December 27, 2009

The Sealed Letter

The Sealed Letter is based on an actual divorce case from 1860s London which caused quite a scandal at the time. Centring on a friendship between two women, one of whom is married and having an affair and one who has defied social convention to work in business and for women's causes, the story chronicles the effect on that friendship of public scandal. Well written by Canadian author, Emma Donoghue, it develops the story from each of the character's points of view as we watch them descend into a tabloid drama that leaves none of them unscathed. The legal system, specifically the divorce laws of the time is the other player in the drama - as one of the characters observes, if you made divorce easier for women, lots of them would leave their husbands. Wendy

December 22, 2009

Leah Giarratano - aussie mystery writer

In her second novel, Giarratano has ticked the boxes for a successful crime thriller. A psychopathic killer escalating in violence; a loner cop coming to terms with brutal events in her past; a return to past haunts for a traumatised army veteran capable of extreme violence in defence of his family; a quirky, intelligent and off beat federal agent who also has a tragic past; and an authentic Australian setting in various Sydney suburbs. I got quite a thrill of recognition when some of the action took place around the Liverpool streets that I know well, in behind the Spotlight store no less, although I don't agree with her characterisation of the public library there! The book builds nicely to a satisfying conclusion and a tentative thawing of the thick wall of ice surrounding our protagonist. Well worth a try if you are looking for a new mystery author.


The Witch's Trinity

This rather bleak book by Erika Mailman takes quotations from the Malleus Maleficarum which was basically the witch-hunters guide book to start each chapter. This book was widely available because of the development of Gutenberg's press some 30 years earlier. The Salem witch trials are famous but Europe also had it's witch hunts and trials. This is set in a small village facing famine and looking for scape goats. The writing is spare and elegant. The desperation and the humanity of the characters is delineated hauntingly and in spite of the quite horrible things that happen, it manages to be uplifting because of that humanity. The author was interested in this subject because of the experience of her ancestor whose story is briefly explained at the end of the book.

a cottage cosy mystery

A Welsh village, a missing bride, the wisdom of the long term village school mistress and the inexpert pairing of a manicurist and her new friend all help to solve the mystery. Add a touch of romance and you have the perfect recipe for armchair sleuthing. The debut novel by Elizabeth J. Duncan has a light and sure touch. The manuscript was awarded the 2006 William F. Deeck Malice Domestic grant for unpublished writers and I think the grant committee chose very well. I will be looking out for her next book.

action heroes!

Alex Rutherford continues a rich historical action adventure tradition with this fictionalised story of Babur, the Moghul emperor. The story begins with Babur inheriting his father's small kingdom in central Asia and follows him as he pursues his dream to emulate his ancestor Timur or Tamberlaine. Ranging through the countries of modern day Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, Babur's armies face many trials before achieving success. I don't think this reaches the standard set by other historical action writers such as Conn Iggulden or Bernard Cornwell but it is an insight into a very different time and different cultures and very enjoyable escapism.


December 21, 2009

Smiley movies set in Camden

The movies 'Smiley' and 'Smiley gets a gun' used some Camden and Cawdor locations when they were filmed in the late 1950s. A number of local residents were extras in the films. The movies are still enjoyable today and give an insight into the freedoms of growing up in the country at the time. In the first movie 'Smiley' the mischievous boy Smiley ends up in misadventure whilst trying to raise money to buy a bicycle. In the second movie he wants to have a rifle like the local policeman played by Chips Rafferty. Whilst many aspects of the films would not be considered politically correct today they reflect social history and the plots and characters still delight audiences of all ages. See if you can recognise some local locations and people. Copies of both movies are available for loan from the library as well as archived in the Local Studies collection. For a preview go to

December 01, 2009

History - epics, chronicles, romances and inquiries.

"He is the extreme case of a highly recognisable type in many ages: a brilliant, arrogant aristocrat with political ambitions and considerable eloquence and ability."
No, it's not Malcom Turnbull in 2009, it's Alcibiades in 415BC Athenian society as reported in A History of Histories by John Burrow (p. 45).
A review on LibraryThing appears here. Over 200 members of LibrayThing have given this book an average of 4 stars and I would agree with them. This book is an overview of who has written history from the earliest records to the present day; why they wrote it and why it matters what was going on around them when they did. Scholarly and informative, the author's wry humour leavens what can inevitably turn a little dry. I have enjoyed it in instalments and also secure in the knowledge I was reading just for my own pleasure - not to face a test! If you like history you may well get a lot out of this book.