Category Archives: Recommended

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

I have read a few other Dickens novels; Little Dorrit, Bleak House and Great Expectations. When a friend mentioned she was listening to Hardy’s novels, I decided I should try to read (listen) this one and Our Mutual Friend (I am listening to this one now – 34 hours!).

Who hasn’t heard of Madame Defarge and her infamous knitting?

Here’s the blurb …

A Tale of Two Cities is Charles Dickens’s great historical novel, set against the violent upheaval of the French Revolution. The most famous and perhaps the most popular of his works, it compresses an event of immense complexity to the scale of a family history, with a cast of characters that includes a bloodthirsty ogress and an antihero as believably flawed as any in modern fiction. Though the least typical of the author’s novels, A Tale of Two Cities still underscores many of his enduring themes—imprisonment, injustice, social anarchy, resurrection, and the renunciation that fosters renewal.

The narrator was excellent (I think it was Martin Jarvis). His narration brought the story to life and I feel that Dicken’s novels are meant to be listened to. Towards the end, there were a lot of convenient coincidences (very Dickensian), but the characters were fabulous particularly Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross. I love they way they talk – Jerry about his wife ‘flopping all over the place’. The story is full of action and has a bit of foreshadowing of how it’s all going to end. There’s a too good to be true heroine, handsome hero, a dedicated hand-maiden, two people who look alike (a very important plot point), a lovely older business man, and the blood-thirsty Madame Defarge. It all makes for an enjoyable (if occasionally tense) romp through the French Revolution.

A review.

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Filed under 4, Audio, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Recommended

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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Filed under 4, Fiction, Recommended, Serious

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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Filed under 5, Fiction, Recommended, Serious

The Roommate – Dervla McTiernan

The Roommate – Dervla McTiernan

This is a short novella to which I listened while driving to a beach holiday.

Here’s the blurb …

Twenty-two year old Niamh Turley thought she had problems, dealing with the obnoxious principal of the school she’s teaching in as well as the anxious parents of her little charges, but when she wakes one morning to a missing roommate and a garda knocking on her door, her life spirals out of control fast…

I really enjoyed it. I think it would make an exciting film.

As I do read a bit of crime, I will read more of Dervla McTiernan’s work.

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Filed under 4, Crime, Fiction, Recommended

After Story – Larissa Behrendt

After Story – Larissa Behrendt

A friend recommended this one. I reserved the Audible version from Borrowbox.

Here’s the blurb …

When Indigenous lawyer Jasmine decides to take her mother Della on a tour of England’s most revered literary sites, Jasmine hopes it will bring them closer together and help them reconcile the past.

Twenty-five years earlier the disappearance of Jasmine’s older sister devastated their tight-knit community. This tragedy returns to haunt Jasmine and Della when another child mysteriously goes missing on Hampstead Heath. As Jasmine immerses herself in the world of her literary idols – including Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and Virginia Woolf – Della is inspired to rediscover the wisdom of her own culture and storytelling. But sometimes the stories that are not told can become too great to bear.

Ambitious and engrossing, After Story celebrates the extraordinary power of words and the quiet spaces between. We can be ready to listen, but are we ready to hear?

This was written from two different perspectives; the mother, Della, and the daughter Jasmine. Each one has a distinct voice and we get their versions of the day’s events and things that happened in the past. I also enjoyed the literary tour they were on – hearing about some of my favourites (Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, etc.). I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read about a missing child, but that happens off-stage (so to speak) and this book is about the after effects – grief, guilt and shame. I haven’t read much indigenous literature and I appreciated all of the references to cultural practices; using fire to clear land, blocking the river with rocks that had spaces so the fish could still get downstream. It also highlighted how important family and community are and that everyone is looking out for everyone else, sharing spaces and keeping an eye on each other’s children.

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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Filed under 5, Biography, Historical Fiction, History, Recommended

Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens – Shankari Chandran

As you all know, this was the 2023 Miles Franklin winner. I listened to various people talking about it on the ABC (Book Shelf maybe?) and decided I should read it. I actually ended up listening to it (Audible had it for free for a while).

Here’s the blurb …

Welcome to Cinnamon Gardens, a home for those who are lost and the stories they treasure.

Cinnamon Gardens Nursing Home is nestled in the quiet suburb of Westgrove, Sydney – populated with residents with colourful histories, each with their own secrets, triumphs and failings. This is their safe place, an oasis of familiar delights – a beautiful garden, a busy kitchen and a bountiful recreation schedule.

But this ordinary neighbourhood is not without its prejudices. The serenity of Cinnamon Gardens is threatened by malignant forces more interested in what makes this refuge different rather than embracing the calm companionship that makes this place home to so many. As those who challenge the residents’ existence make their stand against the nursing home with devastating consequences, our characters are forced to reckon with a country divided.

Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens is about family and memory, community and race, but is ultimately a love letter to story-telling and how our stories shape who we are.

I think the title and the cover are very misleading. From them, you expect a cozy story – maybe an elderly person is going to embark on an adventure! However, that’s not this book. There are some brutal depictions of torture and at times it is just sad. However, it is beautifully written and it a lovely, moving tribute to Sri-Lankan culture, in particular, Tamil culture. As a culture they value literacy, education and stories. It also highlights the plight of immigrants in Australia, how they are expected to be grateful. There are funny moments as well. All in all it was a lovely, enlightening read.

A review.

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Apeirogon – Colum McCann

Apeirogon – Colum McCann

I decided I needed to know more about Israel and Palestine and this book was on a lot of lists of recommendations. I found a copy at the library.

Here’s the blurb …

Colum McCann’s most ambitious work to date, Apeirogon–named for a shape with a countably infinite number of sides–is a tour de force concerning friendship, love, loss, and belonging.

Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colors every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate.

Their worlds shift irreparably after ten-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them and they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.

McCann crafts Apeirogon out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material. He crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. Musical, cinematic, muscular, delicate, and soaring, Apeirogon is a novel for our time.

This novel had an interesting structure. Lots of little, seemingly unrelated facts, mixed in with the stories of the two men (Bassam and Rami). It’s beautifully written – I find it comprehensible that people can go on when their child has died, but both of these men are determined to create a better world (I hope their OK given the current situation).

I feel I know a little bit more about the situation, so I do recommend reading this novel.

A review

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The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison – Meredith Jaffe

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison – Meredith Jaffe

I have this book in Kindle and paper format and in the end I listened to it! I am not sure what caused the delay, because in the end I really enjoyed it.

Here’s the blurb …

Can a wedding dress save a bunch of hardened crims? The Full Monty meets Orange is the New Black in a poignantly comic story about a men’s prison sewing circle.

‘This is a deft and unlikely story in an uncommon setting about an estranged daughter, her jailed father and a very bad idea about a dress. It all makes for a warm, funny union of foes and a lovely encounter with what matters.’ Rosalie Ham

Derek’s daughter, Debbie, is getting married. He’s desperate to be there, but he’s banged up in Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre for embezzling funds from the golf club, and, thanks to his ex-wife, Lorraine, he hasn’t spoken to Debbie in years. He wants to make a grand gesture – to show her how much he loves her. But what?

Inspiration strikes while he’s embroidering a cushion at his weekly prison sewing circle – he’ll make her a wedding dress. His fellow stitchers rally around and soon this motley gang of crims is immersed in a joyous whirl of silks, satins and covered buttons.

But as time runs out and tensions rise both inside and outside the prison, the wedding dress project takes on greater significance. With lives at stake, Derek feels his chance to reconcile with Debbie is slipping through his fingers …

A funny, dark and moving novel about finding humanity, friendship and redemption in unexpected places.

This felt very Australian – perhaps that was just the accent of the narrator, but there was definite Australianisms – Dezza for instance. I really enjoyed all of the references to needlework and how needlework can be calming and provide a useful distraction in tough times.

I have a cushion from Fine Cell work (the UK based charity Connecting Threads is based on)

Here it is blocking

I thought the characters and the dialogue were brilliant.

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Graft – Maggie MacKellor

Graft – Maggie MacKellor

I saw this on someone’s Instagram feed and then it popped up on Borrowbox, so I thought why not?

Here’s the blurb …

In my mind I walk over the land. I run my hands through the grass as if it were the hair on my head. I dig my fingers into the dirt as if the soil were the crust of my skin.In Graft, Maggie MacKellar describes a year on a Merino wool farm on the east coast of Tasmania, and all of life – and death – that surrounds her through the cycle of lambing seasons. She gives us the land she knows and loves, the lambs she cares for, the ewes she tries to save, the birds around her, and the dogs and horses she adores.This book is a stunning thanksgiving for a place and a moment in motherhood; and a timely reminder of the inescapable elemental laws of nature.Susan Duncan on When It ‘An unforgettable story of love and courage that inspires even as it breaks your heart.’

This is beautiful, her writing is fabulous. As a mother whose children are beginning to leave the nest, I felt she was putting my feelings into words. And her descriptions of her environment – the birds, the sheep, the lambs (and how the ewes mother their lambs) are lovely. And her descriptions of farming; surviving the drought, lambing, shearing make a non-farmer like me appreciate the hard ships.

This is such a moving, heart felt memoir. Anyone who is a parent, or a farmer, or just interested in people would enjoy this book.

A review

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Filed under 4, Memoir, Recommended