Thursday, 19 April 2018

Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A haunting tale of three girls (and their teacher) who go missing on Hanging Rock after a school trip to the site.

The reason for their disapperance is famously never explained - there's just the merest suggestion of them being supernaturally called away - giving it a sense of otherworldiness. But, the impact that their disapperance has the community is actually pretty realistic. Things fall apart, bonds are broken, and some (rather sweetly) are made.

Overall, an odd book that's hard to describe. May have to pitch it to my book group as definitely one that could spark a lot of discussion,

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Friday, 13 April 2018

Review: The Good People

The Good People The Good People by Hannah Kent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absorbing story of three women and their attemtps to "cure" a severely disabled child - all of them convinced he is a "changeling" (a fairy subsitute for the real child). The lengths they go to are shocking and disturbing, making you realise how poorly understood disability was in the 19th Century (when the book is sent) - particularly in communities in which people were poorly educated. At best, you'd be written off as a "cretin" (which is actually a medical term) or condemmed for being "a fairy" at worse.

You have sympathy for Nance Roche despite her pedalling of "cures" and what she does to cure Michael. People are weary of her because of her connection to the "Good People" and for the crime of being unmarried - that doesn't stop them going to her when they need a cure or curse though. She's exactly the type of woman who would have been burnt as a witch in earlier times. Valuable when her cures seems to work but the devil when they don't.

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Friday, 23 March 2018

Review: Heart of Oneness: A Little Book of Connection

Heart of Oneness: A Little Book of Connection Heart of Oneness: A Little Book of Connection by Jennifer Kavanagh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoughtful essay on how we, as people, connect with each other, our surroundings, and even the universe. One of the reasons I buy Jennifer's books is because I know her and want to support her work. However, I honestly believe I would buy them even if I didn't know her - I really admire her writing style. It's elegant without ever being superfluous - a word I can spell without having to resort to Google (ahem) - in fact, it's the type of writing I dream of producing.

There is a slight religious bent to the book, but I think it can be appreciated by religious and non-religious alike. Definitely something to read on a quiet afternoon when you have the time to contemplates its messages.

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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Review: No Highway

No Highway No Highway by Nevil Shute
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really pleased to receive a Shute novel in a vintage book subscription package I've signed up to - Shute's A Town Like Alice was one of my favourite books as a teenager, so I was delighted to get the chance to read another of his books.

This is a great escapist read of the "little man" going up against major players in his bid to prove his theories about how "metal fatigue" might affect an aeroplane. Mr Honey is a complex oddball but a likeable character at the same time. Amusingly, he does seem to have no issues attracting women (I suspect this is wish fulfilment on Shute's part) despite being described as having the features of a toad.

The big issue with it is that it's a product of a its time. It's unbelieveable sexist. An underlying theme is that women are happiest being wives and looking after their men. So you do have to keep reminding yourself that it was written in 1948.

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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A harrowing tale of survival. Similar to the graphic novel Maus, The Tattooist of Auschwitz highlights that surviving the death camps was a combination of luck and determination. While Lale does things - things he's not always proud of - to survive, he is also "lucky" that he has skills useful to the guards. You do wonder how many resourceful "Lales" there were, equally determined to survive, but persished because they didn't have anything the guards required.

Any book about the Holocaust is disturbing but what I found particularly disturbing is the implication that the guards knew what they were doing was wrong but didn't care. Not that's a huge surprise - it's just brings it home that the SS weren't necessarily people with warped ideology; they were people who enjoyed inflicting misery on others,

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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Review: The Little House on the Prairie

The Little House on the Prairie The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having loved the TV series as a child, I thought this would make for a nice comfort read. But, I was wrong - there's nothing comforting about this book. It's not really explained why "Pa" decides to uproot his family to go West - other than he's got fed up with how busy it is where they were currently living - so the move did come across as reckless, especially considering the numerous dangers the face trying to make a new home for themselves. In fairness to Pa though, he's certainly a handy chap to have around. There doesn't seem to be much he can't build or make himself.

There is a fair bit of blatant racism towards Native Americans - "Ma" comes out with some eye-wateringly shocking things at times. That said, Pa acknowledges that Native Americans have a right to hate the "white man" because they, effectively, keep being pushed from their lands.

I am not inclined to read any the other books from the series but I would be interested in reading a book about these times from an adult perspective - particularly one that considers that the Native American voice.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The most compelling thing about this real-life "whodunit" is not who committed the gruesome murder of a small child - it's clear who the main suspect is early on in the book - but how, without the benefit of forensics, Whicher is going to prove his suspicions. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that he was not able to (The GoodReads blurbs hints as much); although inspired in his deductions, he is simply unable to offer sufficient evidence to support this theories. Police bungling, snobbery, and Victorian attitudes all conspire against him.

The events takes place when the concept of a detective was in its infancy and it's amazing to think how much changed since then. But, there's an awful lot that hasn't changed - the media deciding who is guilty prior to a trial, making someone a scapegoat, and generally everyone having their own theory.

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