Category Archives: Fiction

Alternate Side – Anna Quindlen

Alternate Side – Anna Quindlen

I am not sure why I chose to read this one – was it a kindle daily or monthly deal? I wasn’t that taken with Miller’s Valley, but I really enjoyed this one.

Here is the blurb …

The tensions in a tight-knit neighborhood—and a seemingly happy marriage—are exposed by an unexpected act of violence in this provocative new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Miller’s Valley and Still Life with Bread Crumbs.

Some days Nora Nolan thinks that she and her husband, Charlie, lead a charmed life—except when there’s a crisis at work, a leak in the roof at home, or a problem with their twins at college. And why not? New York City was once Nora’s dream destination, and her clannish dead-end block has become a safe harbor, a tranquil village amid the urban craziness. Then one morning she returns from her run to discover that a terrible incident has shaken the neighborhood, and the fault lines begin to open: on the block, at her job, especially in her marriage. With humor, understanding, an acute eye, and a warm heart, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife, and a woman at a moment of reckoning.

This is Nora’s story and we see how her life changes over the years – being a young wife, the early years of motherhood, navigating a career and motherhood, life as an ’empty nester’ and the gradual drifting apart of a marriage. It is beautifully and generously written (all of the characters are sympathetic – except for the man with the pugs!).

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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 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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