WSIRN Ep 110: When your life resembles Big Little Lies

Readers, I’m so excited to bring you our first full episode with a guest from Down Under! I’m talking books with Fiona Thoms, a party-planning, paleo cooking, PTA president mum of three kids who lives in Sydney, Australia. You may recognize Fiona’s voice from Episode 62, because she recommends two books to me in our special What Should ANNE Read Next episode.Fiona and I discuss the pleasures and perils of the Australian literary life, how she loves to read fictional books about the places she travels to, how her life bears an uncanny resemblance to the Liane Moriarty novel Big Little Lies, and more. Let’s get to it.


What Should I Read Next #110: When your life resembles Big Little Lies with Fiona Thoms

Connect with Fiona Thoms: Instagram

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding, story collection by Agatha Christie (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Divided Kingdom, by Rupert Thomson (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula LeGuin (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner (Amazon |Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Ramona Quimby, Age 8, by Beverly Cleary (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Wife No. 19, by Ann Eliza Young (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Democracy, by Joan Didion (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Any Human Heart, by William Boyd (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Goodbye to All That: An Autobiography, by Robert Graves (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Author Barbara Pym
• Extinctions, by Josephine Wilson (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• A Man Called Ove, by Fredrick Backman (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Three Dollars, by Elliot Perlman (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• On the Beach, by Nevil Shute (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Dry, by Jane Harper (Amazon | Barnes and Noble IndieBound)
• Force of Nature, by Jane Harper (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• Gould’s Book of Fish, by Richard Flanagan (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Gypsy in the Parlour, by Marjorie Sharp (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
• The Borrowers, by Marjorie Sharp (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)

Also mentioned:

The 2018 Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge
• Books on the Nightstand podcast
• Just the Right Book podcast with Roxanne Cody. (Listen to Anne’s recent episode here)
• @bookmusings on Instagram
• Virago Modern Classics
• Persephone Classics

What do YOU think Fiona should read next? Tell us all about it in comments. 

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  1. Caitlin Mallery says:

    I read Three Men in a Boat in high school (I think it was introduced by Pastor Alastair Begg) and whenever I need a good dose of humor I pick it up. For a American humor I like Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand: The Story of Frontier Religion by Ross Phase.

  2. Jessica says:

    My favourite Australian books this year: Goodwood by Holly Throsby and The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke. My all time favourites are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Joe Cinque’s Consolation by Helen Garner.

  3. Jacelyn McGowan says:

    I found this episode to be delightful! I am not familiar with many of the books mentioned in this episode, but it was such a pleasant conversation.

    Fiona, I am intrigued by the books you read for each state you visited. How did you come up with a list or suggestions? I would love to do this.

    My husband travels quite a bit for work, and he travels to Australia a couple of times a year. I never ask for souvenirs, but I think the next time he visits an English speaking country I will ask him to pick up a book for me written by a native author. Hearing you talk about Australian book stores and authors inspired me. Thank you!

    • Fiona says:

      Hey Jacelyn, I picked the US books by state mostly through good reads and googling. Penguin random house publishes a series on Instagram called the United States of books which lists 10 books per state. It’s worth checking out.

      Getting a book souvenir sounds great. All bookstores here have an Australian section and I’m sure the booksellers would help your husband pick a book.

      Thanks Fiona

  4. Maureen says:

    I never comment but have several comments for this one!

    1. Fiona – I would suggest reading (if you haven’t already) Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog.” It is so much fun (a time travel homage to Three Men in a Boat).

    2. If you haven’t ready Pobby and Dingan, I highly recommend it. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. It takes place in the opal mining area of Australia. A slim beautiful little book.

    3. On “A Suitable Boy” – I have it, still haven’t read it. When we were moving into our new house, my husband labelled the box with our copy with “Caution – contains A Suitable Boy.” hee hee.

    4. And, have you read Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate? It’s a story told in sonnet form. An amazing achievement but more importantly a wonderful story. I haven’t read it in many years, so it may be a little of its time (1990s San Francisco area) – I’m not sure how it holds up.

    • Fiona says:

      Thanks Maureen.
      1. I haven’t read it! It sounds fantastic. I will search this one down straight away.
      2. Added to my TBR
      3. Yes. It is a total doorstop!
      4. No I haven’t read that but will keep an eye out for it.

  5. Lydia says:

    An Australian novel that I loved and would recommend is Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson. It is so evocative and gently beautiful. A novel that stays with you. ( and cricket).

    I loved the dry , so I was thrilled to hear about a new Jane Harper.

    Thank you

  6. Noel says:

    A Fine Balance is one of my favorite books! I’ve read all that Mistry has written, but this one remains my favorite. I’ve read many of the books you mentioned, and love Lahiri as well. The Sparrow? Not so much.
    Some Australian authors/books that you might like: The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay ( one of my top ten books). He also wrote The Persimmon Tree which I listened to on Audible and was excellent.
    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts was fascinating, not only for the story, but because of the behind the scene story of the author.
    The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCoullough – old but good.

    Great podcast! Happy reading!

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Noel, it seems we have similar taste. I also really loved Family Matters by Mistry. I should read more of work for sure.
      Yes I’ve read The Power of One and the Thorn Birds but I haven’t got to Shantaram – it seems so long! I’m putting it on my TBR.
      Thanks Fiona

  7. Lindsay says:

    Fiona, Totally agree regarding the violent scene near the end of Outlander. If I was on WSIRN, Outlander would be my choice for this same reason. That scene was so vivid and disturbing and went on for pages and pages!! It totally spoiled an otherwise enjoyable read.
    Also, thanks for the pronunciation of “Kinokuniya”. I live in Singapore and absolutely live in this store (it is FABULOUS).. but I have never heard anyone say the name aloud! :).

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Lindsay,
      I hope I pronounced it correctly! Everyone in Sydney seems to say it differently but the store has printed a pronounciation guide on the back of their catalogues so I hope I am close. The Sydney store overlooks the Town Hall and the Queen Victoria building, both beautiful old sandstone buildings. The children’s reading area has floor to ceiling glass windows and overlooks a busy pedestrian are and it is so fun to sit in there and read!
      Thanks Fiona

      • Lindsay says:

        We visited to Sydney last year and I know just the area you’re describing!! :). I absolutely loved it there and I loved listening to your description of the Sydney harbour on the podcast. It brought me right back. Sydney is gorgeous and I can’t wait to visit again soon. Merry Christmas and enjoy your summer!

  8. Sheila DelCharco says:

    I love how MUCH you read! I think I’m going to make that a goal for 2018: to have a set amount of reading time per day. I love that you read aloud with your kids. Did you read a book with them for each state? I immediately thought of Water Sky and the Year of Ms. Agnes for Alaska! Bound for Oregon for, obviously, Oregon. By the Great Horn Spoon for California. Just a few off the top of my head.

    Thanks for the 3 Men in a Boat recommendation! I’m going to get that for my husband. Sounds a bit like Farley Mowat’s book The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float.

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Sheila
      I didn’t read a book for every state with the kids but I did a couple – Julie of the wolves plus Call of the wild for Alaska and Henry Huggins for Oregon.
      I haven’t heard of The Boat who wouldn’t float but I loved reading his book Owls in the Family with the kids. I’m going to add it to me TBR now.
      Thanks Fiona

  9. Jodi Hulst says:

    First off, I am a fairly new listener and absolutely love your podcast. I was finishing listening to this episode on my drive to work this morning. This would mark about the fourth time I’ve had to call my Mom (we work and read together) to let her know immediately about something I heard on your podcast. Today, it was about “A Suitable Boy”. We actually each purchased a copy on one of our trips to Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon. It has been sitting on our shelves looking at us for a couple of years. We finally decided this will be our first read for 2018. When you mentioned it today, I had to call her and share. We are so excited to finally delve into this HUGE book. We loved “A Fine Balance” as well. Thanks for so many fantastic recommendations and a very entertaining podcast.

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Jodi,
      I love that you will read A Suitable Boy with your mom! It is so worth the investment of time and energy. Isn’t Powells the best?! I visited twice during our trip to Portland and had to really restrain myself from buying too many books due to international luggage restrictions.

  10. Kimi says:

    I have to admit that over the last several weeks I’d felt a disconnect to the podcast, but the last 2 episodes were absolutely delightful and a joy to hear.
    I’ve been really inspired by this list, and wonder if there were books for the other 30 states you had visited and secondly, where’s the photo of the book art?
    Thanks for taking time to do the podcast, Fiona!

  11. Fiona, I loved this podcast so much because I have so many connections with you. My husband and I visited Australia when we took our trip around the world 21 years ago. It’s such a wonderful country to visit. And I loved that you chose to read books from each state you visited here in the States. I lived in Portland as a child and then for fifteen years with my husband. It’s a reading town, probably because you are right, it rains a great deal. I’ve always wanted to read Ursula LeGuin since I attended Portland State University for my Master’s in theatre when I found out she taught there until after I graduated. I should have taken one of her classes had I known earlier.

    I don’t often recommend books, but I wondered if you had read Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns when you were reading books from Georgia. It takes place in the early 1900s and since I’ve never visited the South Eastern part of the United States, I felt like the descriptions put me there. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I loved it, and the TV movie staring Faye Dunnaway and Richard Widmark was fantastic as well.

    Thanks, Anne for doing this podcast and having such interesting guests on your show.

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Lucinda,
      Portland is one of my favourite US cities that we have visited. I eat paleo and love reading so I felt like I fitted right in. I am a big fan of Stumptown coffee too so I am jealous that you live there.
      You are right, I love Cold Sassy Tree! A North Carolinian friend recommended it to me when we were doing a GA-MS-AL-TN trip.
      Thanks Fiona

      • Fiona,
        Oh, sorry, I wasn’t clear. We sold our house in Portland 21 years ago to take our trip around the world. When we got back, we moved to South Eastern Arizona to be near our aging parents. We live one mile from the Mexican border, my father has died and our remaining parents have moved away. In March we visited Portland again. It is still a great city, we just prefer the sunshine. There will always be a part of the Pacific Northwest in my blood, however.

  12. Amy VGD says:

    One Australian author I really have enjoyed is Kimberley Freeman (she also writes as Kim Wilkins, which I believe is her real name). I loved Wildflower Hill! Have you read anything by her?

  13. Terri says:

    I don’t know if it’s just my download but at the end of the conversation the preview of the next episode was playing over the end of his one.
    Loved this episode! Got lots of book ideas to add to my TBR!

  14. Laura says:

    I’ve only just started Cocaine Blues (the first of the Phryne Fisher mysteries), so I can’t say if the whole book is good, but it’s fun and light so far. I think there’s a series on Netflix too. Kerry Greenwood wrote it in 1989 so it’s likely you’ve heard of it, but I thought I’d throw it out there since it’s my current read (and Australian). Great episode!

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Laura,
      I’ve read one of the Phyrne Fisher books but I have watched all the television episodes (now on Netflix) and they are fantastic. It’s definitely worth a look.
      Thanks Fiona

  15. Elizabeth Brink says:

    Shout out to Portland, OR, my hometown. 🙂 It does rain a lot in Portland, so you’re not too far off. There’s a reason one of the state universities has a duck as its mascot. haha I just got to listen to this episode and loved it. I visited the Ramona sites when I was in grade school, so I loved that you mentioned her. I like your idea for reading books related to the places you visit. What a marvelous idea! I’m inspired to check out a lot of the books you mentioned. I hadn’t heard of half of them, which is always exciting. 🙂

  16. Allyson Wieland says:

    My favorite Australia books are:
    A Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay (set in post-WWII Australia; by the way, the railwayman’s wife ran a small library in the train station)
    The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (which probably all MMD followers have read by now)
    The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (a favorite from my mother’s era; gotta love Richard Chamberlain as the male lead in the movie version)

    • Anne says:

      I’ve read two of the three, but not the Hay—though it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for years! I didn’t realize it was set in Australia. Thanks!

  17. Dawn Carpenter says:

    I’m in the midst of catching up on my WSIRN episodes – I have never commented on a blog post before – but I just had to say how much I loved this episode. I so relate to Fiona’s love of books based in India. When I was in grade 12 (1995) I read Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” in hardcopy form. I packed that giant novel everywhere with me while I was reading it. I felt so monolithic to complete it at 18 yrs old and instilled in me a love of India and the caste system. To this day visiting India is on my bucket list – although I may have to live it vicariously through my 19 yr old daughter who has the wanderlust more than me. Thank you ladies for a wonderful episode.

  18. Kelcey says:

    PG Wodehouses’s Mike Jackson books- Mike at Wrykyn, Mike and Psmith, etc. Anne and Fiona- if you haven’t read them, I think you’d enjoy them!

  19. Ellen W says:

    Was Kate Morton mentioned at all? I know many of her books are set in England, not Australia but she’s one of my favorite authors.

  20. Brandyn says:

    I’m catching up on all the podcasts I missed during December and this episode made me wonder if Fiona or Anne have read any Melina Marchetta. She’s a Australian YA author, but I can see both of you enjoying On Jellicoe Road.

  21. Ann says:

    Im also catching up on my podcasts. A Suitable Boy is one of my all time favourites and I recently enjoyed Before We Visit the Goddess on a recommendation from this podcast. As an Aussie Im curious that no Tim Winton books have been recommended by other Aussies. I really enjoyed Breath. Is he out of favour? Oh and by the way, Anne, creepy things really did happen in a forest in New South Wales and Jane Harper alludes to the crimes committed against backpackers by a notorious serial killer in Force of Nature. Not a nice part of our history at all!
    Looking forward to another interesting year with the podcast!

    • Fiona says:

      Hey Ann, I did read Tim Wintons Island Home memoir just before the podcast and enjoyed this unusual landscape memoir. Cloudstreet was enjoyable too. There are so many Aussie authors – Peter Carey, DBC Pierre both Booker winners for example that I didn’t mention either. I guess that’s a good thing that we have more authors than time to mention them. Fiona

  22. Malissa says:

    Amazon IS coming to Australia! My brother worked for Amazon and spent a year in Sydney setting up tech security for the Australia location, a year and half ago!

  23. Diane says:

    Fiona and Anne,
    I was looking for an episode that escaped me and found this one.
    Just great. Thank you!
    Fiona, have you heard of The Catwings series by Ursula Le Guin? Initially for children but loved by all ages. Intelligent and touching. (Cats with wings:) Really well written!
    I am just now reading THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN by Kate Morton, placed in Australia and London. I am enjoying!
    Have you read this novel?

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