Book review: Sophie and the Sybil

sophie and the sibylA wonderfully engaging, erudite and quite frankly, fun, novel about George Eliot. Written in the style of a Victorian romance, this is a literary romp through the later years of George Eliot’s career and her relationship with her German publishers, the Duncker brothers, It skillfully blends fact and fiction to create a meditation on creativity, intellectualism and love.

The chapter headings are marvellous, for example ‘Chapter Seven: spins the Wheel of Fortune in unexpected ways. The Reader is invited to place her Bets’ or ‘Chapter Three: steps out for a stroll in the autumn sunshine. Sophie von Hahn bewitches the Assembled Company.’

I should say that I do love Victorian novels, and any novel based during the Victorian period, written in the Victorian style, so I may be a little biased in this review. So all I will say is that if you like Victorian novels then you will enjoy this!

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Book review: Wake by Elizabeth Knox

wake elizabeth knoxAnd swiftly on the back of reading Wake by Anna Hope, I decided to confuse the issue by reading another book called Wake, this time by Elizabeth Knox.

I read Knox’s The Vintner’s Luck years ago and loved it so was pretty confident going in to Wake. However, now I have finished it that confidence has been shaken. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it but rather it wrong footed me. The opening chapter is horrifically graphic, and it really unsettled me to the extent that I don’t think I really relaxed for the rest of the novel in case another violent episode was described.

The plot is part closed-room mystery, part dystopia (but set in modern day New Zealand), and has a whiff of Lord of the Flies. A community suddenly goes mad and starts killing each other and themselves. A handful of survivors gather together, trying to understand what has happened and why it didn’t affect them but are unable to contact the outside world to find out how far the madness has spread. The survivors are (mainly) appealing and well-drawn, not cookie cutters, their dilemmas well expressed and prompted me to think about how I would react to such a situation. The only jarring element was the Samantha/Samara sub plot which felt unnecessarily complicated.

In summary, I appreciated the cleverness of the this novel but I can’t say I enjoyed it.

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Book review: Wake by Anna Hope

Wake Anna HopeSet in post-WWI England, many people want to forget what has gone before and yet, for many, this is not possible. Parents have lost their sons, wives their husbands, siblings their brothers. For those who have come back, even if they are lucky enough to be ‘whole’ physically, mentally they are suffering; survivors’ guilt, nervous shock from the horrors they have seen, nightmares, the list is endless.

However, Wake doesn’t focus on these lost or broken men but rather on their women – a sister, a mother and a lover. Each of them are struggling to adjust to the loss they have suffered, and the change in their circumstances that the end of war has brought, such as a loss of freedom, a change in job, a change in social status. Their three stories represent the three definitions of the word ‘wake’: 1) emerge or cause to emerge form sleep; 2) ritual for the dead; 3) consequence or aftermath. As the novel progresses their stories skirt each other, then intertwine as each of the women search for answers. While describing the women’s lives over five days in November 1920, Hope movingly describes the country’s preparations for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which underpins this story. Day five is the day the soldier is interred in his final resting place and the day all three women find an answer to the questions that have been haunting them.

This is probably one of the most accomplished debut novels I have ever read and I can’t wait to read The Ballroom.

 

 

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Book review: The long way to a small angry planet

the long way to a small angry planetAlthough I enjoy science fiction, I am more of a dystopia girl than space opera. But I had read a couple of good reviews of the long way to a small angry planet and thought I would give it a go. And I have to say I LOVED it!

Not only has Becky Chambers created a brilliantly realised world with engaging characters and an interesting storyline, she has also managed to tackle the ‘big questions’ head on including racism, gender stererotyping and the ethics of bio-engineering, without being heavy-handed. It really made me think and I felt quite bereft when I finished the novel – I missed the characters!

I hope there’s a sequel…

 

 

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Want a pet? Go to a shelter, not a shop

I recently read about a social media campaign in the US to encourage people to adopt from animal shelters rather than buy from pet shops as apparently some people think that animals from shelters are ‘damaged’. Of course this is not very often the case. Yes abused animals (if they are lucky) are rescued and end up in shelters but the majority of animals are handed over to shelters because they have become an inconvenience or their owner’s circumstances have changed – maybe the owner can’t afford to keep them anymore or they have become too ill to look after the pet or perhaps they are relocating and can’t take the pet with them, etc.

So I thought I would share our pet adoption story. We got our cat, Baron Von Tibblesworth (Tibbles for short), from an RSPCA shelter in Melbourne back in July 2005 and he has brought us nothing but joy (well, some irritation too – he is a cat after all!) since we adopted him. He has entertained us, provided comfort to us when we are feeling tired or sick, and cuddled with us for almost 11 years now. He has travelled with us every time we have moved (we have relocated internationally three times, see a previous post) and he took all of these moves in his stride (he is very pragmatic, even by cat standards). As long as he has his cat bed, his food and access to a sunny spot he is absolutely fine! We have never regretted adopting Tibbles and we see him as one of the family.

So if you are thinking of getting a pet, do your research and make sure you include a visit to your local shelter. Visit the RSPCA UK or RSPCA Australia websites for details.

 

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All Aboard! Part Two

Astrain ticket image promised, here is the next exciting installment of my ‘how to be a better train passenger’.

Last time I talked about the basic actions that should be undertaken by all to ensure a smooth seating procedure. This time I am going to talk about behaviour, specifically what NOT to do on a train. Disclaimer: all but one of the following have happened to me…

Don’t have super loud conversations
An oldie, but a goodie. Let’s get this straight. No-one, except the person on the other end of the ‘phone, is interested in Aunty Mabel’s gallstone operation, the deal you nailed, the boy who may (or may not) be that into you or the general minutae of your life. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. Keep it down, or even better, go out into the corridor. And god help you if you are in a quiet carriage with me and you attempt any of the above.

Don’t paint your nails
I love a painted nail as much as the next woman, but nail varnish stinks! Particularly in confined spaces. Have some consideration for your fellow passengers’ olfactory comfort.

Don’t bring your avian pets
It may be legal (although I do query that) but it is weird and it is extremely disconcerting to the person sitting opposite you. Placing a squawking budgie in a cage on the table and then checking it obsessively every five minutes because “…it seems a bit upset” is very disruptive to fellow passengers.

Don’t jam all your bags under the table
The racks are there for a reason; to enable you to quickly and effectively store and access your belongings whenever you want, while keeping people space clear. If you can’t lift it up there (although you all seem very able-bodied to me) then I can help you. Jamming your bags under either means that your legs and feet have to be in my personal space or your bags are in MY personal space. Neither are acceptable. Oh, and the corridor is not a luggage storage area. Large bags go in the very convenient luggage rack at either end of the carriage.

Don’t vomit
Or at the very least, don’t vomit at someone’s feet and ruin their brand new laptop bag. If you get on a train feeling unwell, make sure you take yourself off to the loo when nausea strikes.

Don’t talk to me
Sorry, but my headphones are in my ears and I am tapping away on my laptop for a reason. And that is not to have a chat with you. I am working. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to exchange the time of day with you, agree to look after your stuff while you go to the loo and I will even help you identify your seat number or kick out the person squatting in your reserved seat (see my previous post: All Aboard! Part One) but I am not going to chat with you for the entire journey.

I appreciate that the above makes me sound like a moaning minnie; on the whole, I really don’t mind my three-hour train treks up and down the country and I really am a very positive person, but if even one person reads the above and changes their behaviour for the better we will all be happier travellers as a result.

Next time on All Aboard!: The pros and cons of cheap tickets and where to buy them

 

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Music and memories: Book review of ‘The Chimes’

The Chimes, Anna SmaillAn unusual dystopian novel, The Chimes is a story of a populace without memories.

Music underpins the lives of the populace of an alternative London; it guides them (tunes act as auditory maps so they can find their way around), it identifies them (everyone has their ‘own’ tune) and it defines their role (additional snatches of melody added to their tune that broadcast their activity). But most of all, it controls them. The chimes of the title ring out from the Carillon several times a day, essentially wiping any memories made and reinforcing the ‘Onestory’ which is all anyone knows.

But there are those that can and do remember snatches of the real story, the whole story not just the Onestory. They are hidden, on the fringes, and they want to give people their memories back.

This novel is saturated with musical nomenclature, an alternate version of musical terms. A strong knowledge of musical terms would help the reader get the most of out this novel, but even without that, it is an engaging read and one that really made me think about the importance of memories and how they form not just our back stories but how they can drive our current attitudes, our behaviour, and our future plans.

 

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