Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Phosphorescence – Julia Baird

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Phosphorescence – Julia Baird

It was a hard year last year – I know that was the case for many people, but I had breast cancer as well. I was keen to read ‘on awe, wonder and things that sustain you when the world goes dark’. And this book definitely did that.

Here’s the blurb…

A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ that Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – which will sustain us even through the darkest times. Over the last decade, we have become better at knowing what brings us contentment, well-being and joy. We know, for example, that there are a few core truths to science of happiness. We know that being kind and altruistic makes us happy, that turning off devices, talking to people, forging relationships, living with meaning and delving into the concerns of others offer our best chance at achieving happiness. But how do we retain happiness? It often slips out of our hands as quickly as we find it. So, when we are exposed to, or learn, good things, how do we continue to burn with them? And more than that, when our world goes dark, when we’re overwhelmed by illness or heartbreak, loss or pain, how do we survive, stay alive or even bloom? In the muck and grit of a daily existence full of disappointments and a disturbing lack of control over many of the things that matter most – finite relationships, fragile health, fraying economies, a planet in peril – how do we find, nurture and carry our own inner, living light – a light to ward off the darkness? Absorbing, achingly beautiful, inspiring and deeply moving, Julia Baird has written exactly the book we need for these times.

I have been recommending this book to anyone who is having a hard time – as a way of finding a bit of comfort or joy, or even just to learn something interesting.

A review

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Miss Plum and Miss Penny – Dorothy Evelyn Smith

Miss Plum and Miss Penny – Dorothy Evelyn Smith

I read about this novel on the Furrowed Middlebrow blog – it sounded like something I would enjoy, so I promptly bought a kindle edition.

Here’s the blurb

On the morning of her 40th birthday, Alison Penny believes that from now on her life should be nothing but serene and pleasant. That was before Miss Penny met Miss Plum. Victoria Plum was weeping on a park bench and obviously bent on drowning herself in the duck pond…

This was very enjoyable, reminded me a bit of the Lucia novels by E F Benson.

4/5.

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Almost French – Sarah Turnbull

Almost French – Sarah Turnbull

I have been trying to learn French for a number of years, and last year, before Covid, I had planned a trip to France to see the Bayeux Tapestry, the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries and the Apocalypse tapestries.

Here’s the blurb …

After backpacking her way around Europe journalist Sarah Turnbull is ready to embark on one last adventure before heading home to Sydney. A chance meeting with a charming Frenchman in Bucharest changes her travel plans forever.

Acting on impulse, she agrees to visit Frederic in Paris for a week. Put a very French Frenchman together with a strong-willed Australian girl and the result is some spectacular – and often hilarious – cultural clashes. Language is a minefield of misunderstanding and the simple act of buying a baguette is fraught with social danger.

But as she navigates the highs and lows of this strange new world, from the sophisticated cafes and haute couture fashion houses to the picture postcard French countryside, little by little Sarah falls under its spell: passionate, mysterious, infuriating, and charged with that French specialty – seduction. And it becomes her home. ALMOST FRENCH is the story of an adventurous heart, a maddening city – and love.

I enjoyed it; the differences between French and Australian culture, the food, fashion, etc. Three out of five.

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The Corinthian – Georgette Heyer

Cover of The Corinthian
The Corinthian – Georgette Heyer

I love a good (well-written) regency romance and nobody does it better than Georgette Heyer. Her impressive research is displayed in descriptions of clothes, places and daily life (and someone what less successfully in regency slang).

Here’s the blurb …

The only question which hangs over the life of Sir Richard Wyndham, notable whip, dandy and Corinthian, is one of marriage. On the eve of making the most momentous decision of his life, while he is contemplating a loveless marriage with a woman his friends have compared to a cold poultice, he is on his way home, a little worse for drink, and finds a perfect opportunity for escape by her boring destiny. 

He discovers a beautiful young fugitive climbing out of a window by means of knotted sheets, dressed in boy’s clothing lovely Penelope Creed is fleeing from London. She is a brilliant London heiress with and lavish life, and a proposed marriage to her repulsive fish-lipped cousin, a man she loathed. She has a shimmering dream of a love she had known once–and lost. Discovered by Sir Wyndham, he can’t allow her to travel to the countryside all alone, so he offers himself as her protector.

And with her in flight across a landscape of excitement was a man like no other she had known– handsome, sophisticated, but cynical. They had met by accident, been drawn together by danger. And now only his masked emotions and the shifting impulses of her own wild young heart would tell what their destiny would be…. When their stagecoach overturns, they find themselves embroiled with thieves, at the center of a murder investigation, and finally, in love. (less)

This is one of my favourites – beautiful heroine, handsome hero, action, danger and a bit of comedy thrown in. All in all a fun, easy read.

Here is the wikipedia page on The Corinthian.

And this is an interesting blog post about the novel and what was happening in Heyer’s life at the time.

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Heart: A History – Sandeep Jauhar

Heart A History – Sandeep Jauhar

A friend lent me this book said I would like it, but I wasn’t convinced. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I did like it – very much (apart from some of the experiments – sharing a vascular system with a dog?) and I learnt interesting things.

Here’s the blurb …


The spark of life, fount of emotion, house of the soul – the heart lies at the centre of every facet of our existence. It’s so bound up in our deepest feelings that it can even suffer such distress from emotional trauma as to physically change shape.

Practising cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar beautifully weaves his own experiences with the defining discoveries of the past to tell the story of our most vital organ. We see Daniel Hale Williams perform the first open heart surgery and Wilson Greatbatch invent the pacemaker – by accident. Amid gripping scenes from the operating theatre, Jauhar tells the moving tale of his family’s own history of heart problems and, looking to the future, he outlines why the way we choose to live will be more important than any device we invent.

Definitely worth reading if you like social history and have a bit of an interest in science.

Another review and another.

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2018 – A Recap

My top three reads of 2018

This year I read 35 novels, which seems less than normal. I suspect there has been to much looking at pretty pictures on Instagram and Pinterest.

My top three were

  • Less – Andrew Sean Greer (and I have The Story of a Marriage in my TBR pile).
  • Circe – Madeline Miller
  • Golden Hill – Francis Spufford

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Lethal White – Robert Galbraith

Lethal White – Robert Galbraith

I read the first of these and thought I would read more, but 2 and 3 passed my by. I enjoyed this one, but it is too long. Too much extraneous information.

Here’s the blurb …

“I seen a kid killed…He strangled it, up by the horse.”

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

I still like the relationship between Robin and Strike (although it has turned a bit romantic) and I didn’t guess the villain (which in my books is a good thing).

Another review …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/17/lethal-white-robert-galbraith-review-jk-rowling

 

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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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Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos De Laclos

Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

The theme for my historical fiction group is classic french literature, so we started this year with Dangerous Liaisons by Laclos. I was quite keen to read this having see this film when it was fisrt released at the cinema and then again recently in preparation of reading the novel.

Here is the blurb …

The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make “Dangerous Liaisons” (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. Its prime movers, the Viscount de Valmont and the Marchioness de Merteuil — gifted, wealthy, and bored — form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game. And they play this game with such wit and style that it is impossible not to admire them, until they discover mysterious rules that they cannot understand. In the ensuing battle there can be no winners, and the innocent suffer with the guilty.

The Marchioness de Merteuil and the Viscount de Valmont are creations without precedent. They are the first [in European literature] whose acts are determined by an ideology. —André Malraux
One of the two greatest French novels. —André Gide
What really keeps “Dangerous Liaisons” potent after two hundred years is not so much its depiction of sex as its catalog of corruptions, including but not limited to the corruption of language by polite cant and the corruption of morals by manners. It implicates a whole society so founded on falsehood that a single act of emotional truth is tantamount to an act of subversion. —Luc Sante
In many respects, Laclos is the perfect author: he wrote, at around the age of 40, one piece of fiction, which was not merely a masterpiece, but the supreme example of its genre, the epistolary novel; and then he troubled the public no further. —Christopher Hampton

It is a long novel so don’t do what I did and leave it to the last week and not finish it in time!

It is epistolary and written in four parts – the third part dragged for me. This novel is suprisingly modern – it was published in 1782 – and very salacious. It was designed to highlight the depravity of the french aristocracy. Valmont and de Merteuil were amoral, bored and making life interesting by seducing and ruining people.

The writing is extraordinary, each writers’ letters have a distinct style from the naive teenager Cecile to scheming, cynical Valmont.

More reviews …

Book Review | ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ – Choderlos De Laclos

Book Review – Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

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2015 – In Review

Some of my favourite reads for 2015

Some of my favourite reads for 2015

Last year I reviewed 27 books – I have about 6 left to write – still much lower than 2014’s 44. I have had less time this – with more maths students and a bit too much busy work (that’s my inability to say no!).

My favourite novel for the year was Mr Wigg or The Dressmaker – unusual to have two Australian authors as my favourites.

I don’t have any big goals for the year – unless it is to read the books in my pile (that could take me the whole year).

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