North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell Review

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my all-time favourite classics. I also love the BBC period drama from a while ago starring the dreamy Richard Armitage. I don’t think I have told you before how much I love these BBC adaptations of classics. Anyway… Set around 1851, North and South has often been referred to as Pride and Prejudice with a social conscience. It is a love story at its core but also explores the differences between the agricultural South of England and the industrialised North and the lives of factory workers.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, penguin classic

North and South tells the story of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a parson, who enjoyed a genteel upbringing in the southern England countryside. When her father leaves the Church over a crisis of conscience, the family moves to the northern mill town of Milton in the north. A place far different from the rural South. Milton is a town in the throes of the industrial revolution.

At first Margaret hates the ugliness and dirtiness of Milton. But over time she sees the suffering and poverty of the cotton mill workers and becomes passionately involved in their struggles.

She meets John Thornton, the owner of Marlborough Mills and a student of her father’s. He is a newly made man who Margaret first looks down on and then opposes due to his treatment of his workers. Despite their clashes and differences, there is also a spark of another kind between the two.

From social calls to strikes, class struggles to mutual misunderstanding between the two protagonists, North and South has it all. It really gives you an insight into how the industrial revolution transformed towns and the lives of people and the hardships workers endured before the time of workplace health and safety regulations. I also love how Margaret is no demure miss and speaks her mind, even if she sometimes speaks out before having all the facts. At times I felt sorry for Mr Thornton due to Margaret’s fierceness.

I could talk all day about this book but I better leave it there before this becomes an essay.

Have you read North and South? Or seen the miniseries? Or read any other Elizabeth Gaskell novels?

Force of Nature by Jane Harper Review

Force of Nature is the just released second novel from Jane Harper, author of the hugely popular bestseller The Dry. The two books are linked by the same main character, Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk, but this book takes place six months later and in a completely new setting.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Force of Nature by Jane Harper, ISBN 9781743549094, 377pp

I previously wrote a review about The Dry which I enjoyed but thought was a bit over hyped. I came to reading Force of Nature without big expectations as sometimes second books from an author suffer the dreaded second book syndrome (i.e. are a bit disappointing). Well, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Force of Nature. It had an interesting premise that kept me intrigued and guessing all the way to the end. In some ways I liked it even better than The Dry.

Force of Nature is set in the rugged bushland of the fictional Giralang Ranges east of Melbourne. A group of five women go on a team building hike through the bush. But on the last day of the hike, only four women walk out. One of their group, Alice Russell, is missing. As a large search begins for the missing woman, Aaron and his partner Carmen become involved in the search for Alice’s whereabouts. It turns out Alice was secretly helping Aaron and Carmen investigate money laundering at BaileyTennants, the boutique accounting firm where all the women worked. And now she has disappeared before they can get their hands on some important documents.

Is Alice dead or just missing? Did she disappear on purpose or did one of the four women in her group have something to do with it? As Aaron and Carmen investigate, the story flashes back through multiple viewpoints to what happened day by day on the team building walk. I’ll leave it there so as not to give anything away.

I found Force of Nature completely engrossing and I kept reading in order to find out what happened to Alice. The rugged bushland setting took me back to bush walks I used to do with my family as a kid and how easy it was to get lost in some places. Plus I liked the idea of putting a bunch of work colleagues together in this environment and seeing how they interacted as things started going wrong.

The main character Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk didn’t really wow me in The Dry but more is revealed about him as a person in Force of Nature. As far as main characters in a crime/thriller books go, he’s not the most interesting character. I think I am used to investigators having drinking problems or complicated love lives or something… Aaron Falk is just a bit of an introverted guy who is not seeing anyone and doesn’t seem to have any hobbies apart from reading. But since we have that in common, who am I to judge? Still, I hope if he appears in other books that he develops more as a character.

Jane Harper has well and truly hooked me with her writing and I look forward to whatever she writes next.

Verdict: I highly recommend this book with its thrilling premise and plot that keeps you guessing to the end.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes Review

I’ve been a big fan of author Jojo Moyes ever since stumbling across Me Before You years ago. This was before the movie and before a lot of the huge hype. Me Before You first introduces the loveable Louisa Clark, wearer of quirky vintage clothes and bumblebee yellow and black striped stockings. In this first book she becomes a carer to Will Traynor, a complicated man not coping very well with life as a quadriplegic and they both change each other’s lives. If you haven’t read this first book, definitely give it a go. I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read it.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes
Still Me by Jojo Moyes, ISBN 9780718183196, 469pp, Pub Jan 2018

I loved Me Before You, even though it smashed my heart to pieces, and was quite happy for it to be a stand-alone book. But then Jojo Moyes released a sequel called After You. Although I devoured this book it didn’t have quite the same feel as book one. Louisa was far from the happy, positive young woman and with a major character missing in this book, it was a bit of an adjustment. But I liked it well enough in the end.

Which brings me to the newly released third book in the series, Still Me. I rushed out to get this because I love Jojo Moyes writing, but after book two I approached this with some trepidation. I can happily report that this book was a terrific read and the perfect conclusion to the series. The sad, messed-up Louisa from book two is back to her happy-go-lucky self in this book as she arrives in the Upper East Side of New York to work as an assistant to Agnes Gopnik, the younger, Polish second wife of a super wealthy businessman.

New York is one of the main characters in this story and reading this book made me want to jump on a plane and go there. There’s also a cast of interesting characters–from the ultra rich couple she works for, Mr and Mrs Gopnik, to her curmudgeonly neighbour Mrs De Witt and her pug Dean Martin, her Aussie pal Nathan, Ilaria the housekeeper and Ashok the doorman. Louisa’s English family make an appearance as well. And if you read book two, Sam the hot paramedic is back too. There’s also a new potential love interest hanging around who may cause problems. Continue reading

Confessions of a Former Bookseller

In my early twenties I worked full-time in a bookstore whilst studying part-time. Even though I worked EVERY weekend (oh the joys of retail), it was a great year and a bit in my life. For a book addict like me, working in a bookstore was my dream come true. But like every retail job it had its array of lovely, weird and downright funny moments. I had the best customers and the worst customers but the books made it all worthwhile.

Take a walk with me down memory lane as I recount the good, bad and annoying parts of being a bookseller:

The Detective Work: A customer walks in asking about a book but they can’t remember the title or the author. All they can remember is that the cover was red and it started with the word ‘the.’ A game of ‘guess that book’ ensues. There was no better feeling than asking probing questions and finally guessing the title. I lived for those small triumphs!

The Needle in a Haystack: The computer shows there is one copy instore of the book a customer wants. I look in the appropriate section but the book is nowhere to be found. Someone has misplaced it! Try finding a missing book in a store filled with thousands of books while a customer waits impatiently. The best scenario was finding it against all odds. The worst was finding it five minutes after the customer left the store.

Spending Half my Salary on Books: The owners of the bookstore used to pay me weekly in cash. Yes, a small envelope stuffed with cash! Now that I think about it, this was a genius move because all the sudden I would have a handful of money and a whole bookstore at my disposal. I would end up handing a chunk of my salary back to the owners on payday.

Being at Peak Fitness: I spent 95% of the working day on my feet. There was one chair behind the counter that during the week the owners took turns sitting on, so I was always standing. I also spent the day lifting boxes of books, unpacking stock and carrying huge piles of books up and down the back stairs of the shop from our storeroom below. I would have to carry sales items on tables outside the store and get them in at the end of the day. I was the size of a twig during these days but paid for this strenuous work later in life with a very dodgy back.

New Release Week: For a few days each month all the new release books from publishers would arrive in a huge delivery of boxes, full of brand new books. In the later months of the year as Christmas approached, these new release days would bring a steady flow of deliveries. These days were the busiest of the month as we unpacked, processed and labelled all the new books and then tried to find space for them on the shelves. I loved seeing all the new books and got excited when I saw new releases from favourite authors or discovered something new and interesting. I always felt sad a few months later when some of the books that arrived with such promise to the shop, ended up being returned to the publisher due to poor sales and to make room for other new books.

Continue reading

Lincoln in the Bardo Review

I didn’t like this Man Booker Prize winning book at all but I admire it as a piece of experimental literature. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was the strangest book I have ever read. It’s narrative structure irritated and distracted me. I started and stopped this book about ten times and reread a lot of books in between reading this. But finally I got to the end.

Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, ISBN 9781408871775, 343pp, Pub by Bloomsbury

Lincoln in the Bardo tells the tale of the death of President Lincoln’s eleven-year-old son Willie and the imagined story of him lingering in a place between life and death. This bardo is inhabited by other spirits who wander restlessly through the graveyard where they were buried arguing with each other and recounting tales of their lives and disappointments.

President Lincoln greatly shakes up this world in between when he comes to the crypt at night to visit his dead son.

This is a highly imaginative book that is told via many different points-of-view. Sometimes it’s a sentence at a time so pages are filled with one line from a character and then a citation of who that character is. Sometimes one little observation about an event is told from ten different people’s perspectives and everyone has a different opinion. It was this manner of narration that drove me crazy because I felt it ruined the flow of writing. It took me three quarters of the book to get used to this style of writing. Continue reading