June 11, 2014

Book Review - Arena by Simon Scarrow and T.J. Andrews

Simon Scarrow has written very good sword and sandal epics in his own right but teams up here for a straight forward lot of biff with T. J. Andrews. Originally published as 5 ebook novellas, don't come here for subtlety or literary plotting. What you see is what you get, lots of fight action interspersed with a little political chicanery, a lot of fairly gross details on food, sanitary arrangements and some matter of fact understanding of what impact slavery and conquest had on Roman society. Terrific fun. Wendy

June 10, 2014

Book Review - The Outline of Love by Morgan McCarthy

Persephone was raised by her father in the isolated Highlands of Scotland after her mother died when she was very young. This story begins with her leaving for London and university. The mountain landscape of her childhood appears impervious to human interaction and she is hoping to find a place where she feels connected to other people. She is drawn into the orbit of Leo Ford, ex-rock star and luminary author with a reputation for being a recluse and a disdain for the normal trappings of celebrity. She links up with him but is never quite sure how he feels. The writing here is beautiful and startling with metaphors like describing club bouncers as large fat elephant seals in their tired suits and with their ponderous power. I'm not sure that I liked anyone in this book, including the city of London which is a palpable presence, but I did like the writing of it, the feeling of it and its unexpected moments of grace and truth. Perhaps, Persephone's struggles to know herself are too reminiscent of my own youth? Wendy

June 08, 2014

Book Review - The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Just get everything by Lisa Jewell and read it. Her families are awfully tangled and they deal with real life events, getting hurt and broken and not always knowing how to heal or forgive themselves, let alone other family members. Lorelei spends her life in a bubble of hippy-ish creativity and avoidance of the hurts and dramas her husband and children go through. Keeping her own hurt at bay with excessive hoarding, for example, she clings on to a broken kettle because it went bang on a happy family day, or to packets of nappies when there are no babies who need them because she was thinking happy possible future baby thoughts about possible babies when she bought them and to give them away denies that bright future she saw. Her family try but cannot get through to her and in the meantime they are out in the world, trying to make sense of their own lives. How they negotiate life and love, how much they can give and how much they can receive support from others, family or not, is all part of the story Wendy

June 07, 2014

Book Review - Backyard Farming by Terry Bridge

One of the many books catering to the desire, or rather the necessity, of people living more sustainably and producing their own fruit and veg rather than consuming factory farm produce. It provides a solid overview but ends there. The first line plainly states "This is not a book about self sufficiency, where no outside help is required... instead, this is a guide to using to the optimum what available land you have, however small it may be..." And there we discover a problem. The examples are little more than real estate porn. Large farmhouses set in lush English pastureland, blossoming greenhouses the size of the average studio apartment, veggie patches that could feed a small economically struggling country, and livestock to rival a zoo. The authors conception of a backyard is generous with real estate and resources but limited with imagination. Most of us do not have sufficient space or time to tend such extravagant "backyard" farms, even if we dream to do so. Sustainability relies not on large parcels of land but clever uses of small spaces. Considering the plethora of titles within the genre you would hope for more tailored gardening ideas. One of particular relevance for those with limited space is Josh Byrne's Small Space Organics. Alternately, if you are interested in preserves or farm craft like bee culture there are titles that tailor more specifically to those activities as well. Bridge's Backyard Farming may get full marks for being inspirational with its beautiful images and introduction to viable self sufficiency techniques, but its emphasis on farming and its lack of imagination with the backyard is problematic. Andreas

June 06, 2014

Book Review - Letters from Skye by Jessica Brookmole

This book is beautiful and poignant and marvelous. A woman finds her mother's letters to a man from the time of WWI just as she is understanding her feelings for her own man as he goes off to WWII and keeping in touch by letter. Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which also covers WWII and is told through letters, yet wholly and truly its own self, just read it and see for yourself how a great love story can unfold. I liked it so much I have bought a copy for myself and one for each of my sisters. Wendy

June 05, 2014

Book Review - Depressive Illness: the curse of the strong by Dr Tim Cantopher

This is a small but very positive book. The causes and physical symptoms of depression are explained and the various treatments and therapy options are canvassed. Firstly it is helpful to understand just what is and what isn't clinical depression. Secondly, Dr Cantopher is very definite that sustainable help is possible, that change can be made and people can regain their happiness. He does make the caveat that he is only talking about stress-induced depression in this book and that there are other types of depression that will not be helped completely by his suggestion treatments, but they may be improved. Anyone could find ways to make improvements in their general mood and their ability to cope with life events by reading this book. Wendy

June 04, 2014

Book Review - Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook

Cook’s interrogation of the myth of mateship in the Australian outback follows John Grant, a Sydney born and educated school teacher, who does a stint in a microscopic town in Outback Australia. Looking forward to a six week escape in Sydney he passes through Bundanyabba. Little does he know he will not be getting to Sydney, instead falling into the dark wonderland that is ‘the Yabba’. This is a land of drink and death, of blokes and brutality, and after one night Grant finds himself a broke drifter. Desperate, he passes through the beer glasses of several hosts, experiencing new nightmares with each of these new mates. Upon sobering he realizes the peculiarity that meant you could “sleep with their wives, despoil their daughters, sponge on them, defraud them, do almost anything that would mean at least ostracism in normal society, and they would barely seem to notice it. But refuse to drink with them and you immediately become a mortal enemy.” This is the heart of Cook’s narrative, the harsh, drunken masculinity of ‘mateship’ and its disregard for all else. Like many literary works of the 1970s by male authors the female characters are underdeveloped, mere placeholders and window-dressing. But in the world Cook creates there would be little for them to do, apart from being used and abused. This savage land leaves Grant at the mercy of the two foes he comes to distrust the most, with beer becoming his saving grace and violence his only salvation. An antidote to the heroism of "Banjo" Patterson’s “Man from Snowy River”, Cook rounds out the myth that is the Outback. Wake in Fright is a worthwhile read for anyone wanting to really understand all about Australia. Andreas

June 03, 2014

Book Review - A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay

A small town near Niagara Falls. A man trying to understand why his son died. He is accosted by a teenage girl seeking a lift from a notorious local bar. He wouldn't have got involved but she knew his son. A corrupt police force. A grandstanding mayor. Who is she trying to get away from? This story builds in intensity because, as more details are uncovered, the deeper the mystery becomes. All the loose ends are tied together well in the denouement of this page-turner. Wendy

June 01, 2014

Book Review - The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

I like English history and I like Philippa Gregory but I found this a bit hard going. Her meticulous research is to the fore but this story of Elizabeth of York who married Henry Tudor to provide peace, after the War of the Roses, just seems to drag on in endless worries about the pretender York princes. Probably that is truly what happened, but drama should be life without the boring bits and there were too many left in this one for me! One for the fans only Wendy