Friday, 14 July 2017

Review: novel: The Unknown Ajax

The Unknown AjaxThe Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a shame that the younger readers, who were not alive to read a Georgette Heyer hot of the press after it had been serialised in the Ladies Home Journal and had to be specially ordered, have no idea that Ms Heyer created the genre. No one else had set popular fiction in the Regency period and her Regency novels burst on the scene as original, new and delightful.

Ms Heyer researched the period carefully, collected volumes of contemporary letters, diaries, journals and official documents to get the 'feel' of the language. She studied the etiquette and customs, visited many of the places popular during the Regency and studied the political and social history. She did not have the internet to go to for a quick fix - thank goodness!- and her novels were not silly, sexually titivating, frothy pap. Her Regency novels ranged from pure romance to mysteries and adventures and they also gave the reader 'real' 3D characters set in detailed, socially correct backgrounds and allowed the reader to gain an understanding of what life was like for a range of people. Her knowledge shines through so that she could write with authority and make a social commentary. ('Arabella' is a good example of this.)

'The Unknown Ajax' is a favourite of mine because the Ajax is such a delightful creation and he makes me laugh. This is one of the mystery romance plots, with smugglers thrown in to boot. We begin with the family, the Darracotts, waiting the arrival of the new heir. This man, Hugo Darracott, is a man spurned by his grandfather, the current head of the family, because his father married a Yorkshire 'weaver's brat'. Major Hugo arrives because he has been summoned to find the entire family expect him to eat peas off his knife and sleep on the floor. He cannot resist pulling their legs and begins to speak broad Yorkshire and lead them on. It's a great plot, well written and told and of course the Ajax comes off best.

If readers have only read the modern Regency novels they will find Ms Heyer's books a much more demanding and intelligent read. But if they love the historical period then they really should read the writer who began it all and who writes much more accurate, historical and socially correct novels.

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Review: non-fiction 'Rise of the Rocket Girls' by Nathalia Holt

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to MarsRise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved the film, but this book is better because we get all the 'girls' and their stories from the earliest days as human calculators right up to rocket launch.

Author Nathalia Holt allows these women to tell their stories about how they were the mathematical people who worked out the details without which missiles and rockets could not have flown. They were calculators when machines to calculate hard barely been invented. With slide rule and log tables these women used their brains to work out the formulas needed to fly a rocket or missile.

Having faced the same problem as these women did: where do bright girls go if they don't want to be a teacher a nurse or a secretary? I chuckled at the book group's younger members asking 'Did that really happen? Even if you had been to university?' Yes it did, and women are still restricted in how far they can get career wise. These women wanted to use their mathematical and scientific skills and were able to by luck and being in the right place at the right time. How many women missed opportunities to fulfill their abilities because of those entrenched attitudes?

Well worth a read, and a good book for young women who might just grow up to be scientists and mathematicians.

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Review: The Keeper of Lost Thing by Ruth Hogan

The Keeper of Lost ThingsThe Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ruth Hogan has produced a charming, pleasant read based round an unusual and original idea. Her hero is an old man, Anthony Peardew, who lost his love just before their wedding and he also lost her special gift to him. Devoted all his life to her he also devotes a lot of time to finding things, labelling them and saving them in the hope that they will find their owners and he might find her gift, a medal.

His housekeeper, Laura is a lost soul who loves his house and he leaves her it and the lost things which she has to return. Running parallel with this story is the tale of Bomber the publisher and his assistant and their lost things which are neatly dovetailed back into the main story at the end.

If you want a delightful read to give you sweet dreams this novel is a good choice for bedtime reading. It's well written, the characters are a treat, and the plot might be a bit of a romance but is not a cliche.

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Review 'H is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald

H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

This was a prize winning non-fiction or perhaps faction work. The writing was literary, elegant and a little self indulgent at times. The author is training a hawk, a goshawk, trying to recover from the shock of her father's sudden death, and trying to sort out her life.

The method of telling her story is to look at T H White's life and his book, The Goshawk and talk, discuss and compare her training of her goshawk with his. I found this annoying at times. It seemed that Helen Macdonald had to trash White and his work in order to justify hers. And I did find the hand wringing and wailing about her depression and agony of grief rather self indulgent. A little less of it and perhaps this (and maybe other readers) would have felt more sympathy.

Oh it's a fine piece of writing and worthy of the Samuel Johnson prize but I think even Johnson might have barked 'Enough self analysis and agonising.' at times!

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