Category Archives: Recommended

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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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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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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