Category Archives: Recommended

Brooklyn – Colm Tobin

Brooklyn – Colm Tobin

I broke my hand …

and it is a family tradition that you get a ‘broken’ book, so I selected this one.

I have seen the film and love it – the costumes, the knitwear …

Here’s the blurb …

Colm Tóibín’s sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

As is often the case, the book was better. I watched the family again immediately after the reading the novel and I had a much better understanding of the film.

It is a beautifully written story about migration and yearning to be in two places. I creates a snapshot of life in Brooklyn in the ’50s and in a small Irish town.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/09/colm-toibin-brooklyn

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/22/AR2009052201123.html

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Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

 

Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

This is Jennifer Egan’s fifth novel. I loved A Visit From the Goon Squad and went on to read Look at Me and The Keep (which I found in our book shelves – I think my mother-in-law gave it to my husband.

Here is the blurb …

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life.

There must have been a bit of research involved in writing this novel – the descriptions of the ‘diving dress’ and life on board a merchant navy ship during the World War 2 were detailed and intricate.  This is a meticulously created world that the reader feels they inhabit. I love (good) historical fiction – finding out about life in a different time and place.

I think this is well-written and dynamic – there are gangsters, show girls, beautiful tailoring, diving and wandering along the ocean bed. I think it would make a fabulous movie or television series.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is still my favourite, but I feel I know more now having read this novel.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/29/manhattan-beach-jennifer-egan-review

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/jennifer-egan-manhattan-beach/540612/

 

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The Clay Girl – Heather Tucker

 

The Clay Girl – Heather Tucker

This novel was highly recommended by several people on  booktube that I had to read it.

Here is the blurb …

Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.

Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls . . . With Ari on the journey is her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse. But when they arrive in Pleasant Cove, they instead find refuge with Mary and her partner Nia.

As the tumultuous ’60s ramp up in Toronto, Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather Len and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.

Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions — testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. She spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.

The Clay Girl is a beautiful tour de force that traces the story of a child, sculpted by kindness, cruelty and the extraordinary power of imagination, and her families — the one she’s born in to and the one she creates.

The blurb makes this book sound very grim – and it is grim, but the predominate feeling is hope. In fact it is quite uplifting.

It is told from Ari’s point of view and she has quite a unique voice – particularly in the first two-thirds when she is younger – it is lyrical and highly descriptive. It is Ari that makes this book so fabulous.

This novel is quirky and beautifully written about the families we make for ourselves and thriving not just surviving after terrible events.

Another review …

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The Cat’s Miaow – Jacqueline Perry-Strickland

The Cat’s Miaow – Jacqueline Perry Strickland

This is the follow up book to The Magpie’s Nest  published in 2014.
Here is the blurb …
One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl, four for a boy

Queen Street, Perth – Australia

A timeworn costume shop – A missing enchanted gown

A forgotten mystery – A treacherous romance – A new novel

‘What’s this about a green dress?’ Julienne asked.
They had been best friends at high school and she burned to confide in her. ‘What would you say, Julienne, if I told you that I’m in possession of a gown that I think is enchanted?’
She laid a hand on Julienne’s forearm. ‘It’s made of the most exquisite velvet you’ve ever seen, and is so soft and lush to touch. I keep a feather from the gown in my bra as a lucky charm.’ She sighed dreamily. ‘And when its crystals sparkle onstage my performances come to life. And I mean really come to life!’
As a newsreader, Julienne was the voice of reason both on television and off. Stony-faced, she replied, ‘I would say that there’s no such thing as lucky charms or magical crystals. Your performance comes from within you and is not influenced by any talisman … no matter how much you wish it to be.’
Her expression softened and a twinkle appeared in Julienne’s brown eyes as the side of her mouth turned up in a grin. ‘Though an enchanted gown does sound rather delicious. Where do I get myself one?’

Seven for a secret finally to be told.

These books have a fabulous sense of place. Full of local colour, vernacular sayings and descriptions of the locals’ lifestyles. You could use the books as a travel guide to the cities.
This second novel goes global: Montreal, Barcelona, London and back to Perth as we follow the characters we met in The Magpie’s Nest. Where is Esmeralda? Who wore her first and what was their story? Is the gown enchanted or is it all just a series of coincidences?
This is a well-written, easy to read novel with colourful characters and great locations. And it has something for everyone; romance, mystery, fantasy and travel.
I am looking forward to the next instalment, The Hound’s Tooth.
It is published by Vivid Publishing and you can purchase copies here or at these book stores

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Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

I bought this book on my Kindle quite close to its publication date, but then it languished in the pile (and on a Kindle you don’t really notice the pile) until finally I needed something good to read after trying (unsuccessfully) to get through Kim. As it turned out I was going to miss the Kim meeting anyway so I decided to cut my losses and move on.

I do like Elizabeth Strout – this one is another book of connected short stories.

Here is the blurb …

From #1 New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout comes a brilliant latticework of fiction that recalls Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity. Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton and drawing on the small-town characters evoked there, these pages reverberate with the themes of love, loss, and hope that have drawn millions of readers to Strout’s work.

“As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” Strout says, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories—of course!—and so the unfolding of their lives became tremendously important to me.”

Here, among others, are the “Pretty Nicely Girls,” now adults: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband, the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. Tommy, the janitor at the local high school, has his faith tested in an encounter with an emotionally isolated man he has come to help; a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD discovers unexpected solace in the company of a lonely innkeeper; and Lucy Barton’s sister, Vicky, struggling with feelings of abandonment and jealousy, nonetheless comes to Lucy’s aid, ratifying the deepest bonds of family.

With the stylistic brilliance and subtle power that distinguish the work of this great writer, Elizabeth Strout has created another transcendent work of fiction, with characters who will live in readers’ imaginations long after the final page is turned.

Her writing is fabulous and I love it when you get a glimpse of a character from another perspective – a bit like when you see someone you know well completely out of context. She writes about people whose lives are limited by lack – money, education, love, but in such a sympathetic way you feel you understand these people and are willing them onto better lives.

Now I need to read My Name is Lucy Barton (I have that on my kindle as well!) as I believe they are connected.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/23/anything-is-possible-elizabeth-strout-review

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/short-stories-review-anything-is-possible-20170511-gw2evz.html

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The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Isn’t this a beautiful cover? I resisted reading this for a long time – I don’t really know why – but finally decided to read it when my friend told me how much she liked it (she hasn’t lead me wrong yet).

Here is the blurb …

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

This is beautifully written and felt very Victorian – medicine, science (mentions of Mary Anning), religion versus science, consumption – it was all there. The characters are spectacular – love triangles are everywhere, but everyone comes out unscathed in the end (in slightly unexpected ways).

If you want to be transported to another time and place, this is the book to read – the writing is so evocative.

 

More reviews

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/16/the-essex-serpent-sarah-perry-review-novel

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The Camomile Lawn Mary Wesley

The Camomile Lawn – Mary Wesley

We stopped in Capel on the way home from Dunsborough and the library was selling books for a $1 – I bought this one and A Common Loss by Kirsten Tranter.

Here is the blurb …

Behind the large house, the fragrant camomile lawn stretches down to the Cornish cliffs. Here, in the dizzying heat of August 1939, five cousins have gathered at their aunt’s house for their annual ritual of a holiday. For most of them it is the last summer of their youth, with the heady exhilarations and freedoms of lost innocence, as well as the fears of the coming war.
The Camomile Lawn moves from Cornwall to London and back again, over the years, telling the stories of the cousins, their family and their friends, united by shared losses and lovers, by family ties and the absurd conditions imposed by war as their paths cross and recross over the years. Mary Wesley presents an extraordinarily vivid and lively picture of wartime London: the rationing, imaginatively circumvented; the fallen houses; the parties, the new-found comforts of sex, the desperate humour of survival – all of it evoked with warmth, clarity and stunning wit. And through it all, the cousins and their friends try to hold on to the part of themselves that laughed and played dangerous games on that camomile lawn.

I have been on a 1930s/1940s thing lately – The Light Years and then Marking Time. This period is definitely growing on me – although both Mary Wesley and Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote about the 40s much later, so maybe I wouldn’t like contemporary authors.

This novel starts in the summer of 1939 war is brewing but has yet to break out. The cousins come every summer to Cornwall to stay with their uncle. Oliver has returned from Spain – altered by his experiences, but still in love with Calypso. Calypso is determined to marry a rich man. Then there is Polly and Walter – both overshadowed by Calypso and Oliver, and finally Sophie much younger than the others and she lives with Richard and Helena (the uncle and aunt everyone is visiting). There is also the rectory twins.

The novel then follows their adventures during the war – although Sophie ‘sees something nasty in the woodshed’ and deals with that early on. Everyone lives like each day might be their last – Helena finds love or at least sex, Calypso marries her rich man (and may indeed love him), Oliver continues on his cynical and selfish path, Polly finds love, Walter never finds his sea legs and remains a bit of a shadowy character and Sophie watches it all and wishes to be older. There are bombs, rationing and lots of drinking – all of the characters are more alive during the war years than before or after.

It is a beautifully written novel – witty, lively and at times brutally honest.

I am now going to watch the 1992 adaptation – As it is rated MA15+, I need to wait for my girls to be back at school.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/jun/03/featuresreviews.guardianreview2

http://www.nytimes.com/1984/07/08/books/oliver-worshipped-calypso.html

 

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Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry was meant to come to the Perth Writers Festival, so I thought I should read his latest novel. However, he didn’t end up coming, but none-the-less I pushed on and finished this novel.

Here is the blurb …

From the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist Sebastian Barry, “a master storyteller” (Wall Street Journal), comes a powerful new novel of duty and family set against the American Indian and Civil Wars.

Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.

Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

I found this hard going at first not because it is poorly written (quite the contrary), but the era of history is not one I am that interested in. However, I persevered and was well rewarded. It is a beautiful story about family and how often the family we make for ourselves is better than the family we were given. It is a violent story – Indian massacres, civil war battles, soldiers being massacred by Indians, but the violence isn’t dwelt on it is just how life was at that time. I didn’t realise how badly the Indians were treated or the sorts of things that happened to black people in the South after the civil war – terrible times.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/28/days-without-end-by-sebastian-barry-review

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/days-without-end-review-sebastian-barrys-novel-of-a-young-irishman-in-america-20161024-gs9ckg.html

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Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner

Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner

This was novel was recommended by a friend and I took a while to get to it, but I am glad I did.

Here is the plot summary from Wikipedia …

Lolly Willowes is satirical comedy of manners incorporating elements of fantasy, it is the story of a middle-aged spinster who moves to a country village to escape her controlling relatives and takes up the practice of witchcraft. The novel opens at the turn of the twentieth century, with Laura Willowes moving from Somerset to London to live with her brother, Henry, and his family. The move comes in the wake of the death of Laura’s father, Everard, with whom she lived with at the family home, Lady Place. Laura’s other brother, James, moves into Lady Place with his wife and his young son, Titus, with the intention to continue the family’s brewing business. However, James dies suddenly of a heart attack and Lady Place is rented out, with the view that Titus, once grown up, will return to the home and run the business.

Laura finds herself feeling increasingly stifled both by the obligations of being a live-in aunt and living in London. When shopping for flowers on the Moscow Road, Laura decides she wishes to move to the Chiltern Hills and, buying a guide book and map to the area, she decides upon the (fictional) village of Great Mop as her new home. Against the wishes of her extended family, Laura moves to Great Mop and finds herself entranced and overwhelmed by the chalk hills and beech woods. When out walking, she makes a pact with a force that she takes to be Satan, so as she can remain in the Chilterns rather than return to her duties as an aunt. On returning to her lodgings, she discovers a kitten, whom she takes to be Satan’s emissary, and names him Vinegar Tom, in reference to the English history of witchcraft.

In the meantime, Titus, having visited Laura, has decided he wants to move from his lodgings in Bloomsbury to Great Mop and be a writer, rather than inheriting the family business. Titus’ renewed social and domestic reliance on Laura make Laura feel frustrated that even as a witch living in the Chilterns she cannot escape the duties expected of women. Satan intervenes, plaguing Titus with tricks, such as curdling his milk and, finally, setting a nest of wasps upon him. Finally, having had his wasp stings treated by a Londoner named Pandora Williams, Titus proposes marriage to Pandora and the two retreat to London. Laura, relieved, meets Satan at Mulgrave Folly and tells him that women are like ‘sticks of dynamite’ waiting to explode and that all women are witches even ‘if they never do anything with their witchcraft, they know it’s there – ready!’ The novel ends with Laura acknowledging that her new freedom comes at the expense of knowing that she belongs to the ‘satisfied but profound indifferent ownership’ of Satan.

My version has an introduction by Sarah Waters, which contains this gem

Having read verbatim accounts of 16th Century Scottish witch trials and been struck, as she described it, by the ‘romance of witchcraft’ for the women who became involved with it, the ‘release’ it represented to them from ‘hard lives’ and ‘dull futures’ it occurred to her to try out a novel on this theme, but with a contemporary setting.

and that is what she does with Lolly Willowes.

She wrote to her friend David Garnett

Other people who have seen Lolly have told me that it was charming, that it was distinguished, and my mother said it was almost as good as Galsworthy. And my heart sank lower and lower, I felt as though I had tried to make a sword only to be told what a pretty pattern there was on the blade.”

I have to admit I thought it was charming (subversive as well, but definitely charming!). This novel is about gender and the role of unmarried women in particular. Laura moves to Great Mop in 1921 – women had been granted the vote in 1918 (well some women) and England was dealing with returned service men (unable to find jobs and emotionally damaged) and surplus women (which was seen as a problem). For the most part unmarried older women were seen as chronically unfulfilled. There was a contrast between the lives they lived and their passionate imaginative emotional lives. Laura turns to Satan who, in the words of Sarah Waters, “who pays them the compliment of pursuing them, and having bagged them, performs the even more valuable service of leaving them alone.”

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/15/100-best-novels-lolly-willowes-sylvia-townsend-warner-robert-mccrum

http://furrowedmiddlebrow.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/sylvia-townsend-warner-lolly-willowes.html

 

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Snowdrift – Georgette Heyer

Snowdrift and other stories – Georgette Heyer

I do like Georgette Heyer novels – the regency romances the mysteries – and, so as soon as I had of this one I pre-ordered it. And then when it arrived I saved it for my trip to Rottnest – perfect!

Here’s the blurb …

Previously titled Pistols for Two, this edition includes three recently discovered short stories. A treat for all fans of Georgette Heyer, and for those who love stories full of romance and intrigue.

Affairs of honour between bucks and blades, rakes and rascals; affairs of the heart between heirs and orphans, beauties and bachelors; romance, intrigue, escapades and duels at dawn. All the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has so triumphantly made her own are exquisitely revived in these wonderfully romantic stories of the Regency period.

If you have read any Heyer, then you will know exactly what this book is like. These stories are swashbuckling fun – full of beautiful girls, masterful heros and misguided young men trying to do the right thing. It is a book of short stories and it might be better to read them one at a time with a bit of a break between them because sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

More reviews …

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/snowdrift-and-other-stories-by-georgette-heyer-lsv8jt73j

http://the-history-girls.blogspot.com.au/2016/09/new-georgette-heyer-stories.html – this one is an interview with Jennifer Kloester who wrote the introduction (plus she has written a biography of Heyer)

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