November PIcks

The signature of all thingsGilbert, Elizabeth (2013) The signature of all things. Bloomsbury. Alma Whittaker, the daughter of a very rich and bold botanical explorer, is a girl with a thirst for knowledge. Her botanical research and painstaking study of moss draws her into the mysteries of evolution, whilst at the same time she is challenged by the mystical, spiritual and divine.  This novel of the nineteenth century travels across the globe from London to Peru, Philadelphia to Tahiti, to a final denouement in Amsterdam, and is peopled with memorable geniuses, adventurers, astronomers, abolitionists, and the insane. Alma is a true hero of an enlightened age.  A grand novel, with original vision.  Rating: 9/10.

the-last-days-of-the-national-costumeKennedy, Anne (2013) The last days of the national costume. Allen & Unwin.  GoGo Sligo has abandoned literary studies in favour of repairing torn garments.  The often sordid tales behind the rips and tears of each garment have become the focus of her life.  One day a young punk woman brings in an Irish “dancing dress a la Riverdance” to be invisibly mended. GoGo becomes caught up in the origins of the dress and she continuously delays completion requiring the ‘client’ to recount his story of  deceit, heartbreak and death on the streets of Belfast.  Set during Auckland’s blackout of 1998 it has many metaphorical connections to literary traditions.  A promise largely undelivered.  Rating: 7/10.

get-off-the-grassHendy, Shaun & Paul Callaghan (2013) Get off the grass; kickstarting New Zealand’s innovation economy.  Auckland University Press.  Learning off knowledge to increase New Zealand’s prosperity is the central thesis.  The authors argue that the way to do this is through innovation in high-tech niches, and via more research and collaboration. Four key messages are promoted: Science must be taken seriously, the weird must be embraced, a more open and collaborative approach must be encouraged, and the need to value knowledge as well as nature. A serious contribution to the debate on how New Zealand can become a more prosperous.  Rating: 8/10.

georgette-heyer-biography-of-a-bestseller-by-jennifer-koelster-2011-x-200Kloester, Jennifer (2011) Georgette Heyer; biography of a bestseller. Heinemann. Since the publication of her first novel The Black Moth in 1921 Georgette Heyer’s books have been enduring international bestsellers.  Undoubtedly the “queen” of the popular regency romance genre, it is her meticulous research and storytelling ability that has made Heyer stand the test of time, where other authors of her era have fallen by the wayside.  Intensively private and emotionally contained Heyer is not a sparkling subject for study.  It is her passion for her writing that sustains interest in her life story. Although 10 years in the making with unlimited access to Heyer’s notebooks, private papers, family records and archive of letters this is a pedestrian biography.  Rating: 7.5/10.

Sense & sensibilityTrollope, Joanna (2013) Sense and Sensibility. Harper Collins.  A retelling of the Jane Austen story for a modern readership. The first in the reimagined Austen Project series which pairs six bestselling contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works.  Sense and Sensibility does not benefit from a reworking in terms of its fit in a twenty-first century context. Austen’s genius lies in her style and elegance of mind within her own period’s class structure and social mores.  Would much rather read a new novel written by Joanne Trollope, than one constrained by someone else’s plot. Rating: 7/10.

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