Category Archives: Fiction

To Calais in Ordinary Time – James Meek

To Calais in Ordinary Time – James Meek

This was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, so, as a fan of historical fiction, I had to read it.

Mr Meek used archaic words, which added colour, but made it hard to read. It was an appropriate read though, the characters are trying to avoid the plague and we were in Corona lock-down.

Here’s the blurb …

Three journeys. One road.

England, 1348. A gentlewoman is fleeing an odious arranged marriage, a Scottish proctor is returning home to Avignon and a handsome young ploughman in search of adventure is on his way to volunteer with a company of archers. All come together on the road to Calais.

Coming in their direction from across the Channel is the Black Death, the plague that will wipe out half of the population of Northern Europe. As the journey unfolds, overshadowed by the archers’ past misdeeds and clerical warnings of the imminent end of the world, the wayfarers must confront the nature of their loves and desires.

A tremendous feat of language and empathy, it summons a medieval world that is at once uncannily plausible, utterly alien and eerily reflective of our own. James Meek’s extraordinary To Calais, In Ordinary Time is a novel about love, class, faith, loss, gender and desire—set against one of the biggest cataclysms of human history.

This novel wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did finish it, so I am rating it as 2 out of 5. It’s not something I like to read, but that doesn’t mean it was poorly written. Quite the contrary, it was well-written and well-researched and many (perhaps most) will enjoy it.

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Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

I had this book in my digital pile for a very long time – I think it was a Kindle monthly or daily deal. And I resisted reading it for some reason, but when I finally read it, I liked it.

Here’s the blurb …

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned–from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren–an enigmatic artist and single mother–who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood–and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

This is about motherhood – who gets to be a mother, and the act of mothering itself. It’s also about power structures in communities and families. It is beautifully written and quite confronting (particularly for us mothers). I am giving this one 4 out of 5.

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Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid

It has been a long time – since April – and I have 22 books that need to be blogged (eventually).

This was recommended by a friend and I enjoyed it. Another friend, couldn’t finish it, so it might not be for everyone.

Here’s the blurb …

When Emira is apprehended at a supermarket for ‘kidnapping’ the white child she’s actually babysitting, it sets off an explosive chain of events. Her employer Alix, a feminist blogger with a ‘personal brand’ and the best of intentions, resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke and wary of Alix’s desire to help. When she meets someone from Alix’s past, the two women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know – about themselves, each other, and the messy dynamics of privilege

I am giving this one 3/5. I liked it, but I probably won’t read it again.

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A Common Loss – Kristen Tranter

A Common Loss – Kristen Tranter

Years ago I read The Legacy – and enjoyed it, so when I saw this at a library sale I purchased it. It then took me three years to get around to reading it.

Here’s the blurb

From the critically acclaimed author of The Legacy comes a riveting new novel about a group of friends whose longtime tensions and rivalries are suddenly exposed after one of them dies suddenly.

A WASHINGTON SQUARE PRESS PAPERBACK ORIGINAL THEY WERE ORIGINALLY FIVE.

Elliot. Brian. Tallis. Cameron. And Dylan—charismatic Dylan—the mediator, the man each one turned to in a time of crisis. Five close friends, bonded in college, still coming together for their annual trip to Las Vegas. This year they are four. Four friends, sharing a common loss: Dylan’s tragic death. A common loss that, upon their arrival in Vegas, will bring with it a common threat: one that will make them question who their departed friend really was, and whether he was ever worthy of their grief.

“Brimming with blackmail and deception” and “laced with simmering emotional tension” (Australian Bookseller & Publisher), A Common Loss is a hypnotic tale from an exciting new voice in literary fiction.

I enjoyed this one too – although it did take me awhile to realise the narrator was a man. 3/5

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Bruny – Heather Rose

Bruny -Heather Rose

A friend was given this, but doesn’t read novels so passed it onto me. I read The Museum of Modern Love (I don’t seem to have blogged that one), but didn’t appreciate it was the same author.

Here’s the blurb …

How far would your government go?

A right-wing US president has withdrawn America from the Middle East and the UN. Daesh has a thoroughfare to the sea and China is Australia’s newest ally. When a bomb goes off in remote Tasmania, Astrid Coleman agrees to return home to help her brother before an upcoming election. But this is no simple task. Her brother and sister are on either side of politics, the community is full of conspiracy theories, and her father is quoting Shakespeare. Only on Bruny does the world seem sane.

Until Astrid discovers how far the government is willing to go.

Bruny is a searing, subversive, brilliant novel about family, love, loyalty and the new world order.

This novel was compelling – part espionage, romance and family drama. Well-written and thought provoking. 4/5

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Bridge of Clay – Marcus Zusak

Bridge of Clay – Marcus Zusak

This is my book club book for this month (January) – not a book I would have chosen and I am not sure why as I really enjoyed The Book Thief.

Bridge of Clay is about a boy who is caught in the current – of destroying everything he has, to become all he needs to be. He’s a boy in search of greatness, as a cure for memory and tragedy. He builds a bridge to save his family, but also to save himself. It’s an attempt to transcend humanness, to make a single, glorious moment:

A miracle and nothing less.

I loved it – found it compelling. It had a generous spirit (and I am not sure why but reminded my of Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe – maybe just all of those boys). 5/5

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A Dance to the Music of Time – Anthony Powell

A Dance to the Music of Time

I watched the TV series and loved it, but I wasn’t sure if I would ever tackle the books. Then DovegreyReader started a year long (one book a month) project and I think I might be able to achieve that.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry on A Dance to the Music of Time.

20th January -So far so good, I have finished the first book, which I enjoyed and I have to say the TV series seems to be sticking closely to the novel (at least at this stage).

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Seven Types of Ambiguity – Elliot Perlman

Seven Types of Ambiguity – Elliot Perlman

I was on holiday and wanted to buy a paper book by an Australian author – this was the one I chose.

Seven Types of Ambiguity is a psychological thriller and a literary adventure of breathtaking scope. Celebrated as a novelist in the tradition of Jonathan Franzen and Philip Roth, Elliot Perlman writes of impulse and paralysis, empty marriages, lovers, gambling, and the stock market; of adult children and their parents; of poetry and prostitution, psychiatry and the law. Comic, poetic, and full of satiric insight, Seven Types of Ambiguity is, above all, a deeply romantic novel that speaks with unforgettable force about the redemptive power of love.

The story is told in seven parts, by six different narrators, whose lives are entangled in unexpected ways. Following years of unrequited love, an out-of-work schoolteacher decides to take matters into his own hands, triggering a chain of events that neither he nor his psychiatrist could have anticipated. Brimming with emotional, intellectual, and moral dilemmas, this novel-reminiscent of the richest fiction of the nineteenth century in its labyrinthine complexity-unfolds at a rapid-fire pace to reveal the full extent to which these people have been affected by one another and by the insecure and uncertain times in which they live. Our times, now. 

I loved it – it was dense (but not hard to read), literary and compelling (it’s long and I read it in a week). 5/5 (my first for the year).

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Warlight – Michael Ondaatje

I read The English Patient loved it, but struggled to get to the end. And have avoided his novels ever since, so I am not really sure why I picked this one up from the second hand book store.

In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire. It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow both more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel

It was great – easy to read and I learnt heaps about war time England and post war Europe. Definitely worth reading if you like historical fiction. 4/5

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Wolfe Island – Lucy Treloar

Wolfe Island – Lucy Treloar

For years Kitty Hawke has lived alone on Wolfe Island, witness to the island’s erosion and clinging to the ghosts of her past. Her work as a sculptor and her wolfdog Girl are enough. News of mainland turmoil is as distant as myth until refugees from that world arrive: her granddaughter Cat, and Luis and Alejandra, a brother and sister escaping persecution. When threats from the mainland draw closer, they are forced to flee for their lives. They travel north through winter, a journey during which Kitty must decide what she will do to protect the people she loves.

Part western, part lament for a disappearing world, Wolfe Island (set off the northeast coast of the US) is a transporting novel that explores connection and isolation and the ways lives and families shatter and are remade

I read Salt Creek (and presented it to my historical book club), but I think this one is better. It is thrilling (action-wise), but also has fabulous character development and settings. 4/5

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