences in a healthy way.

Intuition affects most of our everyday decisions. Learn why an upset gut could be responsible for poor decisions and how you can make better intuition decisions in the future.

The good news is that according to The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health it is easy to optimise mind gut health.

  • Essentially lots of probiotic rich foods like kim chi, sauerkraut and yoghurt.
  • Consider a good quality probiotic supplement if taking antibiotics.
  • And of course eat lots of fruit & veggies
  • No processed food
  • Red meat once or twice a week
  • Follow a Mediterranean style diet
  • Include social connection at meal times
  • Daily exercise like walking most days and cardio workouts 3 x per week

For anyone that has family or friends living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) there is hope that with some awareness around the research presented in The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health we are all closer to some answers. In Science Translational Medicine Magazine (March 2017) it was reported that germ free mice have successfully received a transplantation of fecal microbiota from patients with irritable bowel syndrome and this alters gut function and behaviour in recipient mice. These results indicate the potential of microbiota directed therapies for IBS sufferers. See link here for more information

I recommend The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health to anyone who has an interest in mind gut/ digestive disorders, pursuing a healthy lifestyle, parenting and the science behind why we need to look after not just our guts, but our minds as well, to live a long disease free life.

IDEAS WORTH EXPLORING: Mediterranean Diet, Probiotics, Microbiota 

This book has a 4 out of 5 star rating.

Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post-Feminism

Smart Girls by Shauna Pomerantz and Rebecca Raby

Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post-Feminism by Shauna Pomerantz and Rebecca Raby, University of California Press, 2017. The co-authors, professors of child and youth studies at Brock University, Ontario present the outcomes from a five year study of 57 girls and 17 boys from Canada, aged 12-17 years.

The authors question “Are girls really taking over the world?” and if so is there a place for post feminism?

From the group and one-on-one interviews with the teenagers, we have a glimpse of the world that these self recognised smart kids live in. Balancing academic success, with popularity and extra circular activities is common for both boys and girls, however the overwhelming results indicate that “When girls are dumbing down in order to be attractive to boys and boys feel that is “unmanly” to study, we have a problem.”

Themes of the study include:


As the mother of two teenage daughters I was interested to read about the studies that explore the pressures that teenagers are placed under today. At no other time in history has technology changed so dramatically in such a short span of time. How do we, as society cope with these changes and most importantly to me how are we able to help our children manage this change?

Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post-Feminism

is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in parenting. The studies offer an authentic insight into the challenges faced by high achieving children and the dynamic with their parents, teachers and peers. Ultimately post-feminism is established as a myth. However I found that the information was presented in a rambling fashion and repeated a number of times.

For this reason I have rated this book Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post-Feminism as 3 stars.

Gene Genius by Dr Margaret Smith

Gene Genius by Dr Margaret Smith understand genetic testing

Gene Genius Understand your DNA and create your own genetic roadmap to health and happiness by Dr Margaret Smith with Sue Williams.

Gene Genius helps to answer the questions like why two people can follow a diet together yet one losses weigh faster or why some some people thrive on taking risks where others don’t? The answer appears to lie in our genes.

Gene Genius is highly recommended reading for anyone considering genetic testing and interested in general health and well being. The author, Dr Margaret Smith is a leading Australian genetic scientist with a wonderful way of explaining the complexities of DNA and genetic inheritance.

This emerging area of science is now shedding light on how your mental and physical health is influenced by your genes and how you can make informed decisions about the best path for a healthier you.

Gene Genius has suggestions for how to deal with problematic genetic inheritance, such as heart disease, weight gain, mental illness, stress, cancer, diabetes, drug or alcohol dependencies and much more.

Genetic testing is now widely available and can be easy as taking a saliva sample and posting to a lab. Dr Margaret Smith suggests how to approach genetic testing and recommends a genetic counsellor to anyone considering genetic testing. Gene Genius helps you decipher the results and provides the information that can help frame your results.

With genetic testing everyone now has the power to make informed choices about your health and well-being by working with your genes to live your best life possible.

Gene Genius book has a 4 star rating. A complex subject matter explained simply.

You Are Awesome by Neil Pasricha: Book Review

You Are Awesome by Author Neil Pasricha explores resilience as the antidote to today’s broken world.

Anxiety in children is epidemic, suicide and stress related illness has never been more prevalent in history than now. Why? How can we fix it?

Resilience is at an all time low in contemporary society. Neil comments that we live in an age of abundance – no world wars, plentiful food – yet we lack connection. Meaningful social connection has been replaced with social media, texting instead of speaking, generally everyone is too busy!

You Are Awesome as a title was a little cheesy for me and slightly off-putting, however I am so pleased that I read this book. It has a very important message, revealed through 9 secrets, that is all the more engaging because of Neil’s friendly humor and revealing anecdotes.

While reading You Are Awesome it has been enjoyable to reflect on my own past and see that my strength does come from adversity. The bad times have been learning experiences that make you cherish the good times.

Highly recommended reading for anyone who needs to get of their own way of their happiness. A no nonsense receipe for building resilence in ourselves and our children. Leading to intentional life by connecting meaningfully at home, work and school.

Gender Equality: Ideas Worth Exploring

Idaes worth exploring gender equality

Will we see gender equality in the workplace in our lifetime? As the mother of two teenage daughters I hope that they will find their passion in life and pursue it. I believe that by following your passion success will surely follow.

Unfortunately the reality is that no matter how ambitious or successful my daughters become, statistically speaking, they will be paid 28.7%* less then a man who is working the same hours and doing the same job. Worse yet, by the time they retire there super fund balance will be 52.8%** less than a man’s. We are a long way from gender equality in the workplace.

Until 1969 legislation in Australia allowed employers to pay women a minimum rate of 25% less than male employees. Despite the change in legislation and the establishment of Affirmative Action Agency, later called the Equal Opportunity in the Workplace Agency, the gender pay gap has continued. It was not until 2009, when an Australian House of Representatives Pay Equity Report called on the Commonwealth Government to elevate pay equity to be a clear objective of modern awards, that we started to see an improvement in the gender wage gap.

Where have we gone wrong as a society that despite legislation, women in the workforce are being judged by virtue of being female?

Our girls are now outperforming boys at school. At no time in history have so many women graduated from university. Women are accounting for 40% of all new appointments to ASX 200 boards in January 2016***. Women make up 46.2% of the work force in Australia****. Yet women experience inequality in the workplace and are still not being paid the same as men for doing the same job.

So what is the solution to creating gender equality?

  • Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Google fame believes the solution is having more women in positions of leadership. See more in my book review on Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.
  • Women need to improve their salary negotiation skills.
  • Change the institutional norms about what it means for a women in management to be ‘too masculine’ or ‘too feminine’.
  • Policies around superannuation need to be reconsidered so men and women are not at a disadvantage when away from the work force to care for children and/or family. A lot of women in the workforce today are going to be living their old age in poverty, if the policies do not change.
  • Let’s enforce strict penalties for companies who discriminate against women and pay less just because they are female.

I agree with Sheryl Sandberg that until we see more women in government and business leadership roles we will not see significant change. Furthermore, as women we need to encourage each other, to speak up and ‘lean in’ to leadership.

Please see below for the latest statistics from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (Australian Government August 2016).

Workforce Participation

  • Women comprise 46.2%**** of all employees in Australia. As a proportion of all employees, 24.8% are women working full-time and 21.4% are women working part-time.
  • Women constitute 71.6% of all part-time employees, 36.7% of all full-time employees and 54.7% of all casual employees.
  • The workforce participation rate for women is 59.3%, and for men is 70.4%.

Women in Leadership

  • Women hold 14.2% of chair positions, 23.6% of directorships, as well as represent 15.4% of CEOs and 27.4% of key management personnel in Agency reporting organisations.
  • One-quarter (25.1%) 17 of Agency reporting organisations have no key management personnel who are women.18 Real time statistics from the AICD19 reveal:
  • 23.4% of directors in the ASX 200 are women in January 2016.
  • Women account for 40.0% of new appointments to ASX 200 boards in January 2016***.
  • 10.0% of ASX 200 companies do not have a woman on their board.

Economic Security

  • The full-time average weekly ordinary earnings for women are 16.2% less than for men.
  • Among non-public sector organisations with 100 or more employees, the gender pay gap for full-time annualised base salary is 19.1%, and for full-time annualised total remuneration is 24.0%.
  • The full-time average hourly earnings for women are 13.9% less than men’s full-time average hourly earnings.
  • The gender pay gap in ASX 200 organisations is 28.7%*.
  • Average graduate salaries for women are 9.4% less than for men. When factors such as personal characteristics, occupation, industry and education are accounted for, average graduate salaries for women are 4.4% less than for men.
  • Average superannuation balances for women at retirement are 52.8%** less than those for men.
  • Of people aged 65 years and older receiving the aged pension, 55.6% are women.

Let’s work together, men and women, to make the workplace a better and fairer place for our daughters. Stop the discrimination of women in the workplace now.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson

It Doesnt have to be crazy at workby Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson

The owners of Basecamp have written a thoughtful and brutally honest guide to reducing workplace stress and creating a work-life environment where everyone thrives. 

Employers and Employees are both asked to question their culture at work. The Authors then outline the policies that Basecamp have adopted to create a culture where the person is respected. Their time (9am-5pm M-F only – no weekends or long days – work a 4 day week in summer), their expertise (all paid the same for the same job – work remotely &/or at own pace – 6 week projects), their vacations (no contact from work and Basecamp pay for 3 wk holiday expenses), their fitness ($1K allowance per mth to fitness or personal development expenses) and even their organic fruit and vegetables (one box per week in summer), to name a few!

The idea being that employers and employees together help to make our work the place that we can bring our professionalism and best self, with the ultimate goal of changing our response to work place stress and achieving work-life balance.

The Authors provide honest examples of how they have sometimes got it wrong and why they have decided to embrace a calm work culture that improves the well being of employer and employees alike.

I highly recommend this book to anyone aiming to reduce stress in the workplace.

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg: Book Review

Option B Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Following the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg plumbed the depths of grief and despair. Afraid that her children would never find joy again Sheryl Sandberg, together with friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, decided to write a book that presents the latest research around resilience.

Sheryl Sandberg writes with heart wrenching honesty about her personal journey with grief. Sandberg Includes a chapter on building resilience in children. Prepare for your heart to ache as Sandberg shares her children’s response to the news of losing their father and the raw grief in the months following.

Sheryl Sandberg also explores the consequences of not supporting employees facing adversity in the workplace. Whether it is death of someone close, divorce, illness, racism, bullying or sexism. We all at sometime struggle to function at work in the face of adversity. As Sandberg states “The sad truth is that adversity is not evenly distributed among us; marginalised and disenfranchised groups have more to battle and more to grieve.” The very least that employers can do is to provide a supportive environment for their employees to work through grief or adversity in their own way.

Our Recommendation

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy is recommended reading for anyone who has experienced the death of anyone close or is facing adversity. Should you want to support someone having a tough time Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy will provide the neccesary information. Simarily, if you have lost someone close and feel you haven’t moved on in your grief process then this book provides many ‘a-ha’ moments.

Sheryl Sandberg uses her personal story, together with stories from a board range of people to explore the latest research into resilience. Building resilience is a learnt skill and a skill that can be developed like a muscle. The more you ‘exercise’ it the more resilience will become. Resilience can be strengthened individually, in families, communities and in workplaces. Option B is a handbook for those wanting to take steps towards building  resilience to help create a better world.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg’s previous book (see our review here), Sandberg was criticised for not being able to relate to single mothers. In Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy Sheryl Sandberg acknowledges, with heartfelt honesty, that she simply couldn’t relate to single mothers when writing Lean In. Now with her experience as a single mother, albeit a well resourced single mum, she acknowledges it is challenging and society as a whole needs to increase support to single parents. At a minimum address the disparity between male and female wages. See here for the current statistics from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (Australia).

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy is not a light read, however it is an engaging read because of the clever integration of research, with Sandberg’s and other people’s stories of adversity.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy is rated a 4 out of 5 stars.

A Man Called Ove by Erik Backman: Book Review

A Man Called Ove: A Novel

A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman is a wonderful feel good story, about a cantankerous old man called Ove and set in a small Swedish town. Oh, but A Man Called Ove is so much more than that! The author, Fredrik Backman, has masterfully used this story to explore love, grief, what it means to be a ‘man today, ageing and the importance of community.

For a long time I resisted reading A Man Called Ove. This was the mistaken belief that it would be another version of The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by fellow Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Please do not do yourself the same disservice. This book is wonderful for it’s unique story and the authors exploration of contemporary themes affecting most western countries today.

With A Man Called Ove we are given an intimate portrayal of the day to day life of an elderly man swamped with grief following the death of his adored wife. In a state of depression he alienates himself from society through the bad behaviour of an angry old man. Neighbours, old friends and cats are not safe from Ove’s grumpy rants and acts of revenge.

Ove’s life story is tantalisingly revealed through the authors clever use of alternating present and past. Flashbacks mixed with rants about not following road rules, apartment block signs and the evils of spending up on credit cards, slowly reveal Ove’s honest and humble character, together with a beautiful love story.

The theme that I most enjoyed in this book is that of community. In Ove’s case, how the love and support from a community can transform a life. Within this theme we are offered a glimpse of how Sweden, like many countries, is losing it’s small communities to larger cities and how immigration is invigorating small towns and villages.

The driving force of the story is Oves relationship with an immigrant, Parvenah. Through the character Parvenah the Author explores the theme of ‘place’. Do you need to be born and bred, go on to build your own home to establish a sense of place? Or in the immigrant’s experience is ‘place’ built by familiar food & customs and developed through reaching out and helping those in need? Why do some cultures have charity as a very strong value? If someone is in need of help, do you impose charity regardless of if they want it?

Oves is able to stay in his home that he has built and enjoyed with his beloved wife. This is only possible with the help of neighbours and is a beautiful example of ‘ageing in place’ and another option to ageing gracefully as discussed in a previous blog post.

A Man Called Ove the movie was released in 2015, I haven’t seen the movie and will probably wait a while. I just don’t like being disappointed if the director’s interpretation is different to my own. A Man Called Ove was so enjoyable that I would of liked to of saviour my own personal delight in the story a little longer.

I recommend A Man Called Ove to anyone who enjoys a feel good story that is well written. If you have enjoyed The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, then you will love A Man Called Ove. Anyone with a love for Sweden will enjoy the poignant descriptions of the landscape and unique Swedish quirks of the people.

A Man Called Ove is a definite 5 stars from me!

Easy Mediterranean by Sue Quinn: Book Review

Easy Mediterranean healthy cookbook by Sue Quinn

Easy Mediterranean by Sue Quinn is a healthy cookbook. Filled with delicious recipes that are simply to prepare. My favourite combination when looking for inspiration for family meals.

After reading The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel, as well as The Mind Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer MD I was surprised to discover that both books mentioned the Mediterranean diet as the best approach to leading a healthy lifestyle. Not just the actual food but the accompanying social aspect i.e. sitting down with family/ friends and enjoying your food. I was a little confused by what constituted a ‘Mediterranean diet’ as the Mediterranean covers a vast area with diverse cultures. Interestingly enough there were not many healthy cookbooks that cover Mediterranean cuisine.

Easy Mediterranean author, Sue Quinn states that her book is not intended as a prescriptive diet book, but as guide to the healthy eating habits of the Mediterranean using “delicious food and wonderful flavors and ingredients of the region”. This healthy cookbook achieves these goals and some. An instant dinner party success was the Freekah with Feta, Roast Tomatoes and Herbs recipe. A new family favourite is Juicy Pork Chops with Rosemary, Juniper and Braised Fennel. Both full of flavor and appealing to the whole family. What’s not to love?

My only disappointment was that Easy Mediterranean is aimed at the UK market, although the author is Australian. Therefore some of the ingredients are not available as fresh produce in Australia, so I then had to substitute with the canned version. A little annoying when my aim was to eat healthy & fresh food. Although the Mediterranean is a long way from Australia so really what can be expected?

The preface includes some interesting  information about the history and health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, together with “The Mediterranean Diet at a Glance”. The information is concise and nicely correlates with the information contained in both The Telomere Effect and The Mind Gut Connection.

Overall I have found this cook book to be very useful. Quite often I will buy a healthy cookbook and find, maybe, two recipes that are cooked once and the cookbook then languishes with the rest of the collection, rarely opened again. Because of the simplicity of the recipes together with the sheer flavor of the food combinations this healthy cookbook is becoming well used. The splashed, dog eared kind of well used. If you are looking for a simply guide with easy healthy recipes that will appeal to the whole family then I recommend Easy Mediterranean by Sue Quinn.

This book has a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.


The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn & Elissa Epel: Book Review

The Telomere Effect living younger healthier longer

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Nobel Prize Winner, Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel.
Learn about the telomere effect of the shoe lace cap like ends of our DNA and discover the secret to ageing gracefully.

We all know that we need to eat more fruit & veggies (especially a Mediterranean Diet) and keep moving to be healthy, so no surprises there. However, throw in some stress reducing ideas, like meditation and the right diet with exercise and you can expect to have good Telomere’s and a better chance of living a long and healthy life.

The authors explain this complex subject in very easy to understand terms. At times I felt that I was sitting with a (smart!) friend in a cafe who was chatting about the extraordinary benefits of looking after Telomere’s. All the information & recommendations in The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer has been rigorously researched and supported with scientific studies by recognised universities.

One of the studies focuses on measuring the telomeres of women who are the primary caregivers for severely disabled children. The results are fascinating for anyone interested in the importance of mental health on our overall well being. The data from this long term has gone a long way to also prove the importance of good telomere health.

Since becoming a Nobel Prize Winner the authors work has been widely recognised and number of health supplements and beauty products have become available that claim to support telomere health and essentially offer “the fountain of youth”. The authors also provide the scientific reasons why these products should be avoided and could possibly lead to cancer.

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer is compelling reading for anyone interested in health, beauty and the latest innovations in science on how to live a long and healthy life.

Ideas worth exploring: Ageing Gracefully, meditation and the Mediterranean Diet.

This book has a 4 out of 5 rating.

Life Adventures of a Chippie, Graeme Tosh by Helen Maguire: Book Review

Graeme Tosh, Life Adventures of a Chippie

Life Adventures of a Chippie: Graeme Tosh, as recorded by Helen Maguire, is a collection of memories, from a lifetime spent living in Armidale NSW.

In Life Adventures of a Chippie we are provided with an intimate view of a remarkable man who valued family and a good honest-day’s work, working with his hands as a ‘chippie’ (carpenter).

Graeme Tosh’s Scottish parents settled on a small farm in Armidale, rural NSW, Australia. In Graeme’s stories we learn about the farming practices of the late 1800’s/ early 1900’s on a small farm in Armidale. From the days of horse and cart, to the first motor cars, we can experience the practicality of the day to day life of a farming family. “So basically we dragged ourselves up” explains Graeme Tosh. The realities of growing up and being expected to contribute to the family farm, with chores before and after school, with little time for study, lead to a satisfying career as a chippie.

Through Graeme’s memories we see the Scottish immigrants experience of rural Australia. It is a unique perspective of Armidale in the first half of the 20th century, including growing up in rural Australia during the war years.

With gentle self-effacing humour Graeme recalls his younger years, his first job, first date and first love. In many ways this memoir is also a love story. Graeme’s wife is the love of his life and his love shines through with every reference to his life partner and mother of his children.

We see the social structure in the small country town of Armidale, with Graeme recalling stories about many of the towns local people, land mark buildings and the building projects that Graeme was involved with.

With loving pride Graeme describes his family and friends. Wonderful experiences travelling overseas and researching new shop fitting ideas. Travelling with his beloved wife and dear friends around Australia.

With stoic acceptance Graeme learns of his cancer diagnosis. With honesty he ponders a life well lived and with little regret.

The beauty of this memoir is Graeme’s ‘can-do’ attitude that pervades the stories. “I believe circumstances work things out and if you’re available to take up the opportunity, it’s not good to miss an opportunity”, Graeme surmises.

I would love to have met Graeme Tosh. His no-nonsense, no ‘shades of grey’ approach to life is refreshing in this time of regulations and what feels like a world gone crazy with rules. Common sense and doing the right thing by other people, was what governed Graeme’s life. Graeme love of family, sensible respect of the land and mastery of building pervades this memoir.


This book is a collection of stories that have been faithfully reproduced by a loving daughter. The voice is, as the author Helen Maguire explains, in ‘Dad-speak’. It is a raw account of a life well lived.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in recording the life of a loved one. It is a beautiful gift to be able to give someone; the chance to leave a literary legacy. Helen Maguire captures her fathers memories honestly and evocatively.

If you have lived in Armidale or have family and/or friends who have settled in Armidale, then you will throughly enjoy this memoir. There is a good chance that you, or someone you know may feature in one of Graeme Tosh’s stories!

Furthermore, anyone who has Scottish ancestry or relatives who migrated to Australia in the late 1800’s/ early 1900’s will enjoy this account of the realities of day-to-day life on a small farm.

I am very proud to know Helen Maguire, Graeme’s daughter who wrote his life story on his behalf. This book was given to me to read and review. Should you like to purchase a copy please contact