The Paris Seamstress – Natasha Lester

The Paris Seamstress – Natasha Lester

This novel was on sale, and it had a pretty cover, and it was about fashion, so clearly I had to have it.

Here’s the blurb …

How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald and Her Mother’s Secret.

1940. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine, and a dream: to have her own atelier.

2015. Australian curator Fabienne Bissette journeys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother’s work – one of the world’s leading designers of ready-to-wear. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother’s past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets – and the sacrifices made for love.

Crossing generations, society’s boundaries and international turmoil, The Paris Seamstress is the beguiling, transporting story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past.

I went to a session at the Perth writers  festival where Natasha Lester and Amy Stewart were speaking. I must admit to judging Ms Lester’s novels before reading them – it’s the covers (beautiful as they are they do imply a particular type of novel). This novel was well-researched and I found much to admire and enjoy. It is a plot driven romance, which is not my reading cup of tea, but I know it will appeal to a large number of people. So if you like romance, intrigue and beautiful clothes then this is the novel for you.

Another review

http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/kates-blog/book-review-the-paris-seamstress-by-natasha-lester

 

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The Narcissist Test – Craig Malkin

The Narcissist Test – Dr Craig Malkin

I was fascinated by this book. It was very accessible – easy language and case studies to illustrate his points.

Here is the blurb …

What exactly is narcissism? An incurable disease set to ruin your future, a habit to be curbed, or a trait to be nurtured? And how can you tell if your partner, child, or even you are a narcissist? Dr Craig Malkin offers a new picture of narcissism, showing us why being called a ‘narcissist’ isn’t necessarily such a bad thing after all.

Narcissism is all around us. We are a selfie-obsessed generation, surviving on a steady diet of watching reality shows that celebrate attention-seeking know-and-do-nothings and posting a whopping 500 million tweets a day to document our every thought and whim. But is narcissism really as bad as we have been led to believe?

In this groundbreaking book, clinical psychologist Dr Craig Malkin offers a radically new picture of narcissism, defining it as a spectrum of self-importance, and explaining that everyone falls somewhere on the scale between utter selflessness and total arrogance. He reveals why it is essential to embrace some level of narcissism in order to maintain a healthy sense of self-worth. Feeling special, to a degree, can make us better lovers and partners, courageous leaders, and intrepid explorers.

As supportive as it is illuminating, The Narcissist Test is the first and only book to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy narcissism, and offers clear, step-by-step guidance on how to promote the healthy kind in your partner, children, and in yourself. From advice tailored to parents, social media users and even schools, this is the definitive text to help you overcome the bad – and embrace the good – about feeling special.

Dr Craig Malkin is a clinical psychologist hailing from Harvard with over two decades of experience helping individuals, couples and families.

Definitely worth a read if you or someone you know (work with) is a narcissist.

 

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The Givenness Of Things – Marilynne Robinson

The Givenness of Things – Marilynne Robinson

I have enjoyed all of Ms Robinson’s novels and enjoyed listening to her on the BBC World Book Club. I was keen to read her essays.

Here is the description from Goodreads …

A profound essay collection from the beloved author of GileadHouskeeping and Lila, now including Marilynne Robinson’s conversation with President Barack Obama.

Robinson has plumbed the depths of the human spirit in her trilogy of novels – Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, Orange-Prize winning Home and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Lila – and in her moving essay collection When I Was a Child I Read Books.

Now, in The Givenness of Things, she brings a profound sense of awe and an incisive mind to the essential questions of contemporary life and faith. Through fourteen essays of remarkable depth and insight, Robinson explores the dilemmas of our modern predicament. How has our so-called Christian nation strayed from so many of the teachings of Christ? How could the great minds of the past, Calvin and Locke-and Shakespeare-guide our lives? And what might the world look like if we could see the sacredness in each other?

Exquisite and bold, these essays are a necessary call for us to find wisdom and guidance in our cultural treasures, to seek humanity and compassion in each other. The Givenness of Thingsis a reminder of what a marvel our existence is in its grandeur – and its humility.

I will say from the outset that I am not a christian and I think most of the world’s ills are caused by white, christian men, but if anyone could convert me it would be Ms Robinson. And if all christians were christian like her the world would be a better place.

It took me a long time to read this book and I am not sure reading it cover to cover is the best way of reading it. Each essay required focus and concentration and it might be better to dip into it from time to time reading one essay at a time.

It is academic, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/16/givenness-of-things-marylinne-robinson-review

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The Book Ninja – Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

The Book Ninja – Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

This was another discounted book bought from Target.

This is a fun, light-hearted book all about readers and books.

Here is the blurb …

Sometimes love means having to broaden your literary horizons.

Frankie Rose is desperate for love. Or a relationship. Or just a date with a semi-normal person will do.

It’s not that she hasn’t tried. She’s the queen of online dating. But enough is enough. Inspired by her job at The Little Brunswick Street Bookshop, Frankie decides to take fate into her own hands and embarks on the ultimate love experiment.

Her plan? Plant her favourite books on trains inscribed with her contact details in a bid to lure the sophisticated, charming and well-read man of her dreams.

Enter Sunny, and one spontaneous kiss later, Frankie begins to fall for him. But there’s just one problem – Frankie is strictly a classics kind of gal, and Sunny is really into Young Adult. Like really.

A quirky and uplifting love letter to books, friendship and soulmates.

I really enjoyed it and hope it will get made into a movie.

More reviews …

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-book-ninja-review-ali-berg-and-michelle-kalus-have-fun-with-love-and-books-20180621-h11p7k.html

https://www.betterreading.com.au/news/a-literary-love-affair-review-of-the-book-ninja-by-ali-berg-michelle-kalus/

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Circe – Madeline Miller

Circe – Madeline Miller

This was one of those super popular books available (at a discounted price) at Target. Usually I avoid those books, but this one was recommended by a friend.

Here’s the blurb …

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

I have to say I knew nothing about Circe, Helios, etc – I knew their names, but not much else.

I found this compelling – quite the page turner – and now I want to read The Song of Achilles and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey .

It is beautifully written and gives female characters silenced by male writers a voice.

More reviews …

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/the-original-nasty-woman-is-a-goddess-for-our-times/2018/04/09/742c54d0-3b88-11e8-974f-aacd97698cef_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1da987779d23

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/21/circe-by-madeline-miller-review

 

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Gigi – Colette

Gigi – Colette

This was the latest novel in my year of classic french literature.

Here’s the blurb …

Gigi is being educated in the skills of the Courtesan: to choose cigars, to eat lobster, to enter a world where a woman’s chief weapon is her body. However, when it comes to the question of Gaston Lachaille, very rich and very bored, Gigi does not want to obey the rules.

I have read the Claudine novels and find Colette’s life fascinating (I read this biography), but I wasn’t overly taken with this novel. A 15 year old is being trained by her family to be a courtesan, she acts simple, but is actually quite clever and gets the man to marry her in the end. I find it terribly creepy that an older man finds her young school girls ways attractive. And that her aunt, grand mother (and to some extent her mother) are grooming her to be a prostitute (hopefully well-paid and well-looked after but a prostitute none-the-less.)

Here is the wikipedia entry on Gigi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigi

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Pachinko – Min Jee Lee

Pachinko -Min Jee Lee

Here is the blurb …

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

I know lots of people loved this, but I found it to be interminable. I enjoyed learning about Korea and Japan (and Koreans living in Japan), but it felt like a very long high school essay.

Another review …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/15/pachinko-min-jin-lee-review

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To the Light House – Virginia Woolf

To the Light House – Virginia Woolf

This has been on my ‘to be read’ pile for sometime. I am not sure why it took me so long to get to it.

Here’s the blurb …

For years now the Ramsays have spent every summer in their holiday home in Scotland, and they expect these summers will go on forever; but as the First World War looms, the integrity of family and society will be fatally challenged.
To the Lighthouse is at once a vivid impressionist depiction of a family holiday, and a meditation on a marriage, on parenthood and childhood, on grief, tyranny and bitterness. Its use of stream of consciousness, reminiscence and shifting perspectives, gives the novel an intimate, poetic essence, and at the time of publication in 1927 it represented an utter rejection of Victorian and Edwardian literary values.
Virginia Woolf saw the novel as an elegy to her own parents, and in her diary she wrote: ‘I used to think of him (father) and mother daily; but writing The Lighthouse laid them in my mind”.

I loved this novel – it did take me a  while to get use to the style, but I enjoyed the different stream of consciousness. It was more about what people were thinking and feeling than the plot. It was also a nice look at a time in the past.

Here is Margaret Atwood writing about To the Lighthouse

And this one from the NY Times

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A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

Mercy from Mercy’s Bookish Musings reviewed the second in this series and mentioned how much she liked the first one (this one) and she said it was like Firefly one of my favourite shows, so of course I had to buy it. And then the owner of my local book store raved about it.

Here is the blurb …

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

I found it a bit slow going at first – all of that creating a world, explaining the physics etc., but then I was hooked – couldn’t put it down. It is witty and exciting and has something to say about relationships and family (and the families we create for ourselves).

I have bought the second, but have some prescribed reading to get to first Pachinko and Gigi (for my book clubs).

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/31/science-fiction-roundup

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

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Less – Andrew Sean Greer

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

I had to read this – my friend knows the author! I even bought a paper version as another friend tells me the author is paid more for paper copies – why? I don’t know.

Here is the blurb …

You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, LESS is, above all, a love story.

A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” LESS shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.

I loved this book – finally something that is ‘literary’, but not grim. It was witty and clever (probably too clever for me, but I did notice things like…

[In the Paris section]

Less is left breathless below and old house all covered in vines. A group of school girls passes in two straight lines

This is my favourite book so far this year.

Another review

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/01/less-andrew-sean-greer-review

 

 

 

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