Hinton – Mark Blacklock

Hinton – Mark Blacklock

I like historical fiction and I like maths. So when I read about this on the Walter Scott prize instagram, I bought a copy immediately.

Here’s the blurb …

Howard Hinton and his family are living in Japan, escaping from a scandal. Hinton’s obsession is his work, his voyages into mathematical pure space, into the fourth dimension, but also his wife and sons, each of whom are entangled in the strange and unknown landscapes of Hinton’s science fictions.

In a bravura and startling meeting of real and philosophical elements, Mark Blacklock has created a ravishing period piece of late-Victorian social, scientific and domestic life. Hinton is about extraordinary discoveries, and terrible choices. It is about people who discover and map other realms, and what the implications might be for those of us left behind.

I can’t say that I was that taken with it. I did try to read it while I was on holiday in Broome, so not conducive to concentration.

Here’s a much better review.

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Almost French – Sarah Turnbull

Almost French – Sarah Turnbull

I have been trying to learn French for a number of years, and last year, before Covid, I had planned a trip to France to see the Bayeux Tapestry, the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries and the Apocalypse tapestries.

Here’s the blurb …

After backpacking her way around Europe journalist Sarah Turnbull is ready to embark on one last adventure before heading home to Sydney. A chance meeting with a charming Frenchman in Bucharest changes her travel plans forever.

Acting on impulse, she agrees to visit Frederic in Paris for a week. Put a very French Frenchman together with a strong-willed Australian girl and the result is some spectacular – and often hilarious – cultural clashes. Language is a minefield of misunderstanding and the simple act of buying a baguette is fraught with social danger.

But as she navigates the highs and lows of this strange new world, from the sophisticated cafes and haute couture fashion houses to the picture postcard French countryside, little by little Sarah falls under its spell: passionate, mysterious, infuriating, and charged with that French specialty – seduction. And it becomes her home. ALMOST FRENCH is the story of an adventurous heart, a maddening city – and love.

I enjoyed it; the differences between French and Australian culture, the food, fashion, etc. Three out of five.

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High Rising – Angela Thirkell

High Rising – Angela Thirkell

I can’t remember where I first heard about Angela Thirkell – the Backlisted podcast perhaps?

It was easiest to find a Kindle version.

Here’s the blurb …

Successful lady novelist Laura Morland and her boisterous young son Tony set off to spend Christmas at her country home in the sleepy surrounds of High Rising. But Laura’s wealthy friend and neighbour George Knox has taken on a scheming secretary whose designs on marriage to her employer threaten the delicate social fabric of the village. Can clever, practical Laura rescue George from Miss Grey’s clutches and, what’s more, help his daughter Miss Sibyl Knox to secure her longed-for engagement?

Utterly charming and very funny, High Rising is irresistible comic entertainment.

It was fabulous – my favourite book so far this year. Four out of five.

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The Piano Shop on the Left Bank – Thad Carhart

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank – Thad Carhart

This was in the pile of books left by my neighbour and I picked it up thinking it was a novel. It’s not it’s non-fiction, bit memoir, bit piano history and a bit Parisian lifestyle.

Here’s the blurb …

Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign — Desforges Pianos — he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner.

Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank is at once a beguiling portrait of a Paris not found on any map and a tender account of the awakening of a lost childhood passion

I liked it, it made me want to play the piano. It also made me appreciate the complexities of pianos.

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Parable of the Talents – Octavia E Butler

Parable of the Talents – Octavia E Butler

This is the second book to Parable of the Sower.

Here’s the blurb …

Originally published in 1998, this shockingly prescient novel’s timely message of hope and resistance in the face of fanaticism is more relevant than ever.

In 2032, Lauren Olamina has survived the destruction of her home and family, and realized her vision of a peaceful community in northern California based on her newly founded faith, Earthseed. The fledgling community provides refuge for outcasts facing persecution after the election of an ultra-conservative president who vows to “make America great again.” In an increasingly divided and dangerous nation, Lauren’s subversive colony–a minority religious faction led by a young black woman–becomes a target for President Jarret’s reign of terror and oppression.

Years later, Asha Vere reads the journals of a mother she never knew, Lauren Olamina. As she searches for answers about her own past, she also struggles to reconcile with the legacy of a mother caught between her duty to her chosen family and her calling to lead humankind into a better future.

Like the first one, this is told through Lauren’s journals, but there are other voices (or written testaments) as well. Bankole, Marc and Asha all tell part of the story from their perspective. These books are eerily prescient; global warming, communities breaking down, democracy breaking down, survival of the fittest and the rise of right-wing christian groups. There’s violence and despair, but hope too.

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Lucky Us – Amy Bloom

Lucky Us – Amy Bloom

After reading Come to Me, I was very pleased to find this in the secondhand book store.

Here’s the blurb …

A thrilling and resonant novel from the author of Away, about loyalty, ambition, and the pleasures and perils of family, set in 1940s America.

When Eva’s mother abandons her on Iris’s front porch, the girls don’t seem to have much in common – except, they soon discover, a father. Thrown together with no mothers to care for them and a father who could not be considered a parent, Iris and Eva become one another’s family. Iris wants to be a movie star; Eva is her sidekick. Together, they journey across 1940s America from scandal in Hollywood to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island, stumbling, cheating and loving their way through a landscape of war, betrayals and big dreams.

I enjoyed this novel the writing is beautiful. We get different perspectives – Eva mostly tells the story, but there are also letters from Iris, Gus and Danny. It is a story about kindness and looking after one another, about love in all of its various guises.

Here’s a review from the Guardian.

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Come to Me – Amy Bloom

Come to Me – Amy Bloom

A friend left this book behind when they returned home (on the other side of the planet). It has taken me a few years to get to it, which is a shame because I really enjoyed it.

Here’s the blurb …

Amy Bloom’s first collection of short stories takes the reader into the inner lives of characters who encounter the everyday mysteries of need and desire. They include a frightened father in need of redemption, a psychiatrist who oversteps professional boundaries and a small girl eager for love.

The stories are beautifully written, quirky with an old-fashioned feel.

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The Viscount Who Loved Me – Julia Quinn

The Viscount Who Loved Me – Julia Quinn

I am sure we have all been watching the fabulous The Bridgertons – well this is the second novel in the series. This is the one where Anthony gets married. I think this might be my favourite so far – Kate is a fabulous heroine.

Here’s the blurb …

1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, This Author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London’s most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry. And in all truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better…

–Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, April 1814

But this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn’t just decided to marry–he’s even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended’s older sister, Kate Sheffield–the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate’s the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams…

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes to not make the best husbands–and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate’s determined to protect her sister–but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony’s lips touch hers, she’s suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself…

This is a fun, easy read with lots of period detail. Georgette Heyer, but sexier!

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Parable of the Sower – Octavia E Butler

Parable of the Sower – Octavia E Butler

I am not sure where I first heard about this author, but we took Miss P to visit Stefan’s books (definitely worth a visit) and there it was on the shelf.

It was very prescient. My copy has it first being published in 1993 and here it is 2021 and the US is retreating into chaos and madness.

Here’s the blurb …

When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day.

Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ pain.

Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith…and a startling vision of human destiny.

I found it compelling and I am looking forward to another trip to Stefan’s to pick up the next book The Parable of the Talents.

4 out of 5.

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Final Post 2020

I have fallen behind in my book reviews and I am simply going to list them all here:

The Silk House – Kayte Nunn
The Promise of Happiness
The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood
Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
Bath Tangle – Georgette Heyer
Dead Lions – Mick Herron
Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell
The Discomfort of Evening – Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
Wakenhyrst – Michelle Paver
Midnight Library – Matt Haig
The Dutch House – Ann Patchett
Jack – Marilynne Robinson
Grownups – Marian Keyes
The Living Sea of Waking Dreams – Richard Flanagan
Fortune and Glory – Janet Evanovich
The Survivors – Jane Harper
Ten Things I Hate About the Duke – Loretta Chase
Only Happiness Here – Gabrielle Carey
The Duke and I – Julia Quinn
Honeybee – Craig Silvey

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