Monthly Archives: March 2018

Review: Scarlet and Magenta

Scarlet and Magenta is a recently released historical novel by New Zealander Lindsey Dawson writing about Victorian times in the country’s (then) remote township of Tauranga.

ScarletMagenta (2)

Reading an historical novel as a woman entrenched in feminist beliefs is a challenge. You want the hero(ine)s to succeed against the entrenched patriarchal beliefs even though you know that likelihood is zilch. I imagine writing such a novel is equally frustrating because of the limitations of historical accuracy.

Colonial wives and lives curbed

Dawson, however, empathetically strides alongside her two colonial wives as they grapple with the understanding that their gender renders them silent in the decisions about  life. Even in the sphere of domestic and cultural pursuits, their production is monitored and curbed by husbands and society’s beliefs.

Violet’s past haunts her while her ambitious husband bullies her almost into submission. Anna has a more magnanimous husband and her rebellion is less dramatic than Violet’s.

My reservations

The character of Rupert is developed through the eyes of the two women and Anna’s husband. I felt this hampered a full rounding out of a charming man bent on self-destruction. 

I loved the book, but I felt that Dawson hurried the conclusion. Although the plot  ends are tied up nicely, by using a jump forward in time, I believe that a little more unfolding of the story could well  keep the reader enthralled.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: The Ninth Hour

by Alice McDermott

If you’ve watched the TV series “Call the Midwife”, then you’ll feel right at home reading “The Ninth Hour” by Alice McDermott. In fact I had to remind myself that this story of selfless nuns was taking place in Brooklyn, New York, not the south end of London after the war. McDermott’s novel portrays many universal themes of women’s oppression around that era, and the consequences of being poor and sick.

A rather bleak story, the novel offers insights into the lives of these religious women and illustrates the self-motivation required to give your life to God. With their focus on finding workable solutions for the unfortunate people they work for, occasionally they have to bend the rules. For Annie, an Irish immigrant who came to America and was widowed early, life was extremely bleak until the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor stepped in to give pregnant Annie a job in the convent’s laundry.

Annie and her daughter Sally live a cloistered life, eventually leading teenage Sally to believe that her calling is to join their religious order. The outcome of this decision demonstrates the internal struggles of boundless love for one’s fellow humans, and how challenging this can be for women in religious orders.

McDermott shows rather than tells her story, challenging the reader to read between the lines and understand the true meaning of sacrifice for these women as they struggle to improve the lives of those they serve in their community.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: His Father’s Will

By Suzanne Clark

You know you’ve read a good book when you start slowing down because you don’t want the book to end. That is how His Father’s Will by Suzanne Clark gripped me.

Mainly based on Sue’s own grandfather’s life story, the book is written as a novel, yet it brings home so clearly the contrasts of pioneer life in New Zealand and the life risks faced by so many children in the early 1900s at an age when today’s youngsters are joyfully anticipating a transition from pre-school to primary school. Nowadays the rules of Health and Safety may be seen as restrictive, but the comparison offered by the life journey of Will and his five siblings will fill you with awe.

Family Skeletons

The novel is filled with iconic New Zealand scenery, history, pioneer trappings and tools which add to the flavour of the tale. There are good and bad or ‘trapped’ characters as well as the helpful and kind – each helping to flesh out the story of Will son of William Tyrell.

Sue’s writing is easy to read and the storyline holds your attention, which is probably a challenge when based so closely on the real life actions of a real life family. Family skeletons are unmasked, as are the institutions that were supposed to care for deprived children. Considering their tough upbringing most of the children lived beyond their three score years and 10.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author