Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘novel’

A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

 

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I’d never heard of Australian author Sulari Gentill before picking up A Few Right Thinking Men because of the beauty of the art work on the cover. I love art deco and the cover of this novel reminds me of travel posters from the 1930s, the colours used by Clarice Cliff in her ceramics, and the beauty of Sydney Harbour and the coat-hanger. The story had a lot to live up to!

A Few Right Thinking Men is the first book in a series of eight books to date in the Rowland Sinclair mysteries.

The main character is Rowland Sinclair, generally known as Rowly, who is an enormously rich young artist who lives in his family’s mansion, Woodland House, in a beautiful part of Sydney. The Sinclair family money comes from a sheep farm out near Yass in country New South Wales, where Rowly’s older brother Wilfred lives with his wife and young son. The Sinclair’s wealth during 1931 is a huge contrast to that of most Australians during the Depression.

Rowly has filled up Woodlands House with fellow artists who are poor but talented. He is in love with Edna, a sculptor who occasionally models nude for him. Edna also lives at Woodlands House.

When the story starts, Rowly seems to be the only person left in Australia who doesn’t care about politics. His friends are Communists while his brother and most of the blokes around Yass belong to the Old Guard. Both groups are suspicious of each other, but when Rowly’s Uncle Rowland is found murdered, the Fascist New Guard are suspected. Rowly, with the assistance of his friends, infiltrates the New Guards by asking party leader Eric Campbell if he can paint his portrait for the prestigious Archibald Prize. Rowly takes his friend Clyde’s name to prevent Campbell from making the connection to the Sinclair name.

I liked Rowly, Edna, his friends, their life style, reading about their art, Sydney, the time the story was set, the way the story was told, everything really except for the politics. Poor Rowly seemed to feel the same way, stuck between extreme groups who wanted to beat each other, tar and feather people, or discriminatory brand names on the foreheads of those who held different political ideas to their own.

I’ll give the second book in the series a go, but hope to find A Decline in Prophets is more of a mystery and less of an Australian political history lesson.

 

 

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The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

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I’ve been looking out for Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith at my local library without success, so was delighted to find The Price of Salt by this author.

The Price of Salt was published in 1952 and tells the story of Therese Belivet, a young woman who is working in the toy department of a large New York store during the lead up to Christmas. Therese is saving and working to become a stage set-designer. She has a boyfriend, Richard and a handful of arty friends. Therese was abandoned by her mother while she was at boarding school and her closest relationship during her teenage years was with a kind young nun.

Therese sells a doll to a glamourous customer, then impulsively sends the woman, Carol, a Christmas card. Carol responds by asking Therese for a drink.

As they get to know each other Therese learns that Carol is going through a nasty divorce and is fighting her husband for custody of their daughter Rindy. Carol invites Therese to take a road trip with her to help pass the time until her divorce is finalised and Rindy is returned to Carol. During the trip Therese and Carol realise they have fallen in love.

The trip and their love affair is soured when they realise a private detective has been following them and that their hotel rooms have been bugged, with the recordings to be used against Carol in the divorce proceedings. Carol tells Therese she can’t see her any more and returns to New York to fight for her daughter, leaving Therese behind in the Mid-West.

The story is a gently told romance, but I have to admit that I struggled to see why Carol and Therese were attracted to each other since they were of such different ages and backgrounds and had so little in common. The story does make it clear how courageous the women were to consider living together openly at that time. Not surprisingly, Patricia Highsmith chose to publish the book under a pseudonym to avoid discrimination.

I feel the need to comment on how much all of the characters smoked, which was constantly! Carol’s teeth and fingers must have been yellow, if she didn’t already have deep wrinkles around her mouth she will soon, and her beautiful blonde hair and elegant clothes must have smelled like a dirty ash-tray. If one of them had been a smoker and the other a non-smoker, the non-smoker could never have fallen in love with the smoker… And don’t even get me started on how much they drank! Of course, this is a reflection on the time the book was set rather than on the quality of the writing and story-telling.

The Price of Salt was re-released as Carol, the same as the movie starring Cate Blanchett. I prefer the name The Price of Salt because it alludes to the flavour the character’s love for each other gives their lives  and them having to pay for it. I’ll probably watch Carol sometime, and am now even keener to find other books by this author.

 

 

 

 

 

Year One (Chronicles of The One Book 1) by Nora Roberts

 

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I usually read Nora Roberts when I’m after a romance fix, but spotted Year One (Chronicles of The One Book 1) and thought I’d give this fantasy story a whirl. Stories two and three in this set are as yet unpublished.

A nasty virus is activated when the a sequence of events take place at a mysterious circle of stones in Scotland. Most of the world’s population is quickly wiped out. People who are left after ‘the Doom,’ as the epidemic is called, include ordinary humans, some good and some bad, as well as others who are called the ‘Uncanny’, people with various magical powers which strengthen over time. Some of the magical people are elves, some are faeries, some can light fires and some can see into the future. Again, some of the Uncanny are good and some are bad.

The story starts with the release of the virus, then introduces the reader to a handful of characters. Lana is a chef in New York who is pregnant to Max, a famous writer and practitioner of witchcraft. Arlys is a journalist who tells the truth about how many people have died and just who is left in the White House before she is rounded up to be tested for her immunity to the Doom. Katie is pregnant with twins and Jonah is a paramedic. And so on…

As civilisation collapses, the bad people and bad Uncannys turn on the good people and good Uncannys, mostly for the fun of it. Lana, Max, Arlys, Katie and the other good characters work their way out of the city to find a safe haven with other people who are like them. Some of the characters whose side we are on die on the trip.

I was irritated by the witchcraft in this story being called ‘magick.’ That extra ‘k’ really got up my nose… If I had magical powers, I would have removed them all from this book.

I also struggled to connect with the characters. There were too many of them (even though some get killed) and the story hopped back and forward between the various plot lines too often for me to have gotten to know and care about any of the characters in particular.

My biggest irritation though, was the similarity of the plot to Stephen King’s The Stand. Year One (Chronicles of The One Book 1 isn’t as good as The Stand and I didn’t enjoy this story enough to go back for books two and three.

 

 

The Collector by John Fowles

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The Collector by John Fowles is creepy, compelling and convincing. I could scarcely put it down.

The story is set in the early 1960’s and the narrator is a socially awkward young English man who is fascinated by a young woman he occasionally sees around his neighbourhood. The young man daydreams about the life he thinks they could have if they were a couple; him looking after his butterfly collection while she admires and respects him. Having her would also enhance his status amongst his fellow butterfly collectors because they would envy him.

When the young man won a large amount of money in the Pools, he quit his job as a clerk and gave the aunt who brought him up enough money to take an extended trip to Australia. Then, he bought himself an isolated cottage with a crypt underneath the house and in what seemed to him to be normal behaviour, the young man, Frederick, turned the crypt into a hidden, locked room.

Frederick then kidnapped the young woman.

Frederick treated Miranda, his captive, as if she were a living butterfly in his collection. He struggled to know or understand her, but he bought her anything she wanted, happy that she was now his. Frederick was hopeful that in time Miranda would come to love him.

I don’t know what this says about me, but during this first part of the story I also wanted Miranda to accept that she was Frederick’s prisoner and stop trying to escape. I wanted her to fall in love with Frederick, and somehow transform him into the person he wanted to be.

About half way through the story, the point of view changes to Miranda, as told to her diary. Miranda is a completely different person to whom Frederick believes her to be. She is only 20 and is a self-obsessed art student who is in turn obsessed with an older and successful artist, GP. Miranda’s diary tell of her attempts to live up to GP’s values and ideals, which to me seemed selfish and pretentious but appeal to the more naïve Miranda. She is almost in love with GP, but is physically unattracted to him and struggles with his history of having been married several times and having had other lovers. Miranda seemed to me to be very much a young woman of her time.

Miranda rarely refers to Frederick in her diary, but when she does, she clearly despises him for his middle-lower class correctness and lack of imagination. As time passes she begins to pity Frederick, who she calls ‘Caliban’.

Of course, after reading Miranda’s version of events, I swapped over to her side and wanted her to be freed from Frederick’s prison to become the person she wanted to be.

The ending of the story didn’t surprise me, but The Collector has left me keen to read more of John Fowles’ work.

The Collector was book one for me in the Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of 26 August 2023.

https://theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com/

 

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Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

 

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Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen is a light and happy story about nine women whose lives change after wearing the same Max Hammer little black dress.

The dress itself is the ‘it’ dress for the season and the first woman to wear it is Sally Ann, who wears it on the runway and becomes an overnight success as a model.

From the runway, the dress is sent to Bloomingdales, where Natalie, a salesgirl who has just been dumped by her slimy boyfriend, wears it on a date with a movie star who has just been dumped by his cheating girlfriend.

Next to wear the dress is Andie, who started a detective agency after her husband did the dirty on her, then Felicia, who has loved her boss for twenty years. Also to wear the dress is a young woman who fakes every event in her whole life (we’re all whoever we want to be on-line), a young Muslim woman whose suitcase was accidently swapped with a that of a famous actress and a woman who ends up in hospital as a result of wearing the dress.

Some of the women’s life-changing moments are told in a few short paragraphs, but Natalie, Andie and Felicia’s stories are told intermittently with the shorter stories. The story of the dress’s pattern maker, 89-year old Morris Siegel, who has worked for Max Hammer for 75 years is also told.

I enjoyed this romance very much. The story left me feeling happy and full of hope that one day, I too will find the perfect dress.

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

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Every Note Played follows Lisa Genova’s usual pattern of introducing the reader to a character who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness (or is about to be) then follows them through their daily life until they die. I’m not sure why I read her books, especially since I am not at all medically-minded, can’t stand the sight of band-aids and would rather clean the bathroom than accidentally see blood, guts or body parts on one of those medical emergency shows on television.

Despite my aversion to the medical nature of Lisa Genova’s plots, I read Every Note Played whose main character, Richard, develops ALS. Richard is a middle-aged concert pianist who first notices a tremor in his right hand. Bit by bit, his entire right arm becomes paralysed, then his left arm. Richard’s ex-wife, Karina, eventually takes Richard back into their old family home and cares for him until his death.

Richard and Karina’s relationship was complicated. They divorced because he played around. She blamed him for ruining her career as a jazz pianist, while he blamed her for not wanting more children than the one daughter they had. Their relationship should have been more interesting than it was portrayed, but I think Lisa Genova is better at describing how an illness manifests than she is at developing her character’s personalities and personal growth. It didn’t help that Richard was a selfish git and Karina was self-pitying martyr.

I was confused about what ALS was until I realised that in Australia, ALS is known as motor neuron disease. In other parts of the world, ALS is called Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Lisa Genova does a great job of teaching readers about the diseases she uses in her fiction, but I doubt that anybody who had one of these diseases would want to read her stories. The characters usually come to terms with the issues in their relationships before their end comes but the medical side of this story is stronger than the characters development.

 

 

 

 

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta

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Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is by Australian author Melina Marchetta, who wrote Looking for Alibrandi. Honey-Bunny studied (and loved) Looking for Alibrandi in High School.

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil follows Chief Inspector Bish Ortley’s unofficial investigation into the bombing of a school holiday tour bus in France where a number of children were hurt and killed. Bish’s teenage daughter Bee was on the bus and was miraculously unharmed.

Although Bish was on suspension from work after sticking a gun down the throat of a colleague who annoyed him, he was pushed to continue his investigations by the British Home Office after it became known that one of the teenagers on the bus was Violette LeBrac. Violette was the granddaughter of notorious suicide bomber Louis Saraf who killed dozens of people in an attack on a London supermarket. Violette’s mother, Noor LeBrac is serving a life sentence in jail for her role in the supermarket bombing, and Violette’s father is dead, having suicided when Violette was four.

Bish’s connection with Violette and her mother, was that he was the officer who took four-year old Violette from her mother when she went to jail. Violette was raised by her Australian grandparents but snuck off to Europe without their knowledge to tour Normandy. Bish has to gain the trust of Noor to find Violette and another boy who was on the bus, Eddie, after they go on the run after the bombing.

Bish is facing his own demons. He and his wife divorced after their son died and his wife is now married and pregnant to their son’s school principal. Bish drinks too much and has abandonment issues with his own mother, who gracefully swans in and out of the story.

None of the relationships in this book are straightforward, although the characters have a lot in common and their lives are woven together in more ways than I could have imagined.

There were so many mysteries in this book. Why was the bus bombed? Why was Noor, an intelligent, beautiful woman, involved in her father’s madness in bombing the supermarket thirteen years ago? Was Violette the present-day bomb’s target or was she the bomber? What was Violette’s relationship with Eddie? Indeed, what was Violette’s relationship with Bish’s daughter, Bee, or any number of other characters?

Race and religion and as a result, racism, is a key element of this story. The most important characters tell their family stories to each other in a way that made my heart hurt.

The love the characters had for each other despite their difficulties were at times overwhelming (especially for someone who sometimes cries when she is reading on the train). I also laughed out loud once or twice watching the teenager characters communicate using social media under the noses of the adults, and felt like an old fogey as I realised I would have had no idea what was going on either.

A small criticism was that there are so many characters and their relationships so complicated that occasionally I lost track of how they all fit in to the story.

Otherwise, I loved Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil.

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