5 books, Book lists

5 uplifting reads

5-books-200pixAs we near the end of 2016 I can already hear the collective rubbing of hands from across the world as people prepare to say goodbye to what, quite frankly, has been a terribly distressing year.

So many cultural icons have died (David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Prince, Leonard Cohen et al), the gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us has got ever wider, migrants and refugees are drowning in ever-greater numbers as they cross the Mediterranean, the war in Syria has got worse, post-truth politics has gripped the west and I dare not mention Brexit or the fact that Donald Trump has been elected as the next President of the United States.

So, in these rather dark and troubling times it’s refreshing to be able to escape into a good book. While my literary tastes are relatively dark, every now and then I read a novel that could best be described as happy or uplifting.

Here’s a list of some of my favourite novels that put the human race in a positive light and show the redemptive power of kindness, generosity of spirit, tolerance and benevolence. The books have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s name — click the title to see my full review:

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

‘Lost & Found’ by Brooke Davis (2015)
A rather delightful story about a young girl who loses her mother in a department store and then goes on a long cross-country adventure with two elderly people to find her. It’s quirky but big-hearted, and the way it explores the twin themes of loneliness and grief without being schmaltzy or sentimental makes it a fun and rewarding read.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

‘Plainsong’ by Kent Haruf (1999)
This is a beautiful, sincere story about a wide cast of characters leading complicated, messy lives. By examining the ties that bind people and communities together, it shows that our lives are made all the richer by putting others before ourselves. My favourite read in 2014; nothing’s really surpassed it since.

Miss Garnet's Angel

‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’ by Salley Vickers (2005)
Set largely in Venice with a lonely spinster at its heart, this is an inspirational story about second chances and living life to the full when you’ve always lived life in the shadows. Art, religion and grief combine to show that emotions — and our ability to express and experience them — are what makes us truly human.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson (1938)
An enchanting mid-century take on Cinderella, this book is another one about second chances and the fact that you are never too old, too poor or from the wrong class to pursue them.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion (2013)
This unconventional story about an unconventional man looking for love is a charming read about being yourself and never giving up on your dreams. It’s often laugh out loud funny, too.

Have you read any of these books? Or can you recommend other happy and uplifting reads?

10 books, Book lists, Books of the year

My favourite books of 2006

Books-of-the-yearA year’s worth of novels. How do I choose which ones make my Top 10 list?

I read so many interesting books this year. I didn’t have any specific reading goals other than to read more foreign novels (that is, books in translation) and more books from my homeland (Australia). I did well on both fronts, reading some 15 books in translation and 12 Australian novels.

Most of my reads were modern fiction (released in the past five years) with a handful of classics thrown in and a helluva lot of Irish stuff. All up I read 82 books, a fine increase on last year’s 30-odd total.

My favourite read for 2006 was, without question, the extremely profound Snow by Orhan Pamuk. I found the book so incredibly thoughtful, weighty and sagacious that I could not bring myself to review it.

My top 10 (in alphabetical order by book title) is as follows — hyperlinks take you to my full review:

1. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (German)

2. A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (American)

3. A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (Irish)

4. Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers (English)

5. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (English)

6. Sixty Lights by Gail Jones (Australian)

7. Snow by Orhan Pamuk (Turkish)

8. Tainted Blood by Arnaldur Indriðason (Icelandic)

9. Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey (Irish)

10. The Sea by John Banville (Irish)

And an extra one thrown in for good measure:

The Barracks by John McGahern (Irish)

What books did you fall in love with this year?

1001 books, Author, Book review, Fiction, literary fiction, London, Persephone, Publisher, Setting, Uncategorized, Winifred Watson

‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson


Fiction – paperback; Persephone Books; 234 pages; 2005.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (1938) is an enchanting version of Cinderella, and the story of its re-printing by Persephone Books is also a kind of fairytale,” writes Henrietta Twycross-Martin in the preface to this quite remarkable book.

According to Twycross-Martin, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was her mother’s favourite book and she, herself, read it as a teenager. When she discovered that Persephone Books was seeking title suggestions, she took her mother’s battered copy to the London office and the book was reprinted in 2000.

If I ever happen to meet Twycross-Martin I will probably hug her for rescuing a truly wonderful, uplifting and inspiring story that would otherwise have been lost forever. Now, thanks to her efforts, a whole new generation of readers can experience one of literature’s secret gems. For that is the best way of describing Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day — a gem.

I read the book in two sittings, but I wanted to drag it out longer because I couldn’t bear it to end. I’ve never quite read anything like it. Joyous without being cloying, light-hearted and fun without being frothy, are just two ways of summing it up.

The Cinderella-like story revolves around a downtrodden middle-aged governess called Miss Pettigrew, who is on the brink of homelessness. When her employment agency accidentally sends her to the home of a young woman seeking a new maid, Miss Pettigrew gets caught up in a day that changes her life forever.

By any stretch of the imagination Miss Pettigrew and her potential employer, the glamorous cabaret singer Miss LaFosse, should not get on. They come from completely different backgrounds, completely different generations and are poles apart when it comes to social mores and morals. But what ensues is an immediate ‘chemistry’ that bolsters Miss Pettigrew’s confidence and has her doing things she’s never done before: donning make-up, getting dressed up to go to a party, downing cocktails and dancing at a nightclub. She also plays match-maker and sorts out numerous lover’s tiffs. All in all, she becomes the star of the show and it’s wonderfully upbeat stuff. You can’t help but cheer her on!

Throughout the book Winifred Watson’s writing is confident and remarkably modern. The dialogue crackles and sparkles and drives the narrative forward without wasting a word, as does the structure in which each chapter is divided into hourly time periods.

My only quibble is that there’s a couple of politically incorrect references to Jews and foreigners, probably indicative of the time in which the book was written, but if you ignore them this is pretty much a perfectly written tale about one woman’s second chance at life. Do add it to your collection if you’re looking for something a little on the enchanting side.