Category Archives: Recommended

The Givenness Of Things – Marilynne Robinson

The Givenness of Things – Marilynne Robinson

I have enjoyed all of Ms Robinson’s novels and enjoyed listening to her on the BBC World Book Club. I was keen to read her essays.

Here is the description from Goodreads …

A profound essay collection from the beloved author of GileadHouskeeping and Lila, now including Marilynne Robinson’s conversation with President Barack Obama.

Robinson has plumbed the depths of the human spirit in her trilogy of novels – Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, Orange-Prize winning Home and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Lila – and in her moving essay collection When I Was a Child I Read Books.

Now, in The Givenness of Things, she brings a profound sense of awe and an incisive mind to the essential questions of contemporary life and faith. Through fourteen essays of remarkable depth and insight, Robinson explores the dilemmas of our modern predicament. How has our so-called Christian nation strayed from so many of the teachings of Christ? How could the great minds of the past, Calvin and Locke-and Shakespeare-guide our lives? And what might the world look like if we could see the sacredness in each other?

Exquisite and bold, these essays are a necessary call for us to find wisdom and guidance in our cultural treasures, to seek humanity and compassion in each other. The Givenness of Thingsis a reminder of what a marvel our existence is in its grandeur – and its humility.

I will say from the outset that I am not a christian and I think most of the world’s ills are caused by white, christian men, but if anyone could convert me it would be Ms Robinson. And if all christians were christian like her the world would be a better place.

It took me a long time to read this book and I am not sure reading it cover to cover is the best way of reading it. Each essay required focus and concentration and it might be better to dip into it from time to time reading one essay at a time.

It is academic, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/16/givenness-of-things-marylinne-robinson-review

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Circe – Madeline Miller

Circe – Madeline Miller

This was one of those super popular books available (at a discounted price) at Target. Usually I avoid those books, but this one was recommended by a friend.

Here’s the blurb …

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

I have to say I knew nothing about Circe, Helios, etc – I knew their names, but not much else.

I found this compelling – quite the page turner – and now I want to read The Song of Achilles and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey .

It is beautifully written and gives female characters silenced by male writers a voice.

More reviews …

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/the-original-nasty-woman-is-a-goddess-for-our-times/2018/04/09/742c54d0-3b88-11e8-974f-aacd97698cef_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1da987779d23

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/21/circe-by-madeline-miller-review

 

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Less – Andrew Sean Greer

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

I had to read this – my friend knows the author! I even bought a paper version as another friend tells me the author is paid more for paper copies – why? I don’t know.

Here is the blurb …

You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, LESS is, above all, a love story.

A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” LESS shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.

I loved this book – finally something that is ‘literary’, but not grim. It was witty and clever (probably too clever for me, but I did notice things like…

[In the Paris section]

Less is left breathless below and old house all covered in vines. A group of school girls passes in two straight lines

This is my favourite book so far this year.

Another review

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/01/less-andrew-sean-greer-review

 

 

 

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Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther – Elizabeth Von Arnim

Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther – Elizabeth Von Arnim

This novel was highly recommended by a friend and it didn’t disappoint – it is charming.

Here is the blurb …

What on earth could have induced Mr Anstruther to fall in love with Fraulein Schmidt? He is an eligible English bachelor from a good family with great expectations; she is the plain, poor, ‘spinster’ daughter of a German scholar. But Rose-Marie Schmidt is also funny, intelligent, brave and gifted with an irrepressible talent for happiness. The real question is, does Mr Anstruther know how lucky he is?

This is an epistolary novel and a one-sided one – we only have Rose-Marie’s (Fraulein Schmidt) letters. But don’t let that put you off – the plot is easy to follow. In fact this book is about Rose-Marie: her zest for life, her joy in nature, her determination to be herself no matter the external circumstances (financial, cultural and social).

I thought this novel was a joy to read – light-hearted, but serious, optimistic, but never cloyingly so.

More reviews …

Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther – Elizabeth von Arnim

Review: “Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther” by Elizabeth von Arnim

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Midwinter – Fiona Melrose

Midwinter – Fiona Melrose

I decided to read this novel as Mercy from Mercy’s Bookish Musings recommended it (and I usually like what she likes). And, what clinched the matter was that it was available at the library.

Here’s the blurb …

Father and Son, Landyn and Vale Midwinter, are men of the land. Suffolk farmers. Times are hard and they struggle to sustain their property, their livelihood and their heritage in the face of competition from big business.

But an even bigger, more brutal fight is brewing: a fight between each other, about the horrible death of Cecelia, beloved wife and mother, in Zambia ten years earlier. A past they have both refused to confront until now.

Over the course of a particularly mauling Suffolk winter, Landyn and Vale grapple with their memories and their pain, raking over what remains of their fragile family unit, constantly at odds and under threat of falling apart forever. While Vale makes increasingly desperate decisions, Landyn retreats, finding solace in the land, his animals – and a fox who haunts the farm and seems to bring with her both comfort and protection.

Alive to language and nature, Midwinter is a novel about guilt, blame and lost opportunities. Ultimately it is a story about love and the lengths we will go to find our way home.

This is a slow, quiet story about a father and son always at loggerheads. It is told from both perspectives – alternating chapters – and so we, the readers, can see how they want to connect with each other, but they always manage to say the wrong thing.

Landscape is very much a part of this novel: the cold damp of Suffolk and the baking heat of Africa. This is also a farmer’s story – the love of the land, the desire to pass it on to the next generation (at what cost?), livestock and the importance of treating animals well and how hard it is to make a living on the land.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/16/midwinter-by-fiona-melrose-reivew

Midwinter – Fiona Melrose

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Dear Mrs Bird – A J Pearce

Dear Mrs Bird – A J Pearce

I can’t remember where I first saw this – it was definitely somewhere online – and then the very next day I saw it at Boffins. I very much enjoyed reading this novel – it reminded me of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society possibly because they have a similar world war two feel.

Here is the blurb …

A charming, irresistible debut novel set in London during World War II about an adventurous young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist—a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

This is a charming and funny story about hope, friendship and the strength of the human spirit. It is mostly light-hearted, but it is set during World War Two, so expect some sadness.

This is one of my favourite books so far this year.

Another review …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/18/dear-mrs-bird-by-aj-pearce-review

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City of Crows – Chris Womersley

City of Crows – Chris Womersley

I read a review of this in The West newspaper (of course I can’t find it now ) and went of that day to buy it – I was the person saying ‘the book with the crow on the cover’ – surprisingly I did manage to find it. And then I heard that Chris Womersley was coming to the Writers Festival, so I moved it to the top of the tbr pile.

Here is the blurb …

A woman’s heart contains all things. Her heart is tender and loving, but it has other elements. It contains fire and intrigue and mighty storms. Shipwreck and all that has ever happened in the world. Murder, if need be… 1673. Desperate to save herself and her only surviving child Nicolas from an outbreak of plague, Charlotte Picot flees her tiny village in the French countryside. But when Nicolas is abducted by a troop of slavers, Charlotte resorts to witchcraft and summons assistance in the shape of a malevolent man. She and her companion travel to Paris where they become further entwined in the underground of sorcerers and poisoners – and where each is forced to reassess their ideas of good and evil. Before Charlotte is finished she will wander hell’s halls, trade with a witch and accept a demon’s fealty. Meanwhile, a notorious criminal is unexpectedly released from the prison galleys where he has served a brutal sentence for sacrilege..

What’s not to like about this novel? 17th Century France, witches, sorcery, plague and hidden treasure. Clearly there has been a lot of research done, but it is unobtrusive – just a fabulous world created. The two main characters are well-developed and I found myself flipping between like and loathing Lesage. Charlotte, although unsophisticated, creates more complicated feelings. Even now, several weeks after finishing it, I am not sure that I like or approve her actions.

I went to one of Mr Womersley’s sessions at the writers festival and he was great – witty, chatty, happy to engage with the audience. He was interviewed by Amanda Curtin who was also fabulous.

If you like historical fiction, then this book is for you.

More reviews …

https://www.readings.com.au/review/city-of-crows-by-chris-womersley

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/city-of-crows-chris-womersley-depicts-pariss-murky-past/news-story/7582cc0837ab6563c00b07eaa5a49bfe

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Recommended

Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss

Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss

I read Tidal Zone  and loved it, so when I saw this at the library I was keen to read it.

Here is the blurb …

Bodies of Light is a deeply poignant tale of a psychologically tumultuous nineteenth century upbringing set in the atmospheric world of Pre-Raphaelitism and the early suffrage movement. Ally (older sister of May in Night Waking), is intelligent, studious and engaged in an eternal – and losing – battle to gain her mother’s approval and affection. Her mother, Elizabeth, is a religious zealot, keener on feeding the poor and saving prostitutes than on embracing the challenges of motherhood. Even when Ally wins a scholarship and is accepted as one of the first female students to read medicine in London, it still doesn’t seem good enough. The first in a two-book sequence, Bodies of Light will propel Sarah Moss into the upper echelons of British novelists. It is a triumphant piece of historical fiction and a profoundly moving master class in characterisation.

Completely different from Tidal Zone although there are similar concerns – medicine and motherhood. This one is historical fiction set in the late 19 the century – women are finally entering universities to study medicine, the industrial revolution is well underway, trains, factories, squalor, poverty and prostitution.

There is a fabulous review here – much better than I could write -and it has made me aware of more novels. I will definitely be tracking them down.

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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

There seemed to be a lot of talk about this one – although I found it quite hard to find. In the end my local book shop ordered it for me.

Here is the blurb …

Summer,1976

Mrs. Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.

But as doors and mouths begin to open  and as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

This is told from the point of view of a child (Grace) whose innocence makes her an ‘unreliable narrator’. By that I mean we learn more about the people and actions around her than she does. This technique allows the novel to stay light and quirky (Jesus’s face on a drain pipe) while still covering some dark territory: alcoholism, murder (or at least an accidental death – manslaughter?), mental illness and serious physical illness.

Mrs Creasy has gone missing and Grace (and she drags Tilly along with her) are determined to get to the bottom of it. They decide to find god because he is every where, and looks after everyone, and knows how to separate the sheep from the goats and therefore must know the whereabouts of Mrs Creasy.

There is another mystery involving the older members of The Avenue, a fire, and a missing child.

This novel is about people living extraordinary ordinary lives – neighbours forced by proximity to be a community.

I am looking forward to reading her next book Three Things about Elsie

More reviews

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/28/the-trouble-with-goats-and-sheep-review-by-joanna-cannon

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

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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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