Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Published: 4th December 1984 (print)/15th September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin Books/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 208/6 hrs and 14 mins
Narrator: Kate Hood
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

1478198Distraught over her parents’ separation, Abigail follows a strange child called Beatie Bow and time slips back a hundred years where she becomes involved with an Australian shopkeeper’s family.

I was unsure what to expect from this, I’d heard great things about this Aussie classic and since it was reasonably short I was intrigued. I enjoyed the story from the start, I liked how Abigail is defiant and independent, and I loved the relationship she had with her mother.

I was quite drawn into the story by the end, it feels like a longer story than it is and time stretches on but does not drag. Park has done a great job mixing the time periods and blending the historical with the contemporary. Despite being published in 1980, there is a wonderful 70s vibe through this story because it is the time of the women’s liberation movement and this comes across in the dialogue between Abigail and her mother. Limiting minor spoilers I loved how fiercely Abigail is trying to reason with her mother over her relationship with her father. It gave a wonderfully modern feel to the story and I think Park does a great job satisfying both parties with how she handles the situation.

I was surprised by the ending but Park makes this work in how she loops it back to the earlier story. It subjects your expectations and keeps a little of the magic alive, certainly giving a satisfactory feel as a reader as we too have become attached to these figures of history as we spend time with them as well.

Kate Hood does a great job as narrator. Her use of accents makes each character stand out, though Park’s writing does that well enough as it is, with each time period represented through dialogue, language and descriptions.

The historical aspect brings to light a side of Sydney I hadn’t thought about before. The reign of Queen Victoria and the fact Australia is still reasonably new are charming factors, and Park shows us a little of how life was during that time. I understood how Park makes it sound rather peaceful and fulfilling, while also showing the hardships. The balance between the current times and the olden days is surely the perfect way to live and seeing Abigail come to that realisation was great.

For a time before young adult books were really a thing, this is a good coming of age story that fills in the gaps between kids and teens, for those early years before becoming a fully-fledged teenager and are still trying to navigate growing up and moving on from childhood.

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Goodbye Mr Chips by James Hilton

Published: 1st December 1982Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Laurel Leaf
Pages: 115
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Full of enthusiasm, young English schoolmaster Mr. Chipping came to teach at Brookfield in 1870. It was a time when dignity and a generosity of spirit still existed, and the dedicated new schoolmaster expressed these beliefs to his rowdy students. Nicknamed Mr. Chips, this gentle and caring man helped shape the lives of generation after generation of boys. He became a legend at Brookfield, as enduring as the institution itself. And sad but grateful faces told the story when the time came for the students at Brookfield to bid their final goodbye to Mr. Chips.

 

I can see why this is a much loved and adored book. It took me no more than an hour to read but it is so heartfelt and beautifully written that I could have flipped back to page one and spent another hour in the life of Mr Chipping. This book follows the story of a teacher at an English school through the changes and historical events of the late 19th to the early decades of the 20th century. Mr Chips is wonderfully depicted and his love of his job and commitment is amazing. As the book ended I was so involved that while it was emotional, it was also comforting and almost reassuring I guess. I don’t really know how else to put it. I highly recommend this to anybody and everybody.

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The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter

Published: 1st November 2006 (print)/9th May 2006 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Warne/Blackstone Publishing
Pages: 400/3 hrs 11 minutes
Narrator: Nadia May
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Short stories/Classic
★   ★   ★  ★  – 4 Stars

This complete and unabridged collection contains all of Beatrix Potter’s Tales in one deluxe volume with all their original illustrations. The stories are arranged in the order in which they were first published so they may be read in their proper sequence.

Of course the most well-known tale by Beatrix Potter is of Peter Rabbit, but that isn’t my favourite by far. I adore The Tailor of Glouster, and I have a soft spot for The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck. I was surprised that these tales aren’t as short as I remembered. Some of course are longer than others, but there is a decent story being told with intricate plots and characters, conflicts and drama of all kinds.

In this complete collection there were stories I knew, there were also characters I knew but whose stories I had never read. Then there were others that I had never heard of, like The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse which was a delightful tale of the small mouse who was incredibly houseproud who must fight off intruders, and deal with the mess people kept making. I loved her little house with the larder and pantry, this underground world mimicking the human one.

There are many stories to love in this collection and I think perhaps the only one I wasn’t quite fond of was The Tale of Piggling Bland. It is one of her later ones and is certainly quite strange, though not overly complicated on the surface. I never could understand this story, even as a kid. The pigs being sent to market in hope of being bought by humans, but not for food but for labour, possibly? It’s all a bit strange and not one of her better ones in my opinion.

One things I did love was how Potter ages the characters. They are not the same forever, stuck in their youth and misgivings. Peter and Benjamin grow up, have families of their own and become responsible. I also love how the characters are connected to one another. Jemima Puddleduck is known to Tom Kitten and so forth. It creates a wonderful universe where there are also humans who interact with them, but they have their own society as well, with proper etiquette and propriety included. A smaller version of the human world.

Some tales have the animals interacting with humans, others don’t seem to have any connection at all. The little world where they shop and have their own homes, where there are others like them is a great society. The theme across all the stories is that the animals are their natural selves but also have human tendencies. They dress in clothes, but eat their typical food and have natural enemies. All a bit bizarre when you can talk to one another over sugar but at the same time have a neighbour eat another.

Nadia May does a brilliant job with the narration. Her gentle tone suited the stories remarkably well and because of how Potter has written the tales, it supports the idea that she is telling you the story herself.

I loved delving back into the world of these animals and their stories. Potter’s tales are a wonderful mixture of mischief, cautionary tales, and general life for these animals. Foxes lust after eggs, rats and mice infest houses, fish eat toads, but with bonnets and petticoats to manoeuvre there is also a delightful society of creatures, personified but not so much as it stops them being animals.

You can purchase The Complete Tales via the following

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Published: 31st October 2006Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin
Pages: 146
Format: Paperback
Genre: Gothic Mystery
★ – 1 Star

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers.

I think it is no small feat for a book with only 146 pages to bore me so much. I had heard this was a classic, I had heard this was a Gothic mystery. A short Gothic mystery sounded like a great read. Unfortunately this was not the case.

To the credit of Shirley Jackson I was intrigued for a few chapters but then I was uninterested. I could see the Gothic mystery feel Jackson was going for. I got into the mood of the book, the small town, the eyes and whispers, not to mention the old house with the secluded family and secrets. After a good introduction to this town and these strange characters it plateaus and not a lot happens. The mystery around Merricat and her sister is decent, but there was something that couldn’t keep me engaged. I think it was perhaps the fact I figured out the secret from the beginning, but even then it is slow.

Merricat is a strange character. She is airy and absent, and if it wasn’t for the fact she interacted with villagers at the start I was half convinced she was a ghost and only Constance could see her. It’s an entirely confusing story as Jackson tries to keep not saying things and keeps etiquette from stating things outright. The dynamic between the remaining Blackwood’s is stilted, Merricat is unreliable as a narrator and she speaks in riddles half the time so you have no idea what is happening.

What was worse than it being confusing was that it became quite boring. I got myself to the halfway point and it got so dull I couldn’t bring myself to continue. I tried but I had no interest in these characters or their lives. The hook of the secret and the general strangeness wasn’t enough to hold me. I even tried skimming but didn’t care for that either. I ended up looking at the plot on Wikipedia, confirmed I knew what had happened and was relieved that I hadn’t read the rest of it, even if it was only 146 pages long I couldn’t make myself read any further.

There is an exciting ending, if one could call it that. Something happens at any rate, but perhaps this tale of Gothic mystery just wasn’t for me. In a similar vein to The Woman in Black, I cannot see the point of dragging things out endlessly for a mood. For even Hill’s story was 138 pages and it managed to have more substance than this one did.

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Watership Down by Richard Adams

Published: June 1975 (print)/1 September 2005 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Avon Books/ABC Audio
Pages: 478/5 hrs
Narrator: Kerry Francis
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic/Young Adult/Fantasy
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stout-hearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society. 

The way I had heard people talk about this book I was expecting it to be filled with death, heartache and disaster. I compared it to Animals of Farthing Wood where they lost members of their party and the entire book was about their journey. This was not entirely the case, but I guess, in a way, this was also a tough journey, especially into the unknown.

The different rabbit warrens were interesting and seeing the different scenarios they came upon made for an entertaining read. Seeing our world through the rabbit perspective was curious because sometimes they knew what things were other times they didn’t. This of course was due to where they lived. They knew some human things but not others because they had never seen them before.

I listened to a dramatisation which said it was unabridged but I was looking at my physical copy later and I’m sure most of it was there, but with dramatisations there is a lot less “he said, she said” required not to mention description as you can act it out with different voices and sound effects which might have made the difference.

The actors brought the characters to life really well, I liked the voices chosen for them and it reflected their personalities. Hazel was a wonderful character, he wasn’t flawless but he had a good heart. Surprisingly Fiver didn’t annoy me as much as I thought he would with his dramatics. They never explained much but perhaps that was the mystery of the rabbit world.

Adams was clever with parallels, the stories of El-ahrairah to influence the decisions of the rabbits. It created an understanding of the rabbit community and practice and how their beliefs played into their everyday life. Inspiration from their folklore to aide their current perils. Not only that but their own ingenuity to become greater than they were in order to survive.

As heartless as it sounds, I enjoyed the ending. I liked that brains beat brawn and even if some parts were strange, overall it was a good story. I’d always heard about this horrible ending and I can see how it might be a tad traumatic if you were a kid. I watched the movie afterwards, the 1970s version, and I can see their point. Despite the cartoon nature the violence really shines through and I will agree that end scene was visually very bloody and violent.

Thinking about it, I did enjoy the story more than I might have been in the middle. I have a few questions such as their ongoing (but logical) obsession with does, but also the fact they never try to rescue anyone else from their sorry lives when they meet them. Surely there would have been others who would have loved to come and join them, but they never thought to ask. If that is my only true criticism then that’s not so bad.

You can purchase Watership Down via the following

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