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review 2018-11-17 00:11
Realistic SF: "Floating Worlds" by Cecilia Holland
Floating Worlds (Sphere Science Fiction) - Cecelia Holland


(Original Review, 1980-08-05)


"Floating Worlds" by Cecilia Holland is a terrific book, and I'm surprised it hasn't gotten more attention. Maybe the reason a lot of people don't like it is that the world and the characters it portrays aren't at all nice;
 
 
 
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

 

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review 2018-10-27 00:10
The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde
The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde - Oscar Wilde,Rupert Hart-Davis,Merlin Holland

Before I go into why I loved this book, I should make clear that I have not read the entire correspondence that is contained in this book - this is a 1230-page volume!

I have mostly browsed correspondence and opened the book at random to read whatever letter such method revealed to me. However, there were letters that were of particular interest to me and that caused me to pick up the book in the first place, such as Wilde's correspondence to Lord Queensberry and the letters relating to his trial and imprisonment.

 

What I have found with this wonderful book is that:

 

- Wilde was a humorous and warm correspondent. There are several letters in this collection that were to unidentified correspondents who seemed to be members of the reading or theatre-going public, who just decided to write to him. Wilde evidently did not know these people, and yet, he still answered the letters in manner that felt engaged with whatever it was that the senders had asked him. 

 

- Wilde had a LOT of social engagements and used them negotiate advances on plays and writings. At least, much of the correspondence seems about that - not just for himself but also for other writers, actors, and producers.

 

- The letters to Bosie's mother show a genuine, deep concern of Wilde's over Alfred's well-being. The both may have been toxic for each other (Wilde and Bosie, I mean), but from the letters to Bosie's mother, it appears Wilde did seek help when he feared Bosie to be in danger of harming himself. (The book doesn't contain the answers to his letters, so I do not know whether Bosie's mother acknowledged Wilde's concerns.)

 

- Letter to Bosie that Wilde wrote from Reading Gaol which is commonly published as De Profundis is contained in this volume also, and it was extraordinary to see the letter in the context of the other correspondence of the same time, in which Wilde mostly tried to settle his affairs, asking for debts to be paid following the trial. For whatever image we may have of Wilde as the flamboyant bon vivant, he was serious about settling debts and not owing people dues. 

Of course, Wilde's imprisonment didn't just deprive him of his freedom, he also lost most of his contacts and some of his business partners took advantage of Wilde not being able to pursue them for fraud or theft or not-paying his royalties. He was thoroughly stripped of his civil liberties and his rights. 

 

And this is where the book was really hard to read. It really shows the change from Wilde being a student, to becoming famous, to falling from grace, to being utterly dependent on the few friends that stayed loyal to him. At the end, there were only two of them. Two.

 

Here are some of the more harrowing passages from the letters to Reginald Turner about Wilde's prison stay:

"17 May 1897 

 

[...] I cannot tell you how good and dear it was of you in my eyes. Other people came forward with promises of large sums of money [...] every one of them has backed out.

   You, dear Reggie, simply and quietly and thoughtfully go and get me a beautiful and

useful thing. You make no noise beforehand: you blow no lying trumpets like Frank Harris: you don't pose as the generous friend: you simply do a sweet kind action, unostentatiously, and you are the only one who has really helped me on my going out. I can't tell you how touched I am: I shall never forget.

 The person who has sent me money to pay for my food and expenses on going out is my dear sweet wife, and you have bought me my travelling bag: and now I want yourself; I want you, if you can, to be ready to meet me when I go out, at Mortimer, a place six miles from here. 

I am ill, and unnerved. Already the American interviewer and the English journalist have arrived in Reading: the Governor of the Prison has just shown me a letter from an American interviewer stating that he will be here with a carriage on Wednesday morning for me, and offering any sum I like if I will breakfast with him! Is it not appalling?

I who am maimed, ill, altered in appearance so that no one can hardly recognise me, broken-hearted, ruined, disgraced - a leper, and a pariah to men - I am to be gibbeted for the pleasure of the public of two worlds!"

Wilde also brought home some of the less apparent issues of the criminal justice system of his day:

"27 May 1897 [to the editor of the Daily Chronicle]

 

Sir, I learn with great regret, through the columns of your paper, that the warder Martin, of Reading Prison, has been dismissed by the Prison Commissioners for having given some sweet biscuits to a little hungry child. 

 

I saw the three children myself on the Monday preceding my release. They had just been convicted, and were standing in a row in the central hall in their prison dress, carrying their sheets under their arms previous to their being sent to the cells allotted to them. I happened to be passing along one of the galleries on my way to the reception room, where I was to have an interview with a friend. They were quite small children, the youngest - the one to whom the warder gave the biscuits - being a tiny little chap, for whom they had evidently been unable to find clothes small enough to fit. I had, of course, seen many children in prison during the two years during which I was myself confined. Wandsworth Prison especially contained always a large number of children. But the little child I saw on the afternoon of Monday the 17th, at Reading, was tinier than any of them. I need not say how utterly distressed I was to see these children at Reading, for I knew the treatment in store for them. The cruelty that is practised by day and night on children in English prisons is incredible, except to those that have witnessed it and are aware of the brutality of the system."

Wilde does not provide any graphic details of the cruelty he experienced, but the change in his outlook on life is very visible. He was a broken man on his release.

 

The last letter in the collection is a letter to Frank Harris in which Wilde begs him to send the money that Harris owes Wilde so he can settle his doctor's bill, and the Epilogue included in this - I have to say it again - magnificent compilation includes the letters between Wilde's last two friends - Reginald Turner and Robert Ross - who both cared for Wilde in his last days as he was dying from meningitis. 

 

Simply heart-breaking stuff.

 

Lastly, I would like make another note about what drew me to this book in the first place - the book was a collaboration between Rupert Hart-Davis and Merlin Holland. 

 

Hart-Davis had previously compiled the first ever major collection of Wilde's letters in 1962, and continued to collect material and letters which he then published in 1985. It is the collaboration with Merlin Holland that, I suspect, adds another level of depth to this particular edition - together with a further 300 letters which Holland was able to add  from Wilde's family estate. For those not in the know, Merlin Holland is Wilde's grand-son. 

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review 2018-10-18 18:47
Review: Everless
Everless - Sara Holland

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This is one of the most original fantasies I have come across in a while. While I can’t say I was that invested in any of the characters, I found the actual story itself and the world building totally captivating and the combination of the two made it book impossible to put down. In this fantasy time is a commodity that can be bought and sold.

 

The world building was               quite complicated, or at least for me, the combination of magic and science and the whole buying and selling time. The setting was a small, town on the edge of a huge estate where the wealthiest family in the district ruled over everything.

 

The heroine Jules used to live at the estate where her father was a revered blacksmith, but a secret caused them to flee in the middle of the night and now they are barely eeking out a living in a tiny cottage on the edge of the forest. Her father is in debt and sick. So Jules hatches a plan to sell her own time and repay his debts

 

Yet she finds herself presented with an opportunity for employment at the estate, Everless, where she once lived. Seizing the moment, Jules makes herself a plan to save her father. She worms her way into employment at Everless.

 

Jules is one of the brighter YA heroines, she’s smart and thinks things through. She plans and doesn’t seem to act recklessly when things don’t go according to plan. She was a little bit two dimensional but likeable enough. Back at Everless while in a different capacity than she was previously, she’s of course flooded with memories of her time back then, and the mystery of why she and her father fled in the first place. And she has to deal with the two sons of the Lord of Everless. One of whom was a great friend and played with her when they were children, who has grown up to be devastatingly handsome and quite the ladies man. He’s engaged to the Queen’s daughter. And his brother – who was a mean bully.

 

The plot gets quite twisty, there’s a legend on how time came to be used as a commodity, a vicious queen who everyone’s terrified of visiting Everless, Jules discovers she has time letting abilities that are beyond normal, a hidden vault where Jules believes she will get some of the answers she seeks, there are plenty of secrets – including a mystery to solve about Jules’s deceased mother, and some things her father neglected to tell her. And people who turn out to be nothing like you thought they were.

 

I read this quite some time ago so I can’t remember all the details. Just that it was a really good one, quite different and I liked it. I’ve already pre ordered the next one.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Hatchette Children’s Group for the review copy.

 

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text 2018-10-03 13:39
Halloween Bingo 2018 - Ghost Stories
The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde - Oscar Wilde,Vyvyan Holland

No I didn't read the complete works of Oscar Wilde last night. Just The Canterville Ghost.

 

I think this was probably one of the first Oscar Wilde stories I ever read (along with The Happy Prince and Other Tales). And I enjoy it every time I re-read it.

 

I love the Otis family who are completely OK with buying a country house with a resident ghost, and who instead of being terrified by his clanking chains, offer him some lubricator to oil them. Because they're American and pragmatic and don't hold with that kind of nonsense.

 

Which is a shame, because Sir Simon (the ghost) takes his ghostly duties very seriously indeed and has a whole repertoire of scary characters which have worked very well for him in the past. Unfortunately he is no match for the Otis's twin boys who spend their time thinking up ways to trick him, including a 'ghost' made out of a bedsheet which scares the crap out of him. I reckon Kevin in Home Alone probably got most of his ideas from the Otis boys.

 

 

Funny, sad, and ultimately a happy ending. What more can you ask for?

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-21 07:33
Dynasty by Tom Holland
Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland (2015-09-03) - Tom Holland;

TITLE:  Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar

 

AUTHOR:  Tom Holland

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2015

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-349-12383-7

__________________________________

 

Dynasty is the early history of the Julio-Claudian line of the Roman emperors retold as a story.  This book starts off where Rubicon ended.  This is a narrative history that seeks to entertain the reader and provide a story of what happened.  For me, it did not succeed with either endeavour.  I don’t know much more about the “what happened” than I had before reading this book (i.e. a succession of Roman Emperors that waged war on whom ever stuck their fancy and had a fancy for despotism and murdering anyone they felt like).  Nor was I entertained – I was bored and finished reading the book just to get it off my bedside table.

 

Holland does not attempt to put forth new scholarly conclusions, nor does he offer much analyses of complex events.  This narrative relies almost exclusively on textual evidence in Roman literature and history, with casually inserted quotes from primary textual sources without bothering to explain their source, context or (on occasion) their relevance. 

 

The potential storyline is strong, but Holland’s delivery manages to be weak.  The writing is tedious, ponderous, overly-flowery with a disjointed and distant narrative that manages to be more selective gossip and sensationalism than actual history.  It doesn’t help that in a 500+ page book there are only 7 incredibly long-winded chapters, which all have mafia related headings.   The author spends a ridiculous amount of ink on each emperor’s sexual proclivities and random insertions of far too much graphic sexual detail of what the author professes to be the values of the rest of the Roman citizens at the time.  He rather gleefully “spices” up the narrative of these salacious details with foul and vulgar language (apparently big boys like their potty humour too), which jarred with the tone of the rest of the text.  Apparently, Holland is under the impression that popular history books need to be excessively graphic, crude and vulgar to be interesting to readers.

 

The book is also rather limited in scope, dealing only with the Julio-Claudians and their enemies (i.e. upper-class associates and relatives), thus excluding almost entirely the everyday lives of ordinary Romans, any changes in the Roman economy, trade, and climate, and also excludes anything related to material culture unless it involves monuments relevant to the Julio-Claudians.

 

This book couldn’t decide whether it was supposed to be a popular history book (with footnotes and bibliography) or a work of historical fiction.  Despite the inclusion of a timeline, maps and family trees, this book came across as a messy hodgepodge of people with vaguely similar names (apparently ancient Romans lacked imagination when naming their children!), who are in some way related to each other, doing various despicable deeds to each other.  Talk about a dysfunctional, psychopathic family!

 

 

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