Category Archives: 5

The Edinburgh Skating Club – Michelle Sloan

The Edinburgh Skating Club – Michelle Sloan

Back to my Scottish reading. I had seen this book in various book stores and then I went to the National Gallery and saw the painting. So I decided I had to read it.

Here’s the blurb …

When you look at a painting, what do you really see?

When eighteenth-century poet Alison Cockburn accepts a light-hearted challenge from her good friend Katherine Hume to live as a man, in order to infiltrate the infamous Edinburgh Skating Club, little do they both realise how her new identity will shape their futures. Together they navigate their way through the sights, sounds and faces of Enlightenment Edinburgh, from Old Town to New Town and from joyous friendship to a deep affection.

In twenty-first-century Edinburgh, art historian Claire Sharp receives a mysterious request: to settle once and for all the true provenance of the iconic painting The Skating Minister. But when she and friend Jen Brodie dig deeper, they discover the incredible truth behind the painting and two extraordinary women Enlightenment Edinburgh forgot.

This was a great story – I would love it to be true. I do like a novel about art – The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, Goldfinch, One Illumined Thread, etc. Like many of these novels we have two time periods; contemporary and the time when the painting was painted. I think it brings Edinburgh in the 18th century vividly to life. The characters are well-written and the plot hums along nicely. It was a charming, warm and interesting novel. And I particularly liked the ending of the narrative from the past.

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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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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Prophet Song – Paul Lynch

Prophet Song – Paul Lynch

As you all know, this won the Booker prize in 2023. I am a bit hit and miss with the Booker, some years I love it (Possession) and other years not so much (The Sea). However, I decided I would try listening to this one.

Here’s the blurb …

A fearless portrait of a society on the brink as a mother faces a terrible choice, from an internationally award-winning author.

On a dark, wet evening in Dublin, scientist and mother-of-four Eilish Stack answers her front door to find the GNSB on her step. Two officers from Ireland’s newly formed secret police are here to interrogate her husband, a trade unionist.

Ireland is falling apart. The country is in the grip of a government turning towards tyranny and Eilish can only watch helplessly as the world she knew disappears. When first her husband and then her eldest son vanish, Eilish finds herself caught within the nightmare logic of a collapsing society.

How far will she go to save her family? And what – or who – is she willing to leave behind?

Exhilarating, terrifying and propulsive, Prophet Song is a work of breathtaking originality, offering a devastating vision of a country at war and a deeply human portrait of a mother’s fight to hold her family together.

I had heard that it was violent (hence my trepidation) and there is one terrible scene where you see the results of awful violence, but I wouldn’t describe this novel as violent. Menacing, tense and very sad. And a story for our times (given the rise of right-wing governments).

It is beautifully written. We see it from Eilish’s perspective and she is worried about school, and food, keeping her children safe, looking after her dad who is deteriorating with dementia, finding where her husband has been detained, meanwhile everything around her is falling apart. Her sister, in Canada, wants her to leave and sends resources, but she can’t leave while both her husband and son are missing. Her sister says something like ‘history is full of people who waited to long to leave’.

A review

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Wifedom – Anna Funder

Wifedom – Anne Funder

This was a Christmas present. Given to me by a friend who wanted to discuss it (what a good way to create a little book club). There has been a lot of hype about this book, which always makes me trepidatious, but I was very pleasantly surprised. This book lives up to its reputation.

I have read All that I Am, which I enjoyed and I meant to read Stasiland but I haven’t read it (yet).

Here’s the blurb …

This is the story of the marriage behind some of the most famous literary works of the 20th century —and a probing consideration of what it means to be a wife and a writer in the modern world

At the end of summer 2017, Anna Funder found herself at a moment of peak overload. Family obligations and household responsibilities were crushing her soul and taking her away from her writing deadlines. She needed help, and George Orwell came to her rescue.

“I’ve always loved Orwell,” Funder writes, “his self-deprecating humour, his laser vision about how power works, and who it works on.” So after rereading and savoring books Orwell had written, she devoured six major biographies tracing his life and work. But then she read about his forgotten wife, and it was a revelation.

Eileen O’Shaughnessy married Orwell in 1936. O’Shaughnessy was a writer herself, and her literary brilliance not only shaped Orwell’s work, but her practical common sense saved his life. But why and how, Funder wondered, was she written out of their story? Using newly discovered letters from Eileen to her best friend, Funder re-creates the Orwells’ marriage, through the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War in London. As she peeks behind the curtain of Orwell’s private life she is led to question what it takes to be a writer—and what it is to be a wife.

I thought the structure was very interesting. A combination of historical facts and quotes (complete with notes), imaginative non-fiction (is that a thing? Where the author imagines conversations and thoughts within a known historical context?) and personal anecdotes about her life, marriage, domestic duties, etc.

I have read both 1984 and Animal Farm, but I was indifferent to George Orwell, now I think poorly of him.

This book is about speaking truth to power, about how women’s labour is taken for granted in a patriarchal society. And it’s the mental labour as well, what is everyone going to eat for dinner? Who needs to be where and when? Even with the most helpful of husbands it is usually still the wife asking the husband to do domestic chores; pick up the children, cook dinner, buy food etc.

In the Orwell household Eileen not only did all domestic chores, but she was also the main bread-winner (mostly) and she typed and helped edit his work. I don’t know why she stayed, particularly when he openly had affairs (and even implied that she was OK with that).

I think everyone (but definitely men) should read this book.

A review.

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Stone Yard Devotional – Charlotte Wood

Stone Yard Devotional – Charlotte Wood

I read The Natural Way of Things and I wasn’t sure if I would read anything else. However, this one had such interesting reviews that I was intrigued. Plus I booked in to hear her speak at Beaufort St Books, so I thought I should read the novel. She was a fabulous speaker – honest, vulnerable and generous.

Here’s the blurb …

A deeply moving novel about forgiveness, grief, and what it means to be ‘good’, from the award-winning author of The Natural Way of Things and The Weekend.A woman abandons her city life and marriage to return to the place of her childhood, holing up in a small religious community hidden away on the stark plains of the Monaro.She does not believe in God, doesn’t know what prayer is, and finds herself living this strange, reclusive life almost by accident. As she gradually adjusts to the rhythms of monastic life, she finds herself turning again and again to thoughts of her mother, whose early death she can’t forget.Disquiet interrupts this secluded life with three visitations. First comes a terrible mouse plague, each day signalling a new battle against the rising infestation.Second is the return of the skeletal remains of a sister who left the community decades before to minister to deprived women in Thailand – then disappeared, presumed murdered.Finally, a troubling visitor to the monastery pulls the narrator further back into her past.With each of these disturbing arrivals, the woman faces some deep questions. Can a person be truly good? What is forgiveness? Is loss of hope a moral failure? And can the business of grief ever really be finished?A meditative and deeply moving novel from one of Australia’s most acclaimed and best loved writers..’Wood joins the ranks of writers such as Nora Ephron, Penelope Lively and Elizabeth Strout.’ THE GUARDIAN UK

For me this book was not really about the plot, but about the voice of the narrator (unnamed). She could be talking about paint drying and I would be fascinated. The book is really an exploration about what it means to be a good person.

A review

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Horse – Geraldine Brooks

Horse – Geraldine Brooks

I wasn’t all that keen to read this one and then a friend recommended it very highly and I listened to an interview with Geraldine Brooks, Pip Williams and Sally Colin-James, which made me keen to read all three of their novels. Plus I had recently listened to A Year of Wonders.

Here’s the blurb…

A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history

Kentucky, 1850. An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack.

New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.

Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse–one studying the stallion’s bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success.

Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.

This was fabulous, how can anyone be so talented? To write from so many different perspectives? From a young enslaved black man, a 21st century scientist, a 19th century painter, a 20th century art collector, etc. Extraordinary. I am not interested in horses at all, but I found this story compelling and I can now appreciate what other people see in horses.

A review

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Once Upon A River – Dianne Setterfield

Once Upon a River – Dianne Setterfield

I have a kindle version of this novel, but in the end I listened to the Audible version (narrated by Juliet Stevens). I have read The Thirteenth Tale, which I really enjoyed, but I think this one might be my favourite.

Here’s the blurb …

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.

Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.

Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.

Once Upon a River is a glorious tapestry of a book that combines folklore and science, magic and myth. Suspenseful, romantic, and richly atmospheric, the beginning of this novel will sweep you away on a powerful current of storytelling, transporting you through worlds both real and imagined, to the triumphant conclusion whose depths will continue to give up their treasures long after the last page is turned.

I was very invested in all of the characters (maybe not Victor Nash), but all of the other characters; Rita and Mr Daunt, Mr Armstrong and Bess, Margo and Joe (and the little Margos), Helena, etc. The writing is lovely, the characters are generous and kind (most of them). It has the feel of a folk tale with Quietly punting on the river, the child that died and then lived, the magic lantern show and Robert Armstrong talking to his animals.

This is one of my favourite reads of the year.

A review

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The Unknown Ajax – Georgette Heyer

The Unknown Ajax – Georgette Heyer

I love Georgette Heyer’s regency romances and this might be my favourite one.

Here’s the blurb …

Miles from anywhere, Darracott Place is presided over by elderly Lord Darracott. Irascible Lord Darracott rules his barony with a firm hand. The tragic accident that killed his eldest son by drowning has done nothing to improve his temper. For now, he must send for the next heir apparent–the unknown offspring of the uncle whom the family is never permitted to mention. He also summons his bickering descendants to the rundown family estate. Yet none of that beleaguered family are prepared for the arrival of the weaver’s brat and heir apparent…

This was a lot of fun with all of the usual Heyerisms – lots of cant terms, silly young man, sensible (not to mention wealthy) slightly older man, a bit of action and amazing historical research. And the ending is particularly clever and inventive.

Here’s a fabulous article from Jennifer Kloester (she wrote a biography of Heyer).

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Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan

I had been tempted to read this book for a while and then it popped up on Borrowbox as an audio book. It’s very short – about two hours.

I loved it, I think it’s my favourite read (so far) for the year.

Here’s the blurb …

It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.

Already an international bestseller, Small Things Like These is a deeply affecting story of hope, quiet heroism, and empathy from one of our most critically lauded and iconic writers.

This is a beautifully written story. It’s about family, community and kindness, but it is also about cruelty and judgement and meanness

A review

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