Category Archives: Miscellaneous

2015 – In Review

Some of my favourite reads for 2015

Some of my favourite reads for 2015

Last year I reviewed 27 books – I have about 6 left to write – still much lower than 2014’s 44. I have had less time this – with more maths students and a bit too much busy work (that’s my inability to say no!).

My favourite novel for the year was Mr Wigg or The Dressmaker – unusual to have two Australian authors as my favourites.

I don’t have any big goals for the year – unless it is to read the books in my pile (that could take me the whole year).

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The Dressmaker – Rosalie Ham

The Dressmaker - Rosalie Ham

The Dressmaker – Rosalie Ham

 

Obviously I had to read this when I learnt that it was to be adapted (and with Kate Winslet). I have already read Summer at Mount Hope  and There Should be More Dancing . I didn’t enjoy The Summer at Mount Hope, but I have recently re-read it and I was quite taken the second time around.

Here is the blurb …

A darkly satirical novel of love, revenge, and 1950s haute couture—soon to be a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth

After twenty years spent mastering the art of dressmaking at couture houses in Paris, Tilly Dunnage returns to the small Australian town she was banished from as a child. She plans only to check on her ailing mother and leave. But Tilly decides to stay, and though she is still an outcast, her lush, exquisite dresses prove irresistible to the prim women of Dungatar. Through her fashion business, her friendship with Sergeant Farrat—the town’s only policeman, who harbors an unusual passion for fabrics—and a budding romance with Teddy, the local football star whose family is almost as reviled as hers, she finds a measure of grudging acceptance. But as her dresses begin to arouse competition and envy in town, causing old resentments to surface, it becomes clear that Tilly’s mind is set on a darker design: exacting revenge on those who wronged her, in the most spectacular fashion.

This was funny, moving and terribly sad by turns. It is a very visual novel with fabulous descriptions of Dungatar, it’s inhabitants and the frocks (reading about the frocks is particularly delightful). It is gothic – the characters almost caricatures -Mr Almanac the twisted (literally) chemist who refers to almost everyone as a sinner, Prudence Dimm, the bitter, vengeful school teacher, etc. There are very few likeable characters! But it is funny (in a dark way) and it skewers small town pretensions while highlighting the lack of power of vulnerable citizens.

More reviews …

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/books/review/the-dressmaker-by-rosalie-ham.html?_r=0

https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2015/08/21/book-review-the-dressmaker-rosalie-ham/a3WMu6yQYgfvLHh8j8xA5H/story.html

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Mr Wigg – Inga Simpson

Mr Wigg - Inga Simpson

Mr Wigg – Inga Simpson

This novel was recommended to me by someone at my Victorian book group – the same person recommended Olive Kitteridge. As I really enjoyed Olive Kitteridge, I was keen to read this one.

Here is the blurb …

A novel that celebrates the small things in life by a fresh Australian voice.
It’s the summer of 1971, not far from the stone-fruit capital of New South Wales, where Mr Wigg lives on what is left of his family farm. Mrs Wigg has been gone a few years now and he thinks about her every day. He misses his daughter, too, and wonders when he’ll see her again.
He spends his time working in the orchard, cooking and preserving his produce and, when it’s on, watching the cricket. It’s a full life. Things are changing though, with Australia and England playing a one-day match, and his new neighbours planting grapes for wine. His son is on at him to move into town but Mr Wigg has his fruit trees and his chooks to look after. His grandchildren visit often: to cook, eat and hear his stories. And there’s a special project he has to finish …
It’s a lot of work for an old man with shaking hands, but he’ll give it a go, as he always has.

This is a charming novel – quirky and simple. It is an easy read – not a lot happens. Mr Wigg works in his orchard (he tells himself and his grand children a beautiful story about an orchard), he bakes with his grandchildren, helps his neighbours and works on his sculpture. Along the way you learn that things haven’t always been lovely – there was the year when everything went wrong. His son has had to move and Mr Wigg seems distant/estranged from his daughter. The reasons for this are revealed slowly and I am sure it is a tale common to many farming families. However, this novel is mostly about taking each day as it comes and taking pleasure in the simple things – fresh peaches, homemade icecream, spending time with your grandchildren and working on something creative.

Another review …

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/arts/inga-simpson-opens-a-window-on-the-past-in-evocative-work-mr-wigg/story-fniv7r7y-1226673212160

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2014 Review

Some books read in 2014

Some books read in 2014

I reviewed 44 books last year, which must mean I read at least 44 books because I don’t write reviews for all of the books I read.

My favourite reads were The Good Luck of Right Now and The Collected Works of A J Fikry and I feel most smug about finishing The Women in White and The Moonstone (both enormous Victorian novels).

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Lost and Found – Brooke Davis

Lost and Found - Brooke Davis

Lost and Found – Brooke Davis

This was our latest book club selection. There has been heaps of publicity – here and here and here. This novel is set in Western Australia and it is always quite nice to read something set in your home town plus it had reading group questions (that should help with the discussion).

Here is the blurb …

Millie Bird (aka Captain Funeral), seven-years old and ever hopeful, always wears red gumboots to match her red, curly hair. Her struggling mother leaves Millie in a local department store and never returns.
Agatha Pantha, eighty-two, has not left her house – or spoken to another human being – since she was widowed seven years ago. She fills the silences by yelling at passers by, watching loud static on the TV and maintaining a strict daily schedule. Karl the Touch Typist, eighty-seven, once used his fingers to type out love notes on his wife’s skin. Now he types his words out into the air as he speaks. Karl is moved into a nursing home but in a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes. A series of events binds the three together on a road trip that takes them from the south coast of WA to Kalgoorlie and along the Nullarbor to the edge of the continent. Millie wants to find her mum. Karl wants to find out how to be a man. And Agatha just wants everything to go back to how it was. They will discover that old age is not the same as death, that the young can be wise, and that letting yourself experience sadness just might be the key to life.

This was reasonably easy to read – although I did struggle to get to the end (I suspect that says more about me than the book). There are three main characters; Millie, Agatha and Karl and we hear from each of them in the telling of this story. I preferred Agatha and Karl to Millie – who seemed a bit consciously naive to me – and who wouldn’t like Agatha’s inappropriate shouting? There is quite a bit of death mentioned – all three characters have lost someone significant – so possibly not for the recently bereaved.

Another review …

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/2378731/books-brooke-davis-lost-found/

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Hester – Margaret Oliphant

Hester - Margaret Oliphant

Hester – Margaret Oliphant

We’re reading this for my Victorian book group – I did finally make it to the end, but not in time for the meeting! It is not as long as some of the novels we have read (Bleak HouseLittle Dorrit), but I still struggled to get to the end. Not because it was difficult to read, it was easy to read, but it needed editing (a lot of editing!).

Here is the blurb …

 Hester tells the story of the aging but powerful Catherine Vernon, and her conflict with the young and determined Hester, whose growing attachment to Edward, Catherine’s favorite, spells disaster for all concerned. Catherine Vernon, jilted in her youth, has risen to power in a man’s world as head of the family bank. She thinks she sees through everyone and rules over a family of dependents with knowing cynicism. But there are two people in Redborough who resist her. One is Hester, a young relation with a personality as strong as Catherine’s, and as determined to find a role for herself. The other is Edward, who Catherine treats like a son. Conflict between the young and the old is inevitable, and in its depiction of the complex relationships that develop between the three principal characters, Hester is a masterpiece of psychological realism. In exploring the difficulty of understanding human nature, it is also a compulsive story of financial and sexual risk-taking that inevitably results in a searing climax.

When I try to write what this novel is about I am overwhelmed with possibilities – the role of women, the mother/child relationship, financial speculation, dependence and independence and there is a large cast of characters to highlight all types. Hester and Catherine both strong-willed women who want to take charge of their own destinies – Catherine because she is wealthy achieves this, but even she thinks it would be better for Hester to marry than work, Edward – who at first seems so steady and then risks everything (well other people’s everything) in risky financial speculation, Emma who wants ‘her chance’ (that is the chance to find a husband), Ellen flighty and extravagant, Mrs John (Hester’s mother) who is gentle, loving, but dim-witted, Roland Ashton charismatic and the catalyst for Edward’s speculation, and finally the malicious tenants of the Vernonry.

Nothing about this novel feels forced or contrived. I was never jolted out of the story and reminded that I was reading a novel. It would make a great BBC adaptation.

I think most modern readers would struggle to finish this novel. There is a lot of internal dialogue – there is a whole chapter where Hester wonders if Edward loves her and if she loves him and no one is any the wiser at the end! A good prune and this novel would be exciting as well as insightful. However, fans of George Eliot and Dickens should really give this one a go after all it’s only five hundred pages rather than a thousand!

Here is a link to the Margaret Oliphant page at Victorianweb.

 

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2013 in Review

2013

2013

This year my plan of only reading from my stash was a bit unsuccessful, so I shall plan to do that this year! There are a lot of books in my pile.

I read 32 books, but I suspect there are a few more that just didn’t make it to the blog.

Favourites: The Rosie ProjectThe Summer Without Men and  Dear Life.

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The Year That Was

My Favourites for 2012

My Favourites for 2012

This year I reviewed 50 books! That was my goal at the start of the year, so I feel quite smug (admittedly some of them were light and fun – Wicked Business)

A few of my favourites were

 

Next year I want to read the books in my pile! I’m not really concerned about the number of books I read, but I am worried about the large stack of unread books taking up space!

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The Memory Tree – Tess Evans

 

 

I read The Book of Lost Threads and loved it, consequently  I was very keen to read Ms Evans new novel.  I wasn’t disappointed, but I would think very carefully before recommending this novel – mostly because of the content (I don’t want to give anything away, but there is death and mental illness and it might just be too confronting for some people).
Here is the blurb …
 When Paulina dies mid-dance, she leaves 12-year-old Zav and 7-year-old Sealie with their loving but unstable father, Hal. The grieving family decides to plant a tree in her memory – a magnolia which, growing along with the children, offers a special place where secrets are whispered and feelings can be confessed.
But as the memory tree grows, Hal, bereft, and increasingly suspicious of the world, turns to his own brand of salvation to make sense of the voices that bewilder and torment him. Mrs Mac, housekeeper and second mother since Paulina’s death, cooks, cleans, loves and worries about her ‘family’. She is even more concerned when Hal brings a larger-than-life stranger to the house for a beer; but Pastor Moses B. Washbourne, founder of the Church of the Divine Conflagration, ex-sergeant of the US Army, soon becomes part of the family, with surprising and far-reaching consequences.
As the seasons pass, Sealie blossoms into young woman, the apple of Hal’s eye while Zav, having spent his childhood quietly trying to win his father’s lost attention, is conscripted for duty in Vietnam.
And all the while, the voices continue to murmur poisonous words to Hal who knows he must keep them hidden . . . until he is persuaded into the most tragic of acts.
Written with humour and compassion, The Memory Tree is a poignant and compelling story of love, loyalty, grief and forgiveness

It was beautifully written – the characters seemed very real and her portrayal of mental illness superb. We know Hal does something awful, but when we finally come to the event it is still shocking and tragic. But Hal is not the only ‘broken’ character; Zav can’t seem to get on with his life he is both  self absorbed and selfish dooming Sealie to a life of servitude. And Sealie sacrifices her life so easily I wonder if she had any real interest to live her life.

Along with fabulous characters, there was a real feeling of place. Whether it be the house by the river Hal built for Paulina or the j ward of the mental asylum you could picture the environment.  This story is about family, heredity, duty and sacrifice, but it is also about the family we make for ourselves – Mrs Mac, Godown, Will and Scottie.

More reviews …

http://www.writenotereviews.com/m-o.html (You might need to scroll down a bit to find this one)

http://bookdout.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/review-the-memory-tree-by-tess-evans/ 

 

 

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The Art of Mending – ELizabeth Berg

I wrote a post on The Art of Mending, but WordPress ate it and I don’t have the stamina to write it again.

Here are some other reviews …

 http://bookjourney.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/the-art-of-mending-by-elizabeth-berg/

http://muddypuddlemusings.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/12-art-of-mending-elizabeth-berg.html 

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