Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

I am reading this one because I am going to see Esi Edugyan at the Writers Festival.

Here’s the blurb …


ESCAPE IS ONLY THE BEGINNING…

A stunning new novel of slavery and freedom by the author of the Man Booker and Orange Prize shortlisted Half Blood Blues

When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him. 

Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life. Inspired by a true story, Washington Black is the extraordinary tale of a world destroyed and made whole again

I knew nothing about this novel I just downloaded the kindle version – I didn’t even read the blurb. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have read it as I don’t like slavery novels (I find them too brutal), but that would have been a mistake as this is a well-written coming of age/tale of adventure. Don’t mistake me their is brutality and violence but it is more than that. The ‘world creation’ is fabulous – Barbados, the arctic regions of Canada, Newfoundland, England and Morocco.

Wash starts of a young slave – with no control of anything and ends his own man in charge of his destiny. On the way there is action and adventure (almost swashbuckling adventure) and an eccentric cast of characters.

Another review and another.

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An American Marriage – Tayari Jones

Cover image of an American Marriage by Tayari Jones
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones

This was recommended by a few people (even Barack Obama had it on his list).

Here’s the blurb …


Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-elusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel.

I enjoyed it. I found the premise interesting – how does a relationship survive that degree of separation (not to mention anger, shame and despair)? This novel felt quite foreign to me and I realise that is because I haven’t read any other black american stories – something I definitely need to rectify.

I thought the characters were beautifully portrayed (I didn’t like Roy, but that’s a sign of good writing). This novel shows a section of american life, which then highlights the endemic racism in society.

Here’s another review.

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Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

Cover image of Boy Swallows Universe
Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

This was a last minute decision made by my book club and, at first, it was impossible to find – in the end I bought it as a Kindle. Impossible to find because it was sold out everywhere. I am always a bit nervous about very popular books (and I have to say the title and the cover art weren’t helping)

Here’s the blurb …


A novel of love, crime, magic, fate and coming of age, set in Brisbane’s violent working class suburban fringe – from one of Australia’s most exciting new writers.

Brisbane, 1983: A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter. It’s not as if Eli’s life isn’t complicated enough already. He’s just trying to follow his heart, learning what it takes to be a good man, but life just keeps throwing obstacles in the way – not least of which is Tytus Broz, legendary Brisbane drug dealer.

But if Eli’s life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He’s about to fall in love. And, oh yeah, he has to break into Boggo Road Gaol on Christmas Day, to save his mum.

A story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.

I love it – found it compelling. The writing is beautiful and the characters are fabulous and sympathetically (and generously) written. I also enjoyed all of the Australian cultural references (sometimes it’s nice to read something that feels familiar).

Trent Dalton is coming to the Perth Writers Festival and I am looking forward to his session (just how much is autobiographical, did the red telephone ring?)

Below is an article about the writing of Boy Swallows Universe.

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Normal People – Sally Rooney

Cover image of Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People – Sally Rooney

I hadn’t heard of this novel until Mercedes mentioned it on Mercy’s Musings.

Here’s the blurb …


Connell and Marianne both grow up in the same town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. But they both get places to study at university in Dublin, and a connection that has grown between them despite the social tangle of school lasts long into the following years.

Sally Rooney’s second novel is a deeply political novel, just as it’s also a novel about love. It’s about how difficult it is to speak to what you feel and how difficult it is to change. It’s wry and seductive; perceptive and bold. It will make you cry and you will know yourself through it.

I enjoyed this – the writing is beautiful, but the stand outs for me were the characters and character development. Marianne and Connell are our narrators – chapter about. It’s about relationships, coming of age, finding or making your way in the wider world. Marianne and Connell are bright and articulate with thoughts about themselves, the world and relationships.

Another review, and another.

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2018 – A Recap

My top three reads of 2018

This year I read 35 novels, which seems less than normal. I suspect there has been to much looking at pretty pictures on Instagram and Pinterest.

My top three were

  • Less – Andrew Sean Greer (and I have The Story of a Marriage in my TBR pile).
  • Circe – Madeline Miller
  • Golden Hill – Francis Spufford

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Miss Buncle Married – D.E. Stevenson

Cover image of 'Miss Buncle Married' by D E Stevenson
Miss Buncle Married – D.E. Stevenson

This has been in my pile for quite sometime and I am not even sure why. I enjoyed Miss Buncle’s Book – too many good things to read.

Here is the blurb …


In this charming follow-up to Miss Buncle’s Book, readers will follow Barbara Buncle’s journey into married life in a new town filled with fascinating neighbors…who may become the subjects of Barbara’s next novel! Miss Buncle may have settled down, but she’s already discovered that married life has done nothing to prevent her from getting into humorous mix-ups and hilarious hijinx. Readers will continue to fall in love with Barbara as she hilariously navigates an exciting new beginning

When I read a book from this era I always think I should read more. This is a witty, gentle, clever story that still highlights the follies, foibles and selfishness of human nature.

Here is the Persephone page – I read the Persephone edition, but loved the image above so much I had to use that one instead of the (beautiful) Persephone grey cover.

Another review and another one.

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The Lost Man – Jane Harper

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

I read  The Dry and enjoyed it. Not enough to read her second novel and when this was suggested by my book club I wasn’t very keen. However, it was recommended by so many people I thought I should give it a go.

Here’s the blurb…


Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature

I really enjoyed it – much more than her first novel. The sense of place was brilliant and the relationships were particularly well done. It was compelling – I couldn’t stop reading “just one more chapter”. And I didn’t pick the murderer!

Once again I think this would be a fabulous movie.

Another review.

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All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

Cover image of All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison
All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

This book was mentioned on a booktube and it sounded like something I would like to read. And it was available at my local library.

Here’s the blurb


From the author of Costa-shortlisted and Baileys-longlisted At Hawthorn Time comes a major new novel. Set on a farm in Suffolk just before the Second World War, it introduces a girl on the cusp of adulthood. 

Fourteen-year-old Edie Mather lives with her family at Wych Farm, where the shadow of the Great War still hangs over a community impoverished by the Great Depression. Glamorous outsider Constance FitzAllen arrives from London, determined to make a record of fading rural traditions and beliefs, and to persuade Edie’s family to return to the old ways rather than embrace modernity. She brings with her new political and social ideas – some far more dangerous than others.

For Edie, who has just finished school and must soon decide what to do with her life, Connie appears to be a godsend. But there is more to the older woman than meets the eye. As harvest time approaches and the pressures mount on the entire Mather family, Edie must decide whose version of reality to trust, and how best to save herself from disaster. 

A masterful evocation of the rhythms of the natural world and pastoral life, All Among the Barley is also a powerful and timely novel about influence, the lessons of history and the dangers of nostalgia.

This book spent a lot of time building up to a climax and then quickly finishing. Now, normally I like a novel where not much happens, but this one had so little happening and from the author’s note at the end, it is clear it had big themes it wanted to explore; antisemitism, rural communities, feminism, and the care of the mentally unwell.

To be fair, I did enjoy the portrayal of rural life in England in the 1930s, but I felt the book lacked pacing and, unusually, I thought the final third needed to be longer.

Another review.

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Early Riser – Jasper Fforde

Cover image of 'Early Riser'
Early Riser – Jasper Fforde

I have always enjoyed Mr Fforde’s novels – they’re quirky, clever, witty and fun. We have even read the Dragon Slayer series as a family – we are desperately waiting for the next one.

Here is the blurb …


Every Winter, the human population hibernates. 

During those bitterly cold four months, the nation is a snow-draped landscape of desolate loneliness, and devoid of human activity.

Well, not quite. 

Your name is Charlie Worthing and it’s your first season with the Winter Consuls, the committed but mildly unhinged group of misfits who are responsible for ensuring the hibernatory safe passage of the sleeping masses.

You are investigating an outbreak of viral dreams which you dismiss as nonsense; nothing more than a quirky artefact borne of the sleeping mind.

When the dreams start to kill people, it’s unsettling.

When you get the dreams too, it’s weird.

When they start to come true, you begin to doubt your sanity.

But teasing truth from Winter is never easy: You have to avoid the Villains and their penchant for murder, kidnapping and stamp collecting, ensure you aren’t eaten by Nightwalkers whose thirst for human flesh can only be satisfied by comfort food, and sidestep the increasingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk.

But so long as you remember to wrap up warmly, you’ll be fine.

I did enjoy this although I though it was a tad too long (I am thinking that about a lot of books lately, so it could be me).

This is very quirky – humans hibernate (to avoid the terrible winters) and in order to survive the winter hibernation they need to bulk up (and they get a winter coat of hair/fur). There is a drug they can take to help with the hibernation (and to stop them dreaming, which uses too many calories and they might not make it to spring), but it has risks. Some people become ‘nightwalkers’ (essentially zombies – they even like to eat people). Add in a novice winter consul (our hero), a shady corporation, strange weapons and Wintervolk and you have a swashbuckling adventure story with lots of fun along the way.

More reviews …

From tor.com – this one was great, what I thought, but expressed much more eloquently.

and

Kirkus Reviews 

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The Year of The Farmer – Rosalie Ham

Cover image of the 'Year of the Farmer' by Rosalie Ham
The Year of the Farmer – Rosalie Ham

I have enjoyed all of Rosalie Ham’s novels. Summer at Mount Hope, There Should be More Dancing and The Dressmaker. 

I reserved it at the library (trying to reduce the enormous number of books in my house) thinking it would take ages to be my turn, but it arrived very swiftly.

It was very good – laugh out loud funny, very Australian  and with something to say about rural living, and water (its scarcity, how it’s used and who gets to use it).

Here’s the blurb…

In a quiet farming town somewhere in country New South Wales, war is brewing.

The last few years have been punishingly dry, especially for the farmers, but otherwise, it’s all Neralie Mackintosh’s fault. If she’d never left town then her ex, the hapless but extremely eligible Mitchell Bishop, would never have fallen into the clutches of the truly awful Mandy, who now lords it over everyone as if she owns the place.

So, now that Neralie has returned to run the local pub, the whole town is determined to reinstate her to her rightful position in the social order. But Mandy Bishop has other ideas. Meanwhile the head of the local water board – Glenys ‘Gravedigger’ Dingle – is looking for a way to line her pockets at the expense of hardworking farmers already up to their eyes in debt. And Mandy and Neralie’s war may be just the chance she was looking for…

More reviews …

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/rosalie-ham-down-on-the-farm-for-another-dark-satire-20180919-h15lh5.html

https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/abr-online/archive/2018/5125-brenda-walker-reviews-the-year-of-the-farmer-by-rosalie-ham

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