In Memoriam

On this day in 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand became the spark that finally ignited the powder keg of early 20th century European politics. In honour of the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War I, here’s a list of some of my favourite books and films set during that conflict.


All Quiet on the Western Front

Follows the fortunes of a group of classmates who enlisted in the German army together at the insistence of their excessively patriotic teacher. For my full review, click here. This was also made into several feature films, but I am still yet to see any version in it’s entirety, so cannot list it as a favourite.

War Horse

I was surprised to learn that this was actually a children’s book. Think Black Beauty but, instead of pulling a hansom cab in London, he is pulling an artillery wagon in France. Of the movie and the stage show based on this book, I preferred the stage show – the puppets are amazing!

Rilla of Ingleside

The final novel in the Anne of Green Gables series follows the fortunes of her youngest daughter, Bertha Marilla Blythe, as Canada’s sons (including all three of Anne’s, and most of their friends) answer Britain’s call to defend Belgium and France from the German advance. The absolutely terrible telemovie Anne of Green Gables:The Continuing Story was in no way based on this book (and would have been much better if it had been).



Follows a group of young Australians from their enlistment through to the Gallipoli campaign.

Beneath Hill 60

In 1916, a group of Australian miners are detailed to burrow under the German trenches and pack the tunnels with high explosives.

My Boy Jack

Rudyard Kipling pulled all the strings he could to have his 17-year-old son admitted to the army, in spite of his age and poor eyesight. Just days after his 18th birthday he leads a platoon ‘over the top’ ‘somewhere in France’ and tragically is never seen again. Stars Daniel Radcliffe at the height of his Harry Potter fame.

TV Series

Blackadder goes Forth

Probably the series of Blackadder I’ve watched the least, but in only six 30 minute episodes it deals with many aspects of the war, including: trench warfare, troop morale, trench art, court martials, military hospitals, espionage, and the fledgling Air Force (with the late Rik Mayall as flying ace ‘Lord Flashart’ Whoof!) In spite of the show’s reputation for bawdy humor, the series finale is touching, as Captain Blackadder is finally called upon to lead his men ‘over the top’.

What are your favourite representations of WW1? Books, movies, TV shows? It seems that in popular culture there are a lot more stories told of WW2 than of WW1. Why do you think that is (or do you disagree)?

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Book Review: Death Comes to Pemberley


I was initially afraid of reading P. D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley. After all, it combines the talents of one of my favourite crime writers with characters from one of my favourite books of all time. There’s a lot of scope for disappointment there.

After a brief recap of the events of Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of the Meryton gossips, and a whirlwind tour of the lives of the Bennett sisters in the following six years, we find Elizabeth Darcy making the final preparations for the annual ‘Lady Anne’s Ball’ in memory of Mr Darcy’s late mother. As the day progresses, Colonel Fitzwilliam requests an audience with Lizzy, and Jane Bingley and her husband arrive with a lawyer friend who has been frequently visiting them from London. After a quiet family dinner, Colonel Fitzwilliam goes out for a horse ride, and Georgiana is the first to go to bed, but the others are prevented from following her upstairs by the sound of a carriage speeding up the driveway. Inside it is Lydia Wickham, screaming that she is sure her husband has been murdered. Immediately a search is arranged, and a body is found in the woods, but it is not Wickham who is dead.

I found this to be a very light and entertaining read, in spite of the dark subject matter. I was pleased with the way that James kept to the spirit of the original, and she dealt with the characters in much the same way as Austen did. What was not quite so good was the plot. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve read far too many murder mysteries, but some of the clues might as well have had neon signs pointing to them, they were that obvious. Admittedly I didn’t put all the pieces together in exactly the right order, but I had enough of them in place that I wasn’t all that surprised by the solution.

I have read some very disappointing Austen fan-fiction pieces over the years, but this is one I would actually recommend. It is perhaps concerned more with legal procedures than the ‘manners’ and ‘money’ that fans of the original Austen novels would be used to, but nevertheless it has a lot of charm, and is worth a look.

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Book Review: Miss Buncle’s Book

fa039-classics2014Barbara Buncle, a spinster from the village of Silverstream, has run out of money. The income from her investments has almost dried up, and she simply must have something to live on. In spite of her belief that she has ‘no imagination’ she resolves to write a book, and is surprised to find that it is accepted by the first publisher she submits it to.

‘Disturber of the Peace’ by John Smith becomes an instant success…except in Silverstream, where the residents are disturbed by the close similarities between the residents of ‘Copperfield’ and themselves. Many are shocked to find their true natures drawn in black and white for all to see, and those who are most offended stir up the village to find the man who would dare to write such ‘filth’. On the other hand, there are some people who, far from being offended, actually start acting more like the ‘Copperfield’ versions of themselves.

This is a light-hearted and engaging read, which, I suppose due to the similar tone and use of language, reminded me of Enid Blyton for adults. It is “a book about a woman who wrote a book about a woman who wrote a book”… I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the ‘drawing-room farce’ genre, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequels, Miss Buncle Married and The Two Mrs Abbots.

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Book Review: A Game of Thrones

Even if, like me, you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ll probably still know at least this much about George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (as I did before I started reading it).

  1. It has been made into one of the most popular TV series’ of the 21st century.
  2. More characters die in than in all of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games put together.


The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros were once just that. Seven independent kingdoms. Over time the kingdoms became united under the Targaryen family, the last dragon lords. About 13 years before the beginning of A Game of Thrones, Aerys II was deposed in a bloody revolution led by the Baratheon, Stark, and Lannister families. Robert Baratheon (whose fiancee, Lyanna Stark’s death was the spark that led to the uprising) took the throne, and married Cersei Lannister, although he did not stop his womanising ways.

Eddard Stark, brother of Lyanna and Robert’s closest friend is Warden of the North. A Game of Thrones primarily focuses on his sudden elevation to ‘Hand of the King’ (the king’s highest advisor) and his family’s unwilling entry into the political intrigues surrounding the throne.

Jon Snow has no place at court. As a son born to Eddard out of wedlock, he is not welcome there, nor can he stay with his father’s wife at Winterfell. Instead he travels north to join ‘The Night’s Watch’ – the ‘black brothers’ who leave behind all their land, possessions and family alliances to defend a 700 foot high wall of ice against the wildlings and other foul things that dwell in the forests north of the Seven Kingdoms.

Meanwhile, exiled in the east, Viserys Targaryen still believes himself to be the rightful king, and sells his sister Daenerys to a powerful Dothraki Khal, expecting an army in return.


I love high fantasy. So much so that I don’t know why it took me so long to pick this up. Perhaps fear that it wouldn’t live up to the hype? It did.

Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the main characters, but in the third person rather than first. Most chapters set within the Seven Kingdoms focus on members of the Stark family, but there are occasions where we instead visit ‘the imp’, Cersei Lannister’s dwarf brother Tyrion. I’m afraid if I admit he’s my favourite character so far, Mr Martin will find out and kill him off (as has happened to so many other characters already!) The chapters dealing with the experiences of the Targaryen family in exile are told from the perspective of young Daenerys, a much more likeable character than the vicious Viserys. The chapters are fairly short and there are cliff-hangers in all the right places, but as was previously advertised, there are many, many deaths (including a surprising number of main characters).

A Game of Thrones is a real chunker, and the 800 pages took me three weeks to get through, but what a ride! Even though I know there are several thousand pages left in the series, I am looking forward to them!! Now I’m afraid to start watching the TV series in case it doesn’t live up to the pure awesomeness of the book!!!

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Yesterday I committed an offense against everything I hold dear…I left a book on a bus.

It was a stupid mistake. Usually I would take a train to work, but they’re doing track works this week so bus was my only option. I was rattled by this, as I’m not a morning person and any disruption to my routine at that hour shakes me up. I settled down to read, but at some point I must have fallen asleep. Now I could have sworn I put my book back in my bag before this happened, but apparently I only dreamed it. I woke up just as the bus was pulling up to my station and had to get off in a hurry – so much so that I didn’t check my seat…

I then spent an hour standing in the rain, waiting for yet another train replacement bus to take me to my workplace, then walked the last 2 blocks to the office (an hour late!) I pulled open my bag to get out my diary, and my heart sank. The novel that should have been right at the top wasn’t there…

I’m crushed…not only is it not like me to lose things, but it was a book I’ve never read before, and I was really enjoying it! I’ve asked every lost property office at all the train stations I’ve been to today. No luck. It doesn’t look like my book is coming home.

I have only two last thoughts on the subject, then I’m going to try to get over it…

1. I really hope whoever finds my book either: gives it to lost property, keeps it and reads it or gives it to someone else to read (and doesn’t just throw it away!!!)

2. I’m soooo grateful it was a paperback I lost and not my Kindle!!!

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Book Review: The Time Machine

fa039-classics2014Once again I feel bad, having abandoned my poor little blog for almost three weeks. Even worse, I missed my first bloggiversary!! What can I say? We all get busy from time to time… Had I remembered it, I would have thanked all my followers for sticking with me – in spite of my sometimes patchy posting record – so I’ll take this opportunity of doing that now instead…THANK YOU!!

Fortunately I’ve still had plenty of time to read (a couple of 2-hour train rides a week for work will do that) and I’ve now made good on my promise to read H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, after I watched a movie adaptation first. I suspected at the time that this would be a mistake, and it turns out I was right.

My first impression of The Time Machine was this: Unless you are a morning person, this is not a book you should start reading at 7:30 am. Wait until your brain is completely in gear and ready to process lots of scientific details and obsolete vocabulary. I was extremely grateful for my Kindle’s dictionary, as on the first page alone there were 4 or 5 words which I only vaguely understood, and more were sprinkled throughout the rest of the novel.

The narrative is told in first-person: one narrator introduces the Time Traveller, then hands over to him for the bulk of the story (most of which takes place in the distant future). We are then returned to the original narrator for the epilogue.

Only a few characters are named: there is ‘Filby’, a minor character who disappears entirely after the first chapter or two, the Time Traveller’s household staff, and ‘Weena’ a female of the surface-dwelling ‘Eloi’ (one of two distinct species of humans the Time Traveller encounters in the future – the other being the underground dwelling ‘Morlocks’). All other characters are merely referred to by their occupations: the Medical Professional, the Psychologist, the Editor, the Journalist etc.

Although I found it hard to immerse myself in the story, I was struck by the authenticity of it. The Time Traveller’s confusion in the future, unable to understand the language of the people and therefore constantly making false assumptions about the world in which he found himself struck a chord. None of this made it into the movie adaption I watched – I suppose Hollywood weren’t prepared to make a movie where the characters could interact only by pointing… As it turns out, many of the most memorable parts of the movie were Hollywood additions, not in the novel at all.

One more thing…I don’t wish to spoil the ending of either book or movie, but I will say that although they end up in more or less the same place, the routes they take to get there are vastly different.

So…who should read it? Fans of sci-fi for sure, if only so you can say you’ve read it (as it is a staple of the genre). Other than that, I’d say it’s short, so try it if you want to…but I don’t see myself re-reading it any time soon.


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Who decides?

Google “100 books to read before you die” and you’ll find over 200 million results. Why are lists of great novels such a big deal these days?? It seems like everyone is anxious to get in on the act. Amazon, Goodreads, the BBC, Penguin, Time Magazine (just to name a few).

My biggest questions about these lists are these…

  • Who is it that decides what books belong on these lists (and what criteria do they use)?
  • Have the compilers of these lists actually read all of the books they’re recommending?
  • If I disagree with a book that’s made one of these lists, does that say something about my taste, or the compiler’s?

I’ve read a lot of books…and a fair few of them have made one or more of these lists. Remember a while back when the BBC put out a list of 100 books and claimed most people will have only read 6 of them? I’ve read 41, and bits of several more. The ones I haven’t read generally fall into 2 categories:

  • Books I just haven’t got around to reading yet
  • Books that I’m just not interested in reading (usually because the subject matter doesn’t interest me, or I’ve heard that it contains graphic sex, horror or violence)

Here’s the point I had in my head when I started this rant post. Am I a bad person if I refuse to read a work of ‘great literature’ simply because it is not to my taste? Am I really missing out on one of life’s ‘must-have’ experiences, or am I better off deciding that ‘life’s too short’ and instead doing something I’ll actually enjoy? What do you think?

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Book Review: Villette

fa039-classics2014I had never heard of this book before I started this challenge. Villette is a semi-autobiographical novel by Charlotte Brontë, loosely based on her time in a pensionnat (boarding school) in Brussels, Belgium. Set in the fictional town of Villette, in the fictional country of Labassecour, it is told in first-person narrative by the English protagonist, Lucy Snowe.

At first the narrative seems somewhat disjointed, as we are flung from a scene of domestic bliss through a series of barely touched on personal tragedies to Lucy’s decision to seek her fortune abroad. On board ship she meets Miss Ginevra Fanshawe, who is on her way to study at Madame Beck’s pensionnat in the Rue Fossette. Arriving in Villette alone and disoriented, Miss Snowe takes a wrong turning, and instead of finding the English-speaking hotel that had been recommended to her, she winds up on the doorstep of this same establishment. She is immediately hired, first as a nanny to the directress’ children, and later as the English teacher.

To be honest, I found Lucy Snowe to be a fairly annoying character. Although she writes with humor about her trials and tribulations, she bears them far too patiently. If I was placed in similar situations I’d kick up a fuss, but Lucy never does. Although well aware that her employer is spying on her, she never complains about her lack of privacy. Although she clearly has feelings for at least one male character throughout the story, she gracefully steps aside when she feels that other ladies of her acquaintance have a better claim on his affections. Only two characters ever really stir her up, and both are portrayed (at least at first) as genuinely odious people who would drive a saint to blasphemy.

That said, I still enjoyed reading Villette, although it was hard going until a few of the seemingly disconnected characters and events started to interlink. There were occasions when Lucy deliberately chose not to reveal details she’d learned about characters until later because ‘it did not suit her humor’. Personally I would have found it an easier read if it had.

Note: I was grateful that the library’s edition of Villette was annotated, as much of the dialogue in the book is in French, and although I was able to follow some of it, I would never have finished the book without the translations provided!

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Movie Review: The Time Machine (2002)

fa039-classics2014You probably won’t believe me when I tell you this. It was just like something off The Simpsons. There I was, sitting on my couch, contemplating my next step in the “Back to the Classics 2014″ challenge. I was checking my local library catalogue and thought I’d better look up The Time Machine, knowing that as there had been no very recent adaptions it might be hard to track down a DVD. I realised with horror that they didn’t have a copy of any film adaptions, recent or otherwise. Just as I was debating whether my next step would be a trip to Video Ezy or eBay, an ad came up on the TV. “Guy Pierce in The Time Machine, coming up next on GEM!”

Hard to believe, but 100% true! I had to make a difficult choice. Watch the movie before I read the book (one of my pet hates) or wait and read the book, knowing I might not be able to get hold of a copy of the movie again before the end of the challenge. As you can probably guess from the timing of this post, this time practicality won out over pet peeves. I will of course be reading the book as soon as possible.

Not having read the book, I can only describe the movie as I saw it. It tells the story of engineer Alexander Hartdegen who, after the sudden death of his new fiancée, becomes obsessed with the idea of time travel. After one unsuccessful attempt to save her life, he travels forwards in time to find out if any later advances in the field may help him understand why he failed. An accident flings him many thousands of years into the future, where he finds that humanity has evolved far beyond his imagination.

Obviously I cannot comment on how closely this adheres to the book, but I look forward to finding out. I will say that I thought the period sets and costumes were well done, and I enjoyed the acting, although it will probably colour my reading of the book.

Most of the special effects were also quite clever; the time lapse sequences as Alexander moved back and forwards in time were particularly stunning. I loved the vox (a futuristic library interface) but don’t expect to find him in the book. His frequent references to pop culture created since 1899 are obviously not going to appear in the novel (unless H.G. Wells had a time machine of his own!) Sadly I found the Morlocks too puppetlike to be truly frightening, although Jeremy Irons’ Über-Morlock was fairly chilling.

Although the ending was satisfactory, it left many unanswered questions. For example, how on earth did the Eloi learn ‘the stone language’ (English) from a pile of fragmented plaques? I also found Alexander’s confrontation with the Über-Morlock particularly unsatisfying, with many more questions only half answered. Overall The Time Machine was a fairly stock-standard fantasy adventure, worth watching once, but probably not something I’d watch over and over again.

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Just coming up for air

I feel like I’ve been neglecting my blog this week – and by extension all of you readers. It’s been crazy, and much as I’ve wanted to, writing a blog post has been the last thing on my mind (and my to-do list).

Good news #1

I finished and edited a short story, and submitted it to a local literary competition…I was really proud of the beginning, but the ending wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped. My confidence has also been a little battered by the fact that my beta reader (my Mum) didn’t seem to like it all that much, but it’s not a genre she reads a lot so I’m trying to stay positive.

Good news #2

I’ve been kept pretty busy with additional days at my paid job…which means more money coming in!!

Bad news #1

More paid work = less writing time. I had to abandon one competition this week as the deadline was unrealistic, and it looks like I may not have anything ready for next week’s competition either.

Bad news #2

Less writing time = less blog posts = less people reading my blog. This makes me sad :-( I love the feeling of knowing that I’m not just sending my thoughts out into nothingness, but when the posts dry up, so do the page views…

So…that’s my week. How was yours?

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