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An Endless Supply of Misfortune: A Spring Betrayal

spring betrayal#A Spring Betrayal by Tom Callaghan

This was one of the rare times I have been bit cheeky and contacted the publisher for an advance review copy as I adored the first in the series and couldn’t wait until the publication date! What follows is my honest review.

Inspector Akyl Borubaev’s Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is a lawless post-Soviet metropolis rife with corruption and vice. Several children’s bodies have been found buried together – all tagged with name bands. In his search for the truth behind the brutal killings, Inspector Borubaev has no one to turn to outside his sometime lover, the beautiful undercover Uzbek agent Saltanat Umarova.

A Spring Betrayal is the second book in Tom Callaghan’s Kyrgyz-set crime series. It is quite the action packed police drama in an unfamiliar setting and I enjoyed reading it. I particularly love the setting as it combines untouched natural beauty with drab Soviet poverty.

The disservice Tom Callaghan has created for himself is that his first novel A Killing Winter is so spectacular it would be hard for anyone to surpass, including himself! The first novel provided a laser sharp insight into the social problems that plague Kyrgyzstan and while A Spring Betrayal looks at problems associated with orphanages, international adoption and child exploitation it misses the bullet that made my heart sad in the first novel.

As you can see, I am now starting to write like a melancholic Kyrgyz, just as Callaghan does so well. I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan but Callaghan seems to capture the mood of a nation perfectly. His writing is filled with precision and in one turn of phrase he can hauntingly describe an example of child abuse and exploitation that really affects the reader. The author also writes so well that you stop questioning why Borubaev and Saltanat are ‘off the grid’ and on their own mission for so long, the safe houses and weapons stashes as it is full of action and short-ish chapters that often end on a cliffhanger.

In this novel there is more action over social substance and in some ways it is more insular with the intense focus on Borubaev and Saltanat’s hiding and mission. Both of these points indicate to me that the author may have been on more of a timeline and couldn’t distill everything he felt about Kyrgyzstan and its people into this novel. I also felt there were too many references to the first novel and Borubaev’s lamenting for his wife became a little repetitive and shallow towards the end.

As a stand alone novel A Spring Betrayal is great but I couldn’t help comparing it to the earlier novel.

Will I read book 3 in the series? Absolutely. Original, interesting crime.

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Exquisitely Charming: The Women in Black

women in blackThe Women in Black by Madeleine St John

At the very end of the Ladies’ Frocks Departments, past Cocktail Frocks, there was something very special, something quite, quite wonderful; but it wasn’t for everybody: that was the point. Because there, at the very end, there was a lovely arch, on which was written in curly letters Model Gowns.

First Impressions: I loved the introduction by Bruce Beresford. And then – after reading the first chapter I wondered if it was possible to read the whole book in one sitting as I was already in love with it.

Highlights: Where do I begin? It is a genuinely Australian novel written in the style of Austen and the Brontes yet it also has a European feel with Slovenian Magda and her ‘these people know nothing!’. An absolutely lovely novel. I bought my copy on my most recent trip to Australia. The staff member at Readings Malvern helped me pick out a stack of Aussie novels to bring back to London with me. We jovially disagreed on whether we enjoyed some recently published novels but she was so enthusiastic about this novel I took her word for it and am so glad I did! I don’t want to give away any of the story so just read it for yourself.

If I was an editor: I can’t suggest any improvements whatsoever. A perfect novel.

Overall: I don’t hold on to books after I read them but suspect I will keep this one as I will want to read it again.

 

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Daughter of the Southern Cross: My Brilliant Career

my brilliant careerMy Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

Written with all the high spirits of youth, My Brilliant Career is the unforgettable tale of Sybylla Melvin, a headstrong country girl – passionate, endearing, stubborn, honest – and her fraught journey from rags to riches to rags.

First Impressions: I was surprised at the bold and contemporary nature of Sybylla’s voice! Definitely not what I was expecting for a novel written in the 1890s!

Highlights: I loved Sybylla’s grit and fearlessness. I’m sure her unwillingness to accept the lot of women would have caused outrage in her day. I liken this novel to an Australian mixture of Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Great Expectations. I would have loved this book had I read it in my teens yet it is one of those few novels that would be rewarding for both adults and YA readers.

As an YA reader I probably would have enjoyed the romances (and Sybylla’s fiesty responses) more but now I must say that as an adult I found her stay at Barney’s Gap as a governess to the M’Swat children the most entertaining. Sybylla’s condescending attribution of incorrect spelling to people who she feels are inferior to her reached its pinnacle in these chapters. For instance her use of the word ‘choones’ to describe the songs taught during piano lessons had me giggling. Overall I can say that I loved this novel so much that I almost missed my tube stop. Oh, I will also add that the introductions that Text Classics include (this time by Jennifer Byrne) are wonderful.

If I was an editor: I find it hard to accept that such a unique and spirited heroine such as Sybylla has been (almost) forgotten. I’m not going to come out and say that all school students should read My Brilliant Career (and the thought probably makes many English teachers groan) but it is such a fun story that captures an era in time. Why are these sorts of novels shunned in most schools? Is it still the cultural cringe perhaps? Maybe it can’t compete with the many contemporary issue-based YA novels currently being published but perhaps it could be encouraged as an option for some? It seems a shame that such a wonderful Aussie novel is out of favour.

Overall: A 2016 Sybylla would be a star on social media!

 

 

 

 

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One Year On: My Laser Eye Surgery

I had my final 12 month eye check* today so no better time to write a post about the whole experience. I have been meaning to write a summary/review for about 9 months but as my eye sight is so good it always slips my mind.

When people find out I’ve had laser eye surgery they often have lots of questions for me, particularly if they wear glasses. Here are the questions I’m usually asked:

Where did you get it done?

I did a lot of internet research and my preference was to not use a ‘high street’ chain (although they do have lots of good reviews). I booked a free consultation at Accuvision, Parsons Green, for a number of reasons. They are a small but established clinic with long standing staff. It was also convenient for me to get to all the appointments which is important.

I also liked the fact that they are not pushy in any way whatsoever. I was asked if they could give me one follow up call in seven days and that has been it from the marketing side – no emails or post with deals and refer a friend incentives. They sent me away with an information pack and a list of surgery dates for the next 3 months if I decided to go ahead with it.
(I booked in before the follow up call).

What was the surgery like?

Quick. I wasn’t looking at my watch but it felt like I was in the theatre for no more than 15 minutes in total. The treatment on each eye only lasted a few minutes. I won’t go into too much detail but there was some pressure applied to the eye and then you saw a laser. When I sat up after the surgery I could already see better than before!

Did it hurt?

No. Drops were applied to each eye so you didn’t feel anything. However, when the pressure was applied it was uncomfortable more than anything.

Did you have to wear bandages?

No. I had sunglasses with me to block out glare. After the surgery I had to sit with my eyes closed for about 20 minutes and then I went home and spent an afternoon in bed with my eyes closed as much as possible. I had to put in drops quite regularly and I had leave-in bandage contacts that I didn’t even notice that were to be removed the next day. For the next few days I felt the same mild sensations I used to feel with new lens prescriptions when your eyes and brain are adjusting to the new vision.

Was the surgeon good?

He was brilliant. He had a lovely warm manner about him and although I only met him before my surgery I felt in safe hands. His surgical team were also fantastic and one of the staff even held my hand when the pressure was put on each eye as it was a little uncomfortable.
I was also impressed with the opticians. I had most of my appointments with Joan and she was great. I’m a little sad I won’t be seeing her again!

Did it work?

Absolutely! The treatment started working immediately. I caught a taxi home and by the end of the 20 minute drive I could read street signs unaided. Now, a year on, when the sun comes out on lovely spring days the colours I see are so vivid it’s wonderful. Everything is so sharp.

How much did it cost?

Well, most clinics have their prices up front on their websites but there are always deals. I got a spring deal last year that made it almost half price.

Did anything go wrong?

My left eye corrected to 20-20 immediately but my right eye took a bit longer. That being said it was hovering around -0.25 which was a huge improvement overall from -3.00 and looking through both eyes (as you do) I couldn’t even notice the fault. I didn’t realise it for a while but I also had a mild halo on my right eye which was more noticeable when I was tired. About 6 months to the day after surgery it completely disappeared overnight. Suddenly my new eyesight was even better than before and since the halo disappeared my right eye continued correcting itself. Amazing.

But you suited wearing glasses!

That didn’t mean I enjoyed wearing them! I am also vain enough to have always bought expensive designer pairs.
I am sure that if I had stayed in Australia I would have had this surgery done sooner due to the glare and the annoyance of swapping sunglasses to regular glasses when driving into carparks, etc. I also found contacts more comfortable to wear in the UK. I can now add that getting ready without putting contacts in is so much quicker and easier! Opening ovens and walking outside in drizzly showers is also more pleasant.

I have been saying for years that I would like to have laser eye surgery but it wasn’t until my son was born and I was still in hospital and realised that he was looking into my eyes through my glasses that I decided I wanted to have it done.
Everyone is different and if you want it done then book yourself a consult. If you are still unsure then leave it and the right time for you will come.

*I don’t think everyone needs a 12 month check but as my right eye wasn’t fully corrected at 6 months I had this appointment.

 

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2016 Miles Franklin Prize – The Case for Black Rock White City

black rock

I have never before written a post about book prizes but I have to admit I was thrilled when I saw A.S. Patric’s Black Rock White City long listed for the Miles Franklin prize. Now, while the whole long list looks incredibly enticing this year I have only read one of the other novels on the list to date.

So while I can’t really compare it with other titles on the list I know that Black Rock White City is a strong and original novel worthy of accolades and it sets its own benchmark.

Black Rock White City tells the story of Jovan and Suzana who were refugees from the Bosnian war and are now settled in Melbourne. Jovan works as a cleaner in a hospital and looming over their story is a a Kafka-esque existential graffiti artist whose words Jovan must constantly remove.

I must admit that for the first few pages I did wonder if I would enjoy it but I can assure you it is a crazy and powerful novel. It made my top 2015 reads and as the months have passed it is the 2015 read that has affected me most. Some snippets in the story are so sad I still linger over them when they come to mind.

Could it win the Miles Franklin? Yes, most definitely as it is creative and shows how complex Australian society is today. Hopefully this is the version of Australia that the judges want to promote this year. I also hope the judges leave some time to digest the content so they can fully appreciate it.

You can find my original review here.

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Current Affairs/Personal Journey/Travelogue Mash Up: The End of Seeing

the end of seeingThe End of Seeing by Christy Collins

Determined to discover the truth about the disappearance of her partner, Nick, Ana sets out to re-trace the route he took as a photojournalist on the other side of the world – a journey that saw him presumed dead, on a ship wrecked off the coast of Italy. But Ana doesn’t believe Nick is dead.  As she tracks his journey, she begins to witness the world that Nick saw through his camera – a world in which disappearance is not unexpected.

First Impressions: I knew very little about this novella before starting and I was surprised at how current the issues in the story were. A story of refugees but refugees that weren’t directly threatening Australia’s borders. I wonder if it was intentional to make it more international?

Highlights: You may be able to guess that I found this story really thought provoking. Although it would have been current when the author was writing and publishing it, the current crisis in the Mediterranean makes it even more relevant. However, it is hard to say exactly what the main story is as it is Ana’s personal journey too, as well as a travelogue through many European countries. All of this fit into a novella! Ana’s story was incredibly sad (I won’t tell you more) which makes it interesting that it was paralleled with the plight of countless forgotten illegal immigrants. It is all too easy to disappear and sometimes that is the easier option. I also enjoyed learning about the world of photography and photojournalism.

If I was an editor: It’s hard to think how this could be improved. Perhaps more from the Australian detention centre would have been interesting but I know it wasn’t necessary to the story. I also thought that by the end when Nick’s story was discovered (or was it?) that it was too exacting for where Ana’s story had taken her, like it belonged to a different genre. Or was this intentional given the numerous juxtapositions in the story?

Overall: The End of Seeing was a winner of the 2015 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize and I now want to indulge myself on a weekend reading the other winners of this prize. Sort of like sitting down with a Peirene Press trilogy.

Thank you to the author for a copy of the title to review.