Standalone Sunday: Into the Heart of Tasmania

Review: Into the Heart of Tasmania: A Search for Human Antiquity

Author: Rebe Taylor

Themes: race, anthropology, class, human evolution, culture

In 1908 it was widely accepted that the last Aboriginal in Tasmania was dead.  Enter Englishman Ernest Westlake, who planned to write about Stone Age implements and tools. Instead he wound up in the middle of a controversy he did not appreciate as he found living history all around him.

I have to admit that I really struggled with this book at first. If I hadn’t agreed to read it for Net Galley, I would have given it up. But I stuck with it, and somewhere around 10% I found it getting interesting. Westlake is not a sympathetic character. He struck me as a rather typical stuffy, pigheaded Victorian gentleman of the time. But the author, Rebe Taylor, was much more engaging when she allowed her personality to come through.

I think this could have been a more interesting book, but as it was I found it difficult to follow and rather dull. I’m not sure who the was intended for, but I doubt it was for average readers like myself. Thanks for the chance to read it.

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Review: A Lady in the Smoke

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Review: A Lady in the Smoke

Author: Karen Odden

Format: audiobook

Setting: 1874 England

Themes: love, family, medicine, addiction, revenge, politics, law

Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother are returning home after a miserable London Season only to be involved in a train wreck. Elizabeth has a minor concussion and her mother’s ankle is sprained, but she can’t manage anything without Elizabeth’s help. Only handsome Dr. Wilcox is able to provide the care her mother needs. Elizabeth is drawn to the young man, but such a match would never be permitted by Society. Elizabeth knows this, but her heart refuses to listen. She’s drawn into Dr. Wilcox’s life, his crusade for safer railway conditions, and the bitter struggle against his powerful enemies.

I found this one while browsing the titles my library had available for online audiobooks, and I have to say I was hooked. I love a good historical mystery and this one was very promising. Victorian setting, star-crossed lovers, class struggles, and a new author, it was lots of fun. Definitely recommended.

 

Reread: Murder Over Easy

Title: Murder Over Easy, Trailer Park #2

Author: Jimmie Ruth Evans

I don’t know if you ever reread books, but I am happy to revisit one I enjoyed before. And when I saw this one at the library, I decided to pick it up for a second helping.

Wanda Sue is a hardworking single mom, trying to make ends meet. She works two jobs, one at the local diner and one overnight stocking shelves at the discount store. On her way home early one morning, she gets a call from her boss at the diner that he’s been arrested for the murder of another waitress. Wanda Sue believes her boss is innocent, so she starts out to find the real killer.

So what was it about this book that make me pick it up again? Well, it wasn’t the genre. I got a little bit into the book and then remembered that I don’t really like cozy mysteries. They rely so much on quirky characters and coincidence that the “mystery” is virtually nonexistent. I generally spot the victim and the murderer before anyone is dead, and that drives me nuts. No, it was the character.

Most fiction is written about the middle class. People who live in moderately nice houses, have a couple of cars, a couple of kids in school, and a decent job. Books about single people generally don’t mention roommates and their apartments are nice. Then there are plenty of book about the rich, too. But books about the working poor are not so common. The ones you do find focus on drugs or violence or despair, not on how many of the working poor are functioning just fine, thank you. Sure, money is really tight, but that’s just the way it is and there’s no point in worrying about it. Meanwhile, it’s time to get to work, and if that means working two jobs, then it does, and that’s that.

My family has fluctuated between lower middle income and upper middle income, but some of my best friends were a distinct income bracket below mine. I was in their homes often enough to know that they are not well represented in what’s being published today. Their lives are different from those with more money, but they aren’t as bleak as you might imagine. I loved this series because you see that. Wanda Sue doesn’t complain. Sure, she’s tired, but she’s happy to have her jobs, she loves her kids, and she helps her friends when she can. I would recommend this series just because of her, but start with the first book, Flamingo Fatale.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Working class look at Elizabeth Bennett

This book has been getting a lot of buzz, and it’s not hard to see why. Jane Austen is still hot, and thanks to Downton Abbey, readers are curious about the split between how the upper crust and the working class. We’re already familiar about the world of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The book is still super popular, with film versions, graphic novels, and so many spinoffs it’s impossible to keep track. You may be wondering if we really need one more.

Yes.

You see, most of the other versions still revolve around Elizabeth and Darcy – new takes on their romance, throwing a zombie or vampire in there, adding some sex, looking at what happens after the wedding, making them spies, and on and on. But what about the other characters in the story? What about some characters that aren’t really even named as characters, but still contribute to the story? Like, say, the servants?

The main characters of the original book are still here, but only at the fringes. In English major terms, this is a Marxist look at Pride & Prejudice.  The real story revolves around the household staff:  Mr. and Mrs. Hill, Sara the housemaid, little Polly the kitchen maid, and the new footman, James.  The arrival of James, who clearly has a secret, has upset the household routine. In fact, everyone in the story has a secret, from Mrs. Hill’s past, to Mr. Hill’s romantic persuasion, to the handsome coachman visiting at the Bingley’s estate.

The book starts off with Sara up to her elbows in laundry, scrubbing the dirt once more out of Miss Elizabeth’s petticoats. And that’s just for starters. Someone has to make all those cups of tea the girls keep requesting, arrange those dinners for the neighbors, support Mrs. Bennett’s failing nerves. Someone has to clean up for Mr. Collin’s visit. And while the ladies of the house may be solely concerned with flirting and finding husbands, the rest of the world is dealing with the war against Napoleon, labor unrest, getting in the harvest, slaughtering livestock for the winter ham, starching the laundry, and so on and on.

This book is not for everyone. If you want your Pride & Prejudice to stay just the way the author wrote it, nice and clean and happily ever after, then you really won’t enjoy this book. The characters are not politely repressed gentlefolk – they fight, they swear, they have sex. James has flashbacks to the war. None of this is graphic, but it’s certainly a change from the well-mannered Jane Austen. But if you like learning about how all members of society live, not just the wealthy, then I strongly recommend this book. I listened to it on audio, and the reader did such a good job with the drawing room accents of Miss Elizabeth and the lower class speech of little Polly. I would definitely put this on  your Audible wishlist. 4.5 stars