Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird – Book Review

In all honesty, I have very little interest in the British royal family. Or any royal family, past or present. So when this huge book, a new biography of Queen Victoria, was long-listed for the Stellar Prize, I was kind of disappointed – I wanted to read books by female Australian authors, but this was not my cup of tea. Or so I thought.

Julia Baird has managed to write about this family in a way that compelled me to read more. I wanted to know about Victoria and her horrible mother and the love affair between Victoria and Albert, and about all of the children, and about Mr Brown and about the young Indian man who won her attention in her later years. What fascinated me was how much other people knew about Victoria. I’d mention I was loving this book and people would tell me how horrible she was to her children, or how she treated her guests or, well, all kinds of things. What I found most amazing was that she kept detailed diaries and had a huge correspondence, but after her death, one of her daughters went through the whole lot, picked and chose what the world should know, and destroyed the rest. Destroyed it! Unbelievable! And yet we can still end up with such a wonderful biography – read it.

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Asking for It by Louise O’Neill – Book Review *spoiler alerts*

It’s a relatively small town in Ireland. There’s a bunch of teenagers who hang out together, but the queen bee is Emma, who is beautiful, but doesn’t always treat her friends all that nicely. They like to go out and have a few drinks, go to parties, sometimes there might be some drugs around. Sometimes, they have sex, sometimes things get a bit wild. But when Emma has a blackout one night, she figures everything will be ok – and then she gets to school on Monday, and everything has changed.

There is a lot of talk about how young people interact now that things like sexting and the internet are around – with easy accessibility to large amounts and type of pornography, has this changed the way people have sex? And what is posted online? And then there is the whole discussion on consent and victim blaming and reputations and how a single night can change the path for someone. It was an interesting choice to have Emma as quite an unlikable character initially, as it can shape how we, as the reader, view what happens to her, and what happens afterwards. It was an interesting take, and it certainly played out in a believable way. I didn’t want the story to end – but then, I also wanted things to be different for Emma. But that’s books, isn’t it?

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The Night Manager – TV Review

Tom Hiddleston plays Jonathan Pine, the night manager in a hotel in Cairo who starts a relationship with a woman with some connections to a deep underworld and turns up dead. Some time later, living the life of a loner high in the alps (but still a night manager) he meets Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), one of those dodgy connections. He ends up contacting British Secret Service (though possibly called something different) and working for Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) to try to bring Roper down.

This is one complex story. There are six episodes, it goes around the world, there are heaps of different characters and sometimes it is hard to tell who is good and who is bad. I found that I got distracted at times and found I had to go back and figure out what I missed. None of that is criticism – or, rather, it is criticism of me and my watching habits as opposed to being criticism of the show. It’s brilliant and clever – my only criticism is that I felt no chemistry between Tom Hiddleston and the woman at the start, and given that it is that passion that is supposed to drive the whole plot, I feel like I missed something.

The Night Manager won Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television (Tom Hiddleston), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television (Hugh Laurie) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television (Olivia Colman) and was nominated for Best Television Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.

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The Young Pope – TV Review

What would happen if an American was made Pope? What if it was a young American, say in his late fortes or early fifties? What if he was really handsome? And what if, after being made Pope, the Vatican Council (or whoever it is that makes these decisions) suddenly realises that he is dangerous, not only to the Church but to their whole way of life?

Jude Law plays the Pope, and he has this wonderful mix between being a cheesy American evangelist and a hard-line Catholic. He is at times vulnerable and also completely in control. And episode to episode, I had no idea what was going to happen next. It’s fab. Oh, and the title sequence? Brilliant.

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Friends From College – TV Review

Writer Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) and his wife Lisa (Cobie Smulders), a lawyer, are moving to New York where they are going to be reunited with their college friends. There’s Nick (Nat Fazon)living a party life on his trust fund, Marianne (Jae Suh Park), an actress, Max (Fred Savage) who’s in publishing and Sam (Annie Parisse) who is an interior designer and a mother. They have over twenty years of secrets and stories that they need to negotiate to keep their lives separate and together.

I loved this show. I thought that it was extremely funny but also very plausible and annoying and I both loved and hated the characters and I was kind of disappointed when the eight-episode run was over. I think it was extremely well written, and the only thing I found slightly confusing was that I wasn’t sure quite how time was passing. But it didn’t matter – it just all worked for me.

 

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Offshore: Behind the wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson

I set myself the task of reading all of the books that were long-listed for the Stellar prize this year, and this one was, for me, the most difficult. Firstly, it’s non-fiction, and I’m not a lover of non-fiction writing. It’s just not my jam – I often enjoy it, but if I’m going to be reading, I really love reading me some fiction. Secondly, it’s really hard subject matter. Living in Australia today means living in a country that treats a lot of people badly, and asylum seekers, especially if they arrive by boat, are amongst the worst. If you don’t believe it, read this book.

I’m glad I read it. It summarises what happened to have government policy create these offshore camps, what appalling conditions existed, the number of attempts to show how bad it was and the way the government refused to admit any error. One day, there will be an official apology to the people who were on these islands – and maybe to the staff as well – but not for decades. For now, both still house asylum seekers.

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Firefly Summer by Maeve Binchy – Book Review

Set in the small Irish town of Mountfern in the early sixties, Firefly Summer follows the life of the townsfolk as they come to terms with the big American Patrick O’Neill, who has come back to the town of his forefathers to restore the old estate into a large Hotel. In particular, it’s about the Ryan family who run the nearest pub to the site and how they deal with the potential effects that it will have on their lives.

Maeve Binchy was such a go to in my teenage years. She creates these worlds where you get to go and live for a while, these characters that you love and become invested in. Her first two novels, Light a Penny Candle and Echoes will probably always be my favourites, but this is up there. I’m not sure if I’d have liked it as much if I read it now without my prior love of the book, but it was a great trip down memory lane to reread it.

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