Ah, Spring!

Yes, it’s finally spring in the southern hemisphere – according to the calendar. The weather systems across southern Australia had other ideas this past week! It’s snowed down to the suburbs of Hobart and even I’ve noticed some sleet occasionally this week, particularly when I’ve been doing the late afternoon feed of the animals and picking veggies for dinner. Not good news for the nectarine or apricot tree that are now in full flower, but that’s the way it goes. I’ll be interested to see what kind of crops I get from them in January. Also, the beautiful Bella Bunny is due to birth her kits in the next few days. She’s made a gorgeous, silky nest in the nursery hutch out of her belly fur and if this cold weather doesn’t stress her out too much, I imagine there’ll be a litter of baby bunnies very soon ❤

Meanwhile, I’m not doing any of the things I thought I would this weekend. Instead of going to the movies today, I’ve been distracted by books, most particularly ‘Carmilla’ by Sheridan Le Fanu that I’ve been reading for my current university unit about Gothic and speculative fiction. It’s a small volume that was originally published as a serial in The Dark Blue in 1871-2 and is reputed to have influenced Bram Stoker when he was writing ‘Dracula’.

I’ve found it incredibly entertaining and I’m well into my second reading now. It contains all the classic tropes of Gothic fiction, an isolated, motherless heroine living in an old castle far removed from society. She yearns for a companion, a friend of similar age to her – and then Carmilla arrives in dramatic fashion into the story! The attraction between the two girls is well written and it’s at times surprisingly terrifying.

In tandem, I’ve also been reading ‘The Blood of the Vampire’ by Florence Marryat, (which sports one of the best covers ever) and while it’s a great read, it doesn’t have the same levels of tension that Le Fanu manages. Interestingly, I found Marryat’s characters far more believable and real (for want of a better term) than La Fanu’s and I think that might be part of Carmilla’s charm. The whole story has a dreamlike quality that’s very hard to pull off, and I think it’s one of the elements that makes ‘Carmilla’ such an enduring work. Both of these titles are available through Valancourt Classics and (naturally) I bought mine from Cracked and Spineless in Hobart.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get some gardening done (it’s been too wet and cold to do much this past week) and hopefully, the soil will start warming up and I can start planting for summer.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some more reading to do 😀 Take care everyone, particularly my US-based friends who’re having quite a wild time at the moment. Stay safe ❤

The Tourist by Robert Dickinson – a Book Review

 

This is an extended version of a review I posted on Goodreads this morning.

I purchased my copy (trade paperback) from Cracked and Spineless New & Used Books in Hobart a couple of months ago but only just got around to reading it. But that’s what the summer break is for isn’t it? Catching up on reading! 😀

Have you read this book? If so, I’m interested to hear what you thought too. 

 

The TouristThe Tourist by Robert Dickinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Tourist isn’t an easy book to review but it isn’t an easy book in any way, shape or form. It requires the reader to commit, pay attention and hold multiple story threads while offering a dark outlook on the future (and near future) of the human race.

And I loved it!

While this novel has sharply divided people, I really wonder what the naysayers expected with something that is clearly promoted as speculative fiction involving time travel. I can especially understand the comparisons to books like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas but I think The Tourist is actually easier in some respects and in many ways, far darker. As a fan of speculative and science fiction, I wasn’t put off by the time travel aspects but this is a really good thriller as well. I found myself swept along and quite invested in Spens’ story in particular very quickly.

Be warned however, this isn’t a cheerful reading experience and can be quite bleak, but Dickinson’s writing is really very good and that’s what carried me through. It isn’t the best book of 2016 but it is better than many. The ending is a little messy and feels rushed but I wonder if that was intentional, as the lines converge.

Linear storytelling is great, but sometimes I yearn for something that demands more of me than just my time and the suspension of my scepticism and disbelief. The Tourist offers that in large doses and I found it a very immersive and well crafted ride.

View all my reviews

Wild Island – Jennifer Livett

Wild Island

Hello friends,

This is a review I wrote for Goodreads about Wild Island. If you’re interested in British/Australian colonial history, Tasmania or just like good historical fiction, I highly recommend it. I bought my copy from Cracked and Spineless New and Used Books – Richard was a former student of Jennifer Livett’s – and if you’re not in Hobart I know they will post 😀

Wild Island by Jennifer Livett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m so pleased I read this book! As a fan of good historical fiction, this had the added bonus of being mostly set where I live (kunanyi/Mt Wellington is outside my door) and some of my friends (including my local bookseller) had been taught by Livett when she was lecturing at UTAS.

The use of Booth and Harriet to act as dual narrators is a really good tool for providing depth to the story and defining boundaries of the 19th century world, but it became a little one-sided for most of the middle section. I found Booth’s narrative a good balance and really would have liked more of it, though I can understand why Harriet’s voice took precedence. The treatment of native inhabitants is touched upon but not really examined, which is also understandable given the background and narrative voices used. While I would have liked more on that topic, it would have made a very different book if Livett had taken that route.

There are certainly echoes of Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (a book I love) and I did appreciate the historically accurate depictions of Hobart, Franklin’s tenure. In general, Livett’s treatment of the Franklin’s is very sympathetic. In particular, I liked her depiction of Jane amid the prevailing attitudes to women at that time. Jane must have been a terrifying modernist presence to many of the male inhabitants of Hobarton!

Overall, this is a well-researched, finely written novel and for anyone interested in Australian (and particularly Tasmanian) colonial history, highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Book Time – Day 23 NaBloPoMo 2016

After our short blast of summer, today was wet and surprisingly cool. So I went into the city and cleared my holds and lay-by at Cracked & Spineless New & Used Books. And I’ve spent the rest of the day reading and trying not to drool over my bounty!

As I’m sure many of you know, I’m a huge fan and student of cinema. I love the history and culture that surrounds and informs it, particularly the pop culture source material that cinema draws from. As a child of the 60’s, I grew up watching Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, so when Richard showed me this secondhand treasure today I really had to get it!

 

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Sir Christopher Frayling is an academic and educator, and has written widely about pop culture. His style is scholarly but very accessible, something that’s often lacking in these kind of titles. But it’s obvious the man loves his work. I think I first came across him back in the late 90’s with a wonderful documentary and book Nightmare: The Birth of Horror. 

Speaking of which, I also picked up today the revised edition of The Hammer Vault by Marcus Hearn.

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This is a stunning collection of (often rare) artifacts from Hammer films, such as annotated script pages, unused promotional artwork, rare still shots and even private correspondence. The revised edition includes recent productions, including The Woman in Black (2012) which is a really lovely, old school Gothic horror film that is worth watching if only for a really fine post-Harry Potter performance from Daniel Radcliffe.

And finally, there was this beastie!

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This book goes right back to the very beginnings of Marvel and it’s really fascinating to see how some of the enduring characters have changed over time. Equally, it’s fascinating to note how many of the essential traits of characters such as Luke Cage, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark have made their way across to the movies.

Recently, I went to see Doctor Strange (2016) and was thrilled that the production designers took note (and really paid homage to) the psychedelic and surreal artwork of Steve Ditko.

I think this book is a gem for anyone who loves pop culture history and comic books. Also, it really underlines how much the comics have informed the production values in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Tomorrow I’ve got a busy day. A load of sheep manure is turning up for the garden and I’m meeting a friend who’s writing an article about my work at Oak Tasmania, so I’m off for an early night of more reading 😀

Greenhouse Action & Musings – Day 8 NaBloPoMo 2016

Today, I’ll start with an apology – there’s no gratuitous cute bunny pic in this post. In truth, I forgot to take one today. To Bernard Black Bunny’s fans, I promise I’ll make it up in tomorrow’s post!

I went into the city today for lunch, catching up for coffee with a dear friend and calling into my favourite bookshop, but this morning after I fed the animals, I had a little bit of fun in the greenhouse.

I grow strawberries in pots so I can move them around the yard throughout the year and I’ve been picking fruit steadily for the last few weeks. But one poor plant really wasn’t looking great a couple of weeks ago, so I took it into the greenhouse, fed it some of my home made worm juice fertiliser and promptly forgot about it. What a lovely surprise this morning when I discovered this luscious beauty and more on the way 😀

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A few weeks ago, I planted my precious stash of chilli seeds for the coming summer. While I usually keep a few Cayenne and Rocoto in the greenhouse to overwinter, most get treated as annuals, so this is a big deal for a chilli-lover like me. I was thrilled to see the first of this year’s crop poking their heads up this morning. The weather has been downright cold at times in recent days, so I was worried that I wasn’t going to get any to germinate, not uncommon if temperatures are too low. I’ll post some pictures in the next couple of days.

This winter was so mild, there’s more chillies than usual held over from last summer, including a few Poblano Ancho and I’m really pleased the Cayenne are starting to flower already.

After, I went into the city and (not for the first time) I was quite astonished at the difference between my oasis here and being in town. All the more so that it’s a 10 minute drive or a 25 minute walk from here to central Hobart – it’s not like I like in the bush or even an outer suburb.

I had a great time with my friend but my last stop was the best – catching up with Richard and Mike at Cracked & Spineless New and Used Books. I love bookshops but this one is really something else. It’s not uncommon to bump into friends there, it can be hard to navigate around the shelves depending on how many boxes of books have arrived that day, sometimes you’ll even see the shop’s stick insects fornicating in their tank (I have photographic proof of this!) and for me it’s almost impossible to keep track of time once I set foot in the door.

And while I always come away poorer in monetary terms, I’m always enriched by the books I buy. Today I picked up a new sci-fi thriller, The Tourist by Robert Dickinson, and a very important book from my early adolescence, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

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My father gave me a copy of this same printing when I was probably 11 or 12 and it quite literally changed my life. It caused me to think about making a smaller footprint on this fragile planet, something I still strive to do to this day but above all, it brought me even closer to my father. I’m looking forward to re-reading it and remembering my dad ❤

Finally, for those of you in southern Tasmania, I’m playing a short set Thursday night at the Waratah Hotel in Murray Street. I’m opening the wonderful UNLOCKED show that, now the days are getting longer (and sometimes warmer), is back to being a weekly event. I’m really looking forward to playing 😀

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The Bride of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer – Book Review

As some of you are no doubt aware, I love reading as well as writing and have a Goodreads account that I’m starting to use more. Here’s a review I wrote this morning of a little pulp novel I picked up recently from my favourite bookshop, Cracked and Spineless New and Used Books. Thanks Richard 😀

The Bride of Fu ManchuThe Bride of Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I remember reading a lot of my father’s Sax Rohmer books when I was a child, so this was both a trip down memory lane and some light reading over the last week or so, nothing to do with uni study.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about Rohmer was his ability to write action and suspense and this one in particular has lots of the evil Dr, which makes for good reading. The premise of Fu Manchu developing a new insect-borne plague to unleash on the world is really quite good and inspired many other writers (including Ian Fleming) and is still a viable plot device in the 21st century.

Of course, the few women are pigeonholed into the usual stereotypes – bumbling domestic bit-player (Madam Dubonnet) femme fatale (Fah lo Suee) and the helpless heroine who constantly needs saving (Fleurette) and the men really don’t fare that much better! Alan Sterling, the narrator for this outing is about as bland as a hero can be, but how he reacts to some of his trials is quite good.

But this is a book of its time and irrespective of the incredibly dated gender politics it’s still a good pulp read.

Do you enjoy reading? What are your favourite genres/books/authors? Leave a comment – I love to hear from you! 

The Joy of Books – Day 30 NaBloPoMo

I love writing, I love reading and I love books.

One of the joys of living in one place for an extended period means I’ve managed to collect some quite rare titles and (particularly since I’ve been back at university) amassed a pretty nice Film Studies library.

My favourite local bookshop is a wonderful place called Cracked and Spineless New & Used Books. It’s a fabulous place run by Richard and Mike. Over the years they have become my friends as well as my book sellers, even to the point of getting in obscure text books I need for study. They also have a great collection of used books and often post excellent deals on their Facebook page. It’s always crowded and I often bump into friends there but the thing I love most about Cracked and Spineless is that I feel welcome. In this age of bookstores that feel more like supermarkets, this place is much warmer and real. No matter where you live, support your local bookstore – they are important!

Cracked and Spineless

Today, apart from being the last day of the NaBloPoMo challenge is also the beginning of my birthday week, and this year I decided to really treat myself. Richard, who is also a music fan managed to get two copies of the Mick Rock mega photo book The Rise of David Bowie. I am now the proud owner of one 😀

I cannot begin to explain how gorgeous this thing is. From the box it came in (printed pink and black), the textured, vibrant teal foldout case, to the smell of the book, this is a thing of immense beauty. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the photographs by Mick Rock. They are disarming, charming and always lush.

As Richard said to me tonight, this is one of the coolest books on the planet. I feel very lucky to have been in a position to buy it.

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Thanks to all of you who’ve liked or followed my blog over the NaBloPoMo challenge, it’s been great fun and I’ve enjoyed reading lots of your blogs throughout the month.

Take care all, I’ll be back soon! ❤

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