Ghost Empire – Richard Fidler

Ghost Empire – Richard Fidler

I bought this book solely for the cover and then ended up listening to it on Audible!

Here’s the blurb …

GHOST EMPIRE is a rare treasure – an utterly captivating blend of the historical and the contemporary, realised by a master storyteller.
In 2014, Richard Fidler and his son Joe made a journey to Istanbul. Fired by Richard’s passion for the rich history of the dazzling Byzantine Empire – centred around the legendary Constantinople – we are swept into some of the most extraordinary tales in history. The clash of civilizations, the fall of empires, the rise of Christianity, revenge, lust, murder. Turbulent stories from the past are brought vividly to life at the same time as a father navigates the unfolding changes in his relationship with his son.

GHOST EMPIRE is a revelation: a beautifully written ode to a lost civilization, and a warmly observed father-son adventure far from home

This book is part memoir, history and travel journal. It has a lovely story-telling feel to it – made all the better by Richard Fidler reading the audio version. I listened to it while running, gardening, knitting and cleaning – I grabbed any opportunity to listen (in fact my house is cleaner than normal because I manufactured tasks so I could listen).

A review here and this is Richard Fidler’s web page.

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Filed under History, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Recommended

The Last Train to Istanbul – Ayse Kulin

The Last Train to Istanbul – Ayse Kulin

This was one of my historical fiction study group novels (the last for the year).

Here’s the blurb …

As the daughter of one of Turkey’s last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life.But when the Nazis invade France, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing—not war, not politics, not even religion—can break the bonds of family. For after they learn that Selva is but one of their fellow citizens trapped in France, a handful of brave Turkish diplomats hatch a plan to spirit the Alfandaris and hundreds of innocents, many of whom are Jewish, to safety. Together, they must traverse a war-torn continent, crossing enemy lines and risking everything in a desperate bid for freedom. From Ankara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, Last Train to Istanbul is an uplifting tale of love and adventure from Turkey’s beloved bestselling novelist Ay?e Kulin.

I found the story fascinating and informative – I had no idea the Turkish government saved so many people during World War 2. However, for me something was lost in translation.

Another review.

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Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout

Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout

Oilve Kitteridge was one of my favourite books (and I enjoyed the series as well).

Here’s the blurb …

The iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but also the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace

Olive is back – as crabby and as unlike-able as ever, but also discerning, thoughtful and occasionally kind. The writing is beautiful -we have these little snippets of people’s lives and we see Olive as others see her. And, of course, everyone sees a different Olive.

There is a lot of fabulous stuff about Olive, Again…

Here is a podcast from Radio National’s Book Shelf podcast, Elizabeth Strout talking about Olive Again and a review from The Guardian.

I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Alternate Side – Anna Quindlen

Alternate Side – Anna Quindlen

I am not sure why I chose to read this one – was it a kindle daily or monthly deal? I wasn’t that taken with Miller’s Valley, but I really enjoyed this one.

Here is the blurb …

The tensions in a tight-knit neighborhood—and a seemingly happy marriage—are exposed by an unexpected act of violence in this provocative new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Miller’s Valley and Still Life with Bread Crumbs.

Some days Nora Nolan thinks that she and her husband, Charlie, lead a charmed life—except when there’s a crisis at work, a leak in the roof at home, or a problem with their twins at college. And why not? New York City was once Nora’s dream destination, and her clannish dead-end block has become a safe harbor, a tranquil village amid the urban craziness. Then one morning she returns from her run to discover that a terrible incident has shaken the neighborhood, and the fault lines begin to open: on the block, at her job, especially in her marriage. With humor, understanding, an acute eye, and a warm heart, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife, and a woman at a moment of reckoning.

This is Nora’s story and we see how her life changes over the years – being a young wife, the early years of motherhood, navigating a career and motherhood, life as an ’empty nester’ and the gradual drifting apart of a marriage. It is beautifully and generously written (all of the characters are sympathetic – except for the man with the pugs!).

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The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks

The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks

A friend lent this to me when she heard that I like historical fiction.

Here’s the blurb …

In a world where no one can be trusted and secrets are currency, one woman stands without fear.

Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London’s master locksmith. For her there is no lock too elaborate, no secret too well kept. Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster and protector of Queen Elizabeth – the last of the Tudor monarchs – and her realm, is quick to realise Mallory’s talent and draws her into his world of intrigue, danger and deception. With her by his side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery; no plot secure.

But Mallory’s loyalty wavers when she witnesses the execution of three Jesuit priests, a punishment that doesn’t fit their crime. When Mallory discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she has to make a choice – between her country and her heart.

Mallory, however, carries her own dark secrets and is about to learn those being kept from her – secrets that could destroy those she loves.

Once Sir Francis’s greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat … and everyone knows there’s only one way Sir Francis deals with those.

I enjoyed it – there is a lot of historical detail (which I like), plus a bit of action and romance. It is quite long and I did find it got a bit slow in the middle, but I will definitely seek out more of her books.

A review at the Historical Novel Society.

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Filed under Fiction - Light, Historical Fiction, Recommended

Tangled Reins – Stephanie Laurens

Tangled Reins – Stephanie Laurens

A friend mentioned this author and as I like a regency romance, I was keen to give it a go. I found one at the local library.

Here’s the blurb …

Content with her humdrum country life, Miss Dorothea Darent had no intention of marrying. She knew that her unfashionable curves and her outspoken ways made her a disastrous match for any gentleman of the ton. But one kiss from a dashing stranger changed everything.

This was a great regency romance – reminded me of Georgette Heyer (is there any higher praise?)

The hero is handsome, rich and very accomplished. The heroine is beautiful (in an unconventional way – of course) and independent minded. There are balls, parties, excursions to Hyde Park and a lot of description of clothes (which I love).

Definitely worth reading if you are a fan of regency romances.

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The Life to Come – Michelle de Krester

The Life to Come – Michelle de Krester

I have been a bit hit and miss with Michelle de Krester. I loved The Rose Grower, didn’t like Questions of Travel and really enjoyed this one.

Here is the blurb …

Set in Australia, France, and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is about the stories we tell and don’t tell ourselves as individuals, as societies, and as nations. Driven by a vivid cast of characters, it explores necessary emigration, the art of fiction, and ethnic and class conflict.

Pippa is an Australian writer who longs for the success of her novelist teacher and eventually comes to fear that she “missed everything important.” In Paris, Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka, but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time and can’t commit to his trusting girlfriend, Cassie. Sri Lankan Christabel, who is generously offered a passage to Sydney by Bunty, an old acquaintance, endures her dull job and envisions a brighter future that “rose, glittered, and sank back,” while she neglects the love close at hand.

The stand-alone yet connected worlds of The Life to Come offer meditations on intimacy, loneliness, and our flawed perception of reality. Enormously moving, gorgeously observant of physical detail, and often very funny, this new novel by Michelle de Kretser reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform and distort the present. It is teeming with life and earned wisdom—exhilaratingly contemporary, with the feel of a classic.

I have left it too long to really write anything meaningful – I need to take notes, but while I am reading I am immersed in the story (not really thinking analytically).

I know I enjoyed it – in particular Christabel’s story.

Another review

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Miller’s Valley – Anna Quindlen

Miller’s Valley – Anna Quindlen

I am not sure where I came across this novel. I am quite sure I didn’t buy it. I might have received it when my friend was having a book cull.

Here’s the blurb …

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER – In a small town on the verge of big change, a young woman unearths deep secrets about her family and unexpected truths about herself. Filled with insights that are the hallmark of Anna Quindlen’s bestsellers, Miller’s Valley is an emotionally powerful story about a family you will never forget.
For generations the Millers have lived in Miller’s Valley. Mimi Miller tells about her life with intimacy and honesty. As Mimi eavesdrops on her parents and quietly observes the people around her, she discovers more and more about the toxicity of family secrets, the dangers of gossip, the flaws of marriage, the inequalities of friendship and the risks of passion, loyalty, and love. Home, as Mimi begins to realize, can be -a place where it’s just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel content.-
Miller’s Valley is a masterly study of family, memory, loss, and, ultimately, discovery, of finding true identity and a new vision of home. As Mimi says, -No one ever leaves the town where they grew up, even if they go.- Miller’s Valley reminds us that the place where you grew up can disappear, and the people in it too, but all will live on in your heart forever.

I read this book while on holiday (Club Med on Bin Tan Island). This should have been the perfect novel for me, but I struggled. Wrong time? Wrong place? Who knows? Perhaps this one is not for me. I left it behind for someone else to enjoy. There are good reviews out there so don’t let me put you off.

Another review.

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Force of Nature – Jane Harper

Force of Nature – Jane Harper

I have read The Dry and The Lost Man, so it seemed appropriate to read this, the second published novel.

Here’s the blurb …

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track.
Only four come out on the other side. 
The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and encourage teamwork and resilience. At least, that’s what the corporate retreat website advertises.
Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker, Alice Russell. Because Alice knew secrets, about the company she worked for and the people she worked with.
The four returning women tell Falk a tale of fear, violence and fractured trust during their days in the remote Australian bushland. And as Falk delves into the disappearance of Alice, he begins to suspect some dangers ran far deeper than anyone knew.

I liked it, not as much as The Lost Man, but enough to read her next novel. I didn’t guess the villain (unlike The Dry) and I always like that in a crime novel. I thought the descriptions of the cold and the discomfort of camping were fabulous. The bullying and the ‘leaked’ (somewhat explicit photos) are timely as well.

Another review.

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The Seventh Cross – Anna Seghers

The Seventh Cross – Anna Seghers

This was the second book for my historical fiction group in our new ‘each member selects and presents’ theme. I did the first book – ‘Book of Colours‘ by Robyn Cadwallader.

Here’s the blurb …

‘At once a suspenseful manhunt story and a knowing portrait of the perils of ordinary life in Hitler’s Germany, The Seventh Cross is not only an important novel, but an important historical document. This new, unabridged translation is a genuine publishing event’ JOSEPH KANON, author of The Good German and Leaving Berlin
Seven prisoners escape from Westhofen concentration camp. Seven crosses are erected in the grounds and the commandant vows to capture the fugitives within a week. Six men are caught quickly, but George Heisler slips through his pursuers’ fingers and it becomes a matter of pride to track him down, no matter what. 
The net is closing in. Who can George trust? Who will betray him? The years of fear have changed those he knew best: his favourite brother is now an SS officer; his lover turns him away. Hunted, injured and desperate, time is running out for George, and whoever helps him will pay with their life.
The Seventh Cross is a novel that powerfully documents the insidious rise of a fascist regime – the seething paranoia, the sudden arrests, the silence and fear. It has never before been published in the UK.
‘It was [Seghers] who taught my generation and anyone who had an ear to listen after that not-to-be-forgotten war to distinguish right from wrong. The Seventh Cross shaped me; it sharpened my vision’ – Gunter Grass
‘The material that this book is made from is long-lasting and indestructible; very few things on earth can be compared to it. It is known as justice’ – Christa Wolf
The Seventh Cross was written by one of the most important German writers of the twentieth century. Her aim was to write, ‘A tale that makes it possible to get to know the many layers of fascist Germany through the fortunes of a single man.’ She had four copies of the manuscript: one was destroyed in an air raid; a friend lost the second copy while fleeing the Nazis; another was found by the Gestapo; only the fourth copy, survived, which, fortunately, she sent to her publisher in America just before she fled Nazi-occupied France. Published in 1942, The Seventh Cross became an immediate bestseller, was made into an MGM film starring Spencer Tracy in 1944, and was one of the only depictions of concentration camps on page and screen during the War.

I found this book fascinating – there was detail, but at the same time a sweeping overview of life in Hitler’s Germany. There was bravery, resilience and despair. It was about ordinary people trying to live their lives – and the extraordinary decisions that have to make (to risk themselves to help someone or not, who can they trust?).

It is well worth reading – exciting and informative.

Another review.

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