Category Archives: Miscellaneous

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



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 … (You might need to scroll down a bit to find this one) 



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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 … 

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2011 in Review

This I read (or at least blogged) 33 books – last year I did 37 (I blame the lower number on Bleak House and Little Dorrit!).

My favourite novels of 2011 (that’s when I read them) were Olive Kitteridge, Freedom, A Visit From the Goon Squad, Elegies for the Broken Hearted, Notes from an Exhibition and Because of the Lockwoods.

I don’t have any particular goals for 2012 – apart from the usual clearing of the to be read pile. Maybe I will try to read 50 books (or at least blog 50 books).

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The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell

This book was recommended here (and she writes such fabulous reviews you should go and read it). I reserved it at the library – I was about fifth in line – and one day an email arrives to say it was waiting for me.

Lexie Sinclair cannot stay. Enclosed within her parents’ genteel country lawn, she yearns for more. She makes her way to the big city, hungry for life and love, where she meets a magazine editor, Innes, a man unlike any she has ever imagined. He introduces her to the thrilling underground world of bohemian postwar London, and she learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to live her life fully and with a deep love at the center of it. When that love is threatened, she nearly loses the self she worked so hard to find. But then, she will create many lives, all of them unconventional. And when she finds herself pregnant by a man wholly unsuitable for marriage or fatherhood, she doesn’t hesitate for a minute to have the baby on her own, to be shaped by her love for her child.

Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood. Her boyfriend, Ted, traumatized by nearly losing her in labor, begins to recover lost memories. He cannot place them. But as they become more disconcerting and return more frequently, we discover that something connects these two stories – these two women – something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful as they all hurtle toward its revelation.

A stunning portrait of motherhood and the artist’s life in all their terror and glory, Maggie O’Farrell’s newest novel is a gorgeous inquiry into the ways we make and unmake our lives, who we know ourselves to be, and how even our most accidental legacies connect us.

I loved this book. I tried to find more of O’Farrell’s work, but all of my local book stores (both chain and independent) didn’t have any.

It is written in two different time periods – one in the past and one in the present. You know at some stage the stories are going to merge/cross, but at first they seem disparate and as the story unfolds obvious, but how it all comes robe that way is a mystery to the very end.

The story set in the past involves Lexie and Innes. Free-spirited journalists who write about art and culture. The modern story involves Elina and Ted who have just had a baby. The birth was extremely traumatic and Ted starts to remember things long forgotten. O’Farrell writes beautifully about the exhaustion, confusion and overwhelming love involved with a newborn baby.

This story is well plotted and the tension rises with each chapter as you become aware of the final outcome, but how does it come about? I don’t want to reveal too much. This novel is excellent, the dialogue is superb, the relationships brilliantly imagined.

More reviews …


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Nancy Wake – Peter FitzSimons

I’ve read this biography of Nancy Wake. She was an amazing women and lead a fascinating life – check it out here. I wasn’t all that impressed with this biography. More to do with the style than the content – it was too chatty and long-winded for my liking.

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2010 Book Club Reviews

I read 37 books for this blog last year (I read other books for and  I upset one author (check out the comments). So a good reading year. My three favourite reads were:

Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

The Legacy by Kristen Tranter

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

My least favourite book was The Bookshop on Jacaranda Street – fortunately I lent it to a friend and she never returned it!

I feel quite proud (of myself) that I managed to finish both Bleak House and Little Dorrit.

In 2011 I plan to read my pile – it was a 2010 resolution as well.

I’m currently reading Magic Island: The Fictions of LM Montgomery by Elizabeth Waterson.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larrson

As there was so much hype about this novel (even Mr H read it or at least listened to it), I thought I should read it too.

I don’t think I’ll be reading two or three. It was too violent for me. I prefer to remain ignorant of all of the evil people do to one another.

Here’s the blurb …

The Industrialist
Henrik Vanger, head of the dynastic Vanger corporation, is tormented by the loss of a child decades earlier and convinced that a member of the family has committed murder.

The Journalist
Mikael Blomkvist delves deep into the Vanger’s past to uncover the truth behind the unsolved mystery. But someone else wants the past to remain a secret and will go to any lengths to keep it that way.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Lisbeth Salander, the enigmatic, delinquent and dangerous security specialist, assists in the investigation. A genius computer hacker, she tolerates no restrictions placed upon her by individuals, society or the law.

I am glad I read this – I feel slightly more informed when people discuss it. However, I don’t feel I can encourage or discourage anyone from reading it.

Here’s some other reviews …

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