Not so much reviews as what I’ve enjoyed. I have eclectic tastes but what marks a good book for me is being able to sink into the writing. I’ll put up with writing I can’t quite get on with if the story really reels me in, but I’ll read the slowest novel ever if I love those words. I’m catching up here for the time being, posting when I get a chance the books I’ve enjoyed over the last year or so…quite a few!

Beautifully written study of the human state in its many frailities and some strengths

A novel worthy of its best seller status. The narrator, Danny, never really knew the mother who left her two small children and her husband to work with the poor in faraway India. She’s something of a saint to the two women now entrusted with Danny and his sister Maeve’s upbringiug. Maeve, much older, misses and blames her mother and their once warm father grows distant from his children. But whatever contentment the household has is cracked by the arrival of Andrea, splintered further when Andrea marries the father and brings her two daughters to live in the house, and finally shattered when the father dies and everything – the house, his business, even Maeve’s car – is left to his new wife.
The house – the Dutch house of the title – is where Danny and Maeve have always found solidity and comfort, but it is Andrea’s desperate wish to live in and own the house itself for its glorious over the top nature, which destroys their comfort and might destroy their lives.

The Dutch House, Ann Patchett

I loved this for so many reasons, chief among them being its total unashamedly ‘Australian-ness’

Frankly I’m surprised anyone who hasn’t lived in Australia understands what’s going on, there are so many unique references and they’re important to the book. But apparently this hasn’t stopped Bridge of Clay becoming a best seller. From sisters (The Sisters Grimm), I turned to brothers – five of them, living not so ordinary lives in a Sydney suburb behind a race track. The narrator, the oldest brother Matthew, tells the tales of his mother, father and the fourth brother with exquisite emotional detail. There are no heroes here, just people who hurt a lot and act accordingly, including selfishly. But resilience is at the core of this book and Clay’s bridge is a wonderful metaphor. Loved it. (But if you’re expecting a repeat of The Book Thief, forget it!)

Bridge of Clay Marcus Zusak

What do they remember? Will it be enough to save them and those they love?

I had this book on my TBR pile for some time and almost forgot about it until it popped up somewhere at the same time I needed to get in more reading material. So glad I added it to the order. Four eight-year-old sisters, all born on the same night, play in a white forest where they learn they have different, powerful skills -one can fly, one has a way with water, one with fire and the fourth with earth and rocks. But as they reach puberty they must leave the forest for a time and they forget … their power and their sisters.

Now, approaching their 18th birthdays, they must find each other and rediscover who they are – Sisters Grimm, born of one demanding father – if they are to have any hope of saving themselves and those they love.

Not completely a happy ending, but a satisfying one. I see there is a sequel coming out next year.

The Sisters Grimm Menna Van Praag

Winter, 1617. The sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø is thrown into a reckless storm. A young woman, Maren, watches as the men of the island, out fishing, perish in an instant. Vardø is now a place of women.

For a time at least, and the women find it tough but are managing. Then comes ambitious Absalom Cornet with his reforming zeal and iron morals. He has brought with him a young wife, Ursa, more used to civilised life as a merchant’s daughter in Bergen. Ursa needs a friend and she finds one in Maren, a woman of the island. Their friendship is fraught, two women from very different cultures, and it plays out to a dramatic end.

I was there on that bleak island with those women – Hargrave’s beautiful writing vividly brings their lives to light from the smallest domestic detail to their deepest emotions.

The Mercies reminded me strongly of my own The Shanty Keeper’s Wife with its theme of how women come to be blamed so easily for the sins of men.

The Mercies Kiran Millwood Hargrave

London, 1826 Frannie Langton is about to be tried for the murder of her master and mistress, Mr and Mrs Benham. But Frannie loved her mistress – how could she have murdered her?

Frannie Langton is born on a Jamaican plantation to a black slave and the master of the house, John Langton. As such she is neither slave nor free and has but one real friend in this world. When her father teaches her to read, Frannie discovers he is not acting from any alturistic motive. As a girl still she is sent to London to serve as the maidservant of Mrs Benham, whose husband is Langton’s ‘medical experiment’ partner. A deeply shocking and involving book, written with a sharp conciseness which allows us to get inside Frannie’s head and suffer with her. A must read for any lover of historical fiction and mystery.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton Sara Collins

A bee, a key and a sword – clues on the cover of a strange book which will lead Zachary Rawlins into a labyrinth of stories and to Mirabel and Dorian.

I loved The Night Circus so this was a natural for me when it came out not too long ago (there appears to be no date on my hardback, signed copy and I wonder if this means something??) This is a book to take your time over, to curl on the sofa with the dog at your feet and/or the cat on your lap and fall into this world alongside the curious Zachary. A kind of grownup and highly expanded Alice in Wonderland, with gorgeous writing and – is there a plot? – yes, I think so. One to read again to find all those things you missed the first time. Pure pleasure.

The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern

‘…how little we know of other people’s lives, even our own parents. Perhaps especially our own parents.’

Cath Barton’s novella, to be published in Nov 2020, is a sensitive and beautifully written insight into the lives of Ted and Rene. They marry in the ‘frail optimism’ of the 1950s, she to take up the expected role of mother and housewife, he to continue with his career as a ceramics designer in the family firm. Over time, misunderstandings and the inability to talk to each other drive a wide wedge in their marriage. While to everybody else, including their own daughters, the couple appears perfectly devoted to each other, inside it’s a different matter.

I devoured this, both for its humanity and it’s writing.

In the Sweep of the Bay, Cath Barton

‘Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes …’

How can you not read a book with that opening line? It sets the tone of the world Naomi Novik builds so skilfully, a world where the Dragon – an ageless wizard – has protected Agnieszka’s village from the horrors of the Wood since time out of mind. He has a price however, and that’s for one girl from the village to serve him for ten years. Agnieszka is born in the right, or perhaps wrong, year to be a candidate but all expect him to take Agnieszka’s best friend, the prettier and brave Kasia. When he chooses her, Agnieszka embarks on a new life which is as demanding as it is – in the end – worth all her pain and despair.

A rollicking pace, alive characters and a story to keep your heart in your mouth, I loved Uprooted. And also Novik’s more recent Spinning Silver which makes you wonder what does go on in this author’s head.

Uprooted Naomi Novik