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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The Corinthian – Georgette Heyer

Cover of The Corinthian
The Corinthian – Georgette Heyer

I love a good (well-written) regency romance and nobody does it better than Georgette Heyer. Her impressive research is displayed in descriptions of clothes, places and daily life (and someone what less successfully in regency slang).

Here’s the blurb …

The only question which hangs over the life of Sir Richard Wyndham, notable whip, dandy and Corinthian, is one of marriage. On the eve of making the most momentous decision of his life, while he is contemplating a loveless marriage with a woman his friends have compared to a cold poultice, he is on his way home, a little worse for drink, and finds a perfect opportunity for escape by her boring destiny. 

He discovers a beautiful young fugitive climbing out of a window by means of knotted sheets, dressed in boy’s clothing lovely Penelope Creed is fleeing from London. She is a brilliant London heiress with and lavish life, and a proposed marriage to her repulsive fish-lipped cousin, a man she loathed. She has a shimmering dream of a love she had known once–and lost. Discovered by Sir Wyndham, he can’t allow her to travel to the countryside all alone, so he offers himself as her protector.

And with her in flight across a landscape of excitement was a man like no other she had known– handsome, sophisticated, but cynical. They had met by accident, been drawn together by danger. And now only his masked emotions and the shifting impulses of her own wild young heart would tell what their destiny would be…. When their stagecoach overturns, they find themselves embroiled with thieves, at the center of a murder investigation, and finally, in love. (less)

This is one of my favourites – beautiful heroine, handsome hero, action, danger and a bit of comedy thrown in. All in all a fun, easy read.

Here is the wikipedia page on The Corinthian.

And this is an interesting blog post about the novel and what was happening in Heyer’s life at the time.

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A Universe of Sufficient Size – Miriam Sved

A Universe of Sufficient Size – Miriam Sved

I read a review of this novel in the Weekend Australian Review and was intrigued. The combination of two of my passions – mathematics and reading. However, don’t worry if you’re not keen on maths, the maths doesn’t overwhelm the story.

It is based on the author’s grandmother and this is her second novel. The first being Game Day.

Here is the blurb …

“A fascinating, compelling, beautifully written novel.” Liane Moriarty 

“Miriam Sved has woven three generations and two periods of history into a page-turning, emotional rollercoaster to remind us all that families are messy, complicated and that the repercussions of decisions made decades ago can come back to haunt you… I cannot recommend this book highly enough.” Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

I have wished so many times that I had acted differently.

I wish that I had been more worthy of you…
Eventually the war will end, and then we will find each other.
Until then, remember me.

Budapest, 1938. In a city park, five young Jewish mathematicians gather to share ideas, trade proofs and whisper sedition.

Sydney, 2007. Illy has just buried her father, a violent, unpredictable man whose bitterness she never understood. And now Illy’s mother has gifted her a curious notebook, its pages a mix of personal story and mathematical discovery, recounted by a woman full of hopes and regrets.

Inspired by a true story, Miriam Sved’s beautifully crafted novel charts a course through both the light and dark of human relationships: a vivid recreation of 1930s Hungary, a decades-old mystery locked in the story of one enduring friendship, a tribute to the selfless power of the heart.

This novel spans generations and places; Budapest in the 1930’s and Sydney in the early 21st century. It is about being a talented, Jewish student at a time when Jews were restricted and persecuted. It is about friendship, sacrifice, survival and the strength of the human spirit.

I enjoyed it for several reasons; the depiction of Budapest and the relationship between the five friends, the mother/daughter relationship (a bit adversarial, but in a good way) were lovely. And there is a mystery/suspense/twist, which keeps you turning the pages.

If you enjoy historical fiction, mathematics or stories about families (the relationships, the secrets, the contrivances), then I think you will enjoy this novel.

Another review.

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The Sewing Machine – Natalie Fergie

The Sewing Machine – Natalie Fergie

Amazon suggested that I might like to read this one (it might even have been a kindle daily or monthly deal).

Here’s the blurb …

It is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory. For her, nothing will be the same again.

Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her.

More than 100 years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams. 

He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.

I really enjoyed this novel – particularly Fred’s section. It was entertaining and informative (and had stuff about sewing and sewing machines).

Another review.

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The Gown – Jennifer Robson

The Gown – Jennifer Robson

I saw this on Facebook or Instagram posted by one of the many embroiderers I follow. A story about the embroiderers working on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown? Of course I had to read it.

Here’s the blurb …

From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love. 

I enjoyed the sections about embroidery and living in post World War 2 England (but still with rationing). I wasn’t so taken with the plot. It reminded me of The Paris Seamstress. This just means that I don’t like ‘romantic drama’.

Another review.

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The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty

Cover of the novel - 'The Chaperone' by Laura Moriarty
The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty

I was keen to read this before seeing the movie (not that I have managed to see it). It was not what I expected and I am not sure if I liked it or not. I think I wanted something a bit lighter? Like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

Here’s the blurb …


The Chaperone is  a captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922 and the summer that would change them both.
 
Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.
 
For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.
 
Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s,’30s, and beyond—from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers,  and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women—Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them. 

I enjoyed the setting and the social history – finding out about Louise Brooks was fascinating.

Another review.

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Now We Shall Be Entirely Free – Andrew Miller

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free – Andrew Miller

I saw Andrew speak at the Perth Writers Festival (I selected his session based solely on the book cover). I borrowed the book from the library, but it wasn’t available until after his talk. His talk only made me want to read it more – it has been shortlisted for the Sir Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.

Here is the blurb …


By the Costa Award-winning author of PURE, a stunning historical novel with the grip of a thriller, written in richly evocative, luminous prose.

One rain-swept February night in 1809, an unconscious man is carried into a house in Somerset. He is Captain John Lacroix, home from Britain’s disastrous campaign against Napoleon’s forces in Spain.

Gradually Lacroix recovers his health, but not his peace of mind – he cannot talk about the war or face the memory of what happened in a village on the gruelling retreat to Corunna. After the command comes to return to his regiment, he sets out instead for the Hebrides, with the vague intent of reviving his musical interests and collecting local folksongs.

Lacroix sails north incognito, unaware that he has far worse to fear than being dragged back to the army: a vicious English corporal and a Spanish officer are on his trail, with orders to kill. The haven he finds on a remote island with a family of free-thinkers and the sister he falls for are not safe, at all

I really enjoyed this novel – it was beautifully written (obviously well-researched, but it all felt very natural. No beating me over the head with obvious historical facts).

If you enjoy historical fiction, then you will love this novel.

Another review and another one.

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