Category Archives: Recommended

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

I had this book in my digital pile for a very long time – I think it was a Kindle monthly or daily deal. And I resisted reading it for some reason, but when I finally read it, I liked it.

Here’s the blurb …

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned–from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren–an enigmatic artist and single mother–who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood–and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

This is about motherhood – who gets to be a mother, and the act of mothering itself. It’s also about power structures in communities and families. It is beautifully written and quite confronting (particularly for us mothers). I am giving this one 4 out of 5.

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The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel

The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel

The long-awaited third in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

‘If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?’

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.

This book will be forever known as my quarantine book – my reading it has co-incided with our lockdown (five weeks now).

This is a large book (physically – I should have bought a kindle version) and it took me a long time to read, but I enjoyed it. I even re-watched the Wolf Hall T.V adaptation. And I have bought Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwell.

4/5 (too long for 5/5)

Another review.

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A Spring Time Affair – Katie Fforde

A Springtime Affair – Katie Fforde

I have read all of Katie Fforde’s books and I think they are just what we need right now – global pandemic and a lockdown – fun with a happy ending.

Here is the blurb …

It’s the season of new beginnings for Helena and Gilly.

Gilly runs her own B&B business from her much-loved family home, which she doesn’t want to part with – at any price.

But that’s before she meets handsome estate agent Leo, and soon she begins to wonder whether selling up might not be such a bad idea after all.

Meanwhile Gilly’s daughter Helena has a budding romance of her own. A talented weaver, she’s becoming very close to her new landlord, Jago, who’s offered to help her at an upcoming craft fair.

It’s what friends do, and they are just friends. Aren’t they?

With spring in full bloom, Helena and Gilly begin to ask themselves the same question:

Might their new loves lead to happily ever after?

I’m giving this one 4/5.

Another review

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Bridge of Clay – Marcus Zusak

Bridge of Clay – Marcus Zusak

This is my book club book for this month (January) – not a book I would have chosen and I am not sure why as I really enjoyed The Book Thief.

Bridge of Clay is about a boy who is caught in the current – of destroying everything he has, to become all he needs to be. He’s a boy in search of greatness, as a cure for memory and tragedy. He builds a bridge to save his family, but also to save himself. It’s an attempt to transcend humanness, to make a single, glorious moment:

A miracle and nothing less.

I loved it – found it compelling. It had a generous spirit (and I am not sure why but reminded my of Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe – maybe just all of those boys). 5/5

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Seven Types of Ambiguity – Elliot Perlman

Seven Types of Ambiguity – Elliot Perlman

I was on holiday and wanted to buy a paper book by an Australian author – this was the one I chose.

Seven Types of Ambiguity is a psychological thriller and a literary adventure of breathtaking scope. Celebrated as a novelist in the tradition of Jonathan Franzen and Philip Roth, Elliot Perlman writes of impulse and paralysis, empty marriages, lovers, gambling, and the stock market; of adult children and their parents; of poetry and prostitution, psychiatry and the law. Comic, poetic, and full of satiric insight, Seven Types of Ambiguity is, above all, a deeply romantic novel that speaks with unforgettable force about the redemptive power of love.

The story is told in seven parts, by six different narrators, whose lives are entangled in unexpected ways. Following years of unrequited love, an out-of-work schoolteacher decides to take matters into his own hands, triggering a chain of events that neither he nor his psychiatrist could have anticipated. Brimming with emotional, intellectual, and moral dilemmas, this novel-reminiscent of the richest fiction of the nineteenth century in its labyrinthine complexity-unfolds at a rapid-fire pace to reveal the full extent to which these people have been affected by one another and by the insecure and uncertain times in which they live. Our times, now. 

I loved it – it was dense (but not hard to read), literary and compelling (it’s long and I read it in a week). 5/5 (my first for the year).

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Wolfe Island – Lucy Treloar

Wolfe Island – Lucy Treloar

For years Kitty Hawke has lived alone on Wolfe Island, witness to the island’s erosion and clinging to the ghosts of her past. Her work as a sculptor and her wolfdog Girl are enough. News of mainland turmoil is as distant as myth until refugees from that world arrive: her granddaughter Cat, and Luis and Alejandra, a brother and sister escaping persecution. When threats from the mainland draw closer, they are forced to flee for their lives. They travel north through winter, a journey during which Kitty must decide what she will do to protect the people she loves.

Part western, part lament for a disappearing world, Wolfe Island (set off the northeast coast of the US) is a transporting novel that explores connection and isolation and the ways lives and families shatter and are remade

I read Salt Creek (and presented it to my historical book club), but I think this one is better. It is thrilling (action-wise), but also has fabulous character development and settings. 4/5

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Damscus – Christos Tsiolkas, Wearing Paper Dresses –

Damascus – Christos Tsioklas

‘They kill us, they crucify us, they throw us to beasts in the arena, they sew our lips together and watch us starve. They bugger children in front of their mothers and violate men in front of their wives. The temple priests flay us openly in the streets. We are hunted everywhere and we are hunted by everyone …

We are despised, yet we grow. We are tortured and crucified and yet we flourish. We are hated and still we multiply. Why is that? You have to wonder, how is it that we not only survive but we grow stronger?’

Christos Tsiolkas’ stunning new novel Damascus is a work of soaring ambition and achievement, of immense power and epic scope, taking as its subject nothing less than events surrounding the birth and establishment of the Christian church. Based around the gospels and letters of St Paul, and focusing on characters one and two generations on from the death of Christ, as well as Paul (Saul) himself, Damascus nevertheless explores the themes that have always obsessed Tsiolkas as a writer: class, religion, masculinity, patriarchy, colonisation, exile; the ways in which nations, societies, communities, families and individuals are united and divided – it’s all here, the contemporary and urgent questions, perennial concerns made vivid and visceral.

In Damascus, Tsiolkas has written a masterpiece of imagination and transformation: an historical novel of immense power and an unflinching dissection of doubt and faith, tyranny and revolution, and cruelty and sacrifice.

This was beautiful and brutal and definitely not for the faint-hearted. 4/5

Wearing Paper Dresses – Anne Brinsden

You can talk about living in the Mallee. And you can talk about a Mallee tree. And you can talk about the Mallee itself: a land and a place full of red sand and short stubby trees. Silent skies. The undulating scorch of summer plains. Quiet, on the surface of things.

But Elise wasn’t from the Mallee, and she knew nothing of its ways.

Discover the world of a small homestead perched on the sunburnt farmland of northern Victoria. Meet Elise, whose urbane 1950s glamour is rudely transplanted to the pragmatic red soil of the Mallee when her husband returns to work the family farm. But you cannot uproot a plant and expect it to thrive. And so it is with Elise. Her meringues don’t impress the shearers, the locals scoff at her Paris fashions, her husband works all day in the back paddock, and the drought kills everything but the geraniums she despises.

As their mother withdraws more and more into herself, her spirited, tearaway daughters, Marjorie and Ruby, wild as weeds, are left to raise themselves as best they can. Until tragedy strikes, and Marjorie flees to the city determined to leave her family behind. And there she stays, leading a very different life, until the boy she loves draws her back to the land she can’t forget…

‘In the same vein as Rosalie Ham, Brinsden weaves a compelling story of country Australia with all its stigma, controversy and beauty.’ Fleur McDonald

I seem to be on a bit of an Australian fiction writing thing. This novel had a beautiful and interesting way with words. One of the characters has unstable mental health and the way the reader can see the madness creeping in is fabulous. 4/5

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Ghost Empire – Richard Fidler

Ghost Empire – Richard Fidler

I bought this book solely for the cover and then ended up listening to it on Audible!

Here’s the blurb …

GHOST EMPIRE is a rare treasure – an utterly captivating blend of the historical and the contemporary, realised by a master storyteller.
In 2014, Richard Fidler and his son Joe made a journey to Istanbul. Fired by Richard’s passion for the rich history of the dazzling Byzantine Empire – centred around the legendary Constantinople – we are swept into some of the most extraordinary tales in history. The clash of civilizations, the fall of empires, the rise of Christianity, revenge, lust, murder. Turbulent stories from the past are brought vividly to life at the same time as a father navigates the unfolding changes in his relationship with his son.

GHOST EMPIRE is a revelation: a beautifully written ode to a lost civilization, and a warmly observed father-son adventure far from home

This book is part memoir, history and travel journal. It has a lovely story-telling feel to it – made all the better by Richard Fidler reading the audio version. I listened to it while running, gardening, knitting and cleaning – I grabbed any opportunity to listen (in fact my house is cleaner than normal because I manufactured tasks so I could listen).

A review here and this is Richard Fidler’s web page.

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Filed under History, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Recommended

Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout

Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout

Oilve Kitteridge was one of my favourite books (and I enjoyed the series as well).

Here’s the blurb …

The iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but also the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace

Olive is back – as crabby and as unlike-able as ever, but also discerning, thoughtful and occasionally kind. The writing is beautiful -we have these little snippets of people’s lives and we see Olive as others see her. And, of course, everyone sees a different Olive.

There is a lot of fabulous stuff about Olive, Again…

Here is a podcast from Radio National’s Book Shelf podcast, Elizabeth Strout talking about Olive Again and a review from The Guardian.

I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough.

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The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks

The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks

A friend lent this to me when she heard that I like historical fiction.

Here’s the blurb …

In a world where no one can be trusted and secrets are currency, one woman stands without fear.

Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London’s master locksmith. For her there is no lock too elaborate, no secret too well kept. Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster and protector of Queen Elizabeth – the last of the Tudor monarchs – and her realm, is quick to realise Mallory’s talent and draws her into his world of intrigue, danger and deception. With her by his side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery; no plot secure.

But Mallory’s loyalty wavers when she witnesses the execution of three Jesuit priests, a punishment that doesn’t fit their crime. When Mallory discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she has to make a choice – between her country and her heart.

Mallory, however, carries her own dark secrets and is about to learn those being kept from her – secrets that could destroy those she loves.

Once Sir Francis’s greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat … and everyone knows there’s only one way Sir Francis deals with those.

I enjoyed it – there is a lot of historical detail (which I like), plus a bit of action and romance. It is quite long and I did find it got a bit slow in the middle, but I will definitely seek out more of her books.

A review at the Historical Novel Society.

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