Friday, July 10, 2020

The Goldminer's Sister by Alison Stuart

In the 1850's gold was discovered in various places in Victoria. People left their homes to try their chances to find gold, to set themselves up for life on the basis of that one big find. And if that big find doesn't come today, then it will come tomorrow, or the day after, or when you move to a new mine. Even today, there are people who spend their lives either fossicking in the hope of finding a nugget, or doing large scale mechanical mining in the wilds of places like Alaska. Gold fever! And when you find that big nugget of gold, or hit that seam of gold inside a mountain, then what else is there but to shout Eureka!!

This book takes place a couple of decades later in the 1870's in a fictional town called Maiden's Creek in the north of Victoria. There is no alluvial gold left, but there is underground mining and if you can hit the right seam, there is money to be made, for the owners and the shareholders, and livings made by the hardworking miners.

Eliza Penrose comes to Australia after receiving a letter from her brother to say that he believed that he was on the verge of discovering something big, and when he does, he will no longer be beholden to his uncle who runs the mine at Maidens Creek. Her brother has struck out on his own, and is starting his own mine which looks very promising.

Her heart is soon to be broken as she realises that far from the chance of a new life, she is once again to suffer a bereavement and she is even more alone than before. Her brother has died, leaving most of his estate to his uncle. There are however things that just don't add up about Will's death and it isn't long before she becomes suspicious.  While Eliza does have some possibilities of working as a teacher, it isn't that easy to break into the tight knit community, especially when there are inbuilt prejudices against women in such roles.

It seems that one of the few people that Eliza can trust is her brother's friend Alec McLeod. Alec is a Scottish mining engineer who is responsible for the day to day running of the mine, ensuring the mine's safety. He and his brother, Ian, had moved to the town after the death of Alec's wife. Like so many others, the gold fields offered them a chance to start anew, leaving the past behind, or at least trying to. But is Alec as trustworthy as he seems, and can they, between them, figure out what is going on at the two mines and in the town?

This book features some of the same secondary characters from The Postmistress which I read and enjoyed a couple of months ago. As always, I do think it is best to read in order, but it is definitely possible to read this as a standalone novel! I do, however, think this is a better book!

The author gives us a really good glimpse into life in a colonial town and the dangers that face miners. Even now, various types of mining disasters still happen in mines around the world, so it is still a dangerous business.

I really enjoyed the secondary storylines including those about Annie and her daughter Charlie who live in a booze shanty on the edge or town. Eliza sees Charlie's academic potential but she is shunned by the other kids, and her mother doesn't see how sending the young girl to school can help change their lives. The thing that the author did so well in relation to Annie, and to a couple of the other secondary characters, is to not rely on obvious characterisations but rather to give these characters nuances. The bad guys weren't all bad. Annie wasn't just a fallen woman, and even the rude teacher who made Eliza's life difficult wasn't without some merit.

So, as a reader who has just a devoured a book that is gold, there is little left to do but shout Eureka! and give this book a grade of 5/5, only my second for the year!

 Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy of this book.

Goodreads synopsis

Gold is a fever. Will it lead her to love ... or death? A suspenseful romance set on the turbulent goldfields of 1870s Australia, for readers of The Postmistress and The Woman in the Green Dress.
'There are people in this town with the gleam of gold in their eyes and cold steel in their hearts.'
1873. Eliza Penrose arrives in the gold mining town of Maiden's Creek in search of her brother, planning to make a new life for herself. Instead she finds a tragic mystery - and hints of betrayals by those closest to her.
Mining engineer Alec McLeod left Scotland to escape the memory of his dead wife and child. Despite the best efforts of the eligible ladies of Maiden's Creek, Alec is determined never to give his heart again.
As lies and deceit threaten Eliza's life, Alec steps in - although he has problems of his own, as he risks his livelihood and those he holds dear to oppose the dangerous work practices at the Maiden's Creek Mine.
When disaster draws the pieces of the puzzle together, Eliza and Alec must save each other - but is it too late?

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Alphabet 2020: M is for Melbourne

I have lived in Melbourne now for around 19 years. It's a place I love, and I can't really imagine living anywhere else. The city regularly tops the polls for the best place to live in the world for good reason. If you want sport, there is normally plenty on. If you want theatre, then there is a vibrant theatre and music scent. Culture? We've got it. We often say that if you can't find something good to eat in Melbourne then you aren't really trying hard enough.

My husband has lived here for about 10 years, and I remember one of our early conversations where we were talking about why we liked living here and he described it as a living city, and I really like that description. The reality is that there is something for everyone really, whatever you are interested in.

This week, though, has been a tough one for us Melburnians.  As of yesterday we have gone back into lockdown as a result of a second wave of COVID 19.  For us, lockdown means that we can only leave the house for four approved reasons: to work if you can't work from home, for medical treatment, for physical fitness reasons and essential shopping

I know that in comparison to many places around the world, our numbers are miniscule, but by Australian standards our infection numbers have skyrocketed and therefore drastic measures have had to be taken. At the moment we have around 800 active cases, but some of the daily numbers of cases identified are higher than they were at any time during the virus, which is why everyone is concerned.

So what does that mean for us. We have now been working from home for nearly 4 months, and so that will continue now for quite some time. Given that we hadn't gone back into the office after the last lockdown even though that finished a month ago, I can't see us getting back into the building until maybe the end of October but I am thinking later. It is a bit demoralising to be going backwards after we were able to start to go back to normal. I am grateful that we took the opportunity to do some normal things like having brunch and going for a drive in the country while we could  - always following the rules around social distancing and washing our hands.

When we realised that we were going to end up working from home, I wasn't really looking forward to it at all, but it turns out that I have quite enjoyed it. I like not having to do the 90 minute commute each way every day on public transport. I like being able to get up later and I like seeing my husband all day, or at least being able to hear him as we aren't always in the same room.

One of the things that I would never have imagined is the fact that the state borders have closed between the states. Right now, my state is basically isolated with all our adjoining state borders closed to Victorians. Apparently this is the first time that the borders between New South Wales and Victoria has been closed for around 100 years.

One of the interesting things about the way that Australia is dealing with the crisis is that there are no instructions at all to advise us that we should be wearing masks. I know that will shock a lot of people who have very strong opinions about the wearing of masks, but even the medical professionals in my organisation said that it wasn't necessary. I do think it will come soon, but for now, there are very few people wearing masks as we go about our business, when we can.

It is going to be tough over the next six weeks for the people in this city, but hopefully this further period of lockdown will have the necessary effect, and we can get back to enjoying life in this wonderful city!

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Paris in July: Everyone loves Paris

As I mentioned in my launch post for Paris in July, we were supposed to visit Paris in April but of course that didn't happen. However, in preparation for that trip, I had a number of posts written so that I would have content while I was away. There are a few different things I had lined up, including quotes from books I have read this year that caught my attention. Here is a quote about the city and about scarves from the book Sixty Summers by Amanda Hampson. For the record, I am a bit like Maggie when it comes to scarves!

When Maggie joined Rose and Fran downstairs, she suggested they walk away from the restaurant area near the Notre Dame,with its tourist menus and spruikers urging customers inside. Better to cross the Seine to Le Marais and find more authentic and better-priced restaurants.
The evening air, crisp and fresh after the stuffy room, lifted her spirits. She reminded herself that they were in Paris. Everyone loves Paris. And while it would be impossible for the city to fulfil every gold promise, it did deliver on so many. It was an unexpected glimpse of the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the night or the rich buttery smell of a patisserie. A cafe noir, served in a small white cup in a cafe on the Champs-Elysees. Couples pausing in the street to share a lingering kiss, buskers playing haunting Edith Piaf songs on accordions, and Parisians displaying their effortless je ne sais quoi with nothing more than a cunningly knotted scarf. When Maggie tied a scarf like that, it looked as though she was nursing a sore throat or disguising a raddled neck.

Now to be fair, I do know that not everyone loves Paris but a lot of people do!! I visited Paris way back in 1994 so it has been a while since I visited, but I do know that I love the idea of visiting Paris again. You only have to search my blog to find that I have been dreaming of doing so for many, many years. And it will happen, it's just that I have no idea when in this current climate!

I arrived in the city on December 23 so I was lucky to see the city all dressed up. I was also lucky enough to see a very small number of snow flakes which was very exciting for this Australian who was not used to seeing snow at all!

One of my favourite memories was going to a midnight mass on Christmas Eve in a church around the corner from our hotel, which I have posted about before!

I look forward to creating more Paris memories!

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I Have Read the Most Book By

Welcome to this week's edition of Top Ten Tuesday which is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I am soooo excited! I have been keeping a spreadsheet of the books that I have read since 2014. For a long time I would also use it to keep track of when and where I acquired books, what series I was reading and what the new books were in each series, for my reading challenges and more. These days though, it really is just my log of what I have read. But for a question like this, it really comes into it's own! Hello, pivot tables!

The question for this week's TTT is which authors have you read the most books by. I therefore have 14 years of worth of data to analyse. Sounds like fun right!

Nora Roberts/J D Robb - with a whopping 59 titles read published under either the name Nora Roberts or J D Robb, this is the author that I have read the most over the last 14 years. The interesting thing is that over the last 4 years I have only read three Nora Roberts books, and I haven't actually read a J D Robb novel since 2009. I am up to book number 17 in the In Death series. Given that book number 50 just came out I don't think I will be catching up any time soon. This cover is from Sea Swept, the first book I ever read by Nora Roberts

Janet Evanovich - This is another case of a reader who I have read a lot of books by that I don't really read at all any more. I have read 45 books which includes her standalone romances and a copy of the shortlived series. I did read 19 of the Stephanie Plum books, but I couldn't take it any more. I was a Morelli cupcake from the beginning, but I would be okay with Stephanie choose Ranger if it just meant that she was picking one of them!

Robyn Carr - This author comes in third place, mainly due to the fact that I have reread the entire Virgin River series more than once, and I would again. As much as I love the VR series, I haven't really been that impressed by the standalone books or other series.

Lisa Kleypas - I have read 34 books by this author. At one stage I was pretty much up to date but then I haven't read that much for the last few years and so got a bit behind. This book is one of the rare standalone books. You don't hear a lot about this book but it is one of my favourites.

Mary Balogh - This one surprised me in some ways, because I wouldn't have thought I had read so many books but according to my handy spreadsheet I have read 24 books by her. The interesting thing on this author is that I haven't rated any of these books at more than a 4/5 so her books are of a pretty consistent standard.

Jill Shalvis - This is another author I have read 24 books by. I read one earlier this year for the first time but it didn't blow my mind so not sure if that was just that book! I do have fond memories of several series so it isn't time to give up just yet.

Elizabeth Chadwick - Oh, I do enjoy Elizabeth Chadwick's medieval historical fiction. I loved her William Marshall books. Really I don't think there are any books I haven't enjoyed. It is therefore surprising that I am a few books behind. Need to get back to her books.

Alexander McCall Smith - AMS's books are always very soothing reads, so I don't think it is surprising that I have read so many of his books - at last count 21. Most of those are the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books although I have read other books by him as well. I will say that these are still my favourite style of covers for this series.

Elizabeth Peters - This was another that surprised me, and then I was reminded that it has been many years since I read any of the books in the Amelia Peabody series and I haven't finished it yet. I don't really know why because I did love this series.

Julia Quinn - Another surprise entry in the list as I wouldn't have thought I would have read 20 books from this author, and there are still plenty more available, although it has been quite some time since I read any of her books. I am wondering if the upcoming Bridgerton series on Netflix may inspire me to get back to reading her books.

My most read Aussie authors were just outside this top 10 and they were for Kelly Hunter and Rachael Johns. I have a Rachael Johns book on my bedside table right now so her numbers are still on the rise.

I do find it a bit curious that there are so many romance authors on this list, but I think it is because they often write series or linked books, and they publish regularly.

Which authors made your list!

Monday, July 06, 2020

This Week....

I'm reading...

I haven't done as much reading as I would like this week, but I did get a fair chunk of The Goldminer's Sister by Allison Stuart while I was at the hairdresser on Saturday. It comes out in a couple of days so I should probably get cracking on it. This book is set in the same town as The Postmistress and features some of the same characters, but I don't think you would necessarily call it a sequel, if that makes sense. I will say that I was quite surprised by the events very early in the book.

I can't decide if this next paragraph in the I'm Watching paragraph, or here as an audio book because there was video involved but I was listening while I was working so I am going to count it as listening to it, like an audiobook.

During this week, I have been watching/listening to the famous Kiwi movie director Taika Waititi reading Roald Dahl's book James and the Giant Peach. He is so good to listen to, but along the way he has recruited some of his famous friends, and as he admits some people who he doesn't really know, to help bring the story to life. Amongst the people who make appearances there are actors, and musicians, and other famous people! And the great thing is that you can tell that they all enjoyed the experience to! So much fun. Highlights include Meryl Streep's turn as one of James' aunts, Cate Blanchett,  and many more. Every episode is an absolute delight and such a joy to listen to!

Do yourself a favour and check out the first episode here.

I'm watching...
I mentioned The Casketeers a couple of weeks ago. We spent our Friday night binge watching quite a few episodes, but really my weekend was about one thing.....

I have been eager to see this musical for ages now. We were just a few weeks early or late when we were in the US. In theory, it is coming to Sydney next year, and my name is down on the waiting list already. Hello long weekend in Sydney! But....who knows if that will actually happen next year now. I was therefore super excited when it was announced that it is being streamed.

We invited a couple of friends around for dinner and then we settled back into the comfy couch and watched the show, and I loved it. We aren't necessarily as familiar with all the background but it didn't take long to get into the story.

Highly recommended! And I will be watching again, more than once I am sure.

In life

We are now at the point where we can call our bathroom  renovation done! It took a bit longer to do than we would have liked because one of our special orders took a lot longer to come in than it should have done, but overall it wasn't too stressful. Luckily we had our ensuite bathroom still because I couldn't have imagined going without a bathroom at all for that long. So here's the before:

And after

I think I will be posting more about our renovations in the next couple of weeks.

Six Degrees of Separation

I've linked this post to It's Monday, what are you reading? as hosted by Book Date

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: What I Loved to A Guide to the Birds of East Africa

Welcome to this month's edition of Six Degrees of Separation, which is a monthly meme hosted by Kate from Books Are My Favourite and Best.  The idea is to start with a specific book and make a series of links from one book to the next using whatever link you can find and see where you end up after six links.  I am also linking this post up with The Sunday Salon, hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.

The starting point this month is What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt, a book I don't recall hearing about let alone reading. When I was thinking about what my strategy was going to be in relation to this book, it was almost as though I then thought, "and how exactly can I make this even harder for myself", and a plan was hatched.

My starting point was to think about what Siri Hustvedt's background was, and it turns out that she is an American author, whose family background is Norwegian, so then I thought about what other books I had read either by a Norwegian author or set in Norway, and the first one that came to mind was The Storm Sister by Lucinda Riley, which is the second book in the Seven Sisters series. A lot of the action in this book took place in Norway so this was my first step.

Where I complicated it for myself was then I decided that my links for this month would be based on the books in the Seven Sisters series. I could have done just the books in the series - there's an obvious link - but that would be a bit boring right. So my twist was that my selections will be based on the settings in each of the books from this point on.

The first book in the series is The Seven Series. In the historical part of the novel, we learn the story of how the Christ the Redeemer statue was created. A lot of the book was set in Brazil, but there were significant portions of the book that were set in Paris as the statue was being designed. The only book that I can think of that I have read that was set in Brazil was State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

The second book in the series is The Storm Sister, which was my link to What I Loved in the first place. This book is set primarily in Norway and looking at the history of Edvart Grieg, the man who composed the music for Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt.

The third book in the Seven Sisters series is The Shadow Sister. This time, the historical section of the book focuses on a young woman who is friends with Beatrix Potter. The modern part of the book focuses on an antique book and life in the country. The characters are looking for a hidden family treasure which reminded me of The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell where an old house hasn't given up it's secrets yet.

The fourth book in the series is The Pearl Sister which has a significant section of it's story set in the far north of Western Australia. I thought I would choose a contemporary novel - The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots by Loretta Hill. This was one of the early rural romances I read, and I think it would easily stand up to a reread. I certainly have good memories of this one.

The fifth book is the one that I am listening to on audio at the moment - The Moon Sister. This time the author is exploring the history around flamenco dancing in Spain. For another historical fiction novel set in Spain I have chosen The Last Queen by C W Gortner about Juana, the sister of Catherine of Aragon, who married into the powerful Hapsburg family.

The latest book in the series, the sixth, is The Sun Sister. I haven't read it yet, but I understand that it is set in Africa, so for my final choice I am revisiting a lovely book that I read many years ago, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson. This was such a delightful read which I thoroughly enjoyed but I had forgotten all about!

I have taken us on a journey around the world from Norway to Kenya using the books in the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley as the compass.

Next month's starting point is How to Do Nothing by Jenny ODell. Maybe I will keep it a bit simpler next month, but maybe not. We'll see.

Where has your six degrees taken you this month?

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Weekend Cooking: Sausage Rolls

I don't know about you but I have a list of things that I want to try and make one day, but haven't yet done so because they either feel intimidating, or too technically challenging or just because.

Things that I can think of that fall into this category for me included things like choux pastry, honeycomb and macarons. I want to make them, but I don't know when that will happen. And until recently another item on this list was sausage rolls, but not any more!

Sausage rolls are party food favourites here in Australia, along with party pies (small meat pies), and some times with cocktail sausages (think tiny hot dog sausages), as well as exorbitant amounts of tomato sauce (ketchup). And it's not only kids parties where this is true. When I used to go to monthly book club meetings, you could have all sorts of food available, but if there wasn't at least party pies or sausage rolls then there would be anarchy!

So what is a sausage roll? According to Wikipedia sausage rolls are "sheets of puff pastry formed into tubes around sausage meat and glazed with egg or milk before being baked." It also suggests that there is something called sausage bread in the United States which is similar, although the outside is pizza dough instead of puff pastry.

When I was looking for a sausage roll recipe to make, I didn't realise that I had chosen a recipe that was a bit healthier. It is one of those recipes where you hide the veggies so the kids don't realise they are there. There are plenty of other sausage roll recipes that don't have veggies in, or use different meats, but this is the recipe that I chose to make.

I would also make these again. Those hidden veggies came in handy for my man child (my son who is 21!) because I am not really sure he would eat veggies by choice. We had these for lunch one Saturday and put the leftovers in a container. The next day I was looking for the container but it had disappeared into the black hole that is his bedroom, never to be seen again.

The recipe came from

Sausage Rolls

400g sausage mince
300g chicken mince
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 medium carrot, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 cup (65g) fresh breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Salt & freshly ground pepper
4 sheets frozen puff pastry, semi thawed
1 tablespoon (10g) sesame seeds
Tomato sauce, to serve

Preheat oven to 200°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Mix both minces, onion, garlic, carrot, zucchini, breadcrumbs and parsley. Beat 1 egg and add to mince mixture. Add nutmeg and seasoning. Divide into 8 equal portions.

Cut pastry sheets in half. Place a mince portion down the centre of pastry. Beat remaining egg and brush edges.

Roll up to enclose filling, and cut into 6 pieces. Place on trays, seam side down. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 20 mins, reduce heat to 180°C, and cook for 10 minutes until golden. Serve with tomato sauce.

    Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Friday, July 03, 2020

It's Friday

Thank goodness it's Friday! I am looking forward to relaxing a bit this weekend. Maybe.

Here is my contribution to Book Beginnings on Friday hosted at Rose City Reader. This book is a follow up to The Postmistress which I read a couple of months ago:

20 June 1873 Maiden's Creek Victoria

"Out of the way, woman!"

And for Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

As he talked, Eliza realised that the currents of social tension that flowed beneath the fabric of Maiden's Creek were no different from those in any small community and she had better watch her sharp tongue, or she risked alienating every woman in town by the following Sunday.

It's a dramatic beginning as someone is nearly collided into by a runaway horse!

The House on Boundary Street by Tea Cooper

Dolly Bowman arrives in Sydney from country New South Wales, with a promise of a cleaning job in a boarding house. Her father has died recently, never having recovered from the disappearance of her brother during World War I. She is surprised to find her brother's best friend Jack at the house, and almost equally surprised to find that the boarding house was actually a high class brothel. Jack is determined that naive Dolly won't become one of the girls. Luckily, it turns out that Dolly is a talented jazz singer and soon she is caught up in the glamorous world using her singing talent to make her way.

One of the other girls, Cynthia Burton, has her own reasons for working at the house on Boundary Street. She wants to get out but the secrets that she keeps, and the money that she owes to the madam are what keeps her there. If she loses her job then she will have to go out on the streets, so while there is danger, it will be even more dangerous if she has to start working the streets. She is looking for an out and before Dolly appears and catches Jack's eye she is hoping that Jack might be it.

It's not easy to get out of that world once you are in, especially given the kind of people that run it. In 1920s Sydney, the streets are flooded with "snow", cocaine to you and me, and while it's not illegal to possess snow, it is illegal to distribute it, so for those who have access, there is big money to be made.

And then there's Ted,who has been trying to get into that world for reasons of his own. He is a man who is used to living in the shadows, to being inconspicuous, hiding the truth of who he really is from everyone who loves him.

When I mentioned that I was reading this a couple of weeks ago it was in the context of the fact that this is actually a reworking of an earlier novel.  Having not read the earlier version, I can't tell what has changed or hasn't but I think you can tell. I do wonder what prompts an author to revisit a previous book. What gets changed, what stays the same? How do you decide what needs to be added in? Do you change the fundamental underlying story? Is it an opportunity to put back some things that you left out the first time around, or is it something that you have thought of later?

For me, this book didn't quite work. I think it suffered from a lack of clarity about what it was trying to be, and it wasn't cohesive. When the book opens with Dolly's story, I assumed that she would be the main character, but if I have to be honest I think that this was the less interesting of the two stories. It was really Dolly and Ted's story. Dolly gives us an entry into the brothel, but it wasn't her story, not really.

And yet, it was still interesting, particularly the parts talking about how Sydney was changing in the 1920's. World War I was over, the Spanish Flu had decimated the population, especially in the poorer areas like The Rocks. Now, The Rocks is a tourist hotspot, but at the time it was home to the poorest, ,some of whom were having their buildings destroyed to make way for the famous bridge.

I ended up giving this book a rating of 3/5. It wasn't perfect but there were interesting glimpses into the underbelly of Sydney in the 1920s. I have previously read another book by this author, which I enjoyed, so I will definitely read more by her. It's just unfortunate that this one didn't work particularly well for me.

Thanks to the publisher for this review copy via Netgalley

Rating 3/5

Goodreads summary

The House on Boundary Street is a revised and expanded edition of the novel originally published as Jazz Baby
From a bestselling Australian author comes a tale of double-dealing, adventure and the dark underbelly of 1920s Sydney...
In the aftermath of World War I, Sydney is no place for the fainthearted. Sly grog shops thrive, the cocaine trade flourishes and brothels abound. Into this big dark city comes fresh-faced country girl, Dolly Bowman, ready to risk everything in pursuit of her dreams. After all it's the 1920s - time to turn her back on her terrible childhood and search for her future.
Cynthia Burton's life changes irrevocably the day she steps over the threshold of the house on Boundary Street. Determined to survive the only way she can, she breaks into the world of money and matinee idols in order to fulfil a promise she made and now there's no going back.
As Dolly and Cynthia lives entangle they find themselves drawn into a far-reaching web of lies, intrigue and double dealing. Could it be that the house on Boundary Street, once their safe haven, offers nothing more than a dangerous facade?

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Alphabet 2020: L is for Launch of Paris in July

So I know that this is a lame effort to find a theme for the letter L, but what can I say, I am trying to kill two birds with one stone, as they say.

Paris in July is an annual event that is hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea.  This is the tenth year that the event has been run. I think I have done it maybe three times over that period. I always intended to do more.

When I started blogging again this year, one of the things I was looking forward to was this event. A whole month of posts about Paris and France, and the bonus was I would have been in Paris in April so would have lots of our own stories to tell about the fabulous time we had in Normandy and Paris! Alas, destiny had other ideas!

Instead, my plan is to share some quotes, some memories, maybe a little of this and a little of that. I do have a ton of books set in Paris on my ereader so maybe I will read one of those. Your guess is as good as mine, but there will be something over the next few weeks!

And I am looking forward to seeing what the other participants share over the current month.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Reading Reflections: June 2020

Here we are...half way through the year already! How did that happen?

June was not a bad reading month for me. A bit of historical fiction, a bit of contemporary fiction, some Australian authors, some not.

Here's what I read:

The Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale - 4.5/5

This is the first book I read by Julian Leatherdale, who was an Australian author. The book was inspired by a hotel in the Blue Mountains just outside Sydney. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am definitely intending to read the other two books that were published before he unfortunately passed away earlier this year.

Normal People by Sally Rooney - 4/5

I had so many thoughts about this book, and then the TV series which I also watched this month, and yet I haven't written any of them down yet. I actually listened to this one on audio which I think helped because I didn't have to notice that the speech marks were missing. A brief summary of my thoughts - what makes this literature instead of young adult fiction?

The Silk House by Katye Nunn - 4/5

This is the first book I have read by Katye Nunn but it won't be the last. I did a joint review of this one with Bree from All the Books I Can Read. You can read our thoughts here.

Aria's Travelling Bookshop by Rebecca Raisin - 3.5/5

Books, food and France. What more can you want?

Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys 4.5/5

If I had to pick a best book of the month it would be this one. The irony is that this book has been on my bookshelf for more than 10 years, and in the end I only picked it up because I featured it as part of a Top Ten list. This book is a series of letters that were published during WWII and were then put together in a collection. The writer is writing to her childhood friend who is off fighting the war and she shares a series of anecdotes about life in her small village.

The House on Boundary Street by Tea Cooper 3.5/5

Part of the reason I mentioned the hotel when I talked about the Julian Leatherdale's book is because the same hotel is mentioned in this book. I do have a review half written on this book. Just need to finish it. I did enjoy some of the information about Sydney in the 1920s.

The New Beginnings Coffee Club by SamanthaTonge 4.5/5

This was my middle of the night read last week. It was also my first book by this British author. My library doesn't seem to have any more but I will be keeping my out for her books going forward.

I am linking my post up to the Monthly Wrap up which is hosted at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Joint review: The Silk House by Katye Nunn

Bree from All the Books I Can Read and I have been discussing books and life for a very long time now! Every now and again we happen to read the same book at a similar time and so we take the opportunity to do a discussion post.

My thoughts are in purple and Bree's are in black

M: Katye Nunn is an author I haven’t read before. I meant to because I am sure I would like her books. She writes dual history time lines which is something that we both like a lot, with a touch of darkness. Have you read this author before, and if so, how did this compare to her previous books?

B: I have read 2 of her books before - The Botanist’s Daughter and The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durant, both of which I absolutely love and recommend highly (I’m pretty sure you’d like them both!). So I was very excited to read this, Kayte Nunn has definitely become a must read author for me. And I did really enjoy this, probably almost as much as I did her two others, which were both strong 5-star reads for me.
For me, dual time-lines sometimes result in favouring one over the other, and wanting the story to skip back to that particular timeline. Did you find that here?

M: I have a natural tendency to lean towards the past in any dual time line, and that was definitely the case here. In effect there are two stories in the past in this book. Initially they are separate storylines until they converge together. The first storyline feature a young woman by the name of Rowan Caswell who has moved from her village to come to the home of the silk merchant, Patrick Hollander. She is to be the maid in the house, but it isn’t too long before her talent for healing draws the attention of others living in the house. But this isn’t a time in history that you want to be known for this kind of talent. How did you feel about Rowan’s introduction into the story?

B: I found Rowan’s introduction to the story intriguing. She was a capable, brave young woman, who was somewhat forced into her circumstances due to several factors. Her successful gaining of a position seems relatively beneficial for someone in her place at first - she’s safe, warm, fed and although she works hard, she’s taken care of within the household. However it doesn’t take long to notice that the mood of the house has ebbs and flows and things are not always what they seem, which eventually ties in with the second of the historical narratives. I also really enjoyed the element of healing that was incorporated into the story and the ways in which this was regarded suspiciously at times in the past {mostly by men}.

How did you find the dynamics in the ‘Silk House’ during the time of Rowan’s employment?

M: It was definitely an interesting house. One thing that we haven’t mentioned about Rowan has a distinctive appearance (white blonde hair and a scar on her face which in that time and place already marked her out as different) so from the first moment she entered the house she was distrusted, especially by the other servant girl in the house, Alice. Thank goodness, the cook took a liking to Rowan and because otherwise I can’t imagine that it would have been a very pleasant place to live and work.

The master of the house, Patrick Hollander, was something of a wheeler dealer, someone for whom appearances mattered much more than insignificant things like ethics or morals whether it be in his business or his private life. More than happy to do things get the town’s first piano delivered, maybe not so happy to actually pay for it. His wife, Caroline, was long suffering, believing that the one thing that could keep her husband’s affection was a baby, something she has struggled with for many years.
As you can tell, I didn’t find much in the way of redeeming qualities in Patrick, which brings us to the other part of the historical story. In the course of his business travels, Patrick hears about a young woman, Mary Louise Stephenson, who is trying to break into the very male dominated world of designing the patterns that are then woven into silks which in turn are made into the beautiful clothes for the well to do.

I found the details regarding the designs and the weaving of the silk fascinating. Was there anything that surprised you in this part of the story.

B: Patrick was certainly a representation of a man who had ideas of grandeur but little to no idea, he had big schemes but seemed to lack the work ethic and business know how to make these things come together. He certainly had opportunity - but wasn’t able to capitalise on this and the household reflected their uncertain incomes. Regarding Mary Louise Stephenson, I have to admit at first, I wasn’t quite sure where that portion of the story was going. She and her sister are in quite an impoverished state and at first Patrick seems like the answer to so many of their prayers. Mary Louise’s designs seem stunning with very unique ideas - and also a bit intriguing, with the reaction that various people have with them. This is a very superstitious and suspicious time of history, with women being accused of being witches and the like, which is actually a danger that Rowan, with her knowledge of healing, has to be very careful about. But as for surprising me…...well, when these two stories in the past finally met up, I think everything after that felt like it was quite unexpected!

Back to the present….what did you think of the prestigious school, admitting female students for the first time in its illustrious multi-century (or however long it was) history?


Head over to Bree's blog to see the answer to this question and the rest of our discussion.


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