Billions of baby red crabs on Christmas Island – Australian Geographic

When Christmas Island was over-run by one of the biggest returns of baby red crabs late last year, it was one of the best Christmas presents photographer Chris Bray could have asked for.

Source: Billions of baby red crabs on Christmas Island – Australian Geographic

 

I’d like to see this one day.

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

‘What a beautiful day to go to Hell.’

This is the third book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs, and I was keen to see what happened next after the cliff hanger ending of ‘Hollow City’.

‘Library of Souls’ opens exactly where ‘Hollow City’ finished.  Jacob, Emma and Addison (the Peculiar dog) are in the present day, trapped by a Hollow.  Jacob is the only one who can see the Hollow.  Right at the last moment before being eaten, Jacob discovers that he can (sometimes at least) speak their language and control them.  Jacob is a very special Peculiar; can he protect other Peculiars?

Jacob, Emma and Addison were part of a group of Peculiars, but the rest of their group have been taken.  They try, using Addison’s keen sense of smell, to find where their friends have been taken.  Thus begins their descent into a Peculiar form of Hell, courtesy of Sharon (no, not Charon) the Peculiar Ferryman.  And that is where I’ll stop describing the story: interested readers will surely want to take this trip for themselves.  Some questions will be answered, new questions will be raised, and Jacob will have ample opportunity to use his Peculiar skills.

I’ve also just seen the movie of ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ I believe that ‘Library of Souls’ is the finale of the series, but ‘Tales of the Peculiar’ has now been published, which has more information about the Peculiar world.  For those of us who want or need more.  While I’m glad I read this instalment, it didn’t hold my attention in quite the same way as the earlier books. Some parts were Monty Pythonesque (which is not a bad thing, but may have had me laughing inappropriately at critical moments).

The things I like most about this series is the way that Mr Riggs has constructed his stories around old photographs.  He has imagined possibilities and constructed a world (or two) to contain them.  The execution doesn’t always work for me, but so what?  In fiction, anything is possible.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Family Skeleton by Carmel Bird

I’ve yet to read a book by Carmel Bird that I haven’t enjoyed.

Family Skeleton by Carmel Bird

‘Imagine you have a talking skeleton in the wardrobe.  That’s me.  I still have my own teeth.’

Families have secrets: some more than others.  Some secrets might just be embarrassing, while others change lives.  And just imagine the stories a talking family skeleton could tell.

Meet Margaret O’Day.   An elderly and wealthy widow, living in a lovely home, Bellevue, in one of Melbourne’s wealthiest suburbs: Toorak.  Bellevue was built for the O’Day family back in 1933.  Edmund Rice O’Day, Margaret’s late husband, was a distant cousin: one of the ‘funeral’ O’Days, while Margaret was one of the ‘medical’ O’Days.  Edmund died in the arms of his mistress, no great surprise to Margaret, she always knew that he would never be as wonderful a man as her father, Killian O’Day.  Still, Edmund always made sure that Margaret had what she wanted, including a beautiful butterfly screen which had once graced the foyer of O’Day Funerals.

As the novel opens, Margaret is reflecting on her life, committing thoughts to paper in the form of a journal.  She is watching over her family: her four children, their partners and her grandchildren.

‘There’s something about facts – and lies for that matter – when they are written down, something real and permanent.’

The story unfolds, both through Margaret’s journal (The Book of Revelation) and the observations of the talking family skeleton.  The butterfly screen, known as the Zephyr screen, is both beautiful and macabre.  Beautiful Zephritis butterflies from Peru, killed for their beauty.  They have been matched, underside to underside, so that both sides of the screen are almost identical.  Margaret is drawn to the beauty of the screen even though she is aware (occasionally, at least) of how it was made.

Life moves on.  A distant cousin, Doria Fogelsong, arrives from the USA, determined to write a comprehensive O’Day family history.  Doria is present for the baptism of Margaret’s youngest granddaughter Ophelia. Ophelia?  Margaret is not happy with the choice of this name.  Margaret is also concerned that Doria’s research into the past is both unnecessary and unseemly.  Or are there secrets to be uncovered?

I love Ms Bird’s writing. In this novel, in fewer than 300 pages, she creates a family, a wealthy family with history, with foibles, with at least one family skeleton.    Each chapter opens with an epigraph attributed to Edmund O’Day, one of his remarks about death.  The description of the Zephyr screen has me caught between admiring its beauty and saddened by the way it was made.  Her descriptions of some of the people had me laughing out loud (possibly inappropriately at times) and wondering whether Doria or Margaret would prevail.  The talking family skeleton gives the reader so much more information than Margaret’s Book of Revelation, but the reader needs to be vigilant.  If only Doria could speak to the family skeleton!

‘And I’m not in the story anyway.  I know and I tell, but I don’t act, being the skeleton in the wardrobe, you understand.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

 

#AWW2017

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

One of the best novels I’ve read so far this year!

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

‘By morning, the news was all around the town that a stranger had arrived with a fortune in his pocket.’

New York, Manhattan Island, November 1746.  A handsome young man from London, Mr Smith, arrives with a bill of exchange to the value of £1,000.   The bill is to be honoured – within 60 days – by Gregory Lovell, a merchant in Golden Hill Street, who owes this amount to the London company who wrote the bill.  It’s an enormous amount, and everyone in the town is interested in trying to learn more about Mr Smith.  Just who is this mysterious Mr Smith, and what does he intend to do with his fortune?  Where did he come from?  Is the bill genuine?  Mr Smith has to wait 60 days for his bill to be honoured: how will he fit into New York society during that period?  Will the merchants accept him; will they extend him credit?  Who will befriend him?

Every chapter provides an element of surprise, a twist which has the reader wondering what will happen next.  First there are the various adventures of Mr Smith, as well as the question as to how the bill was to be honoured given the scarcity of cash.  And then, just to complicate matters further, there’s a question over the validity of the bill.  Mr Smith’s circumstances are fluid to say the least.

Read this novel: enter the eighteenth century with its coffee shops and stratified society, enter a tale (or two) of derring-do, and wonder until the end whether our hero will survive, who he might be and what he is about.  To say more could spoil the read.

 

I enjoyed this novel, it’s both clever and entertaining.  While the ending came as a surprise, it is fitting as well as mostly satisfying.  Only mostly satisfying?  Well, some of the characters were still living on in my mind and I wanted to keep reading, to know what happened next.

This is Mr Spufford’s first novel.   I’ve read two of his books of non-fiction and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Faber & Faber Ltd. for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith