Category Archives: Fiction

If on a Winter’s night a Traveller – Italo Calvino

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller – Italo Calvino

I read about this in Once Upon a Prime by Sarah Hart and reserved it from the library (it was a bit of a sprint to finish it before it had to be returned).

It has an interesting construction – story within story within story, and I was intrigued by each one, only to have them break off (which was the point I think).

Here is the blurb …

Italo Calvino’s masterpiece combines a love story and a detective story into an exhilarating allegory of reading, in which the reader of the book becomes the book’s central character.

Based on a witty analogy between the reader’s desire to finish the story and the lover’s desire to consummate his or her passion, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller is the tale of two bemused readers whose attempts to reach the end of the same book, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino, of course, are constantly and comically frustrated. In between chasing missing chapters of the book, the hapless readers tangle with an international conspiracy, a rogue translator, an elusive novelist, a disintegrating publishing house, and several oppressive governments. The result is a literary labyrinth of storylines that interrupt one another—an Arabian Nights of the postmodern age.

Because the story is lots of disjoint stories it is quite hard to know where you are when you pick up the book again after a pause. Not a good book to read when you have a spare five minutes.

I found each of the stories to be quite gripping, even the titles are good, and put together they make a good opening paragraph for another story.

This novel is for readers (and writers), it’s about the joy of reading, the frustration of the story being interrupted and finding other readers with whom to discuss your reading. Plus it puts reading and literature at the heart of a global conspiracy.

A review.

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Lola in the Mirror – Trent Dalton

Lola in the Mirror – Trent Dalton

I have read all of Trent Dalton’s works. I thought Boy Swallows Universe was fabulous.

I listened to this one, which might have been a mistake, because I think there were illustrations in the paper version? I am not sure.

Here’s the blurb …

Bighearted, gritty, magical and moving, Lola in the Mirror is the irresistible new novel from international bestselling author of Boy Swallows Universe and All Our Shimmering Skies , Trent Dalton.
‘Mirror, mirror, on the grass, what’s my future? What’s my past?’ A girl and her mother are on the lam. They’ve been running for sixteen years, from police and the monster they left in the kitchen with the knife in his throat. They’ve found themselves a home inside an orange 1987 Toyota HiAce van with four flat tyres parked in a scrapyard by the edge of the Brisbane River – just two of the 100,000 Australians sleeping rough every night. The girl has no name because names are dangerous when you’re on the run. But the girl has a dream. Visions in black ink and living colour. A vision of a life as a groundbreaking artist of international acclaim. A life outside the grip of the Brisbane underworld drug queen ‘Lady’ Flora Box. A life of love with the boy in the brown suit who’s waiting for her in the middle of the bridge that stretches across a flooding and deadly river. A life far beyond the bullet that has her name on it. And now that the storm clouds are rising, there’s only one person who can help make her dreams come true. That person’s name is Lola and she carries all the answers. But to find Lola, the girl with no name must first do one of the hardest things we can sometimes ever do. She must look in the mirror. A big, moving, blackly funny, violent, heartbreaking and beautiful novel of love, fate, life and death and all the things we see when we look in the mirror. All of the past, all of the present, and all of our possible futures. ‘Mirror, mirror, please don’t lie. Tell me who you are. Tell me who am I.’

Trent Dalton is very good at dialogue, I love the conversations the characters have. The body count is high in this novel (and it’s not always the people you want it to be). It is very grim.

A review.

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The Sun Walks Down – Fiona McFarlane

The Sun Walks Down – Fiona McFarlane

I heard lots of people talking about this book, which (being contrary) put me off, but I did eventually cave in and buy a copy.

Here’s the blurb …

In September 1883, the South Australian town of Fairly huddles under strange, vivid sunsets. Six-year-old Denny Wallace has gone missing during a dust storm, and the whole town is intent on finding him. As they search the desert and mountains for the lost child, the residents of Fairly – newlyweds, landowners, farmers, mothers, artists, Indigenous trackers, cameleers, children, schoolteachers, widows, maids, policemen – explore their own relationships with the complex landscape unsettling history of the Flinders Ranges.

The colonial Australia of The Sun Walks Down is unfamiliar, multicultural, and noisy with opinions, arguments, longings and terrors. It’s haunted by many gods – the sun among them, rising and falling on each day that Denny could be found, or lost forever.

I enjoyed this novel, the writing is beautiful and I enjoyed all of the different character’s perspectives. The descriptions of the landscape and the sky and sun (particularly the sunsets) were lovely and very evocative. The characters are fully-fleshed out, with nuance and subtlety.

A review.

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The Davenports – Krystal Marquis

The Davenports – Krystal Marquis

I was looking for something like The Gilded Age and The Age of Innocence and although this is set at the right time, it wasn’t what I was looking for. That just means I am not the right audience for this novel.

Here’s the blurb …

In 1910, the Davenports are one of the few Black families of immense wealth and status in a changing United States, their fortune made through the entrepreneurship of William Davenport, a formerly enslaved man who founded the Davenport Carriage Company years ago. Now the Davenports live surrounded by servants, crystal chandeliers, and endless parties, finding their way and finding love—even where they’re not supposed to.

There is Olivia, the beautiful elder Davenport daughter, ready to do her duty by getting married. . . until she meets the charismatic civil rights leader Washington DeWight and sparks fly. The younger daughter, Helen, is more interested in fixing cars than falling in love—unless it’s with her sister’s suitor. Amy-Rose, the childhood friend turned maid to the Davenport sisters, dreams of opening her own business—and marrying the one man she could never be with, Olivia and Helen’s brother, John. But Olivia’s best friend, Ruby, also has her sights set on John Davenport, though she can’t seem to keep his interest . . . until family pressure has her scheming to win his heart, just as someone else wins hers.

The first book in a breathless new series, The Davenports offers a glimpse into a period of African American history often overlooked, while delivering a totally escapist, swoon-worthy read. Inspired by the real-life story of C.R. Patterson and his family, it’s the tale of four determined and passionate young Black women discovering the courage to steer their own path in life—and love.

This book is about women (black women) finding their way in the world. Realising they don’t have to be only wives and mothers, or do what their parents want them to do. At first, I thought the romance parts were a bit predictable, but then it all gets twisted around and unexpected things happen (no spoilers). To be honest, I was looking for something a bit fluffier – more fashion and more society intrigue.

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Study for Obedience – Sarah Bernstein

Study for Obedience – Sarah Bernstein

I listened to the audible version of this novel (I discovered it because it was short listed for the Booker prize last year (2023)).

Here’s the blurb …

A haunting, compressed masterwork from an extraordinary new voice in Canadian fiction.

A young woman moves from the place of her birth to the remote northern country of her forebears to be housekeeper to her brother, whose wife has recently left him. 

Soon after her arrival, a series of inexplicable events occurs – collective bovine hysteria; the demise of a ewe and her nearly born lamb; a local dog’s phantom pregnancy; a potato blight. She notices that the local suspicion about incomers in general seems to be directed with some intensity at her and she senses a mounting threat that lies ‘just beyond the garden gate.’ And as she feels the hostility growing, pressing at the edges of her brother’s property, she fears that, should the rumblings in the town gather themselves into a more defined shape, who knows what might happen, what one might be capable of doing.

With a sharp, lyrical voice, Sarah Bernstein powerfully explores questions of complicity and power, displacement and inheritance. Study for Obedience is a finely tuned, unsettling novel that confirms Bernstein as one of the most exciting voices of her generation.

I think listening to it was a particularly good idea as it is narrated by a young women in a way that feels like she is telling the story to you. I liked her voice and her thoughts about herself, the world and her place in the world. As the novel progresses, I wondered if I should be taking her words at face value. In the end she might be an unreliable narrator or have a different view of the world than everyone else. I don’t want to give too much away – it’s a short novel, so you can read it yourself if you want to know.

A review.

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What Would Jane Austen Do – Linda Corbett

What Would Jane Austen Do? – Linda Corbett

I am a Jane Austen fan and I love a good romantic comedy, so this novel was right up my alley. I took it with me to Rottnest, which was the perfect place. I could sit in the shade looking at the ocean (and the occasional quokka) and read.

Here’s the blurb …

It’s a truth often acknowledged that when a Jane Austen fan girl ends up living next door to a cynical but handsome crime writer, romantic sparks will fly!When Maddy Shaw is told her Dear Jane column has been cancelled she has no choice but to look outside of London’s rental market. That is until she’s left an idyllic country home by the black sheep of the family, long-not-so-lost Cousin Nigel.

But of course there’s a stipulation… and not only is Maddy made chair of the committee for the annual village literary festival, she also has to put up with bestselling crime author –and romance sceptic – Cameron Massey as her new neighbour.

When Maddy challenges Cameron to write romantic fiction, which he claims is so easy to do, sparks fly both on and off the page…

This was really fun – well-written and I loved all of the Jane Austen quotes.

A review.

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A Dangerous Business – Jane Smiley

A Dangerous Business – Jane Smiley

I ordered this one in because I am going to see Jane Smiley at the Perth Writers Festival.

Here’s the blurb …

From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling author of A Thousand Acres: a mystery set in 1850s Gold Rush California, as two young prostitutes—best friends Eliza and Jean—follow a trail of missing girls.

Monterey, 1851. Ever since her husband was killed in a bar fight, Eliza Ripple has been working in a brothel. It seems like a better life, at least at first. The madam, Mrs. Parks, is kind, the men are (relatively) well behaved, and Eliza has attained what few women have: financial security. But when the dead bodies of young women start appearing outside of town, a darkness descends that she can’t resist confronting. Side by side with her friend Jean, and inspired by her reading, especially by Edgar Allan Poe’s detective Dupin, Eliza pieces together an array of clues to try to catch the killer, all the while juggling clients who begin to seem more and more suspicious.

Eliza and Jean are determined not just to survive, but to find their way in a lawless town on the fringes of the Wild West—a bewitching combination of beauty and danger—as what will become the Civil War looms on the horizon. As Mrs. Parks says, “Everyone knows that this is a dangerous business, but between you and me, being a woman is a dangerous business, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise …

I like Jane Smiley and I have read several of her novels. This one is not my favourite, it seemed a bit confused. Is it a detective story? A more literary character driven novel? I did like all of the Poe references.

A review

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The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

Cornflower books had mentioned that she enjoyed this novel and as her recommendations are always good, I borrowed the audible version.

Here’s the blurb …

A dazzling, witty and tenderly savage satire of London life and the art world that is also a surprising and wonderful love story.

When lovelorn Annie McDee stumbles across a dirty painting in a junk shop while looking for a present for an unsuitable man, she has no idea what she has discovered. Soon she finds herself drawn unwillingly into the tumultuous London art world, populated by exiled Russian oligarchs, avaricious Sheikas, desperate auctioneers and unscrupulous dealers, all scheming to get their hands on her painting – a lost eighteenth-century masterpiece called ‘The Improbability of Love’. Delving into the painting’s past, Annie will uncover not just an illustrious list of former owners, but some of the darkest secrets of European history – and in doing so she might just learn to open up to the possibility of falling in love again.

I really enjoyed this novel – more than The House of Trelawney – it is told from the perspective of many very different characters (including the painting). I enjoyed hearing about art, food, history, and art restoration. It is rich, witty and the characters are fabulous. I loved it – favourite read for the year (so far).

A review.

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The Rector’s Daughter – F M Mayor

The Rector’s Daughter – F M Mayor

This has languished in my digital pile since July 2018 and then finally last week I got to it.

Here’s the blurb …

Dedmayne Rectory is quietly decaying, its striped chintz and darkened rooms are a bastion of outmoded Victorian values. Here Mary has spent thirty-five years, devoting herself to her sister, now dead, and to her father, Canon Jocelyn. Although she is pitied by her neighbours for this muted existence, Mary is content. But when she meets Robert Herbert, Mary’s ease is destroyed and years of suppressed emotion surface through her desire for him.

First published in 1924 this novel is an impressive exploration of Mary’s relationship with her father, of her need for Robert and the way in which, through each, she comes to a clearer understanding of love.

This is a beautifully written novel – not a lot happens, but it is about the characters and how they treat one another. It’s about trying to do the right thing and being steadfast, and about putting one foot in front of the other despite disappointments. It is quite sad, Mary’s life was one of sacrifice (quiet desperation – although Mary was happy to look after both her invalid sister and her father) with occasional moments of joy. Why is it some people get everything? And some nothing at all?

Persephone books also publish this novel – here’s their page on it.

A review.

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Go as a River – Shelley Read

Go as a River – Shelley Read

This one has been floating around in the back of my mind for a while – I am not sure who first mentioned it to me. Perhaps someone from Book Club. I wanted to treat myself to a new book and I selected this one.

Here’s the blurb …

In the spirit of Where the Crawdads Sing, and set amid the beauty and wilderness of the Colorado mountains, an unforgettable and deeply moving story of a young woman who follows her heart Seventeen-year-old Victoria Nash runs the household on her family’s peach farm in the small ranch town of Iola, Colorado—the sole surviving female in a family of troubled men. Wilson Moon is a young drifter with a mysterious past, displaced from his tribal land but determined to live as he chooses. Victoria’s chance encounter with Wil on a street corner profoundly alters both of their young lives, igniting as much passion as danger. When tragedy strikes, Victoria leaves the only life she has ever known, fleeing into the nearby mountains. Taking shelter in a small hut, she struggles to survive in the wilderness, with no clear notion of what her future will be. As the seasons change, she also charts the changes in herself, finding in the natural world the strength and meaning that set her on a quest to regain all that she has lost, even as the Gunnison River rises to submerge her homeland—its ranches, farms, and the beloved peach orchard that has been in her family for generations. Inspired by true events surrounding the destruction of the town of Iola in the 1960s, Go as a River is a story of deeply held love in the midst of hardship and loss, but also of finding courage, resilience, friendship, and finally, home—where least expected. This stunning debut explores what it means to lead your life as if it were a river—gathering and flowing, finding a way forward even when the river is dammed.

I just want to say straight away don’t let the reference to Where the Crawdads Sing put you off (if you like me, did not think very highly of that novel).

It is beautifully written, with lovely nature descriptions. I wasn’t convinced by the plot, but the relationships and setting kept me reading.

A review

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