Category Archives: 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

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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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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Weather – Jenny Offill

Weather – Jenny Offill

I loved The Dept of Speculation, so was super keen to read Weather. I thought I would reserve it at the library and surprisingly I was first (the other people must be idiots).

Here’s the blurb …

From the author of the nationwide best seller Dept. of Speculation–one of the New York Times Book Review‘s Ten Best Books of the Year–a shimmering tour de force about a family, and a nation, in crisis

Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years, she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. She’s become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience–but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she’s learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks…And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in- funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad

I really enjoyed this novel – it has the same style as Dept of Speculation those paragraphs that are separate, but connected. 4 out of 5.

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The Other Bennet Sister – Janice Hadlow

The Other Bennet Sister – Janice Hadlow

As I said in my last post, I don’t often read Jane Austen fan fiction and now I have done two in a row. This was recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust, so I decided to give it a go.

I liked it – it was refreshing to see things from Mary’s point of view. It was long though, and I felt a bit of editing would make a crisper story.

Here’s the blurb …

Mary, the bookish ugly duckling of Pride and Prejudice’s five Bennet sisters, emerges from the shadows and transforms into a desired woman with choices of her own.

What if Mary Bennet’s life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of The Other Bennet Sister, a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Austen fans.

Ultimately, Mary’s journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself—and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.

Mary’s destiny diverges from that of her sisters. It does not involve broad acres or landed gentry. But it does include a man; and, as in all Austen novels, Mary must decide whether he is the truly the one for her. In The Other Bennet Sister, Mary is a fully rounded character—complex, conflicted, and often uncertain; but also vulnerable, supremely sympathetic, and ultimately the protagonist of an uncommonly satisfying debut novel.

I would recommend this to Jane Austen fans. 3 out of 5.

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Filed under 3, Historical Fiction, Recommended

The Jane Austen Society – Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society – Natalie Jenner

I normally avoid Jane Austen fan-fiction – Austen is just too hard an act to follow, but this came highly recommended, and I have been unwell, so pleasant reads are a must.

I liked it – well written and a little bit unexpected.

Here is the blurb…

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society

If you are a Jane Austen fan, I think you would enjoy this and even if you’re not, it’s a lovely story about grief, family, doing your duty and there is a bit of romance as well. 4 out of 5.

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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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Filed under 4, Historical Fiction, Recommended, Serious

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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Filed under 4, Fiction - Light, Recommended

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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Filed under 5, Fiction, Recommended