Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop All Amazon Fashion Summer Savings Up to 25% Off Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Oasis Learn more Shop now Learn more
Profile for S. L. Parkinson > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by S. L. Parkinson
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,240,544
Helpful Votes: 47

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
S. L. Parkinson "Shayne Parkinson" (New Zealand)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2
pixel
Reading on the Farm: Victorian Fiction and the Colonial World
Reading on the Farm: Victorian Fiction and the Colonial World
by Lydia Wevers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beguiling excursion into the past, 12 May 2011
The inspiration for this book was the station library from Brancepeth, one of the large New Zealand sheep stations of the 19th century later "burst up" by legislation to allow for smaller, more affordable landholdings. Brancepeth's collection has survived remarkably intact, and was gifted to Victoria University of Wellington in the 1960s. "Reading on the Farm" reflects on the place of books and reading in colonial New Zealand. The book is given shape by the presence of station clerk John Vaughan Miller, a learned man whose life on the station seems to have been a lonely and disappointed one, and who put much energy into looking after the collection.

As well as being read in the library itself, books circulated around the property. There's a lovely image of a parcel of books from the library being included in the dray load of essential supplies for the more distant out-stations, to help pass the lonely evenings in plain little huts.

Readers have left their marks on these books, quite literally. The library's lending register has not survived, but Wevers uses the signs of (sometimes rough) usage to estimate the books' popularity with readers. There are numerous fingermarks, occasional scorchmarks from reading by candle or firelight, sometimes a pressed flower between pages. There's also a startling amount of marginalia, ranging from Greek glosses by Miller in several books to a terse "Rot" scrawled by an unknown hand on the title page of a book called "Intemperance: the Great Source of Crime".

I was particularly struck by just which authors were most popular with Brancepeth readers. The Victorian era saw large growth in the number of new titles produced each year, along with cheaper editions that made books more accessible, and the best-sellers of the day were most certainly not limited to those we now think of as classics. To quote Wevers:

"Focussing on the literary canon as literary history greatly distorts the picture of what Victorian readers actually read, as if everyone was a serious literary scholar".

Identifying the most heavily-read titles in the Brancepeth collection helps make that picture clearer. Writers like Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray, and Charlotte Bronte are part of the canon, but the list of well-worn books includes less familiar authors who were among the best-sellers of their day, such as Marie Corelli, Sarah Grand, and the author with the largest number of titles among the most heavily used books: Mrs Henry Wood. The popular books at Brancepeth included adventure stories and historical novels, as well as a large dose of romances, "sensation novels", and novels of the "New Woman"; perhaps not what might be expected in such an overwhelmingly masculine society.

This is a beguiling and often charming excursion into the past, showing us the place of reading amongst a social group usually consigned by history to obscurity.


Mansfield Park [with Biographical Introduction]
Mansfield Park [with Biographical Introduction]
Price: £0.90

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An overlooked heroine, 4 May 2011
Mansfield Park seems to appear quite frequently on people's "least favourite Austen book" lists, but over the years I've come to think more and more highly of it. I've become very fond of timid, frail little Fanny, whose heart is a good deal warmer than those of the more flamboyant female characters. She's affectionate, loyal, and prepared to stick to what she feels to be right even though she suffers all the more for it because she's so powerless.

But Fanny is not a beguiling heroine to hang a whole novel on, and Austen does not attempt to. Mansfield Park is a rich and complex work, with ambiguous characters, plots within plots, and layers of symbolism that aren't what I usually associate with Jane. Her use of the play "Lovers' Vows" is sheer brilliance in what it shows us of the characters and their entwined relationships, even down to the fate of the performance itself. On a smaller scale, the game of "Speculation" does something similar.

Mary Crawford can be seen as a portrait of what Elizabeth Bennet might be if she had all the wit and liveliness we love, but without solid virtue at her core. Mrs Norris is, I think, Austen's nastiest female character (in the most familiar six novels, at least; I'm not counting Lady Susan). She makes Lady Catherine seem like a cuddly granny. Edmund is very silly for most of the book, but it's (mostly) convincing, and it's forgivable, because he gets there in the end. Henry Crawford plays the villain, but he had a very good chance of being the hero.

The editor of my edition says he considers Mansfield Park "one of the most profound novels of the nineteenth century", which is high praise indeed. I'll content myself with saying I like it very much.


Lavinia
Lavinia
by Ursula K. LeGuin
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Giving a voice to the voiceless, 4 May 2011
This review is from: Lavinia (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this book for its credible evocation of a very different time and place; for the sense it gives of research thoroughly done but applied with a light hand; and most of all for the beauty of Le Guin's prose.

Lavinia never speaks a word in The Aeneid; Le Guin gives her a voice. She also has Lavinia muse on her own status as the creation of a poet, and the form of limited immortality her incomplete rendering gives her. The book can be read as a simple narrative, and as an invitation to the reader to muse on the roles of creator and created.

Le Guin's cool, detached style meant I wasn't moved by the story, even when it was recounting tragic loss. Lavinia tells us she adored Aeneas, and I believed her--because she's an honest girl, not because I felt her emotion. Her Lavinia reminded me quite a lot of Tenar, who is one of my favourites of Le Guin's creations. They have much of the same strength, patience, and devotion to duty.

This is a fine piece of work, and a pleasure to read.


Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazar, 1867-1898 (Dover Fashion and Costumes)
Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazar, 1867-1898 (Dover Fashion and Costumes)
by Stella Blum
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A lavishly detailed delight, 4 May 2011
This is a book I dip into for pleasure almost as often as for serious research. Rich in detailed descriptions, beautifully illustrated, covering everything from slippers to head-dresses, gorgeous gowns and beautiful lingerie, and such essential accessories as jewelery and fans. There are elements of social history, too, in the attention given to such items as the correct mourning clothes, including those suitable "for elderly ladies". A delight of a book.


Everyday Fashions, 1909-20, as Pictured in Sears Catalogs (Dover Fashion and Costumes)
Everyday Fashions, 1909-20, as Pictured in Sears Catalogs (Dover Fashion and Costumes)
by JoAnne Olian
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent resource, 4 May 2011
Crammed full of illustrations and descriptions of dresses, coats, hats, footwear, lingerie, and accessories such as jewellery and handbags. Menswear and children's clothes are included, but the focus is on women's wear. We can see changes in the desired silhouette, the movement of hemlines upwards and downwards, and the influence of the war on styles and trims. JoAnne Olian's introduction provides an excellent summary of the trends in the period covered.

A useful reference book that's also a pleasure to dip into.


King and Country Call: New Zealanders, Conscription and the Great War
King and Country Call: New Zealanders, Conscription and the Great War
by Paul Baker
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and engaging, 4 May 2011
I read "King and Country" in the course of researching World War I for my own work, and this fairly slim volume vastly exceeded the modest expectations I had of it. Rich in details, exhaustively referenced, reinforcing some of my impressions while exploding several others. While the core focus of the book is conscription itself, it ranges more widely into a fascinating exploration of the social history of this period.

I wish that more editing resources had been available to the author, as the book would be even better with a more comprehensive index, an easier to use list of abbreviations in the bibliography, and more thorough proof-reading (there are errors that change the meaning rather alarmingly in places, such as "punish" instead of "publish"). But that didn't prevent me from being quite engrossed in this book, which turned what could have been a dry list of facts and figures into an engaging account of a time when New Zealanders were forced to re-evaluate their place in the world.


Passionate Minds: The Great Scientific Affair: The Great Enlightenment Love Affair
Passionate Minds: The Great Scientific Affair: The Great Enlightenment Love Affair
by David Bodanis
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of an astonishing woman, 4 May 2011
Émilie du Châtelet was a mathematician, a theoretical physicist, and a philosopher. She and Voltaire were lovers for several years, and they remained devoted friends for the remainder of Émilie's short life.

This is a story a writer of fiction would hardly dare invent. Romance, political intrigue, duels, financial scams, complex machinations with royalty and their hangers-on; Émilie's life would seem extraordinary even without her significant contributions in mathematics and physics. This is a woman who translated Newton's "Principia", not just from Latin into French, but also casting the equations into a far more comprehensible calculus. And she did that in the last months of her life, during the pregnancy that she sensed would kill her.

Bodanis has an easy, highly readable style. The book has fairly copious end notes, and while I found myself wishing for more details of Émilie's work, they would have made the book much longer, and perhaps diluted its effect. He includes a long and inviting list of further reading. The one thing I felt the book lacked was an index; there are so many people named, and sometimes I wished I could quickly find where they'd appeared earlier in the book.

After her death, Voltaire wrote of her,

"I have lost the half of myself--a soul for which mine was made".

The story of this astonishing woman moved me more than many a novel.


The Pyrates
The Pyrates
by George MacDonald Fraser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Huge fun, 4 May 2011
This review is from: The Pyrates (Paperback)
A dizzying, action-packed yarn that takes us from England to the Caribbean via Madagascar, with a cast of pirates, heroes, villains, lovable rogues, heroines and vixens. As the author cheerfully tells us, great liberties are taken with history (among other things). It's a wild blend of all the pirate stories the author devoured in his childhood, mixing historical figures and events with great dollops of deliberate anachronism.

A real romp, and definitely not to be taken seriously. I prefer Fraser's "Flashman" books, with their carefully rendered historical background to the anti-hero's misadventures, but this was great fun.


North and South (Wordsworth Classics)
North and South (Wordsworth Classics)
by Elizabeth Gaskell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Social commentary as well as love story, 4 May 2011
Gaskell is less well-known than she deserves, though recent miniseries of several of her works are helping to redress the balance. "North and South" is a powerful but accessible story, with strong characters and a vivid setting. Gaskell manages to include a wealth of information on social and economic conditions of the day without becoming didactic.

Margaret is a fine character; strong and self-possessed, and willing to entertain new ideas. Which also describes John Thornton. They have real chemistry, right from their first meeting. Gaskell's large cast of secondary characters are also convincingly drawn.

The author says in a note that she was "was compelled to hurry on events with an improbable rapidity towards the close" due to publication limits, and that does show. The body count becomes rather distressingly high, and the lovely lingering progress to the inevitable conclusion becomes breakneck. But that certainly doesn't spoil the reading experience.


The Dean's Watch
The Dean's Watch
by Elizabeth Goudge
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tender and lovely, 4 May 2011
This review is from: The Dean's Watch (Hardcover)
I love this book. It helps that it's set in Ely, a breathtaking place (though she never actually names it, and changes some details, Goudge did confirm that the unnamed city is Ely). The author clearly loves her characters, even the somewhat difficult to love ones. The setting is beautifully described. When she wants to insert historical details, she just puts them in using her authorial voice, rather than trying to force them into a character's voice.

There's a nice balance of sad and joyous, serious and amusing. The sadness is what might be called "beautiful sad", as opposed to "ugly sad".

A delightful book to sink into, like a warm and inviting armchair by the fire.


Page: 1 | 2