Category Archives: Rating

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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Filed under 3, Miscellaneous

High Rising – Angela Thirkell

High Rising – Angela Thirkell

I can’t remember where I first heard about Angela Thirkell – the Backlisted podcast perhaps?

It was easiest to find a Kindle version.

Here’s the blurb …

Successful lady novelist Laura Morland and her boisterous young son Tony set off to spend Christmas at her country home in the sleepy surrounds of High Rising. But Laura’s wealthy friend and neighbour George Knox has taken on a scheming secretary whose designs on marriage to her employer threaten the delicate social fabric of the village. Can clever, practical Laura rescue George from Miss Grey’s clutches and, what’s more, help his daughter Miss Sibyl Knox to secure her longed-for engagement?

Utterly charming and very funny, High Rising is irresistible comic entertainment.

It was fabulous – my favourite book so far this year. Four out of five.

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Filed under 4, Fiction, Recommended

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank – Thad Carhart

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank – Thad Carhart

This was in the pile of books left by my neighbour and I picked it up thinking it was a novel. It’s not it’s non-fiction, bit memoir, bit piano history and a bit Parisian lifestyle.

Here’s the blurb …

Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign — Desforges Pianos — he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner.

Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank is at once a beguiling portrait of a Paris not found on any map and a tender account of the awakening of a lost childhood passion

I liked it, it made me want to play the piano. It also made me appreciate the complexities of pianos.

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Filed under 3, Non-Fiction

Parable of the Talents – Octavia E Butler

Parable of the Talents – Octavia E Butler

This is the second book to Parable of the Sower.

Here’s the blurb …

Originally published in 1998, this shockingly prescient novel’s timely message of hope and resistance in the face of fanaticism is more relevant than ever.

In 2032, Lauren Olamina has survived the destruction of her home and family, and realized her vision of a peaceful community in northern California based on her newly founded faith, Earthseed. The fledgling community provides refuge for outcasts facing persecution after the election of an ultra-conservative president who vows to “make America great again.” In an increasingly divided and dangerous nation, Lauren’s subversive colony–a minority religious faction led by a young black woman–becomes a target for President Jarret’s reign of terror and oppression.

Years later, Asha Vere reads the journals of a mother she never knew, Lauren Olamina. As she searches for answers about her own past, she also struggles to reconcile with the legacy of a mother caught between her duty to her chosen family and her calling to lead humankind into a better future.

Like the first one, this is told through Lauren’s journals, but there are other voices (or written testaments) as well. Bankole, Marc and Asha all tell part of the story from their perspective. These books are eerily prescient; global warming, communities breaking down, democracy breaking down, survival of the fittest and the rise of right-wing christian groups. There’s violence and despair, but hope too.

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Filed under 4, Fiction, Science Fiction

Lucky Us – Amy Bloom

Lucky Us – Amy Bloom

After reading Come to Me, I was very pleased to find this in the secondhand book store.

Here’s the blurb …

A thrilling and resonant novel from the author of Away, about loyalty, ambition, and the pleasures and perils of family, set in 1940s America.

When Eva’s mother abandons her on Iris’s front porch, the girls don’t seem to have much in common – except, they soon discover, a father. Thrown together with no mothers to care for them and a father who could not be considered a parent, Iris and Eva become one another’s family. Iris wants to be a movie star; Eva is her sidekick. Together, they journey across 1940s America from scandal in Hollywood to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island, stumbling, cheating and loving their way through a landscape of war, betrayals and big dreams.

I enjoyed this novel the writing is beautiful. We get different perspectives – Eva mostly tells the story, but there are also letters from Iris, Gus and Danny. It is a story about kindness and looking after one another, about love in all of its various guises.

Here’s a review from the Guardian.

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Filed under 4, Fiction, Recommended

Come to Me – Amy Bloom

Come to Me – Amy Bloom

A friend left this book behind when they returned home (on the other side of the planet). It has taken me a few years to get to it, which is a shame because I really enjoyed it.

Here’s the blurb …

Amy Bloom’s first collection of short stories takes the reader into the inner lives of characters who encounter the everyday mysteries of need and desire. They include a frightened father in need of redemption, a psychiatrist who oversteps professional boundaries and a small girl eager for love.

The stories are beautifully written, quirky with an old-fashioned feel.

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Filed under 4, Fiction, Recommended, Short Stories

Parable of the Sower – Octavia E Butler

Parable of the Sower – Octavia E Butler

I am not sure where I first heard about this author, but we took Miss P to visit Stefan’s books (definitely worth a visit) and there it was on the shelf.

It was very prescient. My copy has it first being published in 1993 and here it is 2021 and the US is retreating into chaos and madness.

Here’s the blurb …

When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day.

Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ pain.

Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith…and a startling vision of human destiny.

I found it compelling and I am looking forward to another trip to Stefan’s to pick up the next book The Parable of the Talents.

4 out of 5.

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Filed under 4, Science Fiction

The Rain Heron – Robbie Arnott

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I bought this from a lovely book store in Bussleton – Viva Books.

Here is the blurb …

Ren lives alone on the remote frontier of a country devastated by a coup. High on the forested slopes, she survives by hunting and trading—and forgetting.

But when a young soldier comes to the mountains in search of a local myth, Ren is inexorably drawn into her impossible mission. As their lives entwine, unravel and erupt—as myths merge with reality—both Ren and the soldier are forced to confront what they regret, what they love, and what they fear.

The Rain Heron is the dizzying, dazzling new novel from the author of Flames. 

This is beautifully written – part fable, part epic quest. This is one of my favourite books for this year. 4 out of 5.

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Filed under 4, Fiction, Recommended

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

A dear friend passed this onto me. I read it while doing chemotherapy. My thoughts might be tainted.

Here is the blurb …

With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India.

The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.

As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.

I have to say upfront that I know nothing about India. (I thought Mrs Ghandi was a relaive of Ghandi). For me the best part of this novel was watching the relationships between the characters develop. These four people trying to have agency in their own lives – find a job, make enough money, find somewhere to live, while the country is in turmoil, political unrest and indiscriminant violence (forced sterialisation anyone?).

I did find the story emotionally draining, just when things were improving for a character something terrible would happen. It was bleak, very bleak. Beautifully written with a fabulous sense of time and place. Three out of five.

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Filed under 3, Fiction, Recommended

The Wife and the Widow – Christian White

The Wife and The Widow – Christian White

This was my book club book – back when I was still reading the books even if I wasn’t attending.

Here’s the blurb …

Set against the backdrop of an eerie island town in the dead of winter, The Wife and The Widow is an unsettling thriller told from two perspectives: Kate, a widow whose grief is compounded by what she learns about her dead husband’s secret life; and Abby, an island local whose world is turned upside when she’s forced to confront the evidence of her husband’s guilt. But nothing on this island is quite as it seems, and only when these women come together can they discover the whole story about the men in their lives.

I like to read the occasional crime novel between other types of fiction and this novel was cheap at target, so I thought I would give it a go.

It was good, the twist wasn’t particularly twisty (I guessed it quite early), but I still found the story compelling. I think if you’re a fan of crime, ten you will like this novel. Three out of five.

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Filed under 3, Crime, Fiction