Archive for the ‘Books I’ve read’ Category

This is a truly delightful book, dealing with relationships between mothers and daughters, and the importance of female friendships. The central character is a woman who becomes a single mother at seventeen and devotes herself to caring for her daughter until she realises there are other possibilities for her life. Prior to being pregnant she’d been a keen student and she now sees it might be possible to realise the dreams she’d set aside. The action is set in the present, but there are flashbacks to the past, explaining changes in her life. This is a warmly crafted story which kept me enthralled all the way through.

This narrative of Her and Em
is truly a delightful gem

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This mystery is the third in a series featuring newspaper reporter Harper McClain, and I’ve enjoyed them all. The setting is Savannah, Georgia, U.S.A. I don’t often read crime fiction set in the U.S. but this series beguiled me with characters that continue to develop. It adds to the atmosphere when there are alligators in the mudflats.

Harper starts by investigating a story about a musician’s disappearance, while also continuing her search to find out who killed her own mother. There’s lots of action and relatable characters. Harper is smart, courageous, and independent, and the author is an expert in keeping the reader in suspense.

If you’re interested in the series I suggest you start with the first one The Echo Killing so you’re familiar with the back story.

When criminals encounter Harper
they should beware cos she is sharper

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This book gives a thorough outline of the author’s first year as a Doctor at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland. During 2022 we spent time at various Christchurch Hospitals, and I was pleased to learn more about how these institutions function from the point of view of a junior doctor, especially in Covid times. I imagine many other people would find this interesting, which may be how the author managed to secure a publishing deal – not an easy feat.

I had a baby at Middlemore Hospital over fifty years ago, and I’ve never been back since. My first daughter was born at National Women’s Hospital where there was no problem getting permission for Stephen to be present at the birth provided he attended ante-natal classes beforehand. It was a very different situation at Middlemore. I was required to have an interview with the Matron before permission was grudgingly given. In the event that was pointless because a quick birth meant Stephen didn’t get there in time. I was reminded of all this when I started to read about hospital protocols and hierarchies.

Especially in the first chapters there were many new medical terms, and Izzy writes clearly about the ethical distribution ,of resources. She tells of her frustration at needing to use RealMe and a different browser when trying to complete a death certificate. I could empathise having had similar experiences when completing Government funding applications. It was news to me that a body can’t be cremated if they have an implanted device. This would apply to Stephen who has a mechanical heart valve.

I enjoyed reading about the other side of hospital treatment. The book is well written and would be of interest to anyone who’s ever been in hospital, as well as the others who probably will be one day. For anyone considering studying medicine it would be an invaluable resource.

A Doctor’s day is long and busy
as clearly outlined here by Izzy

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Asked whether any book has changed my life I found it difficult to choose one. Over the years many books have had an effect on me, but the one that truly changed my life would have to be The Paradise Papers by Merlin Stone, later re-published as When God was a Woman.

This book demonstrated to me how much of women’s history has been changed and suppressed, and it began my interest in and devotion to Feminist Spirituality. I was nearly thirty when I first read it and new to the subject of Women’s Studies. Around the same time I was introduced to a number of women fiction writers who strongly captured my imagination. The first was Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon. I loved the magic of this book, which tells the legend of King Arthur from a feminist perspective. I’ve read it many times and also bought the others in the same series. In 2009 I was privileged to visit Glastonbury/Avalon, and walk the path up the Tor, which I had previously only imagined.

Another important novel was The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander, the first book I’d read by a New Zealand woman author. I felt a particular affinity for Jane as she had lived in Onehunga in Auckland, where I was living when I read it.

It was Margot Roth, a much-loved Women’s Studies tutor sadly no longer with us, who suggested I also read Marge Piercy, and her Vida captivated me at a time when I was deeply involved in political action.

Is there a book that has changed your life?

A book can take us far away
and bring ideas that change our day

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I found this memoir by a feminist filmmaker absolutely riveting. Gaylene is just nineteen months older than me, and I could relate to so much of her childhood and teenage years. We listened to the same radios programmes and both had Yul Brynner as a favourite film star. She describes Christchurch in the 1960s as being a city of bicycles that all had bells. The bicycles are still here, but sadly not all now have bells, and those that do sometimes fail to use them.

Gaylene’s description of having an abortion in Sydney is starkly poignant, yet it was a privileged option in the late 1960s. The story of the graduate dining room at Gonville and Gaius (pronounced Keys) college in Cambridge held special interest for me because I’ve visited that college where a relative did his PhD. I loved the fact that Gaylene called her first husband her first husband right from the beginning, thinking it would keep him on his toes (but it didn’t). I’m tempted to start calling Stephen my first husband but it seems a bit pointless after more than 50 years.

In 1971 Gaylene joined a Consciousness Raising circle in Cambridge which developed into a feminist activist group. My Auckland introduction to C.R. was later, but also important to my self-development. Of course I loved her mention that rhyming couplets can be superlative and wished I could locate Eric’s doggerel The Pensioner’s Cat which Gaylene captured on video. She also talks about Wellington Trades Council’s women’s choir which became Choir Choir Pants on Fire. I have their c.d. with wonderful socialist songs, including Bread and Roses.

One section tells about the making of Hope and Wire, the series based on the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, which I have never watched. It’s a creative drama, an amalgamation of stories, but to me it could never be as real as Gerard Smyth’s When a City Falls. There are details of all Gaylene’s productions, many of which I’ve seen and enjoyed. I particularly remember taking my mother to see War Stories Our Mothers Never Told Us. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not yet seen My Life With Helen, which tells of Helen Clark’s unsuccessful bid to become Secretary-General of the United Nations. It’s now definitely on my must-see list.

The whole book clearly explains Gaylene’s development as a filmmaker and her reasons for making films, and does this in an entertaining way. We are extremely lucky to have her telling our stories in Aotearoa.

This is a book not to be missed
you need to read it, I insist

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I’ve twice enjoyed hearing Clementine speak at Word festival events, and this encouraged me to try her book about love. Last September she spoke of how we often see our past selves in negative ways, carrying self-doubt inside. To have a relatable story with depth you have to get to know your inner self, ask them to forgive you, and they will, because all they’ve ever wanted is your love. This book gives us an opportunity to know Clementine’s inner self, although she does tell us that knowing is not necessarily understanding. She also says that to know love is to know more of yourself.

Clementine is honest and open about her life and her fantasies, and gives very clear and deeply personal depictions of the feelings of a teenage girl, a mother, and the woman in between them. I was impressed with how much she remembers in vivid details. She does say: “As a writer I live in a perpetual state of examination and memory.”

Throughout the book I was intrigued by the continual use of texting as communication. This is something I’ve never taken to myself, and I sometimes wonder if I’m missing out. I favour using email – will respond to Facebook messages, but email is always my preference. I recently said to friend who is driving a brand new hybrid car, that I would have trouble coping with such a sophisticated vehicle as I haven’t yet assimilated the smartphone.

Clementine’s openness about her relationships makes for compulsive reading. She writes about her mother’s death, about lovers, about friends, and about motherhood. All of it is absorbing, and skillfully written.

She tells it just the way it is
her frankness makes you go gee-whiz

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This book kept me engrossed all afternoon. I started it at lunchtime and finished it just before dinner. I did take a break to spend an hour in the garden, and it is only 269 pages. Apparently the author’s name is a pseudonym for Christi Daugherty who is a former crime reporter and civil servant, and has written bestsellers for teens and adults.

The novel is a spy thriller with a female protagonist, and politically up to the moment. It’s the fast-paced and suspenseful story of a chase across London, which included places I’ve visited such as Camden, Regent’s Canal, and Little Venice. The Russians have hacked into the city’s CCTV, so Emma needs to take the person she’s protecting through back alleys, and use her many amazing skills. It’s great to have a female spy, and the references to her background and training were exciting. This was an excellent read for a summer holiday afternoon.

It’s good to have a spy like Emma
with skills to solve the worst dilemma

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Time away from home on my own is rare these days. In fact it’s more than six years since I spent a night away from home and Stephen. When a friend offered transport to Dunedin I hesitated, then thought “why not?”. It’s good to have a break from my usual routines, and interesting what effort, physical and emotional, is required to make that break.

At home I have regular rituals and activities, which have been carefully chosen and developed over many years. One of those is reading a daily newspaper and doing the puzzles in it. In Dunedin the Press is now simply not available in hard copy. The Otago Daily Times is a possible substitute, with equivalent puzzles, but the news items don’t have the same relevance.

Usually I do 15 minutes exercises each morning, then go to my computer to check emails and blog, and do Wordle. I took my tablet away with me, but had difficulty logging on to the motel WiFi at some times, and I never even thought about Wordle. Digital devices are great for keeping in touch, but a few disconnected days gave me a chance to focus my thoughts elsewhere.

Dunedin building facade

It was wonderful to wake in the morning and know I had two completely free days ahead of me where I could do whatever and whenever I wanted. This seldom happens at home, and when it does there are always domestic tasks I could be doing. Saturday morning I woke at 1am to the sound of rain. At home I would listen to RNZ National through my headphones, careful not to wake Stephen. In Dunedin I could put on the bed-light (and the electric blanket, lacking the warmth of a partner in bed), and read or write. I’m currently reading Juliet Batten’s latest memoir The Persimmon Journal which deals with lockdown, loss, and release, and even mentions me on page 172. Juliet’s story of ageing and dealing with physical deterioration is an inspiring example of the changes we face as we get older.

I think of time away as being on retreat, and when I retreat I like to have a question or theme to consider. The solution or resolution can often come from the subconscious. For these few days my non-urgent focus was on future plans. What might I do differently in the coming year? Last year I joined the University of the Third Age and have relished the stimulation those talks give me. The previous year, through a writing class, I produced and published a small memoir which gave me a sense of achievement. What new activity could I choose for 2023? What have other older people chosen? It would be good to increase my circle of friends, something that seems harder to do as I grow older, especially when people die and/or move elsewhere.

I’ve offered to co-facilitate a Summer Solstice ritual for a spirituality group where I’ve not led before. I’m unsure whether I have the energy to do more in this area, but it is an option, especially as there are others who would share the responsibility.

The commitment of formal volunteer roles doesn’t attract me at present, but I’ve found satisfaction when an opportunity has arisen to perform a Random Act of Kindness. How could I build more of these into my life?

Or maybe I’ll just enjoy having more time to myself, and meeting each day as it comes.

There is so much that I could do
Great to have time and freedom too

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Two mothers have very different views about the need for vaccinations, and the ramifications are far-reaching. The women have a long close friendship although their personalities are not alike, and they each care for the other’s child. The author gives both sides of the vaccination debate, and demonstrates how both mothers are trying to do the very best for their child.

My daughters had all the suggested jabs, and I have too. In the 1980s I knew someone who had a tragic adverse reaction to a pre-travel vaccination, but I know such outcomes are rare. Conflict over vaccination has been topical in Covid times, but most of us believe and follow Health Ministry guidelines.

The characters in this novel are well drawn, and there is suspense.

The main message I took from the book is how easily we can become obsessed by an idea, and how important it is to consider other possibilities. This is an enjoyable book that will make you think.

You can’t expect impunity
if you’ve refused immunity

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This is a beguiling book, full of humour. The narrator, an American woman, loses all her family in the influenza epidemic and inherits enough money to enable her to travel. She becomes part of the inner circle at the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference where Winston Churchill, TE Lawrence, and Gertrude Bell, among others, meet to decide the fate of the Arab world after World War One. The consequences of these decisions are being seen today.

I enjoyed her cynical observations of war, the influenza epidemic, and the tourist attractions of Jerusalem. After excellent descriptions of Egypt’s ancient attractions she notes that Jerusalem appeared to her as an enormous mushroom colony, and that the soil around the Nile is so fertile you could plant a pencil and harvest a book.

Her Dachshund Rosie accompanies her on her travels and the dog’s personality radiates through the book. It’s not a breed that’s ever attracted me but I now feel more sympathetic towards them. When Rosie disgraced herself in a luxury car shared with Winston Churchill which was surrounded by rioters, Winston commented that this was “Quite a common reaction to combat”.

I appreciated the understanding of the difference between a suffragist and a suffragette.

When our heroine had too much to drink, Lawrence supported her when she vomited. “Oh, good Lord,” I gasped, hilarious and horrified as I took the handkerchief Lawrence offered. “I just puked in front of the Uncrowned King of Arabia.”

“My dear Miss Shanklin,” Lawrence said with a gallantry I have never forgotten, “I was an undergraduate at Oxford. Believe me: I’ve seen worse.”

While this is a work of fiction the author has used historical dialogue wherever this was available. The end of this book was strange, but I could excuse that as I’d enjoyed the rest.

We start to understand at least
some problems of the Middle East

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