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Archive for the ‘Books I’ve read’ Category

I enjoyed the first six novels in this series, but found this final saga just too drawn out. At 800 pages it was awkward to hold while lying in bed, which is where I do most of my relaxing reading.

The thoroughly researched story of the fight for Irish independence and women’s role in it is engaging, and the author keeps up the suspense, but I found the end disappointing. It’s clearly left ready for the next (final?) instalment. However, after such a marathon read a bit more resolution was called for. I understand the author died in June this year, but she left detailed notes of the continuing story, which will be completed by her son Harry, and is planned to be published in the northern spring of 2023.

This novel has been the top selling book in Aotearoa this year, and must certainly have provided an escape for many during lockdown and Covid uncertainty. I wonder how many others were disappointed with the ending?

This sister still remains a mystery
that’s buried deep in Irish history

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This is a raw, bleak book, about abuse and addiction. The story tells of a woman’s traumatic childhood, then different stages of her life. It starts in Australia, moves to Aotearoa, then to America.

Reading it wasn’t helped by the fact that in this edition pages 185-200 were missing. At first I thought I must have skipped something, then checked the page numbers and realised there was a gap in the printing. I also found that six later pages were printed twice. This is something I’ve never come across before.

The Australian author said the book took a long time to write, and it took me a long time to read it. The story is brutal, and it dragged at times. I was tempted to give up, but wanted to know what happened to the central character. Not sure whether I could recommend it, but it does give a different perspective on life. I chose this novel after reading a Guardian review that said it was a meditation on vulnerability and remarkable empathic, but I shan’t be seeking any more by this author.

This was too brutal for my taste
and suffers from the printer’s haste

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This is a complex book with several layers. It’s the story of a privileged media family, somewhat similar to Rupert Murdoch’s, but the characters all have parallels in Tudor times. A cast list at the beginning explains who they all are, which is useful. The sisters of the title are the equivalents of Elizabeth I and her half-sister Queen Mary.

The fact I’ve read plenty of historical novels helped me appreciate the nuances and guess what might happen. Literary quotations give the story extra resonance. This was certainly a very different novel, more of a romance than my usual choices, but thoroughly enjoyable. There is a prequel, Wife after Wife, primarily about the modern Henry VIII, and I rather wish I’d read that first.

Some characters are truly devils
and this resounds on several levels

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Reading to Relax

Reading books, in hard copy, has been a preferred form of relaxation all my life. Since childhood I’ve been an avid patron of the local library. When I was ten my mother paid for my subscription to the St Albans Library in the old Carnegie building, so I could access the adult books not permitted to me at the public library.

I have a collection of non-fiction and reference books, plus some well-loved fiction. Each week we have the Listener and the Guardian Weekly delivered and I enjoy these, reading some articles more thoroughly than others.

Some years ago I joined a book group where we received a monthly volume from the Book Discussion Scheme to read and discuss. These were often not books I would have chosen but I appreciated being introduced to new authors. After a few years this group changed and finally faded out at the end of 2020.

Early this year I joined the WEA book group. The chosen books are ones that align to WEA philosophy, i.e. themes of social and environmental justice, stories of community and compassion, and tales of hope and transformation. Of the ten books offered so far this year, fewer than half have been ones I enjoyed reading.

This month’s book selection

This month’s selection is the story of a Syrian musician, told to two ghost writers, and then translated. This makes the writing seem remote to me. It’s a worthy tale, but the first 100 pages have failed to engage me and reading it seems like a chore. I don’t want to finish it and am considering resigning from the group. I want my reading to be a pleasure, not a duty, and I’d rather stick to mysteries, historical stories, and engaging biographies.

These books have not been to my taste
I see no need more time to waste

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I was hooked by the Introduction to this book because I could relate to much of it. The first chapter has a great opening line: “On the day I killed my mother I sewed a dress.”

The book goes on to give details of Wendyl’s life and her mother’s. Her family research is impressive, and the tale is written in an approachable and matter-of-fact way. The book is full of compelling family stories told with humour and love. The author is honest about the complicated relationship she had with her mother, and there is useful information about dealing with someone with dementia. Included are practical snippets about how we can prepare for the final stages of life. I felt pleased that I have completed an Advanced Care Plan, and lodged it with the local Health Board.

There was so much she did not know
about events of long ago

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I love the Phryne Fisher books, which have been made into a television series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Phryne is a delightful detective, self-assured, and with a healthy disregard for convention. The stories are set in 1920s Victoria with wonderful descriptions of clothing and social locations.

This volume has seventeen exquisitely written short stories featuring Phryne, together with an explanation of how her character evolved and how she got her name. She was intended to be like James Bond with better clothes and fewer gadgets. If you’ve enjoyed the other books you’ll love this, and if you haven’t met Phryne before this volume is an ideal introduction.

I recommend these Fisher tales
where Phryne’s logic never fails

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On the first page I read about a woman wearing bright silver trainers. I also wear bright silver trainers, thought I’m going to enjoy this novel, and I did. I’d previously appreciated Meet Me at the Museum by the same author. This one is the story of two women taking a third woman’s narrowboat on an essential journey along English canals, and the relationships that develop between them and others. It’s also a voyage of self-discovery as the three women are all facing major life changes.

I liked the author’s careful choice of words, e.g. one boat was the sort of grey that is the faded remains of other more purposeful colours. Reading the story is like going on a restful cruise, with interesting snippets of information about canal boat history and travel. This is a charming novel of kindness, comfort, and friendship.

While slowly drifting on the way
they learn to take life day by day

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This novel gives an authentic view of the situation in Kenya at the time of the 2007 election, which led to widespread riots.  The author, born in Manchester, England,  has lived in Nairobi since 2006 and says his work of fiction is an attempt to capture the spirit, energy, and courage of that city.  It is a detective story with the main character a Maasai warrior who has become a policeman, and who has to deal with the ethnic tensions of the time, while drawing on his own background knowledge.

The book considers many wider issues, such as corruption of those in power, violence, and the question of whether there can be peace without justice.  Nairobi is depicted as an overcrowded city with great disparity between its citizens.

Speech is shown by use of an em dash — rather than speech marks.  This gives the novel a contemporary feel, as well as demonstrating the different setting.

This detective novel has richly drawn characters, and it makes you think.

It seems corrupt men have the tenure
within the melting pot that’s Kenya

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This book is subtitled A Journalist in Search of Her Life, and the author’s life is incredible. Born in Austria in 1928 she was sent as a Jewish child refugee to England in 1939, and her teenage years were spent in largely female company. As she says, that is not the best preparation for transition to adult life.

I appreciated her mention of the Christian Moral Re-Armament movement as I once had a close friend whose family were involved in this. This friend’s wedding was memorable for being alcohol-free (forewarned, we stopped for a drink at a pub between service and reception).

Hella witnessed political changes in West Africa as colonial powers withdrew and nations gained independence. She spent 35 years as a political correspondent for the Guardian and seems to have known every important world leader during that time. Many of her anecdotes are fascinating although I would have liked to read more about her personal life. Her focus is always on her work as she recounts developments from Nazi Germany to Brexit and Covid. Anyone with an interest in the history of the last century would find much of significance in this book.

She knew them all from Aga Khan
to Whitehall, Ghana, and Iran

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This book moved me almost to tears in several places. It could now be classified as an historical romance, but it was contemporary when written in 1955, and is an intriguing and authentic wartime story. Somehow the action seems more raw without the complications of modern communication devices.

The Wren of the title served in the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War, and was involved in preparations for the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. Part of the book is set in Western Victoria near Ballarat, the Australian town I know best, and part in Beaulieu, England. Stephen and I stayed in Beaulieu in 2009, and one day we had lunch at Buckler’s Hard which features in this book. At the time I noted that it was once a busy shipbuilding centre where many of the English Navy’s ships were built in the 18th century, including some that fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. The little local museum has Horatio Nelson’s baby clothes on display, and Sir Francis Chichester started and ended his round the world voyage there. I don’t recall any indication of the area’s tremendous role in WW2.

I relished Nevil Shute’s writing as a teenager and have been pleased to find several copies of his books in hard editions with ribbon markers in the Book Fridge. Having very much enjoyed these I now wonder whether I might consider other male authors I liked in the past – James Michener, Leon Uris? I’m impressed with the reality of Shute’s characters, and the way he shows that the effects of war can have consequences long afterwards.

I definitely cannot dispute
the skill of writer Nevil Shute

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