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Archive for the ‘Books I’ve read’ Category

At first I was put off by the tone of this book.  It seemed to me arrogant and brashly American (even though the author is Canadian), and in parts it read like an outdated men’s personal growth manual.  Because it was our Book Discussion Group’s choice for this month I persevered to the end, and liked the second section more than the first.  There was lots of detail about being an astronaut, and I appreciated this more because I’d recently read ‘Hidden Figures’ about the African American women who were crucial to the space programme.

I enjoyed reading of the author’s singing David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ in zero-gravity in 2015, and remembered seeing this clip on the TV News.  I could also relate to his saying that one of his small satisfactions is playing Scrabble online with his daughter.

The whole book seemed a little smug to me, even though Chris often denies considering himself as being extraordinary.  It’s just not possible to be the first Canadian in space and not be special.  If you’re at all interested in the space programme I’m sure you’d find his story fascinating.

‘It took him years of preparation
before he got to the space station.’

 

 

 

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It was poignant for me to read this book as the end of the First World War is being celebrated.  The story starts in occupied France in 1916, and is centred around the portrait of a young French woman who struggles to keep her family safe when her husband has gone to fight.  This part of the book is authentic and particularly satisfying.  A hundred years later the portrait has a new owner who is prepared to fight to keep possession of it.  The whole book deals with emotion, relationships, and historical research, and I found it enthralling. I skipped the seven pages of reviews at the beginning of the book, which I felt were quite unnecessary.  The end of the story tied it all together in a pleasing way, and it was a good read for recent rainy days.

‘The portrait links the two time frames
and is subject to rival claims.’

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This is the second in Gregory’s Order of Darkness series.  It tells of the children’s crusade in the mid-fifteenth century.  The description of the earthquake and tsunami seemed authentic, but I was disappointed that the story was dull, and didn’t engage me as the author’s Tudor books have.  I think it may be aimed at young adult readers, and I wouldn’t bother with others in this series.

‘This book is not the author’s best
I was distinctly unimpressed.’

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I was intrigued by the film Hidden Figures which related an aspect of women’s history previously unknown to me, so when this book appeared in the Book Fridge I grabbed it.  It’s the true story of a group of black women whose mathematical calculations were crucial to the second World War, and to U.S. achievements in space.

During the war the parallels between Nazi racism and American racism were only too obvious to Negroes some of whom who asked: “Is the America I know worth fighting for?”

African Americans, especially women, struggled to gain an education, and the success of those women who eventually worked at the Langley Research Centre in Virginia was all the more amazing because of this.  From 1936 the federal Supreme Court ruled against policies that had explicitly barred black students from tertiary education, but Virginia was one of several states that refused to comply.  In 1936 that state set up a tuition reimbursement fund, subsidising the tertiary education of black students in any place but Virginia, a policy that continued until 1950.

Langley, with its female ‘computers’, was crucial to the development of fighting aircraft.  The American aircraft industry went from being that country’s 43rd largest industry in 1938, to being the world’s number one by 1943.

The book gives fascinating details about aerodynamics.  For example: ‘For a wing moving through the air, the slower-moving air on the bottom of the wing exerts a greater force than the faster-moving air on the top.  This difference in pressure creates lift, the almost magical force that causes the wing and the plane (or bird) attached to it, to ascend into the sky.”  In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik, NASA was born, and the space race was on.  With the development of electronic computers some of the women became programmers.  Yet, when the time came for the first American astronaut to orbit the earth in 1962, it was Katherine Johnson, an African American mathematician, who was entrusted with crunching the numbers.

This narrative has almost no dialogue, and is dry and repetitive, but the story is worth reading.

‘Black women played a vital part
because they were so very smart.’

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This is a deep and thoughtful book, delicately written.  Like Linda’s previous books it has an underlying intensity.  The story tells of a young boy found on a beach, with parallels to the narrator’s childhood.  Slowly her past is revealed and the reasons she now lives alone are clarified within a setting that is uniquely New Zealand.  I cannot speak highly enough of this author’s ability to authentically portray emotions.

‘This book has undercurrents which
all make the story doubly rich.”

 

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The community at Gloriavale is often in the news, most recently because of the Stuff investigation into the death of Prayer Ready.   This book tells the story of Phil Cooper, son of Neville Cooper/Hopeful Christian who was the founder of that community and died earlier this year.  Phil eventually rebelled against his father and left the community, but that break caused him and his extended family much heartache.  Author Fleur Beale has written about cults before, and handles the subject sensitively.  Her book is a fascinating insight into the way such a cult exerts control over its members, yet the story ends with hope and love.  Any reader with an interest in the way individuals can be affected by indoctrination would find it thought-provoking.

‘The cult gave them security
did not allow maturity.’

 

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I usually love Fiona Kidman’s novels, but was not enthralled with this one.  To me it seemed more like an essay on the abolition of capital punishment in New Zealand.  The main character is an Irish immigrant who is eventually hanged for murder, the second-to-last person to be executed here.  I enjoyed reading about Auckland in the 1950s, much of which was the same when I was a teenager there in the 1960s.  The well-researched story is based on historic fact, and perhaps it was the blurring between fact and fiction that underwhelmed me?  I’ll be interested to learn what other readers think.

‘It seems that justice was not done
for this poor Irish mother’s son.’

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