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Archive for the ‘Books I’ve read’ Category

This is a beguiling story set in the the aftermath of the first world war. It tells of a young woman forced to give her baby up for adoption, and what happens to that baby. All the characters are sympathetically drawn, even those who are driven by the conventions of the time to do cruel things. The book authentically portrays the choices available to women in the early 20th century, and the various discriminations they faced. I felt the ending was a little too convenient, but none-the-less satisfying. This is an absorbing yarn that tugs at the heartstrings. I’ve read others by the same author and enjoyed them too.

Decisions can be hard to make
uncertain which road best to take

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Ark Epidemic

I’ve been contemplating “in the dark” which is the theme for this week’s poetry group, and the pandemic is also on my mind. A poem I learned as a child keeps coming to the fore. I remembered that it came from a book I read, and Google tells me it’s by Susan Coolidge who wrote the books about What Katy Did. It must have made a strong impression on me as I memorised it and can still remember most of it over six decades later. Maybe I just have an affinity for rhyming verse. Do you have a childhood poem that’s stayed with you?

Measles in the Ark

by Susan Coolidge

The night it was horribly dark,
The measles broke out in the Ark;
Little Japheth, and Shem, and all the young Hams,
Were screaming at once for potatoes and clams.
And ” What shall I do,” said poor Mrs. Noah,
” All alone by myself in this terrible shower?
I know what I’ll do: I’ll step down in the hold,
And wake up a lioness grim and old,
And tie her close to the children’s door,
And give her a ginger-cake to roar
At the top of her voice for an hour or more;
And I’ll tell the children to cease their din,
Or I’ll let that grim old party in,
To stop their squeazles and likewise their measles.”
She practised this with the greatest success:
She was everyone’s grandmother, I guess.

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A collage session with a group of friends was creative and satisfying. Among the pile of magazines supplied for cutting out was an old frankie magazine. I hadn’t seen one of these for several years and had forgotten how inspiring they could be. I was captivated by a series of pictures of women with bird heads, and ended up putting them all around my collage.

I thought I might buy a copy of frankie and was pleased to find the supermarket sells them. At $15.95 it was definitely an extravagance, but we all need treats. It may be just as well the magazine is published only six times a year.

There are articles about art, life, and many other things, as well as fascinating extra lift-outs. It’s published in Australia on sustainably produced paper with acknowledgement of the Traditional Owners of the land on which they work, and it’s relevant to Aotearoa as well. I’m rationing it, and so far have read only the first few pages, most of which are advertisements. However these are written in an attractive chatty way which makes them seem less pretentious than advertisements in some other publications (e.g. Avenues which I find to be a waste of time).

The target audience is obviously people younger than me, but I shall enjoy luxuriating in that different perspective. Have you met frankie?

For something different from routine
I recommend this magazine

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I loved this book, and didn’t want it to end. The theme is time travel, and so much more, but it’s time travel with a difference. Each year, on her birthday, Oona is transported to a different year of her life, sometimes, older, sometimes younger. She finds that you have an unusual understanding of the present when you’ve seen the future.

There is suspense, as the reader waits to see which year will be next. In 1991 Oona was pleased to find that people were out and about living their lives, rather than curating them for the internet, or hiding behind their devices. Her knowledge of the future means she doesn’t need to worry about money, and her mother provides the one element of stability in each year.

The title of this book in the U.S. was “Out of Order Oona” – which appeals to my love of alliteration.

This is an original complex story that moved me and left me longing to know more.

Imagine if each year you changed
and everything was rearranged

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I spent the 1960s, my teenage years, in Auckland, having moved there in 1959. Many of the events mentioned in this volume were ones I remember from Newspaper reports, but others passed me by completely. Edmond quotes Janet Frame’s description of the screaming silence of the city, something I was too young, and later too busy with motherhood, to comprehend. I never heard the joke he mentions: “What’s the difference between Auckland and yoghurt? – Yoghurt has a culture.”

In a series of themed chapters Edmond documents the shifting of identity from New Zealand to Aotearoa,
as he considers the move from a moribund colonialist culture through the generation gap to revolution, and points out that General Public is always soft code for the ruling class. There were lovely stories of the mayhem and spontaneity of student pranks, occasionally labelled “treason”.

I well remember the nightspots he mentions in the mid ’60s, especially the Top Twenty where we went most weeks. The Bluestars band played at dances Stephen and I went to, both at church hall venues and The Tamaki Yacht Club. It seems incredible that in the year 1960 17 cinema tickets were sold for every member of the N.Z. population (including babies). Pre-television there were few other options for entertainment.

Edmond talks of the difficulty of seeing Auckland as a coherent city, something I’ve often felt – it seems to be more of a collection of suburban villages. I could however relate to the buzz of Friday evenings in Queen Street, where the Topp Twins busked.

The insider stories make this book engaging, and relevant nationwide. Many of the names were familiar, and some people I even knew peripherally. Mentions of Jumping Sundays in Albert Park and protests against participation in the Vietnam War brought in events I was part of, although that was more in the 1970s than the ’60s. I hope someone may write an equally thorough history of that next decade.

The sixties swung in Auckland too
it all depended who you knew

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This is an enthralling and moving memoir by a woman who has been at the forefront of Māori activism for decades. I remember Donna from feminist events in the 1980s, and for her radical essays on Māori Sovereignty in Broadsheet magazine. Her upbringing was strongly Māori, and she tells how when she was a child she only ever met people who were related to her.

Her father, a veteran of the Māori Battalion, spoke Latin fluently, and was a huge influence, although he was later convicted of murder and sent to prison. It was fascinating to read of the Treaty Protest in 1968 which Donna’s father organised. There were 20,000 Māori there, but because it was peaceful, and all in Te Reo, the media missed it completely.

Donna demonstrates that when working for social change action is more important than talking or writing articles. This slim volume (109 pages) gives an honest account of our country’s recent history and deserves to be part of the history curriculum for all students. It ends positively with Donna’s assurance that Aotearoa’s future is hopeful. Her book was published in 1996. I hope she still feels optimistic.

This is a woman fierce and strong
whose dedication is lifelong

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Do you read historical fiction? I’ve always enjoyed it and recently I was e-interviewed by a PhD student from Macquarie University in Sydney. The topic of her research is Historical Fictions and Perceptions of History, and her questions stirred me to think about why I read historical fiction. I had previously thought of this genre as historical romance, with romance meaning a story, not necessarily a love story.

Memoirs and biographies are also historical, and while they’re not usually classed as fiction they may have some fictional elements, as two people writing about the same event will sometimes have quite different perceptions of it. I’m always interested in social history, the stories of people, rather than the larger areas of governments and wars.

Historical fiction helps me to understand my place in the world.  If it’s history I have some familiarity with, it’s affirming of my knowledge.  If it’s new to me, it’s stimulating and educational.  I’ve always enjoyed historical stories, but when I was in the 5th form we had a history teacher who lacked confidence and I’m now ashamed to say we gave her a hard time and she sometimes left the classroom in tears.   My school certificate history exam did not go well and I achieved only a D pass (32%, with higher marks in my other five subjects).  Part of the curriculum covered the 2nd World War which I found boring.  It was just a year or two later I discovered the Gregory Sallust series by Dennis Wheatley and thought how much more I’d have enjoyed the lessons if I’d been told to read these beforehand.

Sometimes I find historical fiction on the Recently Returned shelves at the Library. Once I’ve read and enjoyed one book I usually seek more by the same author. I also get recommendations from friends, and I read reviews.

I’m inclined to believe the historical facts I read. and I’m always pleased to see a bibliography, and maybe an afterword, that indicates the author has done research. I also enjoy historical films and television programmes, such as Downton Abbey and The Crown, but my preference is for novels because they can conveniently be read at any time and place, including in bed. There are so many historical novels, including mysteries, that I wondered whether it might be the most popular genre of fiction, but Google suggests that is Mystery/Crime. I guess historical mysteries are the ideal!

I love a book of history
especially one with mystery

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This latest of the Outlander novels is a large book – 888 pages – too large to be read lying in bed, so it had to be rationed into times when I can read sitting in a chair. I’ve enjoyed all the series over a number of years, and it was good to re-immerse myself in the familiar characters. It might have been useful to re-read the earlier volumes first, but the author kindly provided enough past detail to ensure I could fit bits together. This volume seemed to me to have more links between the two time periods than the previous ones.

One snippet that interested me was an explanation of the name of hollyhocks – a flower which blooms prolifically in my garden. Apparently the Crusaders bought the plant back from the Holy Land because you can make a salve from the root that’s particularly good for an injury to a horse’s hocks – hence holyhock.

This story could be categorised under many of my favourite genres: historical romance and family saga, with hints of science fiction and spirituality. The characters are so well drawn that the reader can’t help but empathise with them.

I do think the author could have made this into two volumes of manageable size, but I loved it nevertheless. There were many threads left hanging ready for sequels. Anyone who’s enjoyed previous Outlander novels will relish this one.

They travel back between the stones
surviving wars and broken bones

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This book demonstrates the possibilities that may be available after you’ve lost everything. It starts with a breath-taking courtroom drama, then a terminal diagnosis that shakes what’s left of the author’s equilibrium. With their home and past life lost, the future uncertain, and very limited finance, she and her husband Moth set out to walk 630 miles around the south-west coast of England.

It’s amazing to read the true story of a pair of 50-year-olds walking for days on end, with insufficient money, often unable to afford even a packet of chips. They subsisted on instant noodles, sometimes flavoured with dandelions, and often ran out of food. When Moth found a hairy wine gum in his pocket they cut it in half to share.

The small tent they carried gave scant protection from wild weather, and they learned that foot miles are different from road miles. The latter are about time rather than distance.

Occasionally they went to places I’ve visited, which increased the story’s interest for me: Glastonbury, Tintagel, the Minack Theatre, Mousehole, Penzance, and the Geevor Tin Mine.

The book vividly describes the spectacular scenery and the wildlife, including a thieving seagull. What they saw and experienced gave this couple purpose, and restored hope. It is an inspiring read. I understand there is a sequel, and I’ll look out for this.

The challenge they took on was huge
a tiny tent their sole refuge

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Those who experienced the Christchurch earthquakes will find this novel enthralling, and possibly disturbing. I recommend it to anyone who seeks to understand the effect the earthquakes had on the people of Christchurch.

After starting with an earthquake, the story later goes on to consider the effect a virus spreading from China would have on international students, and much of what is written seemed so familiar. Two major issues that have affected all of Christchurch this century are laid bare through the eyes of a group of University students who are also feeling their way through new relationships. In some cases the consequences of the earthquakes have influenced responses to the pandemic.

I found parts of this book moving, especially the return to the red zone. Everyone who lived through the earthquakes has their own story and it’s good to have some of them recorded in this novel. It relates how the after-shocks have eaten into our psyches and will remain with us indefinitely – perhaps for ever.

Bringing the earthquakes and the pandemic together in one novel is brave, and it may be too much for some readers. I appreciated the author’s personal story at the end. This self-published book will surely be one that is valued as a fictional but believable chronicle of unusual times.

As well as living through the quake
we now have vaccines we must take

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