Category Archives: Fiction

Normal People – Sally Rooney

Cover image of Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People – Sally Rooney

I hadn’t heard of this novel until Mercedes mentioned it on Mercy’s Musings.

Here’s the blurb …


Connell and Marianne both grow up in the same town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. But they both get places to study at university in Dublin, and a connection that has grown between them despite the social tangle of school lasts long into the following years.

Sally Rooney’s second novel is a deeply political novel, just as it’s also a novel about love. It’s about how difficult it is to speak to what you feel and how difficult it is to change. It’s wry and seductive; perceptive and bold. It will make you cry and you will know yourself through it.

I enjoyed this – the writing is beautiful, but the stand outs for me were the characters and character development. Marianne and Connell are our narrators – chapter about. It’s about relationships, coming of age, finding or making your way in the wider world. Marianne and Connell are bright and articulate with thoughts about themselves, the world and relationships.

Another review, and another.

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Miss Buncle Married – D.E. Stevenson

Cover image of 'Miss Buncle Married' by D E Stevenson
Miss Buncle Married – D.E. Stevenson

This has been in my pile for quite sometime and I am not even sure why. I enjoyed Miss Buncle’s Book – too many good things to read.

Here is the blurb …


In this charming follow-up to Miss Buncle’s Book, readers will follow Barbara Buncle’s journey into married life in a new town filled with fascinating neighbors…who may become the subjects of Barbara’s next novel! Miss Buncle may have settled down, but she’s already discovered that married life has done nothing to prevent her from getting into humorous mix-ups and hilarious hijinx. Readers will continue to fall in love with Barbara as she hilariously navigates an exciting new beginning

When I read a book from this era I always think I should read more. This is a witty, gentle, clever story that still highlights the follies, foibles and selfishness of human nature.

Here is the Persephone page – I read the Persephone edition, but loved the image above so much I had to use that one instead of the (beautiful) Persephone grey cover.

Another review and another one.

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The Lost Man – Jane Harper

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

I read  The Dry and enjoyed it. Not enough to read her second novel and when this was suggested by my book club I wasn’t very keen. However, it was recommended by so many people I thought I should give it a go.

Here’s the blurb…


Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature

I really enjoyed it – much more than her first novel. The sense of place was brilliant and the relationships were particularly well done. It was compelling – I couldn’t stop reading “just one more chapter”. And I didn’t pick the murderer!

Once again I think this would be a fabulous movie.

Another review.

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All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

Cover image of All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison
All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

This book was mentioned on a booktube and it sounded like something I would like to read. And it was available at my local library.

Here’s the blurb


From the author of Costa-shortlisted and Baileys-longlisted At Hawthorn Time comes a major new novel. Set on a farm in Suffolk just before the Second World War, it introduces a girl on the cusp of adulthood. 

Fourteen-year-old Edie Mather lives with her family at Wych Farm, where the shadow of the Great War still hangs over a community impoverished by the Great Depression. Glamorous outsider Constance FitzAllen arrives from London, determined to make a record of fading rural traditions and beliefs, and to persuade Edie’s family to return to the old ways rather than embrace modernity. She brings with her new political and social ideas – some far more dangerous than others.

For Edie, who has just finished school and must soon decide what to do with her life, Connie appears to be a godsend. But there is more to the older woman than meets the eye. As harvest time approaches and the pressures mount on the entire Mather family, Edie must decide whose version of reality to trust, and how best to save herself from disaster. 

A masterful evocation of the rhythms of the natural world and pastoral life, All Among the Barley is also a powerful and timely novel about influence, the lessons of history and the dangers of nostalgia.

This book spent a lot of time building up to a climax and then quickly finishing. Now, normally I like a novel where not much happens, but this one had so little happening and from the author’s note at the end, it is clear it had big themes it wanted to explore; antisemitism, rural communities, feminism, and the care of the mentally unwell.

To be fair, I did enjoy the portrayal of rural life in England in the 1930s, but I felt the book lacked pacing and, unusually, I thought the final third needed to be longer.

Another review.

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Early Riser – Jasper Fforde

Cover image of 'Early Riser'
Early Riser – Jasper Fforde

I have always enjoyed Mr Fforde’s novels – they’re quirky, clever, witty and fun. We have even read the Dragon Slayer series as a family – we are desperately waiting for the next one.

Here is the blurb …


Every Winter, the human population hibernates. 

During those bitterly cold four months, the nation is a snow-draped landscape of desolate loneliness, and devoid of human activity.

Well, not quite. 

Your name is Charlie Worthing and it’s your first season with the Winter Consuls, the committed but mildly unhinged group of misfits who are responsible for ensuring the hibernatory safe passage of the sleeping masses.

You are investigating an outbreak of viral dreams which you dismiss as nonsense; nothing more than a quirky artefact borne of the sleeping mind.

When the dreams start to kill people, it’s unsettling.

When you get the dreams too, it’s weird.

When they start to come true, you begin to doubt your sanity.

But teasing truth from Winter is never easy: You have to avoid the Villains and their penchant for murder, kidnapping and stamp collecting, ensure you aren’t eaten by Nightwalkers whose thirst for human flesh can only be satisfied by comfort food, and sidestep the increasingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk.

But so long as you remember to wrap up warmly, you’ll be fine.

I did enjoy this although I though it was a tad too long (I am thinking that about a lot of books lately, so it could be me).

This is very quirky – humans hibernate (to avoid the terrible winters) and in order to survive the winter hibernation they need to bulk up (and they get a winter coat of hair/fur). There is a drug they can take to help with the hibernation (and to stop them dreaming, which uses too many calories and they might not make it to spring), but it has risks. Some people become ‘nightwalkers’ (essentially zombies – they even like to eat people). Add in a novice winter consul (our hero), a shady corporation, strange weapons and Wintervolk and you have a swashbuckling adventure story with lots of fun along the way.

More reviews …

From tor.com – this one was great, what I thought, but expressed much more eloquently.

and

Kirkus Reviews 

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The Year of The Farmer – Rosalie Ham

Cover image of the 'Year of the Farmer' by Rosalie Ham
The Year of the Farmer – Rosalie Ham

I have enjoyed all of Rosalie Ham’s novels. Summer at Mount Hope, There Should be More Dancing and The Dressmaker. 

I reserved it at the library (trying to reduce the enormous number of books in my house) thinking it would take ages to be my turn, but it arrived very swiftly.

It was very good – laugh out loud funny, very Australian  and with something to say about rural living, and water (its scarcity, how it’s used and who gets to use it).

Here’s the blurb…

In a quiet farming town somewhere in country New South Wales, war is brewing.

The last few years have been punishingly dry, especially for the farmers, but otherwise, it’s all Neralie Mackintosh’s fault. If she’d never left town then her ex, the hapless but extremely eligible Mitchell Bishop, would never have fallen into the clutches of the truly awful Mandy, who now lords it over everyone as if she owns the place.

So, now that Neralie has returned to run the local pub, the whole town is determined to reinstate her to her rightful position in the social order. But Mandy Bishop has other ideas. Meanwhile the head of the local water board – Glenys ‘Gravedigger’ Dingle – is looking for a way to line her pockets at the expense of hardworking farmers already up to their eyes in debt. And Mandy and Neralie’s war may be just the chance she was looking for…

More reviews …

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/rosalie-ham-down-on-the-farm-for-another-dark-satire-20180919-h15lh5.html

https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/abr-online/archive/2018/5125-brenda-walker-reviews-the-year-of-the-farmer-by-rosalie-ham

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Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

Image of the cover of Unsheltered

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

I have had a mixed response to Barbara Kingsolver. Some of her work I have loved – The Poisonwood BibleFlight Behaviour and others (The Lacuna) so much. However, I have never thought any were so bad I couldn’t read her anymore. So I was keen to read this one.

Here’s the blurb …

The New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards—including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize—returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.

Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it’s so unnerving that she’s arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development.

In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland’s past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.

A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new theory recently published by Charles Darwin. Thatcher’s friendships with a brilliant woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men. At home, his new wife and status-conscious mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound.

Brilliantly executed and compulsively listenable, Unsheltered is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world in the throes of major cultural shifts. In this mesmerizing story told in alternating chapters, Willa and Thatcher come to realize that though the future is uncertain, even unnerving, shelter can be found in the bonds of kindred—whether family or friends—and in the strength of the human spirit.

At first I was compelled. I loved both of the narrative strands. In the middle I got a bit stuck – the stories were sad and seemingly hopeless, but I pushed on and I am glad that I did because it ended strongly and with a hopeful positive feeling.

You can listen to Barbara Kingsolver talking about it on the BBC Radio 4 Books and Authors podcast.

More reviews

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/14/unsheltered-barbara-kingsolver-review

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/in-barbara-kingsolvers-unsheltered-trump-is-just-the-latest-threat-to-earths-survival/2018/10/16/6aebe630-d140-11e8-b2d2-f397227b43f0_story.html?utm_term=.fcbf806d8725

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/barbara-kingsolver-her-life-is-quiet-her-fiction-is-loud-20180119-h0kt7k.html

 

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The Lover – Marguerite Duras

The Lover – Marguerite Duras

This was the last of the classic french novels for my historical fiction study group. I bought the Kindle edition and read it while I was out-and-about; waiting for appointments, or to collect children, so my reading was scattered and very unfocused. This was not helped by the style of the book, which jumped about a bit.

Here’s the blurb …

Saigon, 1930s: a poor young French girl meets the elegant son of a wealthy Chinese family. Soon they are lovers, locked into a private world of passion and intensity that defies all the conventions of their society.

One thing I noticed was that, despite the shortness of the novel (more of a novella), it packed in a lot. And the detail was vivid – the hat, the shoes, the ferry on the Mekong, etc.

This isn’t my favourite classic french novel (that’s Madame Bovary).

More reviews …

https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/01/nnp/duras-lover.html?module=inline

On a Pedestal

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The Book of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things

I first saw this novel on Mercy’s Musings and then when I saw it at the library I decided I had to read it.

Here’s the blurb …

‘I am with you always, even unto the end of the world…’

From the author of Under the Skin and The Crimson Petal and the White, the first novel from Michel Faber in fourteen years is a wildly original tale of adventure, faith and the ties that might hold two people together when they are worlds apart

Peter Leigh is a husband, a Christian, and now a missionary. As The Book of Strange New Things opens, he is set to embark on a journey that will be the biggest test of his faith yet.

From the moment he says goodbye to his wife, Bea, and boards his flight, he begins a quest that will challenge his religious beliefs, his love and his understanding of the limits of the human body.

This momentous novel is Faber at his expectation-defying best. It is a brilliantly compelling book about love in the face of death, and the search for meaning in an unfathomable universe.

The plot of this novel is quite quirky – a foreign planet with indigenous inhabitants who want to learn more about Jesus. The planet, Oasis, is interesting – strange spiral rain (I think the cover is inspired by the rain), no big flora (there is a mushroom the Oasans use to manufacture all sorts of food for the humans), or fauna (apart from the Oasans, bugs and a strange duck thing).

There is an underlying sense of dread or menace – what happened to the previous minister? what are USIC’s plans for Oasis? that keep you turning the pages. It is beautifully written, full of detail that creates the new world of Oasis, but also show us the decay of the Earth.

It is about faith (and what that means), family and what we owe to each other as a community.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/26/book-of-strange-new-things-michel-faber-review

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/book-review-the-book-of-strange-new-things-by-michel-faber/2014/11/25/143d099c-70fd-11e4-ad12-3734c461eab6_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fee0f10857a0

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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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