Nature Hath Reared Beyond This Hawthorn Glade

AT HAWTHORN TIME
Melissa Harrison
Bloomsbury Circus
June 2015, RRP $29.99

At Hawthorn TimeNo matter where you live, most people get a sense of the year passing and changing, even in the deprivation of the city—a bit. And more and more and more the more green you have around you. And for many, including me, the pull of the green becomes stronger the longer it has been since you surrounded yourself with it.

At Hawthorn Time is a braided tale of the lives of four people. Kitty and Howard have made their tree-change, from the smoke of London to idyllic village life. Though perhaps that’s the idyll that we all may still have in our minds about country living. Kitty and Howard soon discover that moving to the country is not a panacea for all of life’s ills.

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They Smoke Cigarettes and Play with Bombs

THE TRAGEDY OF FIDEL CASTRO
João Cerqueira, trans. Karen Bennett and Chris Mingay
River Grove Books
2015

the-tragedy-of-fidel-castro_joc3a3o-cerqueira1The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is an entertaining jaunt into political and religious irreverence.  Communism, capitalism and Catholicism all get a heart lashing as God intervenes, at the beck of Fàtima, in a war between Fidel Castro and JFK.  In the meanwhile, the nature of politics, humanity and religion are also given for the reader to consider.

I’m sad to confess that I did not really get a lot of the humour in the book.  I’m not sure if this is because the nature of humour I enjoy is just different to that present in this book; whether it’s a difference in Portuguese and Spanish humour as compared to humour in the Anglosphere.  Or perhaps it’s just a few of the references I miss, with my relative ignorance of matters concerning post-Bay of Bigs relations between Cuba and the United States.

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Grendel’s Mum

BEOWULFbeo

J. R. R. and Christopher Tolkien

Mariner Books, August 2015

 

A thousand years on, the sharpness of Beowulf‘s images still strikes us. Longships cruise amid icy spray. A king stares with fear amid the riches of his hall. Then comes the fiend Grendel stalking across the moors. Tolkien’s translation weds to these visions the rhythm and grandeur of language that rumbles even as it exults, which rolls like the swells of the sea. Continue reading

Being Cruel to be Kind

THE KINDNESS
Polly Samson
Bloomsbury Circles, RRP $29.99
May 2015

the_kindness_4Last year I wandered to the cinema with my housemate, and regular movie viewing buddy, to watch the film adaption of the latest book sensation Gone Girl. I was breaking my own rules of not reading before watching but I didn’t think it would matter so much as, one: rules were made to be broken, and two: I don’t read much in the crime or thriller genre anymore. Or so I said then.

The movie of Gone Girl was actually really absorbing (colour me surprised) and it got me thinking about dipping my toe back into what I label ‘twisty’ fiction. Though not technically crime or thriller, The Kindness by Polly Samson fits into the purview of the Edie-created genre of ‘twisty’ fiction and so down the rabbit hole I went emerging a very happy reader. Continue reading

Never Judge a Book by its Cover, Literal vs Philosophical Applications

A YEAR OF MARVELLOUS WAYS
Sarah Winman
Hachette Australia/Tinder Press, RRP $29.99
July 2015

Winman

 

Never judge a book by its cover.

Ok, that is both a useful and true statement in many ways but, to be perfectly frank, I love an appealing book cover and I really don’t care if that makes me seem shallow. Many a time I have run my eye over a shelf, or table, or pile of books, and it has come to rest on a particularly interesting book cover—be it the colour, the font, or the image—and this has been the introduction to another joyful reading adventure. And this visual shallowness is how I came to get my hands on a copy of Sarah Winman’s new novel, A Year of Marvellous Ways. The blue page-ends, and then the cover image caught my eye, and that was that. Continue reading

On the Banners, Visions of the Future

HARD TO BE A GOD
Arkady & Boris Strugatsky , translated by Olena Bormaschenko
Gollancz, RRP $22.99
June 2015

HardToBeAGod_smOlena Bormaschenko’s translation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Hard to Be a God represents the second translation of the Russian sci-fi classic into English.  As much is discussed in the forward to the book, by Ken MacLeod, who admits to an abortive first attempt to read the novel back in 1977.  Admittedly not a reader of much sci-fi myself*, I had never heard of Hard to Be a God before receiving it for review.  I am certainly glad for the new translation, if MacLeod’s criticisms are accurate.  Bormaschenko’s edition is a clear and easily readable one.  Indeed, in terms of translation my only quibble is with the use of rather twee insults and phrases at times.  However, since the book was written in the 1960s, this is likely an accurate reflection of how it reads in Russian.

Hard to Be a God is the rather Star Trekish tale of a future earth man living undercover as an observer on a planet and in a feudal kingdom.  Because of the similarities of this planet’s feudal culture to Earth’s European middle ages, Anton and several other historians are there to note social development and… stuff.  Unfortunately, what Anton sees unfolding does not follow the progression his historical studies have prepared him for.  Instead, he finds the unmistakeable signs of fascism emerging.

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Vagrancy in a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape

THE VAGRANT
Peter Newman
Harper Collins, RRP29.99
April 2015

Vagrant

An unnamed man makes an illegal drug deal in a post-apocalyptic city, no sooner has he walked away from the deal than he is betrayed, such is our first introduction to the character The Vagrant in Peter Newman’s debut science fiction novel.* Thankfully The Vagrant has enough tricks up his sleeves that he continues on if not unscathed then at least free to continue his journey. Lucky, really, or else the novel would have been several hundred pages shorter than what it was. Continue reading

Nothing, Nothing will Keep Us Together

AFortunateAge_smA FORTUNATE AGE
Joanna Rakoff
Bloomsbury, July 2015, RRP $32.99

I took up A Fortunate Age under considerable misapprehension as to the time period in which it is set. Somehow missing both the details in the blurb and the first line, which literally features the word “1998″*, I launched into it believing it was about my generation. I am 26 right now and was interested to “see what an author some twenty years my senior thought about it all. Would it involve angering stereotypes? Would I find it self-deprecatingly humorous? Despite very quickly correcting the flaws in my understanding, and after fighting a bout of cynicism about reading a book about 20-somethings in the late 90s, I decided to persevere. And admittedly, I expected to hate this book. I didn’t.

On the face of it, Joanna Rakoff’s novel about coming of age is not something I would have chosen to read. It is contemporary fiction, a genre I generally dislike, and once the immediate connection with myself had gone**, I expected I would despise the characters in all their trust-funded, New York whininess. Yet something in Rakoff’s confiding, urgent tone, which reminded me a little of 19th century novelists, kept me going. Though I found most of the characters irritating and some themes and elements troubling, I enjoyed A Fortunate Age. I enjoyed it rather a lot.

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Alternative History: Mojave, 1946

WHAT IFS? OF AMERICAN HISTORYwhatif

Cowley, Robert (Berkley, September 2004, ISBN 9780425198186)

My contribution to the genre:

Mojave, 1946

1050: Fifty years after Leif Ericsson’s discovery of North America, Norse colonists build a permanent settlement on the island of Newfoundland. Continue reading

Alternative history: Prophet, 999

PROPHET, 999mrblo

Current Affairs: With Pope Gregory V dying, Holy Roman Emperor Otto III seals the Sacred Palace. As Christendom awaits the end of the world, rival Cardinals plot their ascendency to the papacy.

Divergence Point: 974 A.D.: A Christian prophet in Rome introduces toothbrushes, proper sanitation and a form of the underarm deodorant. Continue reading

They Live in You

BlueBtwSkyAndWater_smTHE BLUE BETWEEN SKY AND WATER
Susan Abulhawa
Bloomsbury, June 2015, RRP $29.99

The Blue Between Sky and Water is one of those rare novels that takes devastating themes and events, but fills them all with a sense of hope.  Set in Palestine during and after the Naqba, up until the mid-2010s, the novel could very easily have been many things.  While its bias is obvious*, Abulhawa avoids diatribe and sentimentality in building her story of a family and a country torn apart.

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Loud and Dreadful Sound, which Sky and Ocean Smote

FloodOfFire_smFLOOD OF FIRE
Amitav Ghosh
John Murray, May 2015, RRP $29.99; eBook RRP $16.99

Flood of Fire is the final book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy and concerns the first Opium War, the eventual Chinese defeat, and the seizure of Hong Kong by English forces.  Sorry, um, spoilers I guess?  It introduces some further new characters in Kesri Singh, the brother of Deeti, Bahram Modi’s widow Shireen, and Neel’s son Raju.  We also catch up again with Zachary Reid, who’s had a bad time of it since last we saw him, after taking the fall for events at the end of Sea of Poppies.

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