Thursday, 14 February 2019

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn

Running away to sea is not I imagine an easy task; but doing it disguised as a male ship steward while recovering from the birth of a baby is surely beyond the realms of believability. But believable it is; for this fictional account is based on the real life story of Marie –Louise Girardin who in 1791 flees France and the wrath of her family to sail the South Seas.

With her breasts swaddled and a letter of introduction under her new name Louis, she finds a position (and her own cabin) on the French exploration ship the Recherche. Recherche, with Huon de Kermadec’s ship the Esperance, sets out on what will become a three year journey in search of the lost French navigator La Pérouse.

Leaving behind France in the midst of the French Revolution the ships navigate to New Caledonia, the south-western coast of New Holland (Western Australia), Van Dieman’s Land and the Friendly Isles, before completing their journey in the Dutch East Indies.

Struggling with the loss of her son Marie –Louise/Louis divides her on board time between stretching the quickly diminishing food supplies and mixing with the contingent of scientists sent to both collect New World specimens as well as plant French seeds in foreign soil.

Whilst the crew of the Recherche may be suffering from endless days and nights on the seas there is no such dreariness in store for the reader. Stephanie Parkyn has taken the bare bones of this Age of Discovery story and turned it into a realistic character driven narrative.

Through the eyes of our feisty brave heroine Marie-Louise; Parkyn shows us the world of the French royal aristocracy juxtaposed against Olympe de Gouges and the other women fighting for their rights in the French Revolution. Then from the bottom of the world we experience both the hand to mouth existence of the people of New Caledonia to the resource rich generous people of Tongatabou.

Although the short chapters help to move this story on very quickly, it is the vividly drawn characters, and wonderful descriptions of the South Seas in the eighteenth century that make this one very good historical novel.

Reviewed by Miss Moneypenny

Catalogue link:  Into the World

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village – Joanna Nell

If you enjoyed Three Things about Elsie (Joanna Cannon) and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachael Joyce), chances are you will be a fan of Joanna Nell’s first novel, The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village.

It’s the funny, heart warming and life affirming story of Peggy Smart, who at 79 and a half lives alone in a retirement village with her aging Shih Tzu Basil, while still grieving for her late husband who died four years previously. Her adult son and daughter are anxiously watching for signs of dementia and falls, and Peggy fears being removed from her own home and uprooted to a rest home.

With her weak bladder, an affliction she’s suffered from since childhood, weekly doctors appointments and aqua class there isn’t much to enjoy in life apart from watching her neighbour, Lexus driving, chartered accountant Brian leave for his morning swim. Peggy dreams of inviting Brian to dinner but fears she’s past it and that he wouldn’t be interested in her.

However out of the blue her old school friend, the glamorous and beautiful fashionista Angie Valentine, moves into the same retirement village, turning the heads of the few male residents and challenging Peggy’s ideas of aging. After a fall results in a broken wrist for Peggy, Angie takes her under her wing. With a fashion makeover, a new hairstyle and a new group of friends, the fun and mischief start for Peggy.

There’s lots of laugh-out-loud humour in this fun story, with the delightful Peggy being a little forgetful and also inclined to mix her metaphors, mishear words and utter malapropisms (“orgasms on the kitchen counter” “blue teeth”), while at the same time focusing attention on some of the difficulties the older generations face.

This UK born but Sydney based GP/novelist with an interest in women's health and aging believes that being a doctor makes her a better writer and that being a writer makes her a better doctor too. Joanna’s warm wisdom and understanding is certainly apparent throughout the book which is sure to be enjoyed both by Peggy’s generation and the children of that generation. I will be watching out for Joanna’s next book.

Highly recommended.

Posted by VT

Monday, 11 February 2019

Of Blood and Bone by Nora Roberts

A fast moving sickness has decimated the world’s population. Everything from the power grid to an organised law and order system has collapsed and chaos has taken over. Ancient magic rises as the systems collapse. As some people suddenly discover that they have magical skills others shun those considering them to be dangerous and needing to be annihilated.

Set fourteen years after The Doom’, we find thirteen year old Fallon, being taken away from her family for a period of two years to be trained in the skills necessary to claim the mantle of leadership as ‘The One’, the person who will rise and use their power and strength to bring all groups together. In the first part of the book we follow Fallon as she learns not only how to use her skills most effectively, but more importantly how to use them for the good and not for revenge. Meanwhile in New Hope, the settlement that we met in the first book, things have become normalised, with growing, making and caring all part of the mix, alongside regular scavenging trips and raids on Purity Warrior strongholds to free prisoners and slaves.

Surviving an apocalyptic disaster is a very popular theme among today’s authors. Books like ‘The Stand by Stephen King; The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and even The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins tell the stories of human frailty against disease and oppression but also ultimately the strength of will to survive and carry on, overcoming evil in whatever form and prevailing.

Nora Roberts is a consummate story teller and in this book two of her latest trilogy she has carried on those skills to great effect. Her characters are likeable, have character flaws which mean we can relate to their frustrations and forgive them their mistakes. If you haven’t read book one yet, my advice is to start there. It will give you a better understanding of who all the main characters are and where they fit into the story. I look forward to reading the third and final part of the trilogy, hopefully out at the end of this year.

Reviewed by Fiona Frost

Catalogue link:  Of Blood and Bone

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Book Chat Reads for January

Flaxmere Book Chat has started 2019 with some wonderful reading sparking some lively discussions. Here's a selection of what we've enjoyed recently.

The Wolf by Alex Grecian
Nazi hunter Travis Roan teams up with State Trooper, Skottie Foster who has moved back to Kansas with her daughter for a fresh start. Roan is chasing WW2 villain, Rudolph Bormann, who won't give in without a fight. A thrillingly plotted novel with good character development (Bear, the dog, is a scene stealer too!) and sharp dialogue.

Wild Garlic by Peter Thomas
A young mother leaves a troubled marriage by escaping to a derelict cabin on New Zealand's West Coast with her little boy. As she sets about making the cottage habitable and getting to know the locals, she is unsettled by unexplained events at her new home. A little slow to get going but an engaging story and an interesting setting that keeps you reading.

Frieda: a novel of the real Lady Chatterley by Annabel Abbs
The story begins in the early 1900s, a time when revolutionary new ideas were forming, including free love. Frieda von Richthofen begins to find her marriage to an English professor claustrophobic. Then she meets D H Lawrence, becoming his mistress as well as the muse for several of his books. But what about the personal cost of putting her desires for freedom above her children? A well-researched look at one of literature's most intriguing couples.

Seeing Red by Sandra Brown
This author is the goods when it comes to romantic suspense and a page-turning plot. Kerra is a TV journalist about to make her name by interviewing the hero of a Dallas bombing twenty-five years ago. But first she has to convince his son, a former ATF agent that it's a good idea. The interview seems to open a can of worms which endangers the principal players and a story full of twists and conspiracy ensues.

Arcadia by Di Morrissey
Morrisey's latest novel is set in Tasmania on the farm known as Arcadia, where in the 1930s Stella makes her home, falling in love with the surrounding bush. The story switches to the present day and follows Sally, Stella's grand-daughter and her voyage of discovery with best friend Jessica. A great read containing suspense, a touch of romance and family secrets. Morrissey really brings Tasmania to life on the page.

Out of Bounds by Val McDermid
Inspector Karen Pirie an expert at solving cold cases.  When teenage joyriders crash a car, a DNA test throws up a connection to a 20 year old rape case. The only trouble is, the lad turns out to have been adopted. With Syrian refugees needing shelter adding an extra dimension to the story, Out of Bounds is a satisfying and gripping novel with twists and turns and plenty of suspense.

Posted by Flaxmere Library Book Chat

Friday, 1 February 2019

The Disappearance of Emile Zola by Michael Rosen

In 1898 the French novelist, critic and political activist Emile Zola writes ‘J’accuse’ an open letter in a newspaper supporting Alfred Dreyfus against the government. Dreyfus had been falsely tried, found guilty of treason and sent to Devils Island. Unfortunately the government was not impressed by his criticism and his friends advised him to flee the country rather than face trial. He quickly flees and reporters camp outside his Paris house awaiting news and newspapers openly speculated on where he has gone to.

Zola goes to England in what he hopes will be a short time but soon finds himself depressed and far away from the land he loves. For a man who loved every aspect of French life as Zola did, to be placed in such a foreign land was abhorrent and ‘the food was awful’. He was also separated from his wife, mistress and illegitimate children; and as his books stopped selling, his funds began to run out.

Emile Zola was much loved by the French people due to this sympathetic portrayal of them. However criticising the government and supporting Dreyfus who was a Jew brought him a lot of unwanted attention. There was a large anti- Semitic feeling which had been whipped up by the papers. This is a very interesting period in history, the ideas of socialism are gathering support and blind faith in leaders is being questioned openly. Even the everyday process of living is fascinating.

A few years ago now I read a large number of Zola novels, unfortunately not in French but at the time they left quite an impression on me. ‘Germinal’ in particular highlights the harsh lives of the French working class of this period. The movie is of course true to the book as it would have to be and is very grim. It clocks in at 2 hours 50 minutes and is available at the Havelock North library (sub-titled). Gerard Depardieu plays the villain and in the gets his come-uppance in a most gruesome way.

As well as the ‘Germinal’ DVD the library also has the books ‘Money’ and ‘Therese Raquin’.

Reviewed by Rob M

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Normal People by Sally Rooney

‘It’s different for men, she says.
Yeah, I’m starting to get that.’

Normal People is an insightful and fresh novel about a poignant relationship set over a period of four years; featuring a young couple who seemingly can't live with or without each other.

As teenagers Marianne and Connell meet because Connell's mother cleans Marianne's family's large house in Western Ireland. Marianne is an intelligent loner, while Connell is bright and popular, but from a 'bad' family.  They keep their relationship a secret at Connell's request, before it all goes horribly wrong.

The couple keep meeting over the years, firstly at University where their roles are reversed; as Connell struggles to fit in and make friends due to his impoverished background, while Marianne emerges swan-like as an attractive and popular scholar. They have relationships with a series of ‘normal people’, a group neither Marianne nor Connell feels they belong to.

Normal People is easy-to-read and yet the two main characters are complex and I cared about what happened to them. This novel could easily have become a cutesy boy meets girl/loses girl/wins girl back story; but Sally Rooney is much too clever for that. Mariane has to overcome the darkness of her brother’s violent bullying, exploitation on the internet, and her own masochistic tendencies; whilst Connell has struggles with depression.

Normal People
was longlisted for the Man Booker prize and at 28 years old Sally Rooney is the youngest ever winner of the Costa award Book of the Year. The Costa award honours English language books of writers based in Britain and Ireland. The Costa Award Judges said: “A trailblazing novel about modern life and love that will electrify any reader.”

Normal People is a sharp social commentary of contemporary times and Sally Rooney is currently writing the screenplay for the BBC television adaptation.

Reviewed by Katrina 

Catalogue link:  Normal People

Thursday, 17 January 2019

MI5 and Me by Charlotte Bingham

I thought the name of the author was familiar, but it wasn’t until I read at the back that Charlotte Bingham had published, among other things, 33 best-selling novels that I remembered. Of course, that Charlotte Bingham. She also collaborated with her husband on scripts for Upstairs Downstairs, and made her publishing debut at nineteen with the memoir Coronet Among the Weeds.

In MI5 and Me, she returns decades later with a new memoir, about her time as a member of the typing pool in the 1950s British Secret Service. It was a career move foisted on her by her father, a bigwig at MI5 and reads a bit like a cross between Nancy Mitford and John Le Carré. Apparently Le Carré would later find inspiration for his character, George Smiley, in Charlotte’s father, which makes the book all the more interesting.

England at the time was wary of what went on behind the Iron Curtain and the possibilities of Communist infiltration. But the MI5 described seems very much to be making things up as it goes along, which provides lots of humour.

Her father bemoans the fact that he must always wear off-the-peg suits, so as not to draw attention to himself on his nefarious missions. There are always strange men to be entertained in the drawing room, which turn out to be Spooks. Things get livelier when her father takes on a couple of well-known actors to help with the cause, almost ruining the career by one of them when his Brechtian play is a flop.

Then there are Lottie’s co-workers – ex-Naval Commander Steerforth, who really has no idea how to be an effective MI5 manager, her much savvier chum, Arabella, with her glamorous mother who receives strange phone calls about herrings. What can it all mean?

Everything makes sense by the a final chapter which also reveals that this memoir had to be put on hold for fifty years before publication because of its sensitive material. MI5 and Me is as funny as it is surprising, capturing the silliness of the post-war reds-under-the-bed mentality of the time. Charlotte Bingham is such good company the pages fly by. Recommended.

Reviewed by JAM

Catalogue link: MI5 and Me