Category Archives: Fiction

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of the perils of ordinary life in Hitler’s Germany, The Seventh Cross is not only an important novel, but an important historical document.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 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 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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The Art of Persuasion – Susan Midalia

The Art of Persuasion – Susan Midalia

I found this book in the book exchange at Floreat Forum. As I knew Susan lives in W.A, I had to grab it.

Here’s the blurb …


If Jane Austen was twenty-five today would she be a greenie or a member of the Young Liberals? Probably neither. But for twenty-five-year-old Hazel, reading the classics starting with A is a way to pass the time while jobless and plotless.A chance encounter with an irresistible older man provides a much needed distraction. When Hazel is partnered with him on a political campaign, her attraction is deepened by the strength of his convictions. Adam seems to be attracted to her too – but why can’t she persuade him to embark upon romance? And what does Jane Austen have to teach a young woman about life, love and literature in the 21st century anyway?

I loved reading all of the Western Australian references; catching the train, the Rose Garden, shopping at Claremont Quarter, etc.

For me the middle third of the novel dragged – too much political talk? Too much self pity? But then the story picked up again and I enjoyed the last section. Being a teacher myself, I enjoyed the classroom pieces; particularly the struggle to engage the students and not stray too far from the curriculum.

I think if you live in Perth (particularly the Western Suburbs) and like a bit of romance, then you would enjoy this novel.

Another review and an interview with Susan Midalia.

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Black Rock White City – A.S Patric

Cover of Black Rock White City by A S Patric
Black Rock White City – A.S Patric

I bought this book way back in 2016 and it has been languishing in my digital pile – I feel slightly ill when I think about that digital pile.

Here’s the blurb …


Black Rock White City is a novel about the damages of war, the limits of choice, and the hope of love.

During a hot Melbourne summer Jovan’s cleaning work at a bayside hospital is disrupted by acts of graffiti and violence becoming increasingly malevolent. For Jovan the mysterious words that must be cleaned away dislodge the poetry of the past. He and his wife Suzana were forced to flee Sarajevo and the death of their children. 

Intensely human, yet majestic in its moral vision, Black Rock White City is an essential story of Australia’s suburbs now, of displacement and immediate threat, and the unexpected responses of two refugees as they try to reclaim their dreams. It is a breathtaking roar of energy that explores the immigrant experience with ferocity, beauty and humour

I am not sure why this one languished so long I think I thought it was going to be political. It is about the immigrant experience in Australia – no one can say your name, no one is particularly interested in your past, your qualifications aren’t recognized, etc.

I thought this was beautifully written. It has two points of view – Jovan and Suzana. Jovan works in a hospital as a cleaner (his hospital has a series of malicious graffiti/damage) and seems content with his new (simpler) Australian life. Suzana (also a cleaner but domestically) is angrier. She is writing a novel and is fascinated by the English language (why does knife and knickers have a k, but not nine?)

The story unfolds gently as we follow their ordinary days – more graffiti, an affair, friends, an escape to an hotel. It’s about starting in a new place after terrible things have happened – finding peace and possibly happiness.

Another review and another.

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Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney

Conversation with Friends – Sally Rooney

I got this from the library and probably too soon after Normal People– they are very similar.

Here’s the blurb …


WINNER OF THE SUNDAY TIMES / PFD YOUNG WRITER OF THE YEAR
SHORTLISTED FOR THE KERRY GROUP IRISH NOVEL OF THE YEAR 2018
SHORTLISTED FOR THE DESMOND ELLIOT PRIZE 2018
SHORTLISTED FOR THE RATHBONES FOLIO PRIZE 2018
SUNDAY TIMESOBSERVER AND TELEGRAPH BOOK OF THE YEAR

Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed and observant. A student in Dublin and an aspiring writer, at night she performs spoken word with her best friend Bobbi, who used to be her girlfriend. When they are interviewed and then befriended by Melissa, a well-known journalist who is married to Nick, an actor, they enter a world of beautiful houses, raucous dinner parties and holidays in Provence, beginning a complex menage-a-quatre. But when Frances and Nick get unexpectedly closer, the sharply witty and emotion-averse Frances is forced to honestly confront her own vulnerabilities for the first time. 

Look at all of those prizes and short lists.

This is beautifully written and contains an exploration of class in Dublin society. I don’t want to be disparaging, but I also found it to be a lot of twenty-something angst. I suspect I feel this way because I read this and Normal People within a few months of each other.

Another review and another.

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Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

I am reading this one because I am going to see Esi Edugyan at the Writers Festival.

Here’s the blurb …


ESCAPE IS ONLY THE BEGINNING…

A stunning new novel of slavery and freedom by the author of the Man Booker and Orange Prize shortlisted Half Blood Blues

When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him. 

Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life. Inspired by a true story, Washington Black is the extraordinary tale of a world destroyed and made whole again

I knew nothing about this novel I just downloaded the kindle version – I didn’t even read the blurb. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have read it as I don’t like slavery novels (I find them too brutal), but that would have been a mistake as this is a well-written coming of age/tale of adventure. Don’t mistake me their is brutality and violence but it is more than that. The ‘world creation’ is fabulous – Barbados, the arctic regions of Canada, Newfoundland, England and Morocco.

Wash starts of a young slave – with no control of anything and ends his own man in charge of his destiny. On the way there is action and adventure (almost swashbuckling adventure) and an eccentric cast of characters.

Another review and another.

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An American Marriage – Tayari Jones

Cover image of an American Marriage by Tayari Jones
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones

This was recommended by a few people (even Barack Obama had it on his list).

Here’s the blurb …


Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-elusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel.

I enjoyed it. I found the premise interesting – how does a relationship survive that degree of separation (not to mention anger, shame and despair)? This novel felt quite foreign to me and I realise that is because I haven’t read any other black american stories – something I definitely need to rectify.

I thought the characters were beautifully portrayed (I didn’t like Roy, but that’s a sign of good writing). This novel shows a section of american life, which then highlights the endemic racism in society.

Here’s another review.

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Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

Cover image of Boy Swallows Universe
Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

This was a last minute decision made by my book club and, at first, it was impossible to find – in the end I bought it as a Kindle. Impossible to find because it was sold out everywhere. I am always a bit nervous about very popular books (and I have to say the title and the cover art weren’t helping)

Here’s the blurb …


A novel of love, crime, magic, fate and coming of age, set in Brisbane’s violent working class suburban fringe – from one of Australia’s most exciting new writers.

Brisbane, 1983: A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter. It’s not as if Eli’s life isn’t complicated enough already. He’s just trying to follow his heart, learning what it takes to be a good man, but life just keeps throwing obstacles in the way – not least of which is Tytus Broz, legendary Brisbane drug dealer.

But if Eli’s life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He’s about to fall in love. And, oh yeah, he has to break into Boggo Road Gaol on Christmas Day, to save his mum.

A story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.

I love it – found it compelling. The writing is beautiful and the characters are fabulous and sympathetically (and generously) written. I also enjoyed all of the Australian cultural references (sometimes it’s nice to read something that feels familiar).

Trent Dalton is coming to the Perth Writers Festival and I am looking forward to his session (just how much is autobiographical, did the red telephone ring?)

Below is an article about the writing of Boy Swallows Universe.

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