Book Review: A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

50993145Summary

“What if Elizabeth Macarthur – wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in the earliest days of Sydney – had written a shockingly frank secret memoir? And what if novelist Kate Grenville, had miraculously found and published it? That’s the starting point for A Room Made of Leaves, a playful dance of possibilities between the real and the invented.
Marriage to a ruthless bully, the impulses of her heart, the search for power in the society that gave women none, this Elizabeth Macarthur manages her complicated life with spirit and passion, cunning and sly wit. Her memoir lets us hear – at last – what one of those seemingly demure women from history might really have thought.
At the centre of A Room Made of Leaves is one of the most toxic issues of our own age, the seductive appeal of false stories. This book may be set in the past, but it’s just as much about the present, where secrets and liws have the dangerous power to shape reality”. – from the blurb

My Thoughts

This fictional account of the life of Elizabeth Macarthur seemed very real to me. I would love to believe that the real Elizabeth Macarthur had the spirit and confidence of this fictional version. The story of the life of Elizabeth Macarthur starts at the beginning, in England when young Elizabeth met John Macarthur and how she came to marry the pompous and arrogant man. We followed them during their hellish voyage to Australia, and as they began their life in the new country, that, at first, was far less comfortable than expected.

As is usual for Kate, this book is well researched and very clearly tells the story of life in Sydney, in the very early days of settlement. I very much enjoyed reading about these times through the eyes of a strong female.

Historical fiction is my favourite genre and especially Australia historical fiction. I’ve read Kate Grenville’s books Secret River and The Lieutenant, and have been a fan ever since. This book didn’t disappoint at all. I found it totally engrossing and felt sad when I had read the last page. My opinion is that this wonderful novel is historical fiction at it’s best.

Next on my ‘to be read’ pile is the real biography of Elizabeth Macarthur which I’m keen to read.

Recommendations

‘This story, told through Grenville’s sharp lens, is one that will stay with the reader for a long time.’  – Readings

‘An ingenious tapestry of history and invention, A Room Made of Leaves is a novel of womanhood, motherhood, secrets, lies, obsession, transformation and the loss of innocence. It’s a true pleasure to read Grenville’s writing, and this one’s been well worth the wait!’ Booktopia

“Grenville’s prose is elegant and meticulously crafted…Despite the trappings of history in A Room Made of Leaves and Grenville’s impressive use of the archive to conjure the novel, her achievement here is not a historical one. A Room Made of Leaves questions,  rhetorically, how to live ethically with a history that is unfair.  Saturday Paper

 Published in 2020 by Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, Australia
Hardcover, 317 pages

My Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. Her international  bestseller The Secret River was awarded local and overseas prizes, has been adapted for the stage and as an acclaimed television miniseries, and is now a much-loved classic.
In 2017 Grenville was awarded the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. She lives in Melbourne. – kategrenville.com.au

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Aussie Author Challenge

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australian reading challenge

Half the World in Winter by Maggie Joel #AtoZChallenge

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Half The World in Winter by Maggie Joel

Summary

It is London, 1880, and Lucas Jarmyn struggles to make sense of the death of his beloved youngest daughter; his wife, Aurora, seeks solace in rigid social routines; and eighteen-year-old Dinah looks for fulfilment in unusual places. Only the housekeeper, the estimable Mrs Logan, seems able to carry on.

A train accident in a provincial town on the railway Lucas owns claims the life of nine-year-old Alice Brinklow and, amid the public outcry, Alice’s father, Thomas, journeys to London demanding justice. As he arrives in the Capital on a frozen January morning his fate, and that of the entire Jarmyn family, will hinge on such strange things as an ill-fated visit to a spiritualist, an errant chicken bone and a single vote cast at a board room meeting. – blurb

Half the World in Winter

My Thoughts

I enjoyed the story line, and the historical setting of this book, but the plot was a little slow moving for me. The theme running through this novel is grief. Heartbreaking and all consuming grief. At times, it is very sad, and very dark, but it didn’t stop my enjoyment. I can’t really see how the nature of the plot could be anything other than dark. The book to me, has a sense of the coldness of winter running through it.

There were commas missing right through the book, which some might think a small thing, but that really did annoy me.

Quotes

“Inside 19 Cadogan Mews time had ceased. It no longer existed, it had no meaning. A silence had fallen that no one felt willing to break. Footsteps were muffled, and commands, if they were given at all, were given in muted whispers in the hallways and corridors. doors were kept closed and before entering hands hesitated on doorknobs and deep breaths were taken. An excuse not to enter at all was often found:”

‘It seemed that, though you could have the same parents, live almost the same number of years in the same house with the same people, it was no guarantee you would grow into the same type of person.’

Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

About the Author

Maggie Joel

Maggie Joel is a British-born writer who lives in Sydney, Australia. She has been writing fiction since the mid-1990s and her short stories have been widely published in Australia in Southerly, Westerly, Island, Overland and Canberra Arts Review, and broadcast on ABC radio. She has had five novels published: ‘The Past and Other Lies’ (Pier 9,2009), ‘The Second Last Woman in England’ (Pier 9, 2010) winner of the FAW Christina Stead Award for Fiction, ‘Half the World in Winter’ (Allen & Unwin, 2014), ‘The Safest Place in London’ (Allen & Unwin 2016) and ‘The Unforgiving City’ (Allen & Unwin 2019).

Published in October 2014 by Allen & Unwin
Paperback 432 pages

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All books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library, unless otherwise stated.

You can find my other blogs here:
Next Phase In Fitness & Life
and Tracking Down The Family

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Book Review 11.22.63 by Stephen King

15739070The day that changed the world. What if you could change it back

Summary

Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke…… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful  – from the back cover

My Thoughts

As with many of Stephen King’s novels, this time travel story had me hooked from page one. I’m a huge Stephen King fan, but a few years ago, became disappointed with the novels he was writing. I have decided to go back to those novels, and give them another try. This novel is the first of those. I’m so glad I did, as this is exactly the type of King novel that I enjoy. Stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. And not a monster in sight! The love story thread is quite touching and lovely. Not something normally equated with a Stephen King novel.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of life in 1950s and 1960s America, with it’s references to the popular culture of the time. And then there is the story of the shooting of American President JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald. King builds up a picture of the life of Oswald before the shooting which I found to be totally believable.

During the entire book, even as the date of the assassination was approaching,  I couldn’t decide how King was going to end the story. Would the assassination be foiled? If so, what would be the ramifications of that. Even after 740 pages, I was still enthralled and surprised by the ending.

Stephen King has such a talent for writing about real people. The plot might be bizarre, but the strength of his characters makes the storyline totally believable. He makes it very easy to believe that everything his characters say and everything that happens to them is real.

This book is fantastic!

My Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

About the Author

King at the New York Comic Con in February 2007

Stephen Edwin King (born September 21, 1947) is an American  author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy novels. His books have sold more than 350 million copies,many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television series, and comic books. King has published 58 novels (including seven under the pen nameRichard Bachman)  and six non-fiction books. He has written approximately 200 short stories, most of which have been published in book collections.

King has received many awards.  In 2003, the  National Book Foundation awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He has also received awards for his contribution to literature for his entire oeuvre, such as the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement (2004),and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America (2007) In 2015, King was awarded with a National Medal of Arts for his contributions to literature. He has been described as the “King of Horror”. – Wikipedia

Stephen King is known as one of the best novelists of our time.

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 Published on July 5 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton. First published November 8 2011. Paperback 740 pages

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The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

Summary

How much will a young seamstress from Paris sacrifice to succeed in the male dominated world of 1940s fashion in New York?

In 1940, Estella Bissette, a seamstress was forced to escape from France, as the German’s are approaching. She headed to New York with just her sewing machine, a few francs and just one suitcase. Other than that, all she had was her dream to be successful in the fashion world.

Jump forward to 2015, and we read of Fabienne Bissette’s visits to an exhibition of her grandmother’s work. Her grandmother was one of the world’s leading ready-to-wear designers. As Fabienne learns about her grandmother’s past, she discovers that her life was about more than just fashion and designing. Stories of tragedy, heartbreak, love, secrets and sacrifices are uncovered.

“This is the story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter, as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past”

My Thoughts

This story is based on fact: some of the characters existed, as do some of the buildings which are central to the story. My favourite genre to read is historical fiction based on fact, particularly focusing on war history.  This book definitely did not let me down in any way.  The Paris Seamstress  is an emotional roller coaster ride, and very heart breaking, but at the same time the story and the characters are extremely courageous.

The main character,Estella,  is very strong willed, but absolutely believable. I have no interest at all in fashion, so I was a bit wary of this book at first. However the story lines about fashion were mainly concerning conservation and finding cheaper alternatives during the war years. Unexpectedly I was swept up into these story lines, and found them to be believable for the times.

I loved this book and would definitely like to read it again. I read it while on holidays, so fortunately had time to read it quickly.  It’s my opinion that this book is #unputdownable. The artistry on the front cover is incredibly beautiful which was what drew me to The Paris Seamstress  in the bookstore.

My Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About The Author

Natasha Lester

 

Natasha Lester is a USA Today, internationally best-selling author. Prior to writing, she worked as a marketing executive for L’Oreal, managing the Maybelline brand, before returning to university to study creative writing.

Her first historical novel, the bestselling A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, was published in 2016. This was followed by Her Mother’s Secret in 2017 and The Paris Seamstress in 2018. The French Photographer is her latest book (note: this will be published as The Paris Orphan in North America in September 2019).

Natasha’s books have been published in the US, the UK, Australia and throughout Europe. She lives in Perth, Western Australia with her 3 children and loves travelling, Paris, vintage fashion and, of course, books – Goodreads

 

Published in 2018 by Hatchette Australia. Paperback 448 pages.

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#AtoZChallenge Q: The Queens Colonial by Peter Watt

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Summary

The Queen’s Colonial is the first in Australian author, Peter Watt’s new series featuring Captain Ian Steele, commander in the British Army, in the mid 1800s.

The story starts in Sydney in 1845, where Ian Steele, is supporting his frail and widowed mother, while dreaming of how much he yearns to live a life in uniform, in Queen Victoria’s army.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Second Lieutenant Sam Forbes, a gentle soul and a poet, from a wealthy and aristocratic, but treacherous, English family, wants nothing more than to leave the army, and live a more gentle life. Due to his family and his upbringing, he knows that is not likely to ever happen.

Later, these two men happen to meet in Sydney, and realise there is a striking likeness to their appearance. They very quickly devise a plan for Ian to take Sam’s identity and go to England, convince the family that he is their son that they haven’t seen for many years, and accept a commission into the British Army, who are about to face the Russians in battle.

My Thoughts

 At first I thought the story line about the swap of identities was ridiculous and unbelievable, but the author quickly convinced me that it made sense and it would work.

I have a love of history and war history, so this book was a pleasure for me to read. Even though The Queen’s Colonial is a novel, Watt has based it on thoroughly researched archival information. The battle scenes are taken from the actual eye witness reports of a newspaper journalist who posted war zone reports from the battle front via telegraph. These reports titled Reports From The Crimea were published frequently in The Times of London.

This is the first of Peter Watt’s books that I’ve read, and it seems that I’ve found a new favourite author. I will be watching out for the second book in this series.  I love the title, The Queen’s Colonial and very much look forward to the title chosen for the second book in the series. The book is beautifully presented with extremely beautiful artwork on the front cover.

My Rating: 4.5 star

About The Author

Peter Watt

 

Peter has been a soldier, articled clerk to a solicitor, prawn trawler deckhand, builder’s labourer, pipe layer, real estate salesman, private investigator, police sergeant and adviser to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. He has lived and worked with Aborigines, Islanders, Vietnamese and Papua New Guineans and speaks, reads and writes Vietnamese and Pidgin. He now lives at Maclean, on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales. He is a volunteer firefighter with the Rural Fire service, and is interested in fishing and the vast opens spaces of outback Queensland. – Pan Macmillan

Published in 2018 by Pan MacMillan. Paperback 396 pages, including author notes.

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#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary badge

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#AtoZChallenge O: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Summary

In 1946, Claire Randall is taken from the Scottish Highlands where she is on a second honeymoon with her husband, back to 1943 where the first person she meets is a British army officer. He is her husband’s six times great grandfather, who she has often heard her husband talk of, as he researches his family’s genealogy.

“People disappear all the time. Ask any policeman, better still ask a journalist. Disappearances are bread and butter to journalists. Young girls run away from home. Young children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives reach the end of their tether and take the grocery money and a taxi to the station. International financiers change their names and vanish into the smoke of imported cigars. Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive. Disappearances, after all, have their explanation. Usually” – written at the front of Outlander

Claire eventually finds herself torn between two very different men, living two totally different and irreconcilable lives.

My Thoughts

I have been resisting reading this book. Not because I didn’t think I would enjoy it. I enjoy historical fiction and the genealogy included in this book intrigued me. However, at over 800 pages, Outlander takes a huge time commitment. And then there are the subsequent books in the series at a similar number of pages.

But finally I gave in and I’m so glad I did. Gabaldon is a great story teller with a huge attention to detail as she asks: What if your future was the past?

I found this book to be very ‘unputdownable’ and read it fairly quickly, despite the huge number of pages. As I read the last line, I couldn’t wait to get started on book two in the series.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About The Author

Diana Gabaldon

 

Diana Gabaldon grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona and is of Mexican-American and English descent. She has earned three degrees – B.S. in Zoology, M.S. i Marine Biology and a Ph.D in Ecology.

 

Published in 1991 by Arrow Books, Penguin Random House.  Paperback – 863 pages

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This blog has been nominated for the Bloggers Bash Awards in the category of Best Book Review Blog. If you would like to vote for me click on the link below and scroll down to the Best Book Review Blog Section. You will find Best Bookish Blog there. I do appreciate you taking the time to vote.

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Review: The Widow of Ballarat by Darry Fraser

Summary

This is the story of Nell, who becomes a widow in the early pages.  The setting is Ballarat, at the time of the 19th century goldrush and the Eureka Rebellion. In a time where women were not treated as equals, Nell’s courage and strength take us on a journey back in time to a harsh male dominated environment.

This is the story of Nell’s struggle for survival, and the obstacles she comes up against in her fight to move forward from the abusive life she lived with her husband.  All Nell wanted was the opportunity to earn her own living and live a happy and peaceful life with her new chosen partner.

As the author shows, it is a harsh life on the gold fields, and harsher for women struggling to earn a living and ensure their own safety. The challenges are great and at times seem insurmountable.

From the back cover: ‘Passion, adventure and a woman’s quest for independence, set against a dramatic 19th century backdrop….’

My Thoughts

The author weaves events from history into the novel, which is what I love about reading historical fiction. I felt as though I was there on the goldfields, living the life of a down trodden female. I could really feel the dreadfulness of a life lived that way. Most books written about this era of Victorian history, show the male viewpoint. How lovely it was, to read of the events of the day, and every day life from the perspective of a female.

Recommendation

The Widow of Ballarat had me hooked almost immediately. By chapter 2, I knew this book would be unputdownable. As a genealogist and family historian with ancestors who lived and worked on the goldfields at Ballarat and surrounding areas, I was immediately taken back to that time and place.

If you have an interest in Victorian history, you will love this great story of the time interwoven with a lovely romantic story line.

I would recommend first reading the Free prequel – Hill Of Gold

This is the first book written by Darry Fraser that I have read, but I will be seeking out her other books in future.

www.darryfraser.com


About The Author

Darry Fraser is an author of Australian historical and contemporary fiction who lives and works on Kangaroo Island.
Other books: Daughter of the Murray and Where the Murray River Runs.

My Rating:  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Published by Mira, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises, in 2018. Historical novel. Paperback 354 pages

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